Timmins Rock defenceman Jared Hester, left, and his teammates celebrate a goal during the NOJHL team’s 4-3 exhibition victory over the Cochrane Crunch at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls on Aug. 27. The Rock have had little to celebrate in terms of goal since the start of the regular season as they have found the back of the net just four times in four games. They will be hoping to change that Tuesday night when they host the Cochrane Crunch at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is 7 p.m. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock will be looking to put an end two their two-game losing streak when they welcome the Cochrane Crunch to the McIntyre Arena Tuesday night.
To do so, they will have find the back of their opponent’s net — something they were not able to accomplish during Friday night’s 5-0 loss to the Lumberjacks in Hearst and 1-0 home-ice setback at the hands of the Soo Thunderbirds on Sept. 10.
With only four goals in their first four games, to say the Rock are struggling to put the puck in the back of the net might be a bit of an understatement.
When it comes to goal scoring, goalies Eric Jackson and Brendan Bishop have as many goals as forwards Wayne Mathieu (4, 0-1-1, 2), Stewart Parnell (4, 0-0-0, 6), Tyler Planetta (4, 0-0-0, 0), Connor Losen (3, 0-1-1, 0), A.J. Campbell (3, 0-0-0, 0), Halen Cordoni (3, 0-0-0, 0), Donny Schultz (3, 0-0-0, 0), Linden Spencer (3, 0-0-0, 2), Evan Kentish-Stack (4, 0-0-0, 0) and Seth Reuben (4, 0-0-0, 0) — none!
None of the team’s seven defencemen — Jared Hester (4, 0-1-1, 0), Grant McClellan(4, 0-0-0, 2), James Watier (4, 0-0-0, 6), Lucas Dolanjski (2, 0-0-0, 0), Shawn Sloan (3, 0-0-0, 2), Will Caston (4, 0-0-0, 4) and James Redmond (4, 0-0-0, 2) — has been able to find the back of the net yet, either.
Mathieu, the Rock captain, had 29 goals in 2016-17 to lead all returning players, while Brisson had 17, Parnell had 10, Hester had 10, McClellan had six and Watier had three.
Dolanjski, a Timmins native, added five while patrolling the blue-line of the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners last season.
And things won’t get any easier when the Crunch visit the McIntyre Arena Tuesday night.
After dropping their home opener to the Thunderbirds by a 3-2 score, swept a home-and-home series from the Gold Miners on the weekend — winning 4-1 on home ice Friday night and 6-1 in Kirkland Lake Saturday night.
Crunch veteran goalie Taylor Unruh (120:00 1-1-0-0, 0, 2.00 and .920) and newcomer Josh Barrett (60:00, 1-0-0-0, 0, 1.00, .967) have both been solid between the pipes this season.
“We are happy with where we are at, for sure,” said Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard.
“We are faster than we have ever been. The last four years, we have had some really good skilled players, but this year we don’t have one or two superstars, we have got four real solid lines that are probably as good as anybody else’s Top 2 lines.
“I would say in the four years we have been here, this is the most confident we have been in terms of all of our positions, from our goaltending to our defence and right through to our forwards.”
Indeed, the Crunch have at least one goal from 10 different players — Kyle Podwika (3, 1-4-5, 6), Austin Stauffer (3, 2-2-4, 6), Kyle Herbster (2, 1-2-3, 0), Alex Brisson (3, 1-2-3, 0), Josh Roberts (3, 2-0-2, 0), Raymond Matawashish (2, 1-1-2, 4), Alex Engel (3, 1-1-2, 8), Austin Whelan (3, 1-1-2, 0), former Rock forward Marcus Blackned-Rabbitskin (3, 1-0-1, 2) and T.J. Delaney (3, 1-0-1, 0) — so far this season.
“Our scoring has really been spread out and now we have (Nicholas) Flanders back and we got Herbster back on Friday,” Leonard said.
“We also just signed another young man (Thomas Hernandez) who played in the OJHL last year and put up some decent numbers as a rookie for the Pickering Panthers.
“We are looking very solid.”
Hernandez (49, 5-11-16, 42), a 5-9 and 154 pound 1999-birth-year left-hand shooting forward, is not expected to see any action against the Rock on Tuesday night.
The Crunch squad that skates onto the ice at the McIntyre Arena Tuesday night is significantly different than the one that split a pair of exhibition games against the Rock at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls in late August.
“There are eight guys who played for us in the exhibition season who are no longer with us now,” Leonard said.
“That’s almost a third of our team. We knew there were guys coming back, so that’s one of the reasons we did not bring a lot of guys in at the start of the exhibition season.”
One of the biggest changes Rock fans will notice Tuesday night, however, is the apparel of the 2017-18 Crunch.
“We changed up the whole look of our uniforms,” Leonard said.
“We spiced up the look of the bear on the front of our uniforms a little bit. He now has a red helmet, with a little bit of blood on his tongue, and we have moved to a little bit more of a New York Rangers look.
“It looks sharp and a lot cleaner, not such a European style. We have been getting really good reviews here in the community.
“We liked our old uniforms, but we wore them for three years and it was time for a bit of a change, something fresh.”
The new Crunch look is also closer to the uniforms worn by minor hockey teams in Cochrane.
Heading into Tuesday night’s game, the Rock sport a record of 1-3-0-0 and they are tied with the Gold Miners for fifth place in the NOJHL East Division standings, while the Crunch — at 2-1-0-0 — are tied with the Lumberjacks for third place — four points behind the Powassan Voodoos and three points in back of the second-place French River Rapids.
“Our discipline needs to be a little bit better,” Leonard said.
“We have been taking a lot of penalties we shouldn’t be taking, like tripping and hooking.”
Normally, those kind of things can have a big swing in the outcome of games, but the Rock sit dead last in terms of power-play efficiency.
In fact, they have yet to score a power-play goal this season in 17 opportunities. The only two special teams goals scored by the Rock this season have come while they were killing penalties.
That is one of the few things the Rock have excelled in early in the 2017-18 campaign, as they rank No. 2 in the NOJHL in penalty-killing efficiency with a rating of 93.8% — second only to the Lumberjacks, who have killed off 100% of their 16 shorthanded situations.
The Crunch, on the other hand, lead the NOJHL will a power-play efficiency rating of 33.3%. On the other side of the puck, the Crunch are tied for fourth spot in the NOJHL with a penalty-killing efficiency of 88.9%.
Teams like the Rock that are struggling to find success can often make dangerous opponents, but Leonard is not too worried.
“We know they have a good team and they are going to be hungry after being shut out two games in a row, but I think we have stronger defence than both of those teams (Thunderbirds and Lumberjacks),” he said.
“We are going to make it tough on them and they are going to try and make it tough on us because I think this is one of the biggest rivalries in the league.
“It will be fun, but it is still early in the season.”
Leonard knows it will be important for the Crunch to get off to a good start in a hostile environment Tuesday night.
“We just need to be motivated and confident right from the start,” he said.
“That is one of the things our hockey team has had a hard time doing, is playing the first periods the same way as we have our third periods.”