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Nickel Barons keep the streak going

This wasn't the way that coaches Doug McEwen and Dave Clancy designed the game plan.
Following a come-from-behind victory over the Blind River Beavers on Jan. 16, the Sudbury Nickel Barons have taken their winning streak to nine-consecutive games, the second highest in the Canadian Junior Hockey League. File photo.
This wasn't the way that coaches Doug McEwen and Dave Clancy designed the game plan.

With defensive miscues in prominence and missed assignments not all that hard to find, the Blind River Beavers and Sudbury Nickel Barons combined to pelt a trio of netminders with no less than 90 shots on goal.

In the end, a snipe by Sudbury rookie Cory Vaillancourt with just 2:40 to play proved to be the difference as the Nickel Barons registered their ninth straight win, taking down the Beavers 8-6 at the McLelland Arena in Copper Cliff.

It took about eight minutes at the beginning of the contest for the teams to crank up their respective offensive arsenals. Once in motion, there was simply no slowing them down.

David Lazarus, Brett Dusick and Martin Jolicoeur of the Barons traded goals with Blind River forwards Samuel Wilbur and Corey McEwen over the final 11:09 of the first period and the floodgates had opened.

Blind River controlled much of the second, at least on the scoresheet, regaining a 5-4 lead as goals by Tyson MacLeod, Tyler Brown and Cray Roberge were offset by a single tally from Sudbury blue-liner Mathieu Lecavalier.

Jolicoeur pulled the Barons even just 41 seconds into the final stanza, netting his second of the game, but MacLeod had an answer for that, beating Alexander Laino 69 seconds later.

Laino had replaced starter Michael Muzyka midway through the second, after the fourth Blind River goal, although one had the sense that on this night, throwing Martin Brodeur between the pipes was not about to slow down the offensive production on either side.

The home side would pull even, once again, on a shorthanded beauty as captain Sebastien Leroux waited patiently before sliding a perfect pass to linemate Darcy Haines. The Valley East native made no mistake, depositing his league-leading 30th tally of the season behind Brock Crossthwaite.

Despite surrendering all eight goals, the newly acquired Blind River goaltender came up with a number of sensational stops as part of a 45-save performance for the visitors.

Unfortunately for him and his mates, Vaillancourt would send a very unhappy group back onto Highway 17 West, nailing the top shelf on a two-on-one with time ticking down.

Lecavalier closed out the scoring parade with his second of the game at 18:25 of the third period, before the Beavers even had the chance to pull Crossthwaite in favour of the extra attacker.

While coach Clancy will gladly take the win, he did have a message for the boys.

"You have to keep driving home what it was that has made us successful," he said after the game.

"The nice thing is that we feel we can always come back on a team, that we have the scoring power to do that."

Despite trailing by only a goal after 40 minutes of play, there was little doubt that Clancy was not pleased with his crew at that point.

"We didn't feel that we played very well the first two periods," he said. "If we would tighten up a bit, we thought we would be rewarded."

At the other end of the hallway, McEwen was no more ecstatic about the sometimes sporadic efforts of his Blind River troops.

"Overall, we played the system right for two periods, and then lost our way in the third, which seems to be a common denominator since Christmas time," McEwen said.

"Whether it's a mental thing or just a physical thing, I haven't put my finger on it just yet. I think I expect a lot from my players. When you have a lead, you have to know how to play with a lead, how to protect it. This team seems to squander a lead very easily."

Realistically, the former high-scoring NOJHL sniper understands that talent plays a part in the equation.

"We've been working hard, Rusty Joncas (general manager) and myself, trying to get this hockey team together," McEwen said.

"We've scoured across Canada, basically taking players from Newfoundland, from Vancouver, all over the place, trying to put together the right players."

"The last piece of the puzzle is probably on the defensive side," he added. "Time will tell whether we can find somebody at this late stage of the season."

Likewise, Clancy and company have also been busy juggling with their lineup, though moreso a result of injuries, of late.

"Right now, we're down quite a few players," Clancy said. "We played with only 15 skaters tonight.

"We're trying to establish a few lines, some new faces were jumping up to some different spots. I'm a firm believer that all 21 guys have to contribute, so a few guys had an opportunity to step up tonight."

The next opportunity, and the one that carries with it the chance to extend their winning streak to double digits, comes Jan. 23 for Clancy and the Barons, with the Soo Thunderbirds making another trip to Sudbury.