By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Powassan Voodoos completed a four-game sweep of the Timmins Rock Wednesday night at the McIntyre Arena and earned a berth into the NOJHL finals.
With the victory, the East Division champion Voodoos now have a post-season record of 8-0-0 and they will face either the Blind River Beavers or the Soo Eagles. The Eagles blanked the Beavers 5-0 in Sault, Mich., to cut Blind River’s lead in the West Division final to 2-1.
“You never come into the playoffs thinking you are going to win eight straight,” said Voodoos coach Scott Wray.
“They are a hard, relentless team to play against. Our guys just needed to keep our cool and we did that tonight.
“They scored really early in the game and you sort of go, ‘Oh, oh,’ but we are a good team and we are a deep team. You are only as good as your weakest link and there wasn’t a weak link on our squad for the past eight games.”
With the Rock eliminated, the Voodoos still have some work to do before they will be satisfied.
“I don’t want to sound cocky or conceited, but we have had a similar break two series in a row and we are used to it,” Wray said.
“We have a little routine now. We will take Friday and Saturday off and go back to work on Sunday.
“Our guys just need to stay focused. It’s not time to party. For our players, the biggest goal of their young lives is to win the league and then move on.
“Whether we end up playing the Beavers or the Eagles, we are going to be in for a tough series. We split the regular season series with both of them.”
The Voodoos strong season is even more amazing when you realize they only have one 20 year old in the lineup.
“Going into the season, as a coaching staff, with so many new faces and only four or five returnees, we thought we would be around .500,” Wray said.
“Once we figured out what we really had, we became very proud of the group we have here.”
For the first time in the four-game series, it was the Rock who drew first blood Wednesday night.
It took Alexandre Brisson just 32 seconds to beat Voodoos netminder Nate McDonald for his second goal of the playoffs.
The lead didn’t last long, however, as Tyson Gilmour got the Voodoos back on even terms less than three minutes later when he scored his seventh goal of the playoffs, with Powassan on the power play.
Then Dylan D’Agostino provided the visitors with a lead they would not surrender the rest of the way when he beat Rock goalie Jeff Veitch for his first goal of the playoffs just past the midway point of the first period.
Just like Game 3 of the series, the Voodoos took command in the second period.
Cade Herd’s second goal of the playoffs, at the 3:44 mark, got the puck rolling for the visitors.
Gary Mantz’s ninth goal of the playoffs midway through the frame extended the Voodoos lead to 4-1.
Gabriel Rheault’s third goal of the playoffs, a power-play marker, four-and-a-half minutes later then expanded the visitors’ advantage to four goals.
Bain Cunningham scored his fourth goal of the playoffs a minute-an-a-half later to cut the Rock’s deficit to 5-2 and give the home fans a little hope.
Brett Hahkala beat Veitch for this second goal of the playoffs with 59 seconds remaining in the second period, however, to restore the Voodoos’ lead to four goals.
Parker Bowman’s eighth goal of the playoffs midway through the third period added a little icing on the cake and made the final 7-2.
Wray was naturally pleased with his team’s overall effort, but there were a few Voodoos who earned a little extra praise.
“Our fourth line, and I hate pigeonholing lines that way, with Cade Herd in the middle who led the GNML in points last year, Gabriel Rheault, a 19-year-old right winger who plays like Darcy Tucker, and Rhys Brown, who is probably one of the fastest players in the league at 16 years old, were on the scoresheet twice tonight,” he said.
“If they are on the scoresheet twice, you are going to be winning hockey games. I could probably put them out against anybody else’s top line and not worry about them.”
While Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne was not happy with the final score, he was pleased with the effort his team put out Wednesday night — especially in comparison to Game 3.
“We made some mistakes tonight and unfortunately when we made them they scored goals, but the effort was there,” he said.
“Even in the third period, until we ran into a nine-minute penalty, I thought we were working really hard and trying to make things happen. We played with pride and it was much better.
“The result was unfortunate, but that’s hockey. There has to be one winner. That’s the way it is.”
Gagne was impressed with the play of his opponents both Wednesday night and throughout the series.
“When it comes down to it, we lost to a pretty good hockey club,” he said.
Even though the Rock were swept by the Voodoos, they managed to take one more step in the 2017 playoffs than they did during 2016 when they were swept in four-straight by Cochrane Crunch in the East Division semifinals.
“It was nice to be playing in April,” Gagne said.
The work ethic of the Rock’s third line — Brisson, Stewart Parnell and Shankar — again impressed Gagne Wednesday.
“They were just incredible again tonight,” he said.
“They made things happen out there and they worked hard. In all fairness, though, I am going to give kudos to the whole team. I am proud of them.”
Blue-liner Nicholas Hautanen, who has been nursing an upper-body injury, played in his final Junior ‘A’ game although he clearly was not 100%.
“These kids were great all year,” Gagne said.
“Not just hockey wise, either, but out in the community, as well. They got involved in the community and were doing all kinds of things with the schools, with the hospital, etc. They are great young men. It was a great year and we had a great dressing room.”
The Rock have 13 players on their roster who are eligible to return next year, which should be a good core around which to build the 2017-18 edition of the team.
Captain Jordan Rendle, however, is one of the nine Rock players who will be too old to return.
Rendle and the other 1996 birth year players lingered a little longer on the ice after the two teams had exchanged handshakes, not wanting to take off their uniforms for one final time.
“It was a huge honour to be one of the leaders on this hockey team,” he said.
“This was not the outcome we were looking for, but I think our series with Cochrane proved what kind of team we have. This series went a little sideways, but I am so proud of the group of guys we have in our room.”
Rendle is confident the group of players eligible to return next year will step up to fill any leadership void left by the departing veterans.
“It is unbelievable the amount of leadership we have in that room,” he said.
“Not just guys with letters on their jerseys. First year guys, everyone has a voice in our room. Everybody supports each other, so the team is in unbelievable hands.”
A Surrey, B.C., native, Rendle has enjoyed his two years as a member of the Rock.
“This is the best place to play hockey,” he said.
“Our fans support is absolutely ridiculous. We have the best fans in the league, by far. They have been supportive all year, not just in the playoffs. We had great support last year, but this year has just been unbelievable.”
In addition to Rendle, the Rock will lose forwards Tyler Romain, Dean Kiriacou and Cory Sprague, blue-liners Nicholas Hautanen, Spencer Segui, Patrick Gazich and Brendan Campbell, as well as goalie Albert Rogers.
McDonald turned aside 30 of the 32 shots the Rock fired his way to pick up his eighth win of the playoffs.
Veitch, making his second-straight start, blocked 34 of the 41 shots he faced and was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — Rock blue-liner Brendan Campbell was ejected from the contest late in the third period after being assessed a five-minute major for fighting, a two-minute minor for being an instigator, a second two-minute minor for being the aggressor and a game misconduct. The Voodoos player involved in the incident was not penalized on the play … The Daily Press Three Stars were Bowman, Gilmour and Cunningham … The Rock were 0-5 on the power play, while the Voodoos were 3-11 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 914.