The Rayside-Balfour Canadians may have survived the see-saw nature of the race for second place in the NOJHL West Division last weekend, but their precarious hold on the perch directly below the Soo Thunderbirds may not last all that long.
After dropping a tough 5-3 decision to the Blind River Beavers at home on Thursday, the Canadians, who now lead the Beavers by four points but have also played three more games than their pursuers, reeled off road wins over both the Espanola Express (4-2) and the Elliot Lake Wildcats (4-1).
The locals, who have struggled to hit the ice with a full complement of 18 skaters in recent weeks, entered play on Monday with a record of 23-16-1-2 (49 pts), still within striking range of the division-leading T-Birds (28-9-0-1 = 57 pts).
The Canadians more pressing concern, however, is what is happening directly behind them, with Blind River now at 20-14-4-1 (45), and the Soo Eagles also lurking around at 19-19-1-1 (40).
The crew under the guidance of coaches Dan Cuomo and Steve Lauzon missed out on a chance to create a little more separation between themselves and the Beavers when Nathan Engel snapped a 3-3 tie, late in period two, lifting the visitors to their 5-3 victory.
Andrew Warhoftig, Dante Cavaliere, Caleb Serré and Brendan Young (empty-net goal) also pulled the trigger for Blind River, with Brady Maltais, Benjamin Hatanaka and Noah Serré countering in a losing cause.
The Canadians turned the tables the next night in Espanola, breaking a 2-2 deadlock of their own with goals from Mathieu Dokis-Dupuis (17:18 - 2nd period) and Noah Serré (14:29 - 3rd), doubling the Express 4-2.
The victory, which also featured tallies from minor midget affiliate Bradley Brunet and veteran Kyle Liinamaa, was a costly one for the Rayside squad, with the blueline trio of Brandon Atkins (five + game for check to the head), Zachary Snow (five + game for slashing) and Brodie Willard (5 + game for cross-checking and GM for facemask) all likely to spend time on the sidelines with suspensions.
Thankfully, the return of both Ethan Lavallee and Jett Leishman 24 hours later, along with the presence of another call-up in the form of Teegan Dumont, provided something of a breather for a bench that featured only 15 players, including one goalie (Sebastien Plamondon).
No complaints about ice time as the Canadians pull away from the Elliot Lake Wildcats with three unanswered goals, with Ben Hatanaka leading the way with a two-goal effort, joined on the scoresheet by Noah Serré and Mathieu Dokis-Dupuis.
Thankfully, the schedule is a little more forgiving this coming weekend, as the Canadians play host to the Timmins Rock (23-14-2-0) Thursday in Chelmsford, heading out on the road to face the Blind River Beavers, once again, on Saturday.
As expected, the NOJHL has doled out the discipline for the recent Canadian missteps, with Atkins (two games), Willard (eight games) and Snow (four games) all scheduled to miss the encounter with the Rock, although captain Evan Krassey is expected to return for a four-game hiatus of his own.