By: Daniel Vazzoler
The Carleton Place Canadians and Renfrew Wolves took part in the lone game in the CCHL after the Christmas break before Ontario’s latest set of regulations took effect, and it was Renfrew picking up the 6-5 victory in a shoot-out.
After receiving the news that Tuesday’s game would be their only one until (at least) Jan. 28, it would be easy to forgive the Canadians for coming out to a sluggish start – a start that saw them trail 5-1 less than nine minutes into the second period.
“There were a ton of different emotions in that game that could have impacted (the start) but Renfrew was dealing with the same emotions,” Canadians coach Brent Sullivan said following the game. “I wasn’t pleased with a couple of the goals against and, after the goalie change and time-out, I thought it was a real gut-check opportunity.”
The coaching moves paid dividends as Carleton Place responded to the challenge laid out by its coach, led by captain Jake Code.
Code got the Canadians moving in the right direction, making the score a 5-2 difference just 1:18 after the time-out. After gathering the puck in the defending zone, Code entered the Renfrew end and hit Bill Gourgon with a cross-ice pass. Will Craig made the initial save, but the rebound ended up on Code’s stick and the captain made no mistake in burying the opportunity.
Code kept up the momentum with the Canadians, helping Gourgon convert on a 5-on-3 power play as part of two goals just 0:16 apart to make it a 5-4 game before the end of the middle frame. Code again found Gourgon across the Wolves zone, this time Gourgon snapped a shot past Craig.
Marco Iozzo capped off the power play chance, beating Craig with a snap shot on a breakaway set up by Ethan Woolsey.
“To be able to dig deep and find a reason and the emotion to battle back wasn’t easy,” Sullivan said. “There was a clear message that ‘if you want to be here, shape up,’ so I’m happy the guys pushed back and showed they want to be here and be a part of this.”
Derek Hamilton completed the come-back, beating Craig with a long wrist shot through some traffic in front of Craig while on the power play late in the third period.
Ultimately, it was Renfrew tallying the win with a pair of shoot-out goals from Tyson Phare and Charlie Johnson and leaving the Ma-te-way Centre with the 6-5 win.
In the big picture, Tuesday’s game is over-shadowed by the fact the league is now forced into a minimum 21-day hiatus – potentially playing with the futures of the league’s players health and opportunities ahead of them.
“It has to be touched on, the impact on the mental health of these players,” Sullivan expressed. “The constant waves, the constant highs and lows and the anxiety it (the restrictions) can create in everybody.
“You send them home early because we took the precaution as a league to be able to have these guys enjoy the break and be around family without having to self-isolate. We did the right thing, we come back because we have the green light to operate and then with 48 hours, things do a complete 180,” he continued.
With other leagues being allowed to play across Canada – and the Jan. 10 trade deadline falling in this provincially-mandated pause – a lot of the veterans across the CCHL are likely going to have new places to play in the next few days in order to give the 20-year-olds an opportunity to finish their junior careers as they should: on the ice, plying their craft and skills.
“When we come back, our team will be different,” Sullivan stated. “There are certain leagues that are going to play. Out west, they’re playing. Down south, they’re playing. […] Our team and our league will be different when we come back because guys are going to be moved (where they can play).”
The fatigue and malaise of the latest batch of restrictions is being felt, not just in the sports world of the CCHL but, in most aspects of daily life for most everyone.
“We have to start finding different solutions rather than just cancelling sports, lockdowns and there has to be ways that we can keep what is not just a game to these guys, but is an outlet, a mental health resource and, for some, it is what they consider themselves as,” Sullivan stated.
The CCHL and Jr A hockey aren’t the only hockey leagues feeling squeezed out by the provincial government.
Despite having many athletes that have played elite levels of hockey (the OHL being an example of the “elite” leagues allowed to continue playing during the restrictions) and other sports, OUA is also barred from their normal activities within Canadian university athletics.
“It’s a real kick to the groin and a shot to the ego of everyone here because, you’re essentially looking at these guys that dedicate six days a week, they eat, sleep and train to be a hockey player and they’re being told ‘it’s for recreational purposes right now,’” Sullivan said.
“Just because we don’t get the spotlight the OHL does, it’s an absolute slap in the face,” continued Sullivan in his defence of both the CCHL and OUA. “We spit out NHL draft picks, we spit out (NCAA) Division I players, we spit out some damn good hockey players where this is elite. I don’t care about the list, I consider them elite and I’m pretty pissed off the government doesn’t.”
To say Sullivan’s first year as owner of the Canadians organization has had its share of bumps in the road would be a gross understatement. But, he says the support of the fans and sponsors – as well as their patience – has made things easier.
Despite not having a part in the decision, Sullivan issued an apology “for those that also use our games and our talent as an outlet for them. It’s not easy and I look forward to seeing them when we do come back.”