FRENCH RIVER – The Timmins Rock had a golden opportunity to close the gap on the fourth-place Hearst Lumberjacks to a single point Saturday night at the Noelville Arena, but they came out firing blanks.
And as a result of their 2-0 loss to the Rapids, the Rock remain three points back of the Lumberjacks, who dropped a 6-4 decision to the Wildcats in Elliot Lake Saturday night.
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
One night after taking the NOJHL-leading Powassan Voodoos to double overtime before dropping a 4-3 decision, the Rock had no answer for Rapids goalie Andrew Rocha who stopped all 33 shots he faced to earn his first NOJHL shutout.
Rocha, an 18-year-old Whitefish native, got all the offensive support he needed late in the first period when Levi Siau scored his 19th goal of the season.
Neither team was able to find the back of the net in the middle frame and there were only 34 seconds remaining on the clock in the third period when Spencer Dupuis scored his second goal of the season to make the final 2-0 in favour of the Rapids.
The Rock were attempting to pull goalie Tyler Masternak in favour of an extra attacker on the play, but he only made it partway to the bench and was caught in no-man’s land when Dupuis deposited the puck into the empty Timmins net.
Rock assistant coach Marc Bisson felt his team’s lack of offensive excellence wasn’t the result of a lack of trying.
“Our offence just wasn’t clicking tonight,” he said.
“We had our fair share of chances. In the first period, we had we had a few power plays and a couple of rebounds where we just didn’t get the shots away, or we didn’t take good shots.
“We couldn’t capitalize on our chances. In the first period, we hit a crossbar and in the second period, I think we hit three crossbars. We were definitely snake-bitten a little bit.”
It was the third time this season the Rock have faced Rocha and certainly their least successful outing against the puck stopper.
“You have to give him credit,” Bisson said.
“He played a hell of a game. We did notice he is not strong on rebounds, but we just couldn’t find the handle when he was kicking those pucks out. We just couldn’t get our sticks on them and when we did, we weren’t able to elevate the puck.
“He really took away the bottom half of the net against us tonight. We did notice pucks that were elevated were giving him problems, but as a I said, we hit four crossbars.”
Masternak kept the Rock in the game and gave his team a chance to win, but he may not have been as busy as the “official” shot total indicated.
“We keep our own stats and we had him facing something like 20 or 21 shots,” Bisson said.
“We actually played a pretty good defensive game.”
Defenceman Collin McGuire — younger brother of former Timmins defenceman Brennan McGuire (2015-16: 39, 2-10-12, 20) — played his second game in a Rock uniform Saturday night, although not entirely at his normal position.
“He actually started out Friday night’s game and tonight’s game as a winger on our fourth line,” Bisson said.
“He did move back and play a few shifts on the blue-line in the third period both Friday night and tonight. He gave us some decent minutes both nights on the wing and on the blue-line.
“He is a big boy and he skated fairly well. He does remind me a lot of his brother.”
The older McGuire (8, 0-1-1, 4), who is now 23, is in his second year of NCAA Division III hockey at St. Mary’s University.
A number of other Rock players impressed Bisson in Saturday night’s contest, as well.
“Even last night, (Will) Caston and (Grant) McClellan played a ton of minutes for us and played very well,” he said.
“Eric Paquette didn’t play that many minutes Friday night, but he stepped in tonight against his former team and played some great minutes.
“Up front, Derek Seguin had a very good game for us, as did Wayne Mathieu. We were shorthanded with just over a minute left in tonight’s game and Wayne got sprung on a breakaway, but he just lost the handle on the puck and never got a good shot off. He was exceptional tonight.
“(C.J.) Bradburn was very good for us again tonight and Paul Spadafora also had a very good game. He hit the first crossbar for us tonight off an offensive zone faceoff. It was just a laser of a shot.”
Bisson admitted it was frustrating to see the Rock once again fail to close out a victory against the Voodoos in Powassan Friday night.
“They are a talented group,” he said.
“We get off to good starts against them, but then we gave up a goal in the second period. We were still up 3-2, but they just keep coming.
“We were exceptional and we played a good defensive game Friday night. That’s the kind of team we have. We have to work hard and we have to play responsible defence to win games. There are no easy games. Most of our games are one-goal wins or one-goal losses.”
With the victory, their second in a row on the weekend, the Rapids improved to 13-31-5-0 on the season and close to within nine points of the fifth-place Rock in the East Division standings.
Meanwhile, the loss drops the Rock’s record to 17-27-3-3 on the campaign.
In addition to picking up his first shutout of the season, Rocha earned his fifth win of the year for the Rapids.
Masternak, who “officially” stopped 32 of the 34 shots fired his way, was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Rocha, Masternak and Rapids forward Max Lightfoot (one assist) … Rock defenceman Jun Yi (Frank) Zhong and Rapids forward Alex Paul were both ejected from the game early in the third period after they received five-minute majors for fighting and game misconducts. Then, with less than four minutes remaining in the frame, Rock forward Wesley Weir and Rapids defenceman Connor Loft were banished after they also receive five-minute majors for fighting and game misconducts. Weir also receive a two-minute minor for instigating … The Rock did not dress forwards Stewart Parnell (upper-body injury) and Jace Soroko (illness) … The Rock went 0-6 on the power play, while the Rapids were 0-4 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the Noelville Arena was 303 … Saturday night’s other action saw the Voodoos edge the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners 4-3 in Powassan and the Soo Thunderbirds dump the Express 5-2 in Espanola … The Rock will return to action when they host the Cochrane Crunch at the McIntyre Arena on Monday. With it being Family Day, game time is set for 3 p.m.
Photos courtesy of Dal Photography