Brennan Menard hadn’t scored in more than a year.
Concussed and only able to dress for nine games the past two seasons, playing only his third game of 2013-14, the Thunder Bay native ended a 399-day drought Friday night, netting the second-period winner in a 4-1 non-conference triumph over the visiting first-year Laurentian Voyageurs.
It was worth the wait, said the 25-year-old Menard, in his fifth and final season with the Thunderwolves.
“It was frustrating," he said of his year on the sidelines. "I had to just try to get healthy. I wasn't really sure if I was going to play again, but the way things ended up working out I was able to come back. I got myself into the best shape I could and just tried to contribute every game."
The goal was a lesson in puck movement.
LU forward Carson Dubchak, who missed most of the first half with a knee injury, took a pass from blue-liner Mike Quesnele and ripped a pass to Menard who was perched in front of Laurentian goalie Charlie Millen, son of former NHLer and current Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster Greg Millen.
Menard one-timed the puck past Millen, who had no chance on the play.
"I totally forgot it was the game winner. It was just a nice pass by Dubchak. I was hanging out all by myself and just got it in there," Menard said.
Lakehead coach Bill McDonald, a longtime family friend, said there was no rush to get Menard back into the lineup.
"Put it this way. We took it very cautiously. I think we did the right thing and we made damn sure that he was all right before he went back onto the ice," McDonald said.
"The first time I got to see him was (last month) when we were in York. He brings a bit of a different element to the team. I more or less told him to stay out of the yapping and just use his speed and skill and that's what he's doing. I think he's helped us out a little bit here for sure."
Cody Alcock, with a quick shot in tight at 9:51 of the first, and Kelin Ainsworth, who barreled the puck past Millen less than three minutes after Menard pushed LU in front for good, also scored for the Wolves, who open OUA second-half play at home next weekend against the Toronto Varsity Blues. Captain Andrew Wilkins added an insurance marker at 18:29 of the third.
The Voyageurs, coached by Craig Duncanson, the ninth overall pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 1985 who went on to play 38 games with L.A., Winnipeg and the New York Rangers, played a pesky brand of hockey, but couldn’t catch enough breaks.
Defenceman Matt Eddy caught Lakehead goalie Jeff Bosch going the wrong way late in the first, the power play shot the only puck to find the back of the Thunderwolves net at 18:29 of the opening period.
But they couldn’t convert on a two-minute, two-man advantage in the second when Menard and rookie Adam Restoule were sent to the box with 2:07 to play.
Bosch came up big earlier in the second when Corey McEwan slipped through the back-pedalling defensive duo of Bruyere and Chris de la Lande and went in alone on the Lakehead netminder.
The win could be a costly one for the Thunderwolves. Forward Trevor Gamache left holding his right wrist and did not return.
"It doesn't look good," McDonald said.
Scoring: 1. Lakehead, Alcock (Gamache) 9:51. 2. Laurentian Eddy (MacDonald, Carroll) 18:29 pp. Penalties: Nanne LAU (hooking) 5:30, Maw LAK (high sticking) 17:12.
Scoring: 3. Lakehead, Menard (Dubchak, M. Quesnele) 3:28. 4. Lakehead, Ainsworth (Maw, Hammond) 6:05. Penalties: Gamache LAK (hooking) 6:44, FiItze LAU (slashing) 12:07, Llorca LAU (cross checking) 13:31, Menard LAK (hooking), Restoule LAK (unsportsmanlike conduct) 17:53
Scoring: 4. Lakehead, Wilkins (Alcock, M. Quesnele) 18:29. Penalties: Eddy LAU (tripping) 0:20, Bruyere LAK (roughing) 1:26, McEwan LAU (high sticking) 6:33, Maw LAK (boarding) 8:53, Leroux LAU (cross checking), Fillman LAK (roughing) 18:45
GAME DATA – SOG – Laurentian 9-7-10-26, Lakehead 12-12-9-33; Power plays (goals-chances) – Laurentian (1-6), Lakehead (0-4); Goaltenders – Laurentian: Charlie Millen, Lakehead: Jeff Bosch; A: 2,354.
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