A two for three weekend has lifted the Rayside-Balfour Canadians to a better than .500 record for the month of December, with a lone home match-up this Thursday (vs Espanola Express) awaiting to close out the 2019 calendar.
The local NOJHLers missed out on the sweep only after surrendering three unanswered goals Thursday evening to the visiting Soo Eagles, with the homeside seeing their 2-0 lead heading into the third period evaporate into a 3-2 loss.
Matt Belanger and Ben Hatanaka had staked the Canadians to their two-goal advantage after 40 minutes of play, only to see the Eagles storm back on goals from Bobby Price, Dominic Skrelja and George Orfanos, with the game-winner, on the power play, with just over three minutes showing on the clock.
A pair of Rayside-Balfour forwards enjoyed big nights in Espanola on Friday, as rookie Oliver Smith (3G-1A) and sophomore Mathieu Dokis-Dupuis (4A) helped power the Canadians to a 6-3 win over the Express.
Having enjoyed a seven-game consecutive point streak earlier this fall, Smith, a 9th round pick of the Barrie Colts last spring, doubled his previous single game best points output with the quartet he registered in Espanola, moving into second place on the team in goals scored with 17 (behind only Matt Belanger at 19).
Meanwhile, Dokis-Dupuis has followed up a 34 points in 53 games freshman season in 2018-2019 by equalling that same level of production this past weekend, doing it in only 32 games this year. The talented Sudbury Minor Hockey Association product leads the Canadians with 12 goals and 22 assists in amassing his 34 points, one better than alternate captain Brady Maltais.
The latter chipped in with a pair of goals versus Espanola on Friday, with Ben Hatanaka rounding things off, while Tyler Nelson, with a pair, and Josh Boucher countered for the Express.
Back home on Sunday evening, it was time for the Canadians to turn the table on the game-plan from Thursday, spotting the Elliot Lake Wildcats an early 2-0 lead (both goals from Joseph Pacana), but netting the next five tallies of the game in recording a 5-2 win.
Mitchell Martin, Dylan Bertrand, Joel Mongeon, Samuel Vachon and Gavin Brown all bulged the twine for head coach Danny Cuomo, who saw his team improve to 24-10-3-0 (51 points), one point back of the Blind River Beavers.
Ice Chips from Chemmy: The Canadians have been without forward Nick DeGrazia of late, the Thunder Bay native one of just two NOJHL players who were part of the Ontario team that captured silver, dropping a heart-breaking 2-1 double overtime decision to Russia in the final of the 2019 World Junior “A” Challenge this past week in Dawson Creek, British Columbia.
Meanwhile, the mid-season search for another goalie has begun for the second time already this year. Just over a month after watching veteran David Bowen earn a promotion, signed by the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QJMHL, the Canadians have to bid adieu to his replacement between the pipes, Naughton native Cameron Lamour.
With his last OHL team, the Sarnia Sting, trading his rights to the North Bay Battalion, Lamour would get the start Sunday versus the Owen Sound Attack, allowing two goals on 26 shots in a 3-1 loss in North Bay.
As for Rayside, GM Jeff Forsyth confirmed that the team has activated NOJHL veteran Andrew Rocha as an “emergency replacement”, but continues the search for a #1 netminder, a task made somewhat more difficult with a league-wide trade freeze in effect until January 2nd.
Of course, following their home game Thursday against Espanola, the Canadians do not see game action again until Sunday, January 5th, in Blind River.