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Saturday, Apr. 21, 2018
Third period rally helps turn the series around
2018-04-02
by Randy Pascal

For the better part of five full periods of hockey, the frustration within the Chelmsford Arena was tangible.

If there is anything worse than dropping the opening two games of a seven game series, it might well be seeing your team shutout for that entire 120 minutes of hockey.

If there is anything worse than that, it might well lie in the knowledge that you did not help your chances in the least by taking a series of unnecessary penalties.

Heading into the third period of game two on Saturday night, the Rayside-Balfour Canadians seemed to be beating their collective heads against the wall. The Soo Thunderbirds had waltzed in and claimed the ice-breaker by a final score of 2-0.

Almost exactly 24 hours later, the visitors, who finished just three points behind the Canadians at the end of regular season play, were on the verge of doing it all over again.

With forty minutes of play in the books, the Thunderbirds were again enjoying a 2-0 lead, this time on goals from Tanner Mayne and Noah Solinger. They were outshooting the homeside by a whopping margin of 39-14.

The only area that Rayside enjoyed the upper hand was in total PIMs (16-4), hardly the recipe for success.

Things were looking awfully bleak.

But as they hit the ice for the final frame, there was noticeably more jump to the Canadians step. Suddenly, it was the Saultites who were making frequent forays to the sin bin. It would take the first place team just over 105 minutes to finally solve netminder Eric Schuch, Ryan O’Bonsawin benefitting from a deflection to snap the impressive Sault Ste Marie string.

The tides had started to turn, as Rayside pressed incessantly, outshooting the Thunderbirds 21-2 in the final twenty minutes. Capitalizing on a goal mouth scramble, Kyle Liinamaa jammed home the equalizer with just over five minutes to play.

This version of the Jeckyll and Hyde Canadians was clearly delighting the Chelmsford Arena crowd. At 10:38 of overtime, Liinamaa would send the folks home happy, whistling a drive from about ten feet inside the blueline just over the right pad of Schuch, deadlocking the series at one.

The Rayside-Balfour team that showed up for the final thirty minutes of game two looked nothing like the one which preceded it for five straight periods. “We regained our composure,” stated coach Steve Lauzon. “We’ve got a young team, a bunch of 17 year olds, excited, with an opportunity to win a conference. Nerves come out, we’re a little jittery, we take some bad penalties.”

“We needed discipline all over the ice, not just with penalties, but also how we plug up the middle, and how we breakout. We’re a little young and sometimes foolish, but you regroup them by reminding them that it’s a seven game series, there’s lot of hockey left. Let’s focus on what we do right and what got us here. You know you have the talent, you know you’ve got the skill-set.”

With the game tied and the momentum clearly swinging in favour of his team, Lauzon was not about to allow them to take their foot off the gas. “I told them not to hold back – we attack, we attack, we attack,” he said. “I would rather lose trying as hard as you possibly can rather than sit back and have a freaky bounce go in. Outwork them and let’s go.”

Still, we are talking about a team that somehow managed to win a first round series in six games while scoring just 13 goals. Add in their troika from Saturday and the Canadians are now averaging exactly two goals per game in post-season play. These guys are not about to run and gun you out of the rink.

“There’s not a 50 goal scorer in the bunch,” said Lauzon. “I talk about winning by committee, everybody has to chip in. When we get opportunities, we have to shoot at the net. Kyle Liinamaa has hands, he can put the puck in. He’s been told he’s a playmaker, I tell him he’s a shooter. He’s probably our most natural goal scorer.”

Whether it be due to suspensions (James White/Evan Krassey) or injury (Baldino Aiello), it was interesting to note that Lauzon split up the unit of Liinamaa, Jacob Partridge and Taylor Woolcott, easily their most dynamic trio of the 2018 post-season. Ostensibly, one might think it was done, in part, to spread out the potential for offense.

To some extent, at the very least, it worked.

The challenge, for the likes of Liinamaa and company, is that this particular Soo team is no easy nut to crack, offensively speaking. “They play a trap game, so it’s hard to get things going,” said Liinamaa. “They all back up and try and get their opportunities when we take bad penalties. If we stay out of the box, I think we’ll be fine.”

“You have to kind of dump it in deep and then everyone go force it. That’s kind of what we did in the third. If you get it in deep and they collapse, and we have support on the puck, get it to the point or the guy in the high slot, shoot and try and get rebounds.”

Backstopping the entire operation has been Rayside puckstopper Brayden Lachance, attempting to hold the fort while his team got untracked offensively. “It’s obviously a little frustrating, but you kind of have to keep at it, stay positive, and try and help the team get going,” said Lachance.

“I think they (the Thunderbirds) have done a good job at getting bodies to the net and tipping pucks. It seems that every second or third shot is a tip, high slot, back door, so you have to keep your eye out – but you’ve got the give them credit for that.”

But equal credit, at least for now, goes to the Rayside-Balfour Canadians, who somehow managed a 180 degree turnaround and have suddenly made this a series.

Science North
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