HEARST – The Timmins Rock’s struggles to produce consistent offence continued Wednesday night during a 3-1 loss to the Lumberjacks at the Claude Larose Arena.
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
Longlac native Nicholas Dube stopped 21 of the 22 shots the Rock were able to fire in his direction to earn his first victory in a Lumberjacks uniform in his second start with Hearst.
Dube, one of the top goaltenders in the GNML with the Kapuskasing Flyers last season, has ridden the pines for the most part as Artem Bortovskiy’s understudy, but he showed little rust Wednesday night.
Rock coach Corey Beer was not impressed with his team’s effort Wednesday night to say the least.
“It is hard to get positive results when you only have a handful of players who competed and want to work hard,” he said.
“We had too many passengers tonight and that’s too good of a hockey team on the other side of the ice to go into a game like that.
“I thought Wayne Mathieu, Derek Seguin, Stewart Parnell and Alex Brisson were incredible, but the rest of our forwards were either passengers or not even in the building.
“It is too hard to win games when you only have four forwards who want to compete and play the way we want to play.
“Our back end was very solid, as well. Connor Losen was unbelievable again.”
Losen, who has played forward for most of his career, has excelled on the Rock blue-line since being moved to the back end on an emergency basis three games ago.
“The things he can do with the puck and his skating ability is second to none,” Beer said.
“I can’t say enough good things about him. He has certainly been a tremendous find for us on the back end.”
Neither team was able to find the back of the net during the opening 20 minutes of play, but the Lumberjacks struck for a pair of second-period goals to jump in front 2-0.
Samuel Bourdages got the puck rolling when beat Rock goalie Eric Jackson for his fifth goal of the season just past the midway mark of the frame.
Then, four-and-a-half minutes later, Wade Auger netted what would prove to be the game-winning goal when he scored a shorthanded marker.
“It was a completely careless play by one of our players at the top of the umbrella,” Beer said.
“He didn’t move the puck when he was supposed to move it. He felt he wanted to do it himself and that was one of the plays that bit us.
“It was a very disappointing effort.”
It was the second goal of the season for the veteran forward, who played for the Iroquois Falls Eskis last season before the franchise relocated to Hearst for the 2017-18 NOJHL campaign.
The Rock were finally able to get on the scoreboard at the 7:47 mark of the third period, as Linden Spencer scored his first NOJHL goal to spoil Dube’s shutout bid.
The Lumberjacks were able to restore their two-goal lead less than seven minutes later when defenceman Alec Johnson scored his second goal of the season.
The Rock pulled Jackson with 1:42 remaining in regulation in hopes of getting the two goals needed to force overtime, but they were unable to find the back of the net.
Beer expects his Rock players to be better in the future and made it clear the level of play demonstrated Wednesday night will not be tolerated in the future.
“Our guys can learn from this, or they won’t be a part of this,” he said.
Asked if there were any injury concerns to report for the Rock following Wednesday night’s contest, Beer said: “No. We would actually have to compete to have any injuries. When you don’t get in shooting lanes, when you don’t finish checks, you are never going to get hurt.”
Having dropped a 5-0 decision to the Lumberjacks during their first visit to Hearst, the Rock have only one goal to show for 120 minutes of hockey.
They, however, are not the only team to struggle to find the back of the net at the Claude Larose Arena this season.
The West Division-leading Soo Thunderbirds were blanked 2-0 on Sept. 8 and the Blind River Beavers, second in the West Division, dropped a 4-1 decision there on Sept. 24.
Only the Canadians, during their 2-1 win over Sept. 23, and the French River Rapids, during a 6-3 loss on Sept. 29, have managed to score more than one goal during visits to Hearst.
“Marc Lafleur is one of the best coaches in the league and his teams play tremendous structural hockey,” Beer said.
“They give you nothing to play with. They are so good defensively. Their D are active and physical and their forwards backcheck.
“Sometimes tonight, it wasn’t a lack of opportunities but there was back pressure down our throats all night.
“You have to give credit to them. They have a heck of a team and they are incredibly well coached. They are a team that is going to be right there, right to the end.”
With the win, the Lumberjacks (5-2-0-0) pull within a point of the second-place Rapids in the East Division standings.
Despite Wednesday’s loss, the Rock (3-5-0-1) remain in fifth place in the East Division — one point ahead of the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, who now have a game in hand.
Dube, with 21 saves on the night, picked up the victory, while Jackson, who turned aside 20 of the 23 shots he faced, was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Dube, Bourdages and Jackson … The Rock did not dress forwards C.J. Bradburn (lower-body injury) and Seth Reuben (healthy scratch), or defencemen Will Caston (upper-body injury) and Shawn Sloan (healthy scratch) … The Rock have traded forward Halen Cordoni back to the Ridge Meadow Flames, of the PIJHL, in exchange for a player development fee … Both the Rock and the Lumberjacks were 0-2 on the power play … Official attendance at the Claude Larose Arena was 652 … Wednesday night’s only other contest saw the Powassan Voodoos dump the Rapids 10-6 in French River … The Rock will return to action on Friday night when they host the Rayside-Balfour Canadians at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is set for 7 p.m.