The big guy got back just in time for a big win Thursday night in Chelmsford.
With 6'7" veteran defenceman Ethan Lavallee making his return to the lineup following an off-season of soul searching, the Rayside-Balfour Canadians looked more than ready to challenge the NOJHL elite, blasting the hapless Elliot Lake Wildcats 11-2.
Given that Lavallee is still very much playing himself back into game shape, the team took any additional stress off his shoulders, lighting the lamp with consistency (their goal-scoring, by period, was - 4-3-4) in improving their season mark to 9-4-0-0, just one point back of the Blind River Beavers (9-1-1-0) for the West Division lead.
Nick Degrazia (2G-2A), Wolves 2019 2nd round pick Ethan Larmand (1G-2A) and Gavin Brown (2G) were among the many offensive sparkplugs for the home side, with Avery Chisholm, Samuel Vachon, Zach Hauseman, Oliver Smith, Alexandre Fowke and Mitchell Martin rounding out the scoring.
Eric Vanderhoff and Austin Brunet replied in a losing cause for the Wildcats, who netted both of their goals in the first period before Rayside netminder David Bowen shut the door, recording 23 saves in his easiest win of the season.
As for Lavallee, Canadians' General Manager Jeff Forsyth was pleased to return the 19-year-old blueliner to a unit that features only two back-end players who are older than the native of Skead (Zachary Snow and Joel Mongeon - by less than a month).
"Early in the summer, we had reached out to him and he didn't seem to have interest at that point," said Forsyth. "I thought it was best to let the player kind of decide what he wanted to do for his future, in terms of playing the game."
"As the season went on, I had kind of picked a date, late September, early October, to kind of reach out to him, about whether he would come back and play in Rayside." With the likes of Dylan Bertrand, Graeme Siren and Avery Chisholm all in their first year in the league, it wasn't hard to see where the addition of Lavallee might help.
"He brings that veteran presence, that leadership to our "D" corps," said Forsyth. "He kind of solidifies our back end, in terms of what we are looking for. He could be that guy to quarterback our power play. He has the ability to do that, the ability to make plays and get pucks to the net."
While Lavallee ranked 8th on the team last year in terms of penalty minutes, tied with Kyle Liinamaa at 44 minutes apiece, Forsyth is not looking to the long-time member of the Nickel City Sons to necessarily assert himself into an overly aggressive role.
"I don't think we have been pushed around," said Forsyth. "Our young guys have done really well for us and have continued to mature as the season has progressed. The maturing process has been pretty quick for them."
In fact, with no less than eleven teenagers on the roster playing a full season of junior hockey for the very first time in Rayside this year, Forsyth has been more than pleased with the showing of the Canadians to date.
"I know that we have the dressing room to be a pretty good hockey team," he said. "Being so young, I didn't expect us to have so much early-season success."
Rayside-Balfour will finish off the home and home with the Wildcats this evening in Elliot Lake, and then turn their attention to the 2019 NOJHL Showcase in Soo, Michigan next week.
The Canadians are scheduled to face the Timmins Rock on Tuesday and the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners on Wednesday, closing out a very busy week with a road game Saturday against the Blind River Beavers and a home outing on Sunday versus the Soo Thunderbirds.