Ethan Lavallee expected to spend a lot more time at school this winter than at the rink.
Ben Leeson – The Sudbury Star
Walking through the doors of Chelmsford Arena this week, however, felt like coming home.
“It feels good to be here,” smiled the 19-year-old Skead native. “I have missed it.”
Safe to say the Rayside-Balfour Canadians missed Lavallee, too, and once it became clear that the big defenceman might be available, after all, for a third season in the NOJHL, team brass jumped at the chance to add his veteran presence to the blueline.
His commitment to the club was made official on Tuesday. He’s expected to make his season debut in a home game against the Elliot Lake Wildcats this Thursday.
Puck drop is set for 7 p.m.
“I was pretty much just going to focus on school,” said Lavallee, who’s enrolled in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician, or HVAC, program at Cambrian College. “But it turns out my school schedule this semester worked out really well, and I’m done most days at like 12:30, so I was able to come to practice and put time into hockey, as well.
“Usually, I do really well just focusing on one thing, but once I got going in school and figured that stuff out, I got comfortable and thought, well, I’ve got a lot of free time on my hands, so why not go play if I can?”
The 6-foot-7, 225-pound local product was reassured after speaking with first-year general manager Jeff Forsyth.
“He was saying things have changed since last year and the dynamic around here is a lot better, that the environment has been a lot better,” Lavallee said.
After the league itself controlled the Canadians franchise in 2018-19, former Sudbury Wolves owner Mark Burgess acquired the club this past off-season, hiring Forsyth as GM and bringing back Dan Cuomo as head coach.
“There were a lot of changes within the coaching staff last year that affected our team,” Lavallee explained.
“I trust Jeff. He was my coach in midget, too, so I have known him for a while, so that helps.”
Lavallee should certainly help a blueline corps that has a great deal of skill, but lacks in junior experience compared to some of the team’s rivals. His hockey resume includes 100 regular-season games in the NOJHL, with 23 goals and 41 assists. He has also dressed for 26 playoff contests — 17 of them on Rayside’s run to the league final in 2018 — collecting three goals and six helpers along the way.
“Our D corps is already pretty impressive, and now we’re adding a guy who has the ability to carry the play, move pucks up ice and work that power play from the top for us,” Forsyth said. “Long term, just the leadership approach that he brings, when you have such a young team, it’s great to have someone who can help groom the young guys.”
Lavallee is certainly high on the team’s potential this season and that, too, was part of what encouraged him to return.
“We have a young team, but from what I have seen, a really skilled team, too,” he said. “I’m looking forward to being part of it.”
He sees himself playing a shutdown role, but continuing to provide timely offence.
“I have always liked to think of myself as a two-way player, so I’ll be looking to score and to create opportunities for our team in the offensive zone, and to be a good, strong D-man, to play physical,” Lavallee said.
He’s also eager to be a leading voice in the dressing room.
“I’m going to try to guide the guys through every game, make sure everyone stays focused and plays to their potential.”
Lavallee might need a few days to get up to game speed himself. He worked full-time this past summer and didn’t get much ice during the off-season.
“It was a good break, but definitely, when I saw the boys playing at the start of the year, I definitely wanted to get back into it,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of bag skating, but that’s what I have been doing for the last few weeks, so we’ll see. This Thursday’s game will be a good test for where I’m at conditioning-wise, then I’ll go from there, try to get ready for the showcase in Sault, Mich.”
NOJHL clubs will gather at Big Bear Arena, on the south side of the St. Mary’s River, for a series of contests next week. The Canadians will face the Timmins Rock on Tuesday at 11 a.m., then the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners on Wednesday at 1 p.m.
Lavallee has begun to think again about his future beyond this season. A former fourth-round pick of the Sarnia Sting, his OHL rights were shipped to his hometown Sudbury Wolves in the January 2018 trade that sent veteran Michael Pezzetta to the southwestern Ontario.
He’s also interested in playing university hockey.
“I have a lot of options, so we’ll see what happens,” Lavallee said. “I’m just focusing on performing right now and then once I do that, I’ll see where that takes me.”