TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock gave a large Family Day crowd little to cheer about during the opening 40 minutes of Monday’s NOJHL contest at the McIntyre Arena, but from that point onward there was no shortage of excitement.
A third-period rally saw the Rock knot things up at 2-2 and then in overtime they avenged Friday night’s loss to the Lumberjacks in Hearst by taking down the East Division’s top team 3-2.
With the victory, the Rock (30-18-3-0) were able to move into a three-way tie for second place with the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (29-16-2-3) and the Cochrane Crunch (29-18-1-4) — four points behind the Lumberjacks.
That also puts the trio of teams three points ahead of the fifth-place Powassan Voodoos (29-19-1-1) in the tightly packed East Division.
Coach Corey Beer admitted after the game it might have been the wave started by Rock super fan Mike Blick between in the second intermission that got things turned around, not the speech he gave to his players in the dressing room.
“It was probably Mikey who got them going, but I really have to give a lot of credit to our players,” he said.
“(Captain) Derek Seguin during the third-period timeout challenged our players to be better and hold each other to a higher standard of play and be accountable.
“When we come back into the room (between periods), you don’t have to say much. The guys are in there chatting about what needs to be done better. Then, it’s all right, enough talk, let’s go out and show it.
“In the second period, we started to get a bit better, started hitting our stride a bit more, but credit to their goaltender (Nicholas Tallarico. That kid is unbelievable. He made some phenomenal saves, but there was a lot of controlled desperation from us in the third period.”
Things did not start out well for the Rock on Monday, as it took Max Johnson just 40 seconds to give the Lumberjacks a 1-0 lead, as he beat Rock goalie Tyler Masternak for his 10th goal of the season.
Things then went from bad to worse, as Max Griffioen potted his 27th goal of the season to increase the Hearst advantage to a pair of goals.
The Lumberjacks outshot the Rock 14-7 in the middle frame, but neither team was able to find the back of the net — leaving Hearst with a 2-0 lead heading into the third period.
It was at that point the Rock finally woke up, outshooting the Lumberjacks 19-4 in the final 20 minutes of regulation and netting the two goals they needed to send the contest to overtime.
For a time, however, it looked like the Rock just would not be able to solve Tallarico, as he held the home side at bay until the 14:06 mark when Linden Spencer scored his eighth goal of the season — just after a two-minute minor penalty taken by Hearst’s Justin Miron had expired.
“You can’t say enough good things about Linden,” Beer said.
“From the time he came in as an 18 year old last season, kind of an offensive guy and the way he has embraced this shutdown role has been great.
“He plays an agitating style and he drives us nuts at practice all the time. It is engrained in him.”
Then, with just 3:39 remaining in regulation, the Rock tied things up at 2-2 on a goal officially credited to Rock blue-liner Eric Moreau.
There was some debate following the contest over whether Moreau — who earlier this season was credited with his first NOJHL goal, only to have it later credited to one of his teammates — had put the puck in the net, or whether it was Mahingan Decontie who beat Tallarico.
“To be honest, I think it is going to get changed,” Beer said.
“Eric took the shot and it got through, with Deco getting on top of it. We will have to take a look at it, but Eric doesn’t think it was his.
“Regardless, I thought he played a good game. He is a guy who doesn’t seek the glory. He plays defensive minutes and knows his job. It’s not a glamorous one, but it is definitely recognized within our organization and in our locker room.”
Regardless of which Rock player is eventually given credit for the game-tying goal, there was no question who notched the game-winner in overtime.
Blue-liner Will Caston drifted from the right point to the top of the face-off circle and drilled a wrist shot past Tallarico at the 2:11 mark of overtime for his second goal of the season.
“I just go on the ice, saw we had a good net drive and Gage Tremblay turned it back and I just snuck in behind their player,” he said.
“Against Tallarico I wanted to shoot high over his shoulder and I was just happy it went in.”
He realizes how big Monday’s victory was given the tight standings in the East Division.
“This victory was huge,” Caston said.
“No matter who we wind up going up against in the playoffs, we will bring our A game every time.
“It was huge to get a little doubt in their (Lumberjacks) heads. We are just going to ride this wave into the playoffs.”
His coach believes Rock fans are only seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Caston’s game.
“He doesn’t put up substantial offensive numbers, but he is always involved in the rush,” Beer said.
“For a guy like that, at 17 years old, who is really starting to grown his game, maybe this will be the goal that kicks him over the top and really unleashes that offensive onslaught we think is coming from his game.
“He does so many things well. He is a high-end defender. He plays massive minutes. He plays power play. He kills penalties. He basically does it all for us.”
Beer realizes how important it was for the Rock to finally get a puck past Tallarico in the third period.
“Late in games, if things aren’t working for you and you are getting the chances, if you can get one goal, you feel like you are going to get two,” he said.
“Then, if you get two, you feel like you are going to get three. Leaving the ice after the second period, I really felt like we had some positive traction in terms of our transition game and getting our forecheck established.
“The third period was lights out. We didn’t give them much room to operate and I really credit our forwards with being physical on the forecheck and the Ds with the quick ups.
“The other night (Friday) was a bit of a wake-up call for us to understand they (the Lumberjacks) are one of the best teams in this league and they play that way all the time.”
While the Lumberjacks have a bit of cushion atop the East Division standings, coach and general manager Marc Lafleur was happy his squad was able to salvage a point from Monday’s contest.
“I think we played three fantastic periods tonight,” he said.
“The outcome was determined by other issues. We will leave it at that.
“We played a good road game. We managed the puck terrific. We played very responsibly defensively in our zone, coming back and reloading quickly.”
The coach was once again impressed by the play of Tallarico, who has had the Rock’s number on many occasions this season.
“He is like that every single game,” Lafleur said.
“You can’t fault him.”
The Lumberjacks netminder was not the only player to catch his coach’s eye during the contest.
“Max Johnson had a pretty good game coming back from a suspension,” Lafleur said.
“Guys like (Jake) Desando and Griffioen were strong for us, as they usually are, and defensively Shaun Simpson has really picked it up since he has started getting more ice time.”
Like most coaches in the East Division, Lafleur doesn’t see much point in scoreboard watching at this stage of the season.
“All you can do is worry about trying to win your games,” he said.
“The other teams have to kind of work to catch us right now. We can afford to lose a point here or there and it won’t affect us as much as the other teams.”
Masternak, who stopped 28 of the 30 shots he faced in regulation and overtime, nailed down his NOJHL-best 27th win over the season for the Rock.
Tallarico, who turned aside 37 of the 40 shots the Rock directed his way, was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The Daily Press three stars of the game were Caston, Tallarico and Moreau … The Rock did not dress forwards Matt Capisciolto (upper-body injury) and Tyler Hutchinson (upper-body injury) … Timmins Majors coach Brandon Perry was behind the bench, working as an assistant for the Rock … The Rock went 0-4 on the power play, while the Lumberjacks were 0-2 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 1,168 … The Rock will head out on the road this weekend, taking on the Voodoos in Powassan Friday night, the Rapids in French River Saturday night and the Rapids in French River Sunday afternoon.