Gabriel Rheault leads local NOJHLers to year end victory
by Randy Pascal
The Rayside-Balfour Canadians ensured their holiday break would be a little more enjoyable, closing out the 2017 calendar year with a solid
effort in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan last night.
The visitors rolled out to a 4-0 lead after forty minutes of play, surviving a third period push from the Soo Eagles in posting a 5-2 win.
Gabriel Rheault scored twice on the power play to lead the Canadians, with both goals coming in the middle stanza.
Baldino Aiello and Taylor Woolcott found mesh for Rayside in the first, while Shane Donovan sealed the victory with an empty-net
marker with 1:34 to play as coach Steve Lauzon and company improved to 20-10-2-1, now three points clear of the Eagles.
Jonathon Lakhani and Bobby Price replied in a losing cause for the Soo, as Brayden Lachance remained solid in net for the local
NOJHLers, picking up the win with a 38-save effort.
The victory came a week after Rayside-Balfour split a home and home series with the Elliot Lake Wildcats, unable to capitalize on the momentum of
a 5-1 home ice triumph, falling 4-3 the next evening in Elliot Lake.
The two game set was still a highly memorable one for the Canadians, as team captain Matt Neault surpassed current pro hockey official Chris
Pontes atop the league leaderboard in the total games played category.
Neault suited up in games 243 and 244 last week in taking over the all-time NOJHL lead, an accomplishment he wanted to share with those closest to him.
"It's kind of a momento for me, but it's for my parents too," he said.
"They've been so supportive of me, throughout my minor hockey career up to now. This is for them." An avid gym rat, Neault credits the impressive games
played total to an overall commitment to remaining in the lineup.
"I'm in the gym, working out, taking ice baths the night before games, after games, just trying to keep my body healthy." Of course, far be it for his
current group of teammates to let the event pass without enjoying some dressing room fun at his expense.
"They like to call me "Mr NOJHL" now, to try and get under my skin," he said with a laugh. The Canadians resume play in the new year with a three game
homestand, welcoming the Blind River Beavers (January 4th) and Soo Eagles twice (January 7th & 11th) to Chelmsford in rapid succession.