ESPANOLA, Ont. – A Cooper Bowman effort in the sixth round of the shootout proved to be the difference as the French River Rapids pulled out a 6-5 victory over the Espanola Express in the 2020-21 Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League regular season opener Friday at the Regional Recreation Complex.
French River would also supply the opening tally of the campaign, six minutes in, as off a scrummed face-off, Bowman and Levi Siau worked it back to Ryan Smith on the left side where he promptly wired one high over the outstretched glove of Espanola starter Owen Willis.
The Express answered with a power play marker at 12:14 when Joshua Kavanagh collected his first NOJHL goal with help from teammate Lucas Littlejohn.
Heading to the middle stanza, the visitors were gifted a go-ahead marker as Ty Chambers intercepted an errant pass, put an attempt on net that Willis stopped, but a hard-charging Nolan Burnside stuffed in the rebound from close range for his initial league tally.
Third period play saw a tight-checking first 10 minutes before the floodgates opened offensively with the two sides piling up a combined seven goals.
Cole Delarosbil knotted the affair for Espanola at 10:20, only to see Chambers counter for the visitors, via the man advantage, a minute and a half later.
Espanola then replied by striking three times in quick order to go up 5-3 as Bradley Brunet scored twice and then set-up Devon Savignac for another.
Battling back, French River clicked in the late going to force extra shots when Troy Andrews bagged his first at 17:37 before a Kyle Avery extra-attacker effort with 28 seconds remaining evened the contest at 5-5.
With potential time limit issues in arenas due to COVID-19 restraints, it has resulted in the league removing the five-minute overtime period and going right to a shootout if games are tied after regulation.
There, Chambers and Bowman scored for the Rapids to give them the decision while James Eng had one for the Express.
Ben Montgomery picked up the win in net while Willis’ efforts helped the hosts collect a point.
The two clubs are scheduled to wrap-up a home-and-home set Saturday in a 7 p.m. start at the Noelville Community Centre.
Game Photos: Chelsea Solomon