THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS Luka Bolduc, of the Timmins Rock, and Rapids goalie Kevin Tardiff watch a rebound bounce harmlessly away from the front of the French River net during the first period of Thursday night’s NOJHL game at the McInytre Arena. The Rock scored three-goals in a three-minute span during the second period and went on to dump the Rapids 8-1. The Rock will host the Espanola Express at the McIntyre Arena Friday night. Game time is set for 7 p.m.
The first hat-trick of Riley Brousseau’s NOJHL career helped the Timmins Rock shake off a sluggish start and thump the French River Rapids 8-1 at the McIntyre Arena Thursday night.
With 16-year-old forward Keegan McMullen nursing a lower-body injury, Brousseau was elevated to the Cambridge native’s spot on the Rock’s No. 1 line with captain Derek Seguin and Riley Robitaille.
“It definitely feels pretty good,” said Brousseau, who had not found the back of the net in his previous 12 games.
“I had really been struggling to find the back of the net, but (assistant coach Marc Bisson) Beezer decided to put me with the big boys.
“I thought we really moved the puck well tonight and I want to thanks Segs and Robi.”
Brousseau, whose last goal had come on home ice Oct. 21 against the Powassan Voodoos, agreed Seguin and Robitaille make it easy for the third member of the line to find open ice.
“Segs gave me the puck on my second and my third goals,” he said.
“He definitely created a lot of space, which allowed me to put the puck in the back of the net.”
Brousseau can’t remember exactly when he last recorded a hat-trick, but he is pretty sure it came in a game against the New Liskeard Cubs back when he was playing in the GNML for the Timmins Majors.
Things didn’t start out too well for the Rock, as the Rapids jumped out to a 1-0 lead on Will Frustaglio’s 11th goal of the season at the 1:30 mark of the opening period.
It took the Rock just 38 seconds to get back on even terms, however, as Linden Spencer netted his third goal of the season to deadlock the score at 1-1.
That’s the way the score remained until the 5:20 mark of the middle frame when Gage Tremblay scored what would prove to be the game winning goal, his first of two tallies on the night and second of the season.
A minute and a half later, Brousseau scored the first of his three goals on the night and sixth of the season to increase the Rock advantage to a pair of goals.
Defenceman Josh Anderson then added his fifth tally of the season and the Rock’s third goal in a three-minute span to make it a 4-1 hockey game.
That prompted Rapids coach Paul Frustaglio to lift starting goalie Kevin Tardiff, with Marshall Frappier coming on in relief.
The new puck stopper was able to keep the Rock at bay throughout the remainder of the frame, but his luck ran out in the third period.
Brousseau struck for a power-play marker, his second goal of the night and seventh of the season, at the 2:20 mark.
Two-and-a-half minutes later, he completed his hat-trick as he notched his eighth goal of the season to put the Rock up 6-1.
Tremblay, attempting to keep pace with his teammate, added his second goal of the night and third of the season four minutes later.
Then, A.J. Campbell closed out the scoring when he chipped in with his fifth goal of the season just past the midway point in the third period to make the final 8-1 in favour of the Rock.
With coach Corey Beer still away with serving as an assistant coach with Canada East at the 2018 World Junior ‘A’ Challenge in Bonnyville, Alta., Bisson and fellow assistant coach James Daschuk once again ran the Rock bench.
“Brousseau was a guy who had been struggling for us a little bit of late,” Bisson said.
“So, we decided to give him an opportunity and it allowed him to play a little freer, without the pressure of worrying about making mistakes.
“He played a great game and Derek Seguin did a great job of setting him up. After Brousseau got his second goal, he was really looking for him so he could get the hat-trick.
“You have to give a bit of the credit to our captain.”
With Brousseau shining on the top line Thursday night, will McMullen get his spot back after he returns from injury?
“He (McMullen) has been playing so well of late, that I don’t think he is going to lose his spot,” Brisson said, with just a tinge of uncertainty in his voice.
“He may have to sit out again Friday, which might give Brousseau another chance with Seguin and Robitaille to work on the chemistry they obviously had tonight.”
The assistant coach was pleased with the play of the line of Tremblay, Matt Capisciolto and Josh Dickson in Thursday night’s contest, with Capisciolto and Dickson each picking up three assists.
“The other night in Hearst, we put that trio together and there was some immediate chemistry there,” Brisson said.
“We thought about giving Gage a shot on the top line, but we didn’t want to break up that line because they played so well together in Hearst.
“So we decided to keep them together and move Brousseau into that spot and now we look like geniuses.”
The coaching staff did not really impart any great words of wisdom on the Rock players during the first intermission to inspire them to turn up the intensity in the second period.
“The message was just stick to the game plan,” Bisson said.
