Following a loss to the Rayside-Balfour Canadians, the Blind River Beavers will have to settle for a second-place finish in the western division standings in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League’s 2019-20 regular season.
With three games remaining on the regular season schedule, the Beavers are seven points behind the Canadians in the race for first place. The Canadians locked up first place by virtue of a convincing 8-2 triumph over the Beavers last Thursday in Chelmsford.
The Beavers rebounded from the crushing loss to score a 6-5 victory in overtime over the Espanola Express on Saturday in their final regular season home game. However, the Canadians also won their game on Saturday against French River to maintain their seven-point advantage over Blind River and clinch the regular season title.
The Beavers will face the Sault Ste. Marie Thunderbirds in their opening playoff series. The Thunderbirds will finish third in the western division behind the Canadians and the Beavers.
The Canadians will face the winner of the opening round best-of-three playoff series between the fourth-place Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, Eagles and the fifth-place Espanola Express. That series will happen during the first week of March, with the Beavers and Thunderbirds beginning their best-of-seven series the following week.
Before the playoffs begin, however, the Beavers will conclude their impressive regular season campaign with a trio of road games this weekend. On Thursday, the Beavers will try to exact some revenge when they tangle with the Canadians once again in Chelmsford, followed by road games against the Thunderbirds on Friday and the Elliot Lake Wildcats on Saturday.
-With their slim hopes for first place on the line last Thursday, the Beavers proved to be no match for the Canadians. Rayside blew the game open with five goals within a span of less than seven minutes in the second period and cruised to the decisive 8-2 victory to essentially salt away the western division title.
The Beavers got off to a great start when Jared Dupuis converted a feed from Noah Minns to open the scoring less than four minutes into the contest. However, the lead was short-lived, as Mitchell Martin tied the score at 1-1 less than 40 seconds later.
After Nicholas DeGrazia put Rayside up by a 2-1 margin midway through the first period, the two teams exchanged scoring chances until the midpoint of the second stanza. At that point, the floodgates seemed to open and the Canadians emerged with a 7-1 advantage on goals by Martin, DeGrazia, Giordano Biondi, Oliver Smith and Zacharie Giroux.
The Beavers did not give up, and got one goal back early in the third period when Jaren DeBolt teamed up with Ethan Graham and Caleb Serre. However, the Canadians responded with Martin’s third goal of the contest later in the period as they cruised to the win behind the stellar goaltending of David Bowen.
On Saturday, some penalty problems in the final minutes almost cost the Beavers the game against Espanola. Blind River surrendered three power-play goals in the final four minutes of regulation time, before rallying to claim the victory in overtime on a goal by Devon Savignac.
Draper MacLean scored early in the first period to give the Express the lead, but the Beavers countered with goals by Milos Todorovic, Blake McNally and Jake Behnen to grab a 3-1 lead by the first intermission. Tyler Nott added a pair of assists during the scoring frenzy by the Beavers in the opening frame.
The Beavers went up 4-1 early in the second period on a goal by Lucas Adams, but the Express battled back to cut the lead to 4-2 midway through the game on a goal by Josh Boucher. After Adams potted his second goal of the contest midway through the third period to give the Beavers a 5-2 lead, it looked as though the home side would easily claim the victory.
The Espanola team refused to give up, however, and put the Beavers defence under all kinds of pressure in the late going. The pressure forced the Beavers into numerous penalties, and Lukas Lyszyk of the Express capitalized with three straight power-play goals to knot the score at 5-5.
The Beavers regained their composure in the overtime session, however, and struck for the winning goal off the stick of Savignac just 73 seconds into the extra period. The victory was the 35th of the season for the Beavers, against a total of 18 losses in regulation and overtime.