THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS Timmins Rock defenceman Luka Bolduc does his best Bobby Orr imitation as he flies through the air while attempting to backhand a shot past Elliot Lake goalie Justin Vertesi during the second period of Saturday afternoons NOJHL game at the McIntyre Arena as Wildcats defenders Brett Lannin and Troy Daniels. Bolduc was denied on the play, but he scored the first three goals of his Junior A career to help the Rock blank the Wildcats 5-0.
Defenceman Luka Bolduc, who had played 49 Junior ‘A’ hockey games without scoring a goal, celebrated by scoring three times on Saturday afternoon as the Timmins Rock blanked the Elliot Lake Wildcats 5-0 at the McIntyre Arena.
The 6-2, 206-pound 2000-birth-year blue-liner Montreal native scored a goal in each of the game’s three periods, with the first third of his hat-trick standing up to be the game-winner.
Normally a stay-at-home defender, Bolduc — no stranger to net-front battles — was parked in front of Elliot Lake goalie Justin Vertesi for all three of his tallies.
“The big difference is you are definitely on the receiving end of a lot more hacks,” he said, when asked about the main difference between being the defender or the offensive threat in those two-man battles.
“When you are on the defensive side, it is all about positioning and I think this team, on their PK, were getting tried up with me a lot.
“The advantage was that was letting the boys move the puck. As you know, when we are on PK we play a really good system of being positioned so we don’t get tied up.
“Being in front of their net today, I got a lot of hacks, but it is what we needed for our team. It worked today and I am very happy.”
Asked if he had any kind of gut feeling, or inkling today was going to be his day, Bolduc said, “No, I don’t get those, but we were coming back from a tough weekend (losses on the road to the Powassan Voodoos and the French River Rapids).
“So, I was really focused on making this the best bounce-back game I could make it. I am really glad that coach (Corey Beer) trusted me out there. He put me out for some important minutes and I was able to deliver.”
Bolduc was a healthy scratch during Friday night’s 6-2 win over the Cochrane Crunch, but he made the most of Saturday afternoon’s opportunity.
Bolduc’s second goal of the night and the season, a power-play marker, with less than five minutes remaining in the second period gave the Rock a 2-0 lead.
The home side was able to expand that advantage to three goals with less than two minutes remaining in the frame thanks 16-year-old forward Keegan McMullen’s eighth goal of the season.
Hard-working checking forward A.J. Campbell’s third goal of the season then pushed the home side’s lead to 4-0 just past the seven-minute mark of the third period.
With the crowd still buzzing about Bolduc’s unexpected offensive outburst, the blue-liner then put an explanation mark on the contest by completing his hat-trick with yet another power-play marker.
For the second-straight game, Beer was pleased with what he saw from his Rock skaters Saturday afternoon.
“During the pre-game we talked about how we needed the balanced scoring we got last night to carry over into this game and it did,” Beer said.
“We got some monster performances from some guys who usually don’t put the puck n the net.
“It was a great team win for us to cap off the weekend.”
The coach, of course, needs to look no further than his defence-first blue-liner turned sniper to find an illustration of that fact.
“I just heard somebody in our room yell out, ‘hey net-front guys, your jobs are in jeopardy,’” Beer said.
“Bolly is a stay-at-home defenceman who keeps his game very simple, but that is one of the things with this team. Opportunities come out of nowhere and if you can seize the opportunity and take advantage of it you are going to get rewarded.
“We were having trouble with our net-front tonight and nobody was wanting to screen the goalie, so what better option than a 6-2 guy who has got some reach.
“He did a phenomenal job of deflecting pucks and knocking in rebounds. It was a special night for him, for sure.”
One of the Rock’s other big bodies — 6-4, 221-pound Tyler Hutchinson — was also solid in front of the Wildcats nets Saturday afternoon.
“The power play has become so much more evolved over the years where it has become much more seam passes and back-door plays,” Beer said.
“You want to have as much skill out there as possible, but sometimes if it is not working and teams are giving you shooting options, you need to have a big-body presence in front of the net and go back to the old-school way of doing things.
“For us, it worked out great today and we couldn’t be happier.”
The Rock were without the services for NOJHL goal-scoring leader Derek Seguin, No. 1 blue-liner Josh Anderson and forward Riley Robitaille, as all three are on their way to join Team NOJHL East for the Eastern Canada Cup Challenge in Trenton, from Monday until Wednesday.
The play of Josh Dickson helped to pick up some of the slack left by Seguin’s absence from the lineup.
