A relatively young roster is opening some doors for the newcomers to the Rayside-Balfour Canadians.
True, there is likely a price to be paid early in the season, but the long-term benefits are starting to show already, even as the team remains in search of a season first win just two games into the 2018-2019 campaign.
A 3-2 setback against the Soo Thunderbirds was obviously not the result that coach Steve Lauzon and company were searching for in their home opener Sunday evening in Chelmsford. But there were more than a handful of positive signs from a lineup that featured no less than a dozen players born in the year 2000 or later.
Both Rayside markers came courtesy of the younger crew, with defenceman Brandon Atkins finishing off a play with passes from Zach Hauseman and Brady Maltais in the opening minute of period two, deadlocking the contest at 1-1, and Giordano Biondi redirecting a shot from Mathieu Dokis-Dupuis, late in the third, pulling the Canadians to within one at 3-2.
Unfortunately, the equalizer was not to come, but this was easily a game that could have gone either way. Scoring for the Thunderbirds were Kaiden MacDonald, Avery Rebek and Nick Smith, as Rayside received a very solid effort between the pipes from NOJHL veteran Jean-Marc Brisson, finishing the contest with 38 saves.
One of just two 2002-born players on the roster (defenceman Robert Brisson is the other), Sudbury Wolves' prospect Giordano Biondi is quickly getting used to the jump from minor midget, having benefitted from a few late season call-ups last spring as an affiliated player.
"It's a lot bigger, faster game, definitely," he said. "It's a lot more aggressive. There's different rules with regards to fighting, so it's not like you can just stand there and get in someone's face and nothing is going to happen."
All in all, he sees his move to the NOJHL as a good one.
"You're developing more as a player," said Biondi, who celebrated just his 16th birthday last month. "With the higher intensity game, it helps your game rise as well. You start learning new things. When you move up to higher levels, you see how the game changes and you just have to adjust and adapt to it."
And like most who have travelled this path before him, Biondi understands that the ideal compromise is finding a way to incorporate the existing strengths of his game with the lessons to be learned playing against opponents three to four years older.
"I've always been an offensive player," said the grade 11 student at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School. "I don't want to change my game, but I want to work on my defensive zone, playing a 200 foot game, all of the time."
And conversely, Biondi is already noticing the challenges to creating offense while moving up the ranks.
"Guys here are a lot smarter defensively than back in minor midget, so you have to have your head up and work on knowing where everyone is at all times," he said. "You need to create plays as fast as you can."
Biondi and his teammates will attempt to put that mindset into practice as Rayside-Balfour prepares for back to back home games with the Soo Eagles. The league's only American entry visits the Chelmsford Arena on Thursday night for a 7 p.m. puck drop, and are back again on Sunday, this time for a 6:30 p.m. start.