By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
SUDBURY – The Rayside-Balfour Canadians completed a sweep of their home-and-home exhibition series with the Timmins Rock Saturday night at the Countryside Arena.
Joel Lemay scored a pair of goals to lead the Canadians to a 5-4 comeback victory over the visitors one night after Rayside-Balfour had dominated the Rock 7-1 in Timmins.
Despite the loss — their third in four exhibition games — Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne was a lot happier with his team’s effort Saturday night.
“We competed,” he said.
“What a difference. We were not in first gear the whole night like we were on Friday.
“Right from the start, we got things going. You know, you score the first goal and then the whole morale picks up. Everybody was believing.”
The Rock jumped out to a 2-0 first-period lead.
Devin Panzeca’s first of two goals on the night — scored on the power play — got Timmins on the board at the 4:11 mark of the opening frame.
“Panzeca, Rendle again — who was of our better players on Friday night — and the young (Bain) Cunningham, really played well as a line,” Gagne said.
Panzeca had a pair of goals and an assist, while Rendle and Cunningham each had a pair of helpers.
Andrew Castagna increased the advantage to 2-0 when he beat Canadians goalie Kevin Labelle with 2:59 to play in the first period.
The last time Labelle and Rock goalie Logan Ferrington faced each other back on March 6 — when their respective teams were known as the Sudbury Nickel Barons and the Abitibi Eskimos — the two puck stoppers met at centre ice, took off their face masks, dropped their gloves and engaged in a fight that led to ejections and lengthy suspensions.
Saturday night, the two netminders wisely opted to remain in their creases for the entire contest.
The Canadians got on the board 6:12 into the second period, as former New Liskeard Cub Gabriel Rheault beat Ferrington to cut the Timmins lead to 2-1.
Panzeca’s second goal of the game just over a minute later restored the visitors’ two-goal lead and made the score 3-1, however.
The Canadians again battled back, though, with Lemay netting the first of his two goals less than two minutes later and then Owen Fransen scoring just 14 seconds later to deadlock the contest at 3-3.
“I know it is a bit of a cliche, but we gave up five goals Saturday night and four of those five goals were scored from two feet in front of the net as a result of our players not taking care of their men,” Gagne said.
“It was individual mistakes again that cost us. It is being addressed and it is being worked on. The unfortunate thing right now is that it is the same players making the mistakes.
“They are going to have to realize that if they can play at this level great but if it continues then maybe they are not ready.”
Gagne would not divulge which of his players are continually making these mistakes, not wanting to toss anybody under the bus at this point in the preseason.
Defenceman Jared Hester scored a power-play goal, his second of the preseason, to put the Rock back in front 4-3 before the end of the second period.
The third period belonged to the Canadians, as the home side again struck for a pair of quick goals.
Kyle Fransen tied things up for Rayside-Balfour at the 13:07 mark of the final period and Lemay scored what would prove to be the game-winning goal just over a minute later.
The Rock had an excellent opportunity to tie the game up and send it to overtime in the dying seconds of the contest, but they were not able to covert.
“In the last 10 or 15 seconds of the game, one of our players beat the goalie, had an open net and missed the net,” Gagne said.
During the first four exhibition games, the Rock have demonstrated a lack of confidence in their ability to come back when they fall behind in games but Gagne is more concerned with other aspects of the team’s play.
“Right now, I am more concerned about our players not getting beat one on one and taking their man in front of the net,” he said.
“They have to be conscious of their defensive play. These should not be concepts that are foreign to them. They have been told these same things over and over again the entire time they have been playing hockey.
“That’s where I am at right now with out players. There are things tactically that they will adapt to because they are smart kids, but when there is a little bit of pressure in game situations, that is when they have to respond. If they can’t respond, then maybe they are not ready for Junior ‘A’ hockey.
“Our job, hopefully, is to be able to develop them so that they will be in a situation where they are going to be comfortable and confident.”
Labelle made 30 saves and went the distance to record the win for the Canadians, while Ferrington turned aside 36 shots while being tagged with the loss for the Rock.
Prior to the two weekend games, Gagne has indicated he was going to play Ferrington the entire game Friday night on home ice and then get Jack Stockdale into Saturday night’s contest on the road.
With Ferrington playing just the first two periods on home ice Friday night, that game plan was altered, however, and Stockdale came in to play the third period but didn’t see any action Saturday night.
“Being a close game, you work so hard and you don’t want to experiment if you have a good thing going,” Gagne said.
Following the game, the Rock released the 17-year-old Stockdale, who did not really fit the team’s criteria (a 19 year old capable of pushing the No. 1 goalie and potentially returning as a starter for the 2016-17 season) for a second goalie to pair with Ferrington.
The Brantford native did show some promise during his time in Rock camp.
“The kid knows he is not ready for junior here, but maybe next year,” Gagne said.
“He has got an upside, with three years of junior left after this year, and he is a great kid.”
The Rock anticipate having another goalie arrive in camp this week to audition for the second spot in their crease.
NOJHL NOTES — The Rock will begin a home-and-home series with the Cochrane Crunch Thursday night at The Sports Palace in Kapuskasing. The two teams will then face off at the McIntyre Arena Friday night. Both games are scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. … The Kirkland Lake Gold Miners completed a home-and-home sweep of the Eskimos by posted a 4-3 victory in Iroquois Falls Saturday night. Declan Conway netted three goals for the visitors, while Brayden Stortz had the other Gold Miners goal. Jacob Erwin, Nathan Avery and Dillon Bruce replied for the Eskimos … The Elliot Lake Wildcats have acquired 18-year-old forward Shane Woolsey (50, 26-25-51, 39) from Hawkesbury Hawks, of the CCHL. In July, the Wildcats traded Woolsey to the Kemptville 73s, of the CCHL … The Gold Miners have acquired 20-year-old defenceman Kyle Lamont (38, 0-2-2, 22) from La Ronge Ice Wolves, of the SJHL … The Canadians have acquired 18-year-old goalie Mackenzie Savard (17, 3.48, .895) from Fort Erie Meteors, of the GOJHL.