By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
COCHRANE – Konnar Dechaine scoreed a pair of goals to help lead the Crunch to a 6-4 win over the Timmins Rock Wednesday night at the Tim Horton Event Centre.
It was the final game for both teams prior to the NOJHL’s Christmas break and allowed the second-place Crunch to increase their lead over the Rock in the East Division standings to seven points.
The Rock jumped out to a 1-0 Cole Gilligan’s 16th goal of the season midway through the first period and it looked like that would be the way the opening frame would end, but the Crunch struck for a pair of goals in the final 45 seconds to take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
Nate Viberg beat Rock goalie Albert Rogers for his 16th goal of the season with 41.2seconds remaining on the clock and then Dechaine potted his 24th goal of the season with 32.4 seconds remaining.
“I think the turning point was when our defence decided not to play down low,” said Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“That accounted for those two goals right there and that was the difference in the game. We had the puck and there was less than a minute left in the period. All we had to do was to play our one-four and play it cool, but three times right by their bench we lost the puck and it went into our defensive zone.
“We had the puck and we gave it them and they scored. Then, off the face off, three of our guys let their players go. How could they score a goal into an empty net when there were three of us and two of them?
“That tells me right there we were focused, but we were not committed down low again. It was not from a lack of practise. We had been doing it all week.
“The difference tonight, too, was that we outright gave them four goals. We had puck possession and then we gave it to them.
“We can’t play like that. We are going to improve. We are going to get better. We need some more personnel and depth in here. That’s my goal for the next couple of weeks.”
The Crunch added to their lead t the 7:11 mark of the second period when Justin Hess scored his fifth goal of the season.
The Rock got that one back when captain Jordan Rendle scored his 22nd goal of the season to make it a 3-2 hockey game.
It took the Crunch just over a minute to restore their two-goal lead, however, as Austin Whelan netted his ninth goal of the season.
The Crunch took their 4-2 lead into the third period, but the Rock battled back to tie things up at 4-4.
Defenceman Nicholas Hautanen scored both goals, his fifth and sixth of the season, with the first coming on the power play.
Less than two minutes after the Rock deadlocked the contest Dechaine scored his second of the game and 25th of the season to put the home side in front for good.
Defenceman Joseph Thielen added a little insurance just over a minute later when he scored his fifth goal of the season to make the final score 6-4 in favour of the home side.
“We had a nice comeback and we kept coming,” Gagne said.
“Then, when they scored the goal that made it 5-4, in front of the net, it wasn’t even a two-on-one, it was a two-on-two. One of our defencemen again decided not to take his man.
“Rogers had no chance on at least three of the six goals. Our defence just looked at the puck. They were mesmerized by the puck.
“We have to improve and if the personnel aren’t going to improve, we will bring in personnel. I am not very happy.”
Despite the loss, Gagne was pleased with the play of a number of his Rock players Wednesday night.
“(Brendan) Campbell put in an incredible effort tonight,” he said.
“He worked hard and our third line (Gilligan, Stewart Parnell and Alexandre Brisson) had a couple of goals tonight and I was happy with that line.”
While Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard was happy to see his squad chalk up its four win in five tries against the Rock, there were parts of the game he was not thrill about.
“I am not happy with the way the third period went. I thought our goalie (Jacob Burhans) let in two bad goals, especially the third goal that went between his legs. You can’t allow those kind of goals at this level. The fourth goal was the exact same thing,
“That’s going to be a big concern for us heading into the new year.
“It should have been a 6-2 hockey game, maybe more because Rogers made some pretty big saves.”
The Crunch started strong, getting nine shots on Rogers before Burhans was called upon to make his first stop.
“After they scored the first goal, we took full control again,” Leonard said.
“We showed our character and our speed. We scored some pretty, highlight reel goals tonight.
While Dechaine’s line was at the top of its game, Leonard was more impressed by the play of one of the members of his second unit.
“Whelan was a healthy scratch for maybe the first 15 games of the year,” he said.
“We have given him an opportunity to play on the second line the last seven games and he has really been flying. He got a nice goal once things got a little tight.
“Even our fourth line got a goal tonight. We are fast, we are deep and we are looking forward to having (Shane) Woolsey in the lineup in the new year.
“I thought we played an excellent hockey game tonight and the score was not really indicative of how close the game was. I thought it was more of a 6-2 or an 8-3 game without some of the big saves Rogers made.
“That fifth goal was huge. You saw our character tonight. There was no panic. The fifth and six goals were two of the nicest goals you are going to see in this league. There was some beautiful tick-tack-toe passing.
“I thought Taylor Armbruster played great tonight and Connor Lovie, our captian, was solid. Joey Thielen on our back end had an excellent night and a lot of our 20 year olds stepped up.”
Leonard also clarified a comment he made following the Rock’s last visit to the Tim Horton Centre.
“I would like to apologize to coach Gagne for my comments in the paper calling him an old goat,” he said.
“There was no ill intention. I just thought I was being funny. He is my old hockey coach. I consider him to be a good mentor to a lot of guys in this league.”
Burhans stopped 30 of the 34 shots the Rock fired his way to earn the victory for the Crunch.
Rogers turned aside 40 of the 46 shots he faced and was tagged with the loss for the Rock.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars were Dechaine, Nicolas Flanders and Hautanen … The Rock did not dress defencemen Jared Hester (upper-body injury) and Spencer Segui (facial injury), as well as goalie Matthew Nixon (healthy scratch) … The Rock went 1-6 on the power play, while the Crunch were 0-5 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the Tim Horton Event Centre was 305.