“His game has taken off the last couple of weeks,” Beer said.
“He looks dangerous every time he touches the puck. Him and Keegan McMullen on the penalty kill, taking away seams, taking away tracking, forcing turnovers and turning the puck up ice and having offensive chances … those two were dangerous all night.
“(Mehingan) Decontie comes back in the lineup and those three assume the spot vacated by Segs and Robie. It was great. We want to have our guys playing with confidence and high skill all the time.”
On any other night the story of the game might have been Rock goalie Tyler Masternak recording his NOJHL-leading fifth shutout of the season, besting his single-season franchise mark and also pushing his career franchise-leading number to seven.
While he was only called upon to make 17 saves in the contest, he stopped every shot he faced.
After picking up an assist in Friday night’s 6-2 win over the Cochrane Crunch, Masternak was held off the scoresheet in Saturday afternoon’s victory.
“Masty is unbelievable,” Beer said.
“His puck playing has taken the next step here, too. He is able to come out and stop pucks and it just alleviates pressure on our defencemen.
“The double-pad stack he made on the breakaway had been scratching my head a bit as a coach, but what a great save.
“As much as we want our skater playing with confidence, there is a goalie who is playing with confidence and it shows in his work ethic every day.”
A few other Rock players caught their coach’s eye in positive light Saturday afternoon, as well.
“Capy (Matt Capisciolto) really did a good job,” Beer said.
“I got on him pretty good there about moving his feet and whining to try and get a couple of calls, but he had a monster third period.
“Late, he had a soft chip where we could have had a 50/50 rush, but he just soft chipped into the zone and that’s the way you win games late.
“Eamon Bollinger, again. This kid is a horse. He does it every night. He logs big minutes. He is effective at drawing penalties from opposition players, too, with how hard he is on the puck. His game has just taken off.
“Will Caston is almost a forgotten man some of the time. Josh Anderson quarterbacks the power play and earns a lot of minutes. He gets the accolades from the Eastern Canada Cup, but Will Caston just goes about his game. He played another 28 minutes tonight, in every situation. He shuts down the opposing team’s top players.
“For my money, he is one of the best defencemen we have going every single time.”
After dropping a 2-1 decision to the Crunch in Cochrane Thursday night and suffering a 7-2 setback at the hands of the Lumberjacks in Hearst Friday night, Wildcats assistant coach Trevor Ritchie admits his squad is looking forward to getting back to Elliot Lake and regrouping.
“We wanted to play a defensive-minded game today, keep it simple and get pucks in deep,” he said.
“We did that early on, but then we got off our game plan. Three games in two-and-a-half days is tough. This northern trip can get the best of you sometimes.
“We have a good room, though, and the players are working hard.”
The Wildcats, who were all over the Rock during the first four or five minutes of the first period, had little push back after they fell behind by two goals.
“Puck luck right now might not be on our side,” Ritchie said.
“We had a chance shorthanded and Masternak made a great save. There were little chances here or there where we just couldn’t get any momentum, but we are going to get better every day.”
Like anybody who watched even a few minutes of Saturday afternoon’s contest, Ritchie was impressed with the play of Wildcats goalie Justin Vertesi.
“Our goaltending has been good for us this year,” he said.
“You can’t have your goalie making 40-plus saves every night, but he gave us a chance to win. That is all you can ask of your goalie.”
With Saturday’s victory, the Rock (16-9-1-0) pulled to within two points of the NOJHL-leading Powassan Voodoos (17-6-1-0) and one point of the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (17-6-0-0).
They also increased their lead over the Cochrane Crunch (13-12-0-1), who sit in fourth place in the East Division standings, to six points.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats (9-15-0-2) — who finished up a three-game trip through the East Division with a third-straight loss — continue to hold down fourth place in the West Division standings.
In addition to picking up his fifth shutout of the season, Masternak also earned his NOJHL-leading 14th victory of the season.
Vertesi, meanwhile, was tagged with the loss despite stopping 43 of the 48 shots the Rock directed his way.
NOJHL NOTES — The Daily Press three stars of the game were Bolduc, Rock forward Dickson (two assists) and Masternak … Robitaille was also serving the fifth game of his seven-game suspension … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 611 … The Rock will return to action on Friday when the travel to Powassan for a game with the Voodoos, before moving on to French River for a game with the Rapids on Saturday night. The next home game will be on Friday, Nov. 30, when they host the Hearst Lumberjacks at the McIntyre Arena.