A relatively young Rayside-Balfour Canadians team lost both ends of a season-opening home and home set with the veteran-laden Powassan Voodoos this week, but it's a pretty sure bet that they felt much better following game one than game two.
Playing at home Thursday night in Chelmsford, the Canadians received a standout performance between the pipes from Sudbury Wolves' draftee David Bowen as Gabby Kioki snapped a 2-2 tie, early in the third, lifting the visitors to a 3-2 win.
While some confusion between Bowen and one of his blueliners allowed Powassan to open the scoring before fans had even settled in (Brett Shawana - 1:52 of 1st), the well-spoken puck-stopper was outstanding for the remainder of the encounter, finishing the evening with 42 saves to his credit.
Rayside-Balfour did manage to overcome deficits twice in the game, with Brady Maltais pulling his team even in the first, and Oliver Smith offsetting a second-period marker from Gregory Trudeau-Paquet less than seven minutes later, as the Canadians peppered Powassan netminder Owen Say with 33 shots of their own.
"I made an early mistake in the first, but after that, I thought I gave our team a chance to win," said Bowen, who appeared in 27 regular-season games last year with the team, and an even dozen in post-season play.
"We've got a few rookie defencemen out there and mistakes are going to happen in a first game, but as the game went on, I thought we played really well. It was a one-goal game and I think we played nowhere near as good as we can play."
A 13th round pick in the 2016 OHL draft, Bowen battled both Mitchell Weeks and Jonathan Lemaire at the Wolves training camp earlier this month, before ultimately returning to the team he called home for most of last year.
All in all, he handled it pretty well.
"It was a little disappointing that I didn't get to stick up with the big club, but after an hour, I was pretty much right over that," he said. "I was really excited to get back in this dressing room. Last year was by far the most fun year I've had with a hockey team and honestly, as soon as I got back in the room, I felt right back at home."
"This is the first year in a while where I feel that I can just play hockey for fun, with not really anything in the back of my mind worrying me, so I'm really excited," confessed Bowen. "It's a great group of guys in there."
As sometimes happens with young teams in the league, things spiralled out of control pretty quickly the next night in Powassan. The Voodoos drilled four shots past 16-year-old Nicholas Heinzle in the first nine minutes of play, adding three more before the end of the first period and cruised to an 11-1 win at home.
Jett Leishman scored the only goal for Rayside, while Joe Whittet and Parker Bowman both finished with hat tricks for the winners. Rounding out the scoring for the Voodoos were Ryan Mills, Gabby Kioki, Ty Nicholson, Cade Herd and Brett Shawana.
While it may not have shown in game two, Bowen is confident that his teammates have the skill required to ice a more than competitive team, night in and night out, in the NOJHL.
"Our speed is evident," he said. "We're way faster than last year. We had a fast team last year, but our team is faster this year. As soon as we learn to string a few passes together, break out of our zone together, we're going to create so many chances."
"If we can put a few pucks in the net, hopefully, I can do my job and keep us in most of the games, and we'll win a lot of games this year."
The Canadians will look to snap their two-game skid on Sunday night at home, welcoming the Soo Eagles (0-1) to the Chelsmford Arena.