By Ron Guillet
The Laurentian Voyageurs men’s hockey team kicked off their first homestand in over 13 years this weekend as they were up against the UOIT Ridgebacks and the Queen’s Gaels, respectively.
On Friday, Oct. 25, the Voyageurs took on the Ridgebacks, who had a 0-4-1 record entering the game, at the Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex. Laurentian went up early as Nick Esposto, who played two seasons with the Oshawa Generals from 2008 to 2010, scored on a one-timer 12:08 into the first period. Luke VanMoerkerke scored the equalizer late in the first before James Woodcroft provided UOIT with the go-ahead goal in the second period.
Brandon Howes tied it up for Laurentian soon after as his point shot found its way through traffic and into the back of the net. Mitch Bennett put the Ridgebacks in the lead once again in the third period but Esposto replied for Laurentian as he received a drop pass from Richard Therrien and fired it over Colin Dzijacky’s blocker. Bennett then converted his second of the game as he picked up a loose puck in the slot, skated around Andreas Norrby and went backhand to forehand to beat a sprawled Charlie Millen. Esposto replied for Laurentian yet again as he tipped a point shot to make it 4-4 and complete his hat-trick. This was Bennett’s night, however, as he delivered a heart breaker with 19 seconds left to make it 5-4 Ridgebacks and complete his own hat-trick.
On Saturday, Oct. 26, the Voyageurs were up against the Gaels, who sported a 2-0-2 record. Laurentian dug themselves a hole early as Chris Van Laren unloaded a blast from the point that was tipped past Millen’s blocker on the power play. Taylor Clements then made it 2-0 shortly after as he fired one that squeaked through Millen’s five-hole on a 3-on-1 break.
Laurentian came out firing on all cylinders in the second period as they maintained possession at even-strength and fired a ton of shots at goaltender Chris Clarke. Laurentian had 27 shot attempts (blocked shots, missed shots and shots on goal) in the period while the Gaels had 21. They were finally rewarded for their work late in the period as Marc-Alain Begin shot the puck past Clarke’s blocker on a breakaway.
In the third period, captain Vincent Llorca scored the equalizer as he beat Clarke short side on a shot from the right circle. Esposto gave his team the lead at 4:16 on the power play, ending Clarke’s night in net as he was replaced by Kevin Bailie. Jordan Soquila replied for Queen’s as he rushed up the ice with impressive speed and fired a shot over Millen’s glove to tie the game at three. Clements then provided the Gaels with the go-ahead goal as he was left unmarked in front of the net and wrapped the puck around Millen’s left pad. He completed his hat-trick moments later on the power play as he banged home a rebound on an end to end rush from Braeden Corbeth. He added a fourth goal on an empty-netter to make the final score 6-3.
“It’s extremely frustrating,” Laurentian coach Craig Duncanson said in regards to losing leads. “But there’s a learning process. We have some character people and I’m confident we’ll get there. It’s hard to see that right now, but we’ll get there.”
In regards to the game against the Gaels specifically, Duncanson said the Voyageurs struggled with consistency.
“It was kind of a tale of three stories,” Duncanson said. “We came out flat and we were outworked. We started to do some things right and took over the pace of the game and then they had a push back that we didn’t handle very well. I don’t think there are any secrets there.”
The Voyageurs are now .500 with a 3-3 record and will face the Nipissing Lakers on Friday at the Memorial Gardens.