Return of Krassey and White helps boost Rayside to NOJHL final
by Randy Pascal
The return of veteran power forward Evan Krassey was sure to add an extra little jump to the step of the Rayside-Balfour Canadians, as they
prepared for game five of their NOJHL West Division final with the Soo Thunderbirds on Sunday.
Having James White at his side, just in time for the drop of the opening faceoff, was simply an added bonus.
Emotionally charged from the very outset of the contest, and spurred on by the continued stellar play of goaltender Brayden Lachance and offensive dynamo
Kyle Liinamaa, the Canadians posted back to back 4-1 wins, earning a berth in the league championship series opposite the Cochrane Crunch.
Nowhere was the effect of the "twin tower (Krassey/White) turnaround" more evident than in the opening ten minutes of game five, a critical affair with
the series tied at two games apiece.
The Rayside lads came out guns a blazing, and by the 9:54 mark of the first period, the contest was all but over, the homeside holding a 3-0 lead on
goals from Taylor Woolcott, White and Ryan O'Bonsawin.
For White, who would see his league imposed ten game suspension reduced to just three games on appeal in a topsy-turvy state of affairs, the Sunday
pre-game ritual was anything but ordinary.
"It was kind of a roller-coaster of emotions," noted the 6'4" native of Peterborough. "I got to the rink thinking I wasn't going to play. Then Steve
(Lauzon - Rayside head coach) told me that they were going to have a decision in about 15 minutes before warm-up, so I got dressed."
"Then he came in, just before warm-up, and told me I wasn't going. I stayed in my stuff for about ten minutes, while they did warm-up, and then got
myself undressed. I was just getting done getting into my suit when he came back in and told me I was going. I was pretty happy."
While much has been written about the unfortunate game one hit that would see talented Thunderbirds' forward Camaryn Baber sidelined for the
balance of the season, White maintains that there was no pre-meditation whatsoever involved in the incident.
"Me and (Rayside centre) Matt (Neault) had talked about trying to get the puck deep in their end, right off the draw, so that's why I looped
around their winger," said White. "Then I saw Baber with the puck, I didn't even know it was him at the time, so I went to finish my check and separate him
from the puck. It was a hockey play."
Though Rayside could not maintain the pace they established in the first half of the opening frame, the team did a nice job of limiting the Sault
Ste Marie comeback. The Thunderbirds got on the board at 14:28 of period one, when Spencer Van Tiem redirected a point shot from Bradon Caruso
past Lachance, the only one of 35 pucks directed his way that would elude the local netminder.
Following a scoreless middle stanza, the Canadians caught the break they needed in the third. Staring at a wide open net, Van Tiem got a shot off quickly
that unfortunately worked its way right back in the direction of Lachance, coming back across the crease.
Just a few minutes later, Liinamaa would work his magic. Doggedly pursuing a Thunderbirds blueliner in the Rayside zone, the "Finnish Flash", as
he is dubbed by team owner Adrian Gedye, stripped away the puck, broke free on a two and one, and saucered a beautiful pass that Krassey finished to
perfection, giving the Canadians a 3-2 series lead.
Twenty-four hours later, coach Lauzon and company would spot the T-Birds a 1-0 first period lead, securing the advantage by the end of the frame and
adding one more tally in each of the second and third periods to capture the best of seven series, four games to two.
Krassey scored twice to lead the way for Rayside-Balfour, with Woolcott and Jacob Partridge adding singletons, while Lucas Theriault
converted on the power play for the only Soo goal, with Lachance recording 36 more saves in the win.
The Canadians and Crunch kick things off in Chelmsford with games one and two set for this coming Friday (April 13th) and Saturday (April 14th) nights,
with three and four going the following Thursday and Friday in Cochrane.
Rayside-Balfour and Cochrane only met up twice in the 2017-2018 regular season, with the Canadians sweeping the set. The locals bounced the Crunch 6-1 in
Cochrane back on September 22nd, and picked up a much closer 3-1 victory at home on March 4th.