Timmins Rock captain Wayne Mathieu follows the path of the puck as it bounces off French River Rapids goalie Jean-Marc Brisson during the third period of Sunday afternoon’s NOJHL game at the McIntyre Arena. Mathieu scored two goals and added an assist to lead the Rock to 5-1 win — their second-straight home-ice victory. With the win, the Rock pulled to within three points of the fourth-place Rapids and they still have two games in hand on their East Division rivals. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – Captain Wayne Mathieu scored a pair of goals and set up another to lead the Timmins Rock to a 5-1 win over the French River Rapids Sunday afternoon at the McIntyre Arena.
It was the second-straight win for the Rock who snapped a five-game losing streak by beating the Hearst Lumberjacks 3-2 on home ice Friday night.
More importantly, it pulled the Rock to within three points of the fourth-place Rapids in the NOJHL’s East Division standings and Timmins still has a pair of games in hand.
“Any time you can hold a team to 18 shots against, you are doing good things defensively,” said Rock coach Corey Beer.
“There was a great buy-in from our guys tonight and a tremendous effort on the back check and gap control. Everything was real solid.”
The Rock have become quite familiar with the Rapids early in the 2017-18 NOJHL season, so Beer knew what his team needed to do to be successful on Sunday.
“The last game we played against them in French River, we gave up 40 shots,” he said.
“We knew that had to change if we were going to be successful. We definitely made it a priority to be good in the defensive zone today. We also wanted to try and limit their speed through the neutral zone.
“I thought a couple of our veteran defencemen, Jared Hester and Grant McClellan did a great job against (NOJHL scoring leader) Gregory Trudeau-Paquet to eliminate his speed and his offensive opportunities.
“Our forecheck was sharp today, as well, and I really loved our play away from the puck.”
The Rock jumped out to a 3-0 first period lead Sunday afternoon and never looked back.
Mathieu netted his fourth goal of the season with the Rock on the power play at the 4:12 mark of the opening frame.
Defenceman James Redmond then struck for what would prove to be the game-winning goal — his second marker on the season — less than three minutes later.
“They were trying to force the puck up the strong side and I just stepped down and picked off the pass,” Redmond said.
“I made a move around the defender and looked up and saw there was a little bit of room on the short side and I just put it there.”
Redmond (17, 2-1-3, 4) is better known for his contributions on the defensive side of the puck, but he clearly knows what to do when an offensive opportunity presents itself.
“It is nice to score a little bit now and then,” he said.
“As a team, we have been a little bit snake-bitten, so it was nice to finally explode for five goals as a team. These are definitely two big wins for us. We hadn’t been getting the results we wanted before this weekend, but we had been playing some good hockey.”
Redmond is in his first year on the Rock blue-line and the Ottawa native is feeling more comfortable with each passing game.
“The NOJHL is a great league and there is lots of skill,” he said.
“I am happy with where my game is at right now.”
For the past four games, the Rock coaches have partnered Redmond with newcomer Josh Anderson.
“He is a hell of a defensive partner and always in the right spot,” Redmond said.
“He is a terrific skater and he moves the puck really well out there. It is easy to play with him.”
Connor Losen’s third goal of the campaign then rounded out the first-period scoring and sent the home side to the dressing room with a three-goal advantage.
Rapids coach Ken Strong opted to pull starting goalie Spencer Eschyshcyn to start the second period, with Jean-Marc Brisson coming on in relief.
That move seemed to pay dividends as the Rapids kept the Rock from adding to their lead during the second period.
On the other hand, the Rapids were unable to eat into the Rock’s three goal advantage, either, so it was a wash.
Mathieu’s second goal of the night and fifth of the season, also on the power play, extended the Rock’s lead to 4-0 at the 2:53 mark of the third period.
The Rapids were finally able to get on the scoreboard 45 seconds later when Levi Siau netted a shorthanded marker, his 10th goal of the season, to spoil Rock goalie Eric Jackson’s bid for a shutout.
Linden Spencer’s power-play marker, his second goal of the season, restored the Rock’s four-goal cushion with just under seven minutes remaining in the third period to make the final 5-1.
With the home side putting together such a solid team effort, Beer had trouble singling out any individual players for extra praise.
“James Redmond had a tremendous performance on the back end,” he said.
“And Eric Jackson might only have faced 18 shots, but I thought he made a couple of key saves.
“Up front, what else can you say about Wayne Mathieu? He has started scoring some timely goals and he is playing a good 200-foot game.”
Unlike some of the earlier meetings between the two squads, Sunday’s contest featured a number of big hits and plenty of trash talking going both ways.
“Emotions were running high out there and for us, when you have the puck all night, you are going to get hit more times than not,” Beer said.
“A couple of our guys got hit pretty hard, but I don’t think they are any worse for wear. It was a good game for us to muscle through and get the win.”
The Rock coach doesn’t necessarily think the increased intensity had anything to do with the one-for-one trade the two sides made earlier this season.
“Obviously, some of our guys are very close with Donny Schultz (now a Rapids forward) and Jordan Picard (now a Rock forward) is still pretty close with some of those guys,” Beer said.
“But you never know how that dynamic is going to work. Our focus today was to just come out and play a good 60-minute game and we certainly did that.”
After watching his team lose its third-straight game on the weekend’s three-game swing through the North, Strong was not a happy camper.
“We were short today, since we only had five defencemen and then we lost one, so we had to have some forwards playing defence, which they had not done yet this season,” he said.
“I thought we started off OK, but then we took too many penalties. Some of them were deserved but there were some that were questionable in my mind. When my guys are getting injured, there is an issue. We ended up with a couple more guys injured and too me that is unacceptable, especially when you have a short bench.
“Timmins played very good. They were very aggressive and hard on the puck. They deserved to win.”
Despite the loss, Strong was pleased with the effort put forth by a number of Rapids players on Sunday.
“For being down to four defencemen, (Connor) Loft and (Stephen) Calisti held in there very well,” he said.
“We didn’t really have any standouts up front. We played OK and we worked hard, but nowhere near what I was hoping for today.”
The goaltending change made at the start of the second period had more to do with trying to change momentum than the performance of Eschyshcyn.
“They did get a lucky bounce on the one goal and I thought maybe our goalie should have had one of the other goals, but it was more about trying to do something to change the momentum,” Strong said.
Jackson turned aside 17 of the 18 shots he faced to pick up his fourth win in a Rock uniform.
Eschyshcyn, who stopped 15 of the 18 shots the Rock fired his way in the first period, was tagged with the loss. Brisson blocked 25 of the 27 shots he faced in relief.
NOJHL NOTES — The Daily Press three stars were Mathieu, Redmond and Losen … Rock forward Evan Kentish-Stack left the game in the second period with a suspected upper-body injury and did not return … The Rock did not dress forward Kevin Kutasi (healthy scratch) … The Rock went 3-11 on the power play, while the Rapids were 0-3 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 604 … The Rock will embark on a three-game road trip that will see them take on the Thunderbirds in Sault Ste. Marie Friday night, the Eagles in Sault, Mich., Saturday night and the Beavers in Blind River Sunday afternoon. The next home game for the Rock will be on Saturday, Nov. 4, when they host the Elliot Lake Wildcats at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is 7 p.m.