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‘It’s a learning curve’ — Canadians show promise, but drop home opener to Voodoos

Like any team embarking on a new season, and with several new names on the program, the Rayside-Balfour Canadians looked like something of a work in progress during their NOJHL home opener on Thursday night.

Ben Leeson – The Sudbury Star
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It should be said, however, that some of that progress was apparent even by the late part of the contest at Chelmsford Arena, despite a heartbreaker of a 3-2 loss to the Powassan Voodoos.

“We have a lot of new players out there, a lot of young guys, and they’re adapting to this style of hockey,” said forward Brady Maltais, one of Rayside’s goal-scorers. “As the game went on, we got better and better, so it looks good for the rest of the season, in my opinion. I think we worked well in the third period and I’m hoping we’ll get even better throughout the season.”

First-year forward Oliver Smith had Rayside’s other goal, while returning netminder David Bowen had a solid 42-save performance.

Brett Shawana, Gregory Trudeau-Paquet and Gabinien Kioki handled the scoring for Powassan, which looked every bit like an experienced, physical team that tested the hosts at both ends of the ice, especially early on. Owen Say had a solid 31-save outing for the Voodoos.

Rayside-Balfour Canadians goalie David Bowen makes a pad save on Powassan Voodoos forward Gabinien Kioki during NOJHL action at Chelmsford Arena in Chelmsford, Ontario on Thursday, September 5, 2019. Ben Leeson/The Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

“Powassan is a good team, a bit of a veteran squad, and we made some minor hockey mistakes and that happens,” said Dan Cuomo, Rayside’s head coach. “We have to learn that when the puck goes through the neutral zone, it has to go up the boards, that pass has to happen there, because our cross-ice passes were getting picked off and, we had too many giveaways and they were trying to do too much.”

Some of that is to be expected, he said, with a trio of 16-year-olds and a half-dozen 17-year-olds, many of whom played midget hockey last season and are finding out some of their old tricks don’t work as well at the junior A level.

“It’s a learning curve,” Cuomo said.

Rayside’s bench boss praised Bowen for a determined effort, and he certainly liked some of what his players did at forward and defence, but he’ll be looking for a more consistent effort up and down the lineup in a rematch at Powassan Sportsplex, Friday at 7 p.m.

“They’re physical and they’re aggressive,” Cuomo said of the Voodoos. “Some of these guys are used to being able to sort the problem out hockey-wise, with skill, and making a play, but when a guy’s coming in to take the body on you, they’re taking away your time and space, so you have to learn to adjust to that scenario, to learn that sometimes, you have to eat the puck, freeze it along the boards and protect it until other guys get in position to help out. You can’t always be the guy and make the play. Maybe you could do it last year, but you can’t this year.”

The teams traded goals in the opening period, with Powassan drawing first blood and Rayside answering, then did the same in the second. But the home side, which was without veterans such as Mathieu Dokis-Dupuis and Jett Leishman, couldn’t repeat the trick in the final frame.

First it was Shawana, whom local hockey fans remember as a member of the Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves midgets, with an unassisted tally for the visitors at 1:52 of the opening frame.

Maltais answered by slipping a puck past Say on a power play at 13:46. Ben Hatanaka and Joel Mongeon had the assists.

The Voodoos struck even more quickly in the second, 48 seconds in, when Trudeau-Paquet buried a Parker Bowman rebound on the power play. Eric Mondoux had the other helper.

Rayside-Balfour Canadians forward Mitchell Martin (15) handles the puck while under pressure from Powassan Voodoos forward Parker Bowman (25) during NOJHL action at Chelmsford Arena in Chelmsford, Ontario on Thursday, September 5, 2019. Ben Leeson/The Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

Smith fired back with his first goal as a junior, converting on a feed from fellow freshman Nick DeGrazia at 7:26.

Kioki restored Powassan’s lead at 4:33 of the third, with Mondoux drawing the lone assist.

The Canadians pressed hard on a late power play, which saw OHL-drafted rookies such as DeGrazia, Mitchell Martin and Zacharie Giroux get significant ice time, and had their chances with Bowen on the bench, but they couldn’t beat Say again.

Despite their disappointment, Maltais said the veterans’ message to their teammates was positive.

“These guys are here to learn and get better,” Maltais said. “Us older guys, we’re here to help them through everything, to instill a work ethic in them and to keep pushing, because that’s what they’re looking for at the next level, and don’t let little things bother them throughout the game, just head down and work hard.”

Twitter: @ben_leeson