COCHRANE – The Timmins Rock’s chances of finishing fourth in the NOJHL’s East Division standings are pretty well dead.
Oh sure, they still have a mathematical chance of catching the Lumberjacks, but the Rock’s embarrassing 12-2 loss at the Tim Horton Event Centre, combined with Hearst’s 4-2 home-ice win over the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners increased the gap to five points — with both teams just having three games left in their 2017-18 regular-season schedules.
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
Things didn’t start off too badly for the Rock Saturday night, at least on paper, as they trailed just 2-1 after the opening 20 minutes of play.
Rock assistant coach James Daschuk, once again filling in for coach Corey Beer who was serving the second game of his two-game suspension, was quick to point out that one-goal deficit was actually flattering to the visitors.
“It was a very long hockey game,” Daschuk said.
“We just didn’t have any jump. We were only down 2-1 after the first period, but we only had three shots in the first period. From the opening puck drop, we just weren’t there tonight. We just didn’t have it. Too many guys just didn’t care. We just had too many guys going through the motions. The passenger cliché definitely came into effect. We had a lot of guys moping around and feeling sorry for themselves.”
Derek Seguin’s 12th goal of the season at the 7:02 mark of the frame gave the Rock a 1-0 lead, but Crunch sniper Levi Johnson got the home side back on even terms three-and-a-half minutes later when he scored his first of three goals on the night and 10th of the season.
Johnson then put the Crunch in front for good when he netted his second of the night and 11th of the season three minutes later.
The Crunch then proceeded to blow the game wide open when they scored five unanswered goals in the middle frame.
Zach Hayes got the puck rolling when he scored his seventh goal of the season just 2:27 into the period.
Kyle Herbster’s 36th goal of the season, midway through the stanza, put the Crunch up 4-1.
Austin Stauffer followed with his 31st goal of the season two minutes later and Austin Whelan’s 15th goal of the season two minutes later increase the Crunch advantage to five goals.
Then, defenceman Eli Hernandez netted his fifth goal of the season to give the Crunch a 7-1 lead heading into the dressing room for the second intermission.
Thomas Hernandez’s seventh goal of the season 19 seconds into the third period kept the route going for the home side.
The Rock finally stemmed the bleeding — if only briefly — when Paul Spadafora scored his fourth goal of the season to cut the Crunch lead to 8-2.
The Crunch responded with a pair of power-play markers a minute-and-a-half apart, as Johnson completed his hat-trick by scoring his 12th goal of the season and captain Connor Lovie followed with his 14th goal of the campaign.
Even though that goal allowed the Crunch to reach double figures, the feeding frenzy was not quite over.
Gordon Whalen added his second goal of the season32 seconds after Lovie found the back of the net.
And Eli Hernandez completed the scored when he potted his second of the night and sixth goal of the season to make the final score 12-2 in favour of the Crunch.
Coming off a big 7-2 win over the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners on home ice Wednesday night, Daschuk had been expecting a lot more from his squad than he received Saturday night.
“It is almost turning into a pattern,” he said.
“We play good, then we play bad. We take a couple of games off. The consistency is just not there, whether it is preparation before the game or guys reading their stat lines from the previous game.
“You will have a guy scoring two goals in one game, then you won’t see him for the next four games.
“I don’t know if the guys were overconfident, thinking we had all of a sudden turned into a team that scores seven goals every game, but the guys just didn’t care.
“It is unfortunate for the guys on the team who did care. They are stuck in a situation that is not fun for them.
“Some guys work their butts off every game and then you have some guys who don’t kill penalties going out and taking dumb penalties.
“It is very frustrating from a coaching standpoint and even from a player’s standpoint.”
Asked if there were any positive in Saturday night’s 12-2 loss, Daschuk — not surprisingly — said: “Honestly, no. I can’t really think of one. We had a few power plays, but those weren’t great.
“We did score a power –play goal, maybe that’s a positive, I guess.”
Given the Rock have the second-worst power play in the entire NOJHL, any time they can find the back of the net with the man advantage indeed should be considered a positive. Our PK certainly wasn’t great. We gave up a couple of shorthand goals.
‘We played ping-pong with the puck. We thought the puck was going to explode every time it hit our sticks, so we tried to get rid of it as soon as we could.
“There certainly wasn’t much to mention, as far as positives go.”
Given the Rock’s three remaining regular-season games are all on the road, how can the team turn things around?
“In Junior ‘A’ hockey, you shouldn’t have to convince guys to give a solid effort night-in and night-out. That’s the thing that’s kind of mindboggling right now.
“We have guys on this team who want to make the jump to the next level in their hockey careers, but they are not helping themselves.”
With the victory, the Crunch now second in both the East Division standings and the NOJHL’s overall rankings, improve to 35-16-2-1 on the season.
The Rock, meanwhile, fall to 18-29-3-3 on the year.
Perhaps the only good news for the team in maroon, gold and white is the French River Rapids 5-1 loss to the Voodoos in Powassan eliminated them from the playoffs and secured Timmins the fifth and final playoff berth in the division.
Shayne Battler went the distance in goal for the Crunch, stopping 11 of the 13 shots the Rock fired his way.
Rock starting goalie Tyler Masternak turned aside 21 of the 30 shots he faced and he was tagged with the loss. In 6:08 of relief, Eric Jackson blocked three of the six shots directed his way.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Johnson, Hayes and Seguin … The Rock did not dress defenceman Jun Yi Zhong (illness) and forward Wesley Weir (upper-body injury) … Rock defenceman Eric Paquette was ejected from the game early in the second period when he was assessed a five-minute major for checking to the head and a game misconduct … The Rock went 1-4 on the power play, while the Crunch were 2-8 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the Tim Horton Event Centre was 264 … Saturday night’s other action saw the Express upset the Soo Eagles 5-3 in Espanola and the Soo Thunderbirds get past the Beavers 3-1 in Blind River … The Rock, who have wrapped up their home schedule, will return to action on Friday night when they take on the Rapids in French River.