Photos: Chelsea Solomon
ESPANOLA, Ont. – Robbie Rutledge, the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League’s leading goal-getter, tacked on two more to his totals Sunday as his club outlasted the Espanola Express 6-5 at the Regional Recreation Complex.
Hearst opened things up offensively near the five-minute mark of the first period when Mathieu Comeau snapped one in from the left of Espanola’s Vaughn LeDrew.
After the Express came close to tying it a couple shifts later, the Lumberjacks countered and quickly went up by a pair as a knuckling puck fired from the right boards found its way in, with Mason Bazaluk getting credit for the marker.
A lengthy power play helped the visitors make it 3-0 as Rutledge collected his NOJHL-leading 28th tally by finishing off a goal-mouth scramble off a Dylan Ford point shot.
The home side did get one back, while on a four-on-three skater advantage, with Ty McHutchion burying one from in close on Hearst’s Liam Oxner.
It was more Rutledge though before the first mission as he was left unmarked in the slot and promptly whipped in his 29th to make it 4-1 after one.
A four-goal eruption, including three by the Express, before the second stanza was four-minutes old, tightened things up dramatically.
Espanola’s Benjamin Lacroix notched his first NOJHL at 1:46, by banging in a rebound from a Joshua Rumolo effort from the blueline, to get his side back to within a pair.
After Cody Walker connected for Hearst, a minute and a half later, off a wraparound, the Express came right back with markers 10 seconds apart.
Eric Barnard got the first one, off a nice set-up, while alone in front, then after a timeout, Alexander Christopoulos benefitted from a turnover and whipped in his fifth at 3:59.
Boasting the league’s-best power play efficiency, the Lumberjacks used that to make it 6-4 when Zachary Demers put one upstairs on LeDrew from the right circle.
Espanola then opted to make a goalie change, as Matthew Loney entered the net for the Express and went the rest of the way.
Continuing to battle, Espanola kept coming and made it 6-5, two minutes into the third, where Jack Thor found himself alone in front and snapped one in to bring the home side to within a goal.
However, Hearst held firm from there to secure the road victory.
With the win, the Lumberjacks moved into first place overall, points wise, in the NOJHL standings with 56 as they improved to 26-7-2-0.
In defeat, Espanola fell to 8-19-2-0 on the year.