FRENCH RIVER – Connor Loft’s fifth goal of the season 22 seconds into the second overtime period lifted the Rapids to a 3-2 win over the Timmins Rock Thursday night at the Noelville Arena.
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
With the win, the Rapids (9-15-2-0) were able to move into a fifth-place tie with the Rock (9-12-1-1) in the NOJHL’s East Division standings, although Timmins has three games in hand on their hosts.
And both the Rock and the Rapids now trail the fourth-place Hearst Lumberjacks by just one point.
Given the number of regulars currently out of the Rock lineup, coach Corey Beer was pleased to see his squad pick up a point on the road.
“Any time you can go on the road with a depleted lineup like we have right now a steal a point in a close, tight hockey game like this, you have to be happy,” he said.
“There is not a lot more we could ask for from our end of things.”
The Rock welcomed forward Evan Kentish-Stack back to the lineup from the injury list Thursday night, but they were without their Top 2 centres — Derek Seguin (fractured jaw) and Stewart Parnell (upper-body injury) — as well as defenders James Redmond (upper-body injury), Jared Hester (lower-body injury) and Connor Losen (undisclosed).
“I certainly felt like both teams had their opportunities tonight,” Beer said.
“There were some good, Grade A scoring chances going both ways. They had their chances and obviously (Rock goalie) Eric (Jackson) made some great saves and their goalie (Josh Barrett) made some tremendous saves on us, especially in overtime.”
Barrett, who was acquired by French River from the Cochrane Crunch on Tuesday, was making his first start in a Rapids uniform Thursday night.
The Rapids jumped out to a 1-0 lead at the 7:12 mark of the opening period on Josh Sylvain’s first goal of the season.
The Rock were able to get back on even terms just over eight minutes into the middle frame when Kentish-Stack scored a power-play marker, his second goal of the season.
Levi Siau’s 14th goal of the season just over six minutes later restored the Rapids’ one-goal advantage.
The Rock were able to tie things up 57 seconds later, however, when Jace Soroko scored his second goal of the season.
Neither team was able to find the back of the net in the third period, resulting in the contest going to a five-minute four-on-four overtime period.
The Rock dominated that session, outshooting the home side 8-0, but they could not get the puck past Barrett.
That set the stage for Loft’s game-winning heroics with the two sides playing three-on-three hockey.
Despite the loss, there were a number of Rock players who impressed Beer Thursday night.
“Josh Anderson was a horse for us again on the back end,” he said.
“He played tons of minutes in all situations, blocking shots and on the power play.
“Wayne Mathieu was sensational, as well, and played tons of minutes up front. Linden Spencer and Evan Kentish-Stack, who returned to the lineup, were both really good and C.J. Bradburn played another good game, too.
“Some of the young guys, like Soroko, (Riley) Robitaille and (Alexandre) Brisson had some real good energy. Not too many guys from our side took the night off.
“It was a good road game, but unfortunately we came out on the wrong end of the score.
Former Rapids defenceman Eric Paquette made his debut in a Rock uniform Thursday night against his old team.
“He is not up to speed on our systems yet, but he is certainly a guy who can help our penalty kill,” Beer said.
“He has a big body and he blocks shots well. He is a very smart young man and somebody we are going to count on for some shutdown minutes. He brings that calm, veteran experience you want to our lineup.”
The Rapids lineup the Rock faced Thursday night was significantly different than the one the team iced the last time the two squads met in October.
“They play a pretty wide open style,” Beer said.
“They like to create offence and generate odd-man rushes. They did that well tonight and I thought some of the guys they have added to their lineup helped them out.”
Some of the Rapids holdovers were also pretty solid Thursday night.
“They have some gifted offensive players like (Gregory) Trudeau-Paquet and the (Christian) Gaudreau kid, as well,” Beer said.
“They were fine and their goalie certainly played a great game for them, too.”
Perhaps as important as the single point the Rock were able to earn Thursday night was the fact they escaped the contest without further injury concerns.
“Knock on wood, I think we are OK,” Beer said, with a chuckle.
“I haven’t checked with our trainer yet to see if there are any more bumps, or bruises but I think we are a pretty healthy bunch.”
Barrett stopped 40 of the 42 shots the Rock fired his way to earn the victory, while Jackson turned aside 36 of the 39 shots he faced and was tagged with the overtime loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Barrett, Jackson and Loft … The Rock went 1-9 on the power play, while the Rapids were 0-2 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the Noelville Arena was 287 … Thursday night’s other action saw the Wildcats blank the Espanola Express 5-0 in Elliot Lake and the Canadians hang on to edge the Soo Eagles 4-3 in Rayside-Balfour … The Rock return to action on Friday night when the take on the Voodoos in Powassan … The next home game for the Rock will be on Saturday, Nov. 25, when they host the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is set for 7 p.m.
Photos courtesy of Dal Photography