Like thousands of students across Northern Ontario at this time of year, a young Sudbury Nickel Barons squad is still in the process of learning.
Learning how to win the close games, to be precise.
At this point, the inaugural lesson remains unmastered.
For the third-straight encounter, the Barons were involved in a contest that could have gone either way. For the third-straight encounter, the Barons were saddled with a loss.
The visiting Kirkland Lake Gold Miners remained unbeaten at 3-0, receiving a pair of goals from Kyle Bishop in the final 10 minutes to subdue the Nickel Barons 6-4 Wednesday evening at the McClelland Arena in Copper Cliff.
The Miners drew first blood, scoring the only goal of the first period as veteran Mathieu Lecompte took a pretty feed from speedy linemate Jake Zarzycki, beating Sudbury netminder Andrew Lefebvre on the power play.
The middle stanza proved much more free-wheeling as the teams scored three times each, leaving Kirkland Lake with a one-goal advantage heading to the third.
Sudbury tallies from Brett Dusick, August Jarecki and Kurtis Clouthier were offset by markers from Lecompte, Everett Thompson and Tanner Lafrance.
The home side pulled even at 6:29 of the third when Brody Brunet collected his first NOJHL goal, tapping in a blueline blast from Jonathan Lavigne before Bishop scored twice, providing the margin of victory.
"I thought we came out fairly flat in the first period," said Sudbury head coach Trevor Blanchard after the game. "They gave it to us pretty good in the first."
The Gold Miners outshot the Nickel Barons 15-8 through the first 20 minutes of play, finishing the contest with a 43-34 advantage in the shots department.
"We talked about what we could change after that first period and I thought the boys had a great second period," said Blanchard. "We got a lead and things were starting to go."
But with eight new faces in the lineup, the Barons have struggled when playing with the lead.
“You can technically call this our third blown lead of the year," said Blanchard. "We kind of veer away from playing our system when the pressure is on.
"When the adversity is there, I think we're not handling it as well as we could. I think that's something we're going to grow into as a team."
Despite being on the bench as an assistant coach throughout the 2012-2013 NOJHL campaign, Blanchard has assumed the head coaching duties for the first time at a junior level, experiencing the learning curve in much the same way as his players.
"I've seen some positive things from Game 1 to 3, and I've seen some things we need to work on," Blanchard said.
Most pleasing was likely the efforts of two newcomers to the Sudbury lineup on a team that is going to need all hands on deck in order to garner some success this year.
"Ryan Punkari has been doing well for us," said Blanchard. "I thought he had another good hockey game for us today. Anybody we've surrounded him with, he's made better.
"And I thought our 16 year-old, Brody Brunet, really answered the bell, getting a chance to play with Marty (Jolicoeur) and Jarecki. I was really impressed with his play for a 16-year-old."
Sudbury suffered a couple of injuries along the way, most notably to veteran forward Giovanni Foschia, though it was still way too early to tell exactly how long the players might be out of the lineup.
Blanchard and company head off in search of the elusive first victory on Friday night, making the trek to Elliot Lake to face the Bobcats.