At the time, the goaltender was fresh off a successful season, leading the Commandos to the MHL final series. He was also a student at the Universite de Moncton, and putting his education on hold to finish his junior hockey career in Truro wasn’t in his plans.
“At first I was a little bit shocked,” said Rioux, “but right now I really don’t regret coming here and so far it’s been a really great experience.”
Rioux, 20, from Saint-Jean-de-Dieu, Que., has been key for the Bearcats all season and has enjoyed a brilliant post-season run. Saturday, he looks to backstop the Bearcats to victory in Game 4 of the MHL final against the Miramichi Timberwolves (RECC, 7 p.m.). Miramichi leads the best-of-seven series 2-1.
“He’s just a good, solid goaltender,” said Bearcats coach Shawn Evans. “He’s fit in really good in the dressing room, he’s a funny guy, well liked, well respected, and I’ve said it before – you get your ultimate respect on the ice and he’s earned that respect on and off the ice.”
When Rioux became available last spring, Evans made a call to former Campbellton Tigers head coach, and friend, Troy Ryan, who was familiar with the veteran goalie’s game, having coached against him multiple times in the Eastlink North Division.
“I asked Troy his honest opinion if he felt Jason could step into this division and get the job done as a starter, and Troy give the two thumbs up,” Evans said. “I had a couple of conversations with Jason to make sure he would come and be happy to play here in his final year, and then the season began, so to speak.”
Rioux posted a 21-10-0-1 record in the regular campaign with a .904 save percentage and 2.93 goals against average. In the playoffs, he is 9-4 with a .906 save percentage and 2.71 GAA. But what his stats don’t show is his ability to make the big save at key points in a game.
“He’s got a calming influence in the net,” Evans said. “He just moves on to the next shot.”
After leading the Commandos to the league final last season, Rioux suffered a season-ending injury in Game 1 of the championship series against the Pictou County Crushers. Pictou County won the series in six games.
He’s thrilled with the opportunity to return to the final, this time as a healthy No. 1, and would like nothing more than to bring Truro its fourth MHL title and earn a berth at the Fred Page Cup eastern Canadian championship in Terrebonne, Que., in May.
“It would be really great,” he said. “I’ve never won a championship; I got a chance last year, but it didn’t work out … so I have another opportunity this year and I don’t want to miss this one.”
Rioux, a former major junior goalie for the Moncton Wildcats, hopes to play Canadian university hockey next season. He is currently taking courses at Dal AC.