Lynx split season opening weekend

Chad Lafortune and William Godbout take the ceremonial opening faceoff to open the home schedule for 2021-22 West Nipissing Lynx.

The bounces didn’t go the West Nipissing Lynx way in their home opener last night, falling 4-3 to the Temiscaming Titans in front of a sold-out crowd of 100 fans at the Sturgeon Falls Arena.

Despite the setback, head coach Jeff Mancini says there was a ton of positives to take from the team’s first weekend of action, which saw the Lynx beat the Ville-Marie Pirates 6-5 in overtime on Friday and keep that momentum rolling into Saturday.

“We always want to come out fast, we always want to dictate the play,” says Mancini. “This is our rink, I think we should control the play for most of the game and coming out of this weekend with two points out of four against the top two teams that have won the league the last couple years, it’s a victory for us right now. Obviously, we’re disappointed we lost tonight, but a lot of big steps were taken by some of our younger players and the older guys were starting to create some chemistry, so tons of positives, and we’re looking to take a couple more steps forward after this weekend.”

The Lynx controlled play in the first period, outshooting the Titans 21-10. But they left the frame down one after Temiscaming’s Jericho Mongrain slipped a pass by Braden Simon – who had lost his stick on the play – to a wide open Pier-Luc Céré to open the scoring.

The Titans extended their lead early in the second. First Charles-André Cypihot scored on a shorthanded breakaway and then a few minutes later, Blaise Coocoo popped a rebound in behind a sprawled-out Cory Richardson to extend the lead to 3-0.

West Nipissing was able to claw their way back, with their physical play setting the tone. The more hits the Lynx dished out in the second, the more it got under the visitors skin and the more penalties the Titans took.

“That’s what I love, we got a lot of heart on the team, we don’t care if you’re big or small, we want you to hit and keep going and we’re going to keep going from here,” says defenseman River Gull. “It’s only the first two games and we’re doing really good right now, so the rest is going to be history.”

Temiscaming finished the game with nine minor penalties, one of which kickstarted the Lynx comeback. Mathieu Savignac potted the team’s first goal on the power play with just under six minutes left in the period. Ten seconds later, Savignac found himself with a wide open cage to shoot at after the puck squirted out from a scramble behind the net, and just like that the Lynx had closed the lead to one.

“We had our chances, there was so many opportunities where we knew we should have got those goals, we kind of got down on ourselves going into the second, but we kind of locked in,” says Tobias Odjick, who assisted on both goals. “It all started with just quick dumps in, jump on your horse and get your legs going and we made that little push towards the end; we got bounces our way. The beginning of the first they weren’t going our way but the hockey gods kind of shined upon us and we made that little push towards the end.”

Richardson was stellar in the third period, turning away several high-danger chances by the Titans to keep West Nipissing in it. But one bad bounce got behind him: a wide slapshot from Massimo Doyle caromed off the back boards, ricocheted off Richardson’s back and went in for a 4-2 Titans lead.

“I think it was a pretty cheap one, I don’t think they deserved that one,” says Odjick. “I don’t think they deserved a lot of their goals; I feel like we were on our horse a lot of the game, we were in their zone, we out shot them, we outplayed them. It’s just a game of bounces and it didn’t go our way like we wanted it to, but we’re going to come back stronger and better and get them back our next one.”

The Lynx got a lucky bounce of their own in the third: a breakout pass from behind the Titans net redirected in off captain Chad Lafortune’s skate to draw West Nipissing within one again.

“We’re gonna say Chad roofed that behind the net,” laughs Odjick.

However, West Nipissing was unable to even the game late with the extra attacker. Coach Mancini says they’ll continue to focus on conditioning after a long opening weekend.

“The guys know that there’s going to be some intense skating to get our stamina and endurance up,” he says. “When you play junior hockey with road trips, it’s just part of the lifestyle to get back late, learn to recover quickly and then get back on the ice. Unfortunately, they got us on a back-to-back. They didn’t play last night so maybe there will be a situation down the road where we get them when they’re a little tired.”

To read more about the Lynx opening weekend, pick up the next issue of the Tribune.

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