Beavers hang on to first place despite loss to Rayside

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The Blind River Beavers and the Rayside-Balfour Canadians are developing quite a rivalry as they vie for top spot in the western division standings of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League.

The Canadians defeated the Beavers 6-5 in a shootout in Blind River last Saturday to pull within two points of the first-place Beavers. It was the third straight victory for the Canadians over the Beavers, with all the games decided by one goal or in overtime.

It was not a lost weekend for the Beavers, despite the loss to the Canadians. They managed a resounding 8-3 win over the Cochrane Crunch on Friday, and sit atop the western division with a record of 20 victories against seven losses in regulation time and four more losses in overtime or shootouts for a total of 44 points.

The Canadians are hot on the Beavers’ tails with 42 points, followed by the Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, Eagles with 35 points and the Sault Ste. Marie Thunderbirds with 34 points. The Espanola Express hold the final playoff position in the western division with 16 points, while the Elliot Lake Wildcats occupy the cellar with just 11 points.

The game between the Canadians and the Beavers demonstrated how evenly matched the two teams are this season. Each side took a turn with the lead during the contest, with the final outcome decided by the only shooter to score on six shots during the shootout round.

Christopher Mingus got the Beavers off to a fast start when he scored from Lucas Adams and Milos Todorovic less than five minutes after the opening face-off. However, the Canadians responded with a pair of goals by Gavin Brown to take a 2-1 lead midway through the opening period.

Before the end of the first period, the Beavers bounced back with goals by Adams and Devon Savignac to grab a 3-2 lead at the first intermission. The lead was short-lived, however, as Zachary Snow tied the score with a goal for the Canadians early in the second stanza.

The battle raged on throughout the second period, with the Beavers grabbing the lead at 4-3 on Savignac’s second goal of the game only to see Zach Giroux tie the score at 4-4 just six seconds later. Finally, with just 14 seconds remaining in the frame, Kyle Quinn teamed with Caleb Serre and David Campbell to beat Cameron Lamour in the Rayside goal and give the Beavers a 5-4 lead at the second intermission.

The Beavers hung on to their lead with grim determination in the third period, but finally surrendered the tying goal with just over four minutes remaining on the clock when Brady Maltais beat Beavers goalie Jackson Hjelle. The teams battled on in a 5-5 tie through the remainder of regulation time and a five-minute overtime session, before Mitchell Martin decided the game by slipping a low shot under Hjelle for the only goal in the shootout and a victory for the Canadians.

There was no such drama the previous evening as the Beavers used a stellar debut performance by Blind River native Blake McNally to cruise to a decisive 8-3 triumph over Cochrane. Making his first start for his hometown team, McNally scored a goal and added an assist to back a hat-trick by Savignac on the way to the win.

After an opening goal by Nicholas Grandy of the Crunch and a quick reply by Serre to tie the score at -1 midway through the first period, it was time for Savignac to take over the contest. The speedy rookie winger recorded a natural hat-trick over a 12-minute span to propel the Beavers to a 4-1 lead midway through the second period.

After Tyson Moore scored to pull the Crunch to within 4-2, McNally teamed with Bryan Clahassey and Conrad Solypa for his first NOJHL goal to give Blind River a 5-2 cushion. Michael Mizerak scored for Cochrane minutes later to pull the Crunch to within 5-3, but that was the last puck to elude Hjelle on the evening.

The Beavers closed out the victory in style in the third period, as they tacked on a pair of goals by Tyler Nott and a single marker from Quinn to make the final score 8-3 for Blind River. Hjelle stopped 45 of 48 shots by the Crunch to earn the victory in goal, and McNally earned an assist on Nott’s second goal to conclude a memorable debut performance in the NOJHL.

With only six games remaining before the Christmas break, the Beavers will host a pair of games at the Blind River Community Centre this weekend, beginning with a tilt against the Elliot Lake Wildcats on Saturday at 7 p.m. The following afternoon at 2, the Beavers host the Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, Eagles.

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