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Rock creating fandemonium in Timmins

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Andrew Autio 

‘Pack The Mac’ is having big results in the stands and on the ice

Timmins has a fever, and the only cure is more air horn.

After a thrilling overtime victory on Tuesday night over the rival Cochrane Crunch, the Timmins Rock are moving on to the third round of the NOJHL playoffs.

“It’s very exciting. We’ve kind of nicknamed them ‘The Comeback Kids’. We were down 2-0 three times in the series, and the players have had a never-give-up attitude, always kept pushing hard and pushing forward,” said Rock President Ted Gooch.

The Rock will now face the powerhouse Powassan Voodoos in the East Division final. The series kicks off Friday in Powassan, followed by game 2 on Saturday before the teams will meet at the McIntyre Arena for game 3 on Tuesday night.

It promises to be an electric atmosphere at The Mac, as fans have been coming out in droves. During the regular season the Rock had the highest total (23,406), highest average attendance (780), and highest attended game (1,662). The playoffs have only amplified the interest, as the Rock are undefeated at home in the post-season.

“The fan support has been absolutely incredible. Saturday night (game 4) we had 1,339 fans, and Tuesday (game 6) we had another 1,319 come out to support the boys. The team is definitely feeding off the energy of the crowd. Not only are they large crowds, they are very vocal,” said Gooch.

Air horns are being sold at the arena and have become a familiar part of the McIntyre Arena cacophony. The licensed lounge and second level balcony are always jammed with thirsty and rowdy fans. Standing room positions along each side of the ice seem to be the most popular vantage points. The team is promoting the catchphrase ‘Pack the Mac’ with big results.

“We expect Tuesday to be even better. We hope that everybody that showed up will bring a few extra people to come check out what’s going on in Timmins right now,” said Gooch.

He feels the timing is perfect, with die-hard hockey fans gearing up for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“They can come out to the Timmins Rock games and really get a good playoff fix. The atmosphere is incredible.”

The crowds at The Mac are standing out around the NOJHL. Gooch said he spoke with Commissioner Robert Mazzuca, who has been impressed.

“The league is definitely taking notice, other teams are taking notice. Before the game (on Tuesday) as Cochrane was arriving, I know some of their players were asking our game day staff about the capacity, and if it was a sellout. Its hard to believe, as packed as it was, we could still fit another 500 people in that rink. So we want fans to realize that there will be seats available. Even if you hear that there’s 1,400 or 1,500 seats sold, still come on out, and we’ll get you a seat and we’ll get you in that rink.”

To put the numbers into perspective, the Voodoos, who were the best team in the league all season, have had under 350 fans at their home playoff games thus far.

The big crowds in Timmins bode well for the Rock’s bottom line, and the league as a whole.

“A long playoff run is exactly what the team needed. To help drive some gate revenue, in terms of being able to provide a positive in the hockey operations side of things. It’s great, the community support has been outstanding. I also welcome a lot of local business owners who have been on the fence in terms of advertising with the Rock, to come on out to a game.”
There are, of course, hundreds of core Rock supporters and season ticket holders who have been there all season, but the excitement of playoff hockey has lured many locals off their couches.

“I don’t think its unfair to use the term ‘bandwagon’, and if there are fans who are jumping on the bandwagon, I welcome it because I know they’re going to stay on for the long haul, and support the team going forward. Our fan base is incredible. We actually had really good road support too when we played in Cochrane for games 1 and 2. We had a hundred plus fans travel up from Timmins. Great travelling fan base as well, which is amazing to have in this league,” said Gooch.

The Crunch, who eliminated the Rock in last year’s playoffs, were a very tough team to beat. Neither team had a lead of more than two goals at any point in the series. It was a gritty six games with emotions running high.

“We have some 20 year olds that are in their last year of junior hockey, and they want to keep it going as long as they can. We noticed a lot of the 20-year olds from Cochrane just reluctant to leave the ice, knowing their junior careers have come to an end. Hopefully the boys can learn from that.”

It is the final NOJHL season for goaltenders Albert Rogers, and Jeff Veitch, defencemen Nick Hautanen, Spencer Segui, Patrick Gazich, and Brendan Campbell, as well as forwards Tyler Romain, Cory Sprague, Dean Kiriacou, and team captain Jordan Rendle.

“So we have quite a big crew that is winding down their junior hockey careers, and moving on, whether it be a schooling system in the U.S. or another hockey league, we’re trying to setup a succession plan for them. It will be quite emotional, and hopefully they won’t have to worry about it for another few weeks, and we can get through Powassan and get to the finals,” said Gooch

The biggest ‘X factor’ in the series victory over Cochrane was the clutch play of rookie centre and Porcupine native Stewart Parnell.

Parnell, who scored a very respectable 10 goals and 32 assists in the regular season while playing on the third line, has been on fire in the playoffs. He scored 5 goals and 2 assists in the series, and almost all of his goals were crucial.

In game 3 against the Crunch, Parnell scored the tying goal with just over a minute left in regulation, before potting the game winner early in overtime. In game 6, Parnell tied the game with six minutes to go. He has also been very strong on faceoffs.

“Boy, what a local hero. He’s absolutely been stepping up in the playoffs. It’s good, the fans are coming out and its good to have a couple local boys to get behind during a playoff run like this. He just finds a way to bury the puck at the most important time in the game, and he’s quickly become a fan favourite,” said Gooch.

Forward Bain Cunningham also had a monster series with 12 points in six games, which has him among the league’s top playoff scorers.

Powassan will be a very tough team to beat. They were nationally ranked for much of the season, and only lost seven games in regulation. Their leading playoff scorer is Tyson Gilmour, the son of Hockey Hall of Fame member Doug Gilmour. Their goalie is the league’s most valuable player, Nate McDonald.

Timmins will have to win at least one game in Powassan in order to advance, and will need the raucous, air-horned McIntyre Arena faithful to provide an intimidating atmosphere for the Voodoos to deal with once the series shifts back to the ‘City with a Heart of Gold’.