OLIVER PAIPOONGE – The Kam River Fighting Walleye had the Wright guy on the ice at the right time.
Rookie Max Wright buried a two-one-one feed from fellow freshman Jonny Timmons just past the midway point of the third period, the goal proving to be the game-winner in the Fighting Walleye’s pre-season opening 2-1 win over the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Hearst Lumberjacks on Friday night at the Norwest Arena.
“There’s a lot of new guys coming to this team,” said Wright, who hails from Colorado Springs and scored 22 times in 19 appearances in his final season of high school hockey in 2022-23.
“As a rookie myself, we’re just trying to leave an impact on the ice and build something coming into the regular season here. Our goal is to learn as we get going and I thought we did a good job of that tonight.”
It was all about keeping the energy high, Wright added, particularly after Hearst’s Julien Trudel netted the equalizer 3:25 into the third, cutting across Kam River goaltender Ashton Sadauskas’ crease and slamming it home.
“We knew we could win that game,” Wright said. “We just kept battling until that one went in.”
Just don’t ask Wright exactly how it happened.
“I blanked for most of it. All I can remember is getting that puck and seeing the far side and just as I’m trained to shoot, I just shot it,” he said.
It made up for a bit of a slow start by the defending Superior International Junior Hockey League champions, playing their first game of the pre-season, the visiting Lumberjacks outshooting Kam River 13-8 in the opening period, Sadauskas coming up strong to keep the Fighting Walleye in the contest early.
The sluggish opening period wasn’t all that surprising, said first-year coach Jesse Messier.
“We obviously started very slow, with guys doing a lot of thinking out there rather than playing. We’re trying to instill a lot of new systems here, so it’s a lot of new ground. I think we kind of started on our heels, but again, with the learning, I challenged the guys and told them we need to get better each and every period,” Messier said.
“I think we did a good job of that, making the adjustments that we were on our heels in the first and into the second. Then I started feeling a little more comfortable and starting seeing from our group during training camp.”
The Fighting Walleye, who killed off an early penalty to keep the game scoreless after one, struck first, early in the second.
Timmons, who calls Whitehorse home, Beat Boileau four minutes into the middle stanza and said he thought the Fighting Walleye got the job done.
“I thought we played pretty good as a team. For the first time playing together, I thought we did pretty good,” said Timmons, who played U18 hockey for Okanagan last season.
Looking for the equalizer late in the third, Hearst’s Jean-Pierre Audras took a hooking penalty. The Lumberjacks pulled Boileau with about a minute to go in regulation, but couldn’t put the puck past Sadauskas, who made 29 stops on the night. Boileau was good on 32 of 34 Kam River shots.
The two teams play again on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and wrap up the Teleco Cup on Sunday at noon.
Scoring: No scoring. Penalties: Sargent KRW (slashing). 1:24.
Scoring: 1. Kam River, Timmons (Fagnilli, Thompson) 3:58. Penalties: Dickson KRW (boarding) 0:52, Bourdon-Lemoyen HST (roughing) 11:58.
Scoring: 2. Kam River, Trudel (Moore, Bourdon-Lemoyne) 3:25. 3. Kam River, Wright (Timmons, Duchesne) 10:30. Penalties: Audra’s HST (hooking) 17:10.
GAME DATA —SOG — Hearst 14-8-8-30, Kam River 8-13-13-34; Power plays (goals-chances) - Hearst (0-2), Kam River (0-2); Goaltenders -Hearst: Tristan Boileau, Kam River: Ashton Saduskas.