“We thought we had a good game plan. Wednesday, we had a great practice and went over a few things we wanted to do to slow French River down in the neutral zone.
“There wasn’t any fairy dust, or anything else. We just wanted to stick to the game plan and stay out of the penalty box. We took a couple of undisciplined penalties in the first period.”
Bisson, who coaches the Rock goalies, is quite familiar with the work of netminder Tyler Masternak, who this week was named the NOJHL’s Goalie of the Month for the second-straight month.
“He has been phenomenal,” Bisson said.
“I don’t hesitate to say we have the best goalie in the league. I know there are other good goalies around the league, but we gave up the first goal tonight and we knew he has the ability to shut the door and give us a chance to win.”
Masternak sat out the home-and-home series with the Lumberjacks as he battled a cold, but he certainly looked healthy Thursday night.
“He felt real good in practice Wednesday and he gave me the thumbs up that he was good to go,” Bisson said.
“He has been tremendous all season and the guys are able to play a little freer in front of him because they know he is going to make most of the saves.”
Three other Rock players impressed their assistant coach with their effort — especially during the second half of the game.
“Early in the second period, we decided to put Linden Spencer, Darcy Haupt and A.J. Campbell on their top line of (Philippe) Daous, (Levi) Siau and Frustaglio,” Bisson said.
“We told them they had a job to do and if there is one thing about our locker room, the guys embrace their rolls. They know not everyone can be goal scorers, not everyone can be on the power play.
“We challenged them to shut that line down and it has been a pretty lethal line of late, but those three guys did an incredible job.”
Another player who caught the assistant coach’s eye was blue-liner Eric Moreau.
“He was very good back there, right to the end,” Bisson said.
“It was an 8-1 game, but he was still back there blocking shots, finishing checks and doing his job. He does it night-in and night-out.”
For the Rapids, Thursday night’s contest was the first game of a three-game road swing through the North that will see them make stops in Hearst Friday night and Cochrane Saturday night.
So, coach Paul Frustaglio was pretty philosophical about the one-sided contest.
“Sometimes in hockey things don’t go your way,” he said.
“Tonight was that night for us. We were only outshot 33-27 and they won 8-1. Sometimes the pucks go in and sometimes they don’t.
“Tonight, we just didn’t get any breaks and that happens. You just pack it in, learn from this and move on to tomorrow. You can’t drag this out. It is only one game, one loss.”
Even after Thursday’s setback, the Rapids are 6-3-1-0 in their past 10 games.
The Rapids’ game plan heading into the contest was simple.
“We knew we had to work hard,” Frustaglio said.
“We had to match their work ethic because Timmins is one of the hardest-working teams in the league.
“We also knew we were going to have to be creative around the net because they have a goalie who is probably the best goalie in Junior ‘A’ hockey, not just our league.
“You need to be creative to score on him. You have to work hard and be creative around the net. Then, you can get results.”
The Rapids coach agreed the Rock’s three goals in three minutes explosion in the second period was a huge turning point n the contest.
“They got those three goals directly on three mistakes by our team,” Frustaglio said.
“You blink twice and all of a sudden it was 4-1. Then, we went into the third period with a game plan and we were going to be a little bit more aggressive, but it didn’t quite work out.”
With Thursday night’s victory, the Rock (20-11-1-0) moved into sole possession of second place in the NOJHL’s East Division standings — two points behind the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (21-10-1-0) and two points ahead of the Powassan Voodoos (19-11-1-0).
Meanwhile, despite their strong play of late, the Rapids (11-18-2-1) remain in last place in the East Division — five points behind the Hearst Lumberjacks (13-12-3-1).
Masternak stopped 26 of the 27 shots he faced to pick up his NOJHL-leading 17th win on the season, while lowering his NOJHL-leading goals against average to 1.99.
Tardiff, who blocked 14 of the 18 shots the Rock directed his way, was tagged with the loss. Frappier stopped 11 of the 15 shots he faced in relief.
NOJHL NOTES — The Daily Press three stars of the game were Brousseau, Tremblay and Capisciolto … The Rock did not dress McMullen (lower-body injury), forward Eamon Bollinger (upper-body injury) and forward Benjamin Jossinet (upper-body injury) … Rock forward Riley Robitaille and Rapids blue-liner Carter Brown were ejected from the game just past the midway point of the second period after they each received five-minute majors for fighting and game misconducts. Brown also picked up a two-minute minor for instigating … The Rock went 1-4 on the power play, while the Rapids were 0-4 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 689 … Thursday night’s other action saw the Lumberjacks derail the Espanola Express 9-2 in Hearst and the Canadians blank the Blind River Beavers 3-0 in Rayside-Balfour … The Rock will return to action Friday night when they host the Express at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is set for 7 p.m.