By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
COCHRANE – It goes without saying the Timmins Rock are sick and tired of losing to the Crunch — especially at the Tim Horton Event Centre.
Tuesday night, the revolving door on sick bay saw back-up goalie Jeff Veitch and blue-liner Patrick Gazich check out of the lineup, while forward Wayne Mathieu and defenceman Brendan Campbell managed to answer the bell for a 6-1 loss at the hands of the Crunch.
Nicholas Hway, who had missed the past three games while battling the flu bug, returned to action, as well.
Playing their fourth road game in five nights, the Rock certainly qualified as tired and they clearly lacked the jump necessary for any sustained forechecking.
Travelling 1,135 kilometres by bus — from Timmins to Espanola, to Rayside-Balfour, to Elliot Lake, back to Timmins and then to Cochrane — will do that to a team.
Despite the medical issues and all the travel, the Rock were able to keep the Crunch at bay until late in the first period.
“The first 10 minutes of the first period, I thought we came out pretty good and had a little bit of jump,” said Rock assistant coach Marc Bisson.
“You could see, however, that we were definitely losing steam as the game went on. Then, we started to get a little bit frustrated. On their first goal, on the power play, we weren’t sure whether or not it should have been a too many men on the ice call. That goal got them on the board.”
Braeden Cross finally broke through the Rock defence to score his 37th goal of the season, with the home side on the power play, at the 17:20 mark.
And then Nate Viberg beat Rock goalie Albert Rogers for his 23rd goal of the season with just 29 seconds remaining in the opening frame.
“Rather than getting the puck out on the play, we had a missed assignment,” Bisson said.
“Giving up a goal in the last minute of a period is always a big no-no.”
Justin Hess added his eighth goal of the season midway through the second period to push the Crunch advantage to 3-0.
The Rock got that one back a minute-and-a-half later, however, as captain Jordan Rendle scored his team-leading 28th goal of the season.
Any momentum the Rock may have gained from that goal was lost just over two minutes later, as Konnar Dechaine struck for his 32nd goal of the season to put the Crunch in front 4-1 heading into the second intermission.
The third period was all Crunch, as defenceman Quinn Robelle scored his fourth goal of the season early in the frame and Brandon McReynolds added his 24th goal of the season at the midway mark.
With Tuesday’s victory, the Crunch (35-13-4-1) were able to expand their lead over the Rock (31-13-3-0) to 10 points in the battle for second place in the NOJHL’s East Division standings.
The Rock, however, still have six games in hand on their rivals.
“We are maintaining a positive attitude and we still think we can get home-ice advantage,” Bisson said.
“That is still our goal.”
Things will not get any easier for the Rock as they will play a fifth game in seven nights when they travel to Kirkland Lake for a game against the Gold Miners at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex Thursday night.
“We will have a short practice tomorrow (Wednesday) to get ready for that game,” Bisson said.
“Not everybody will be in attendance, as we had some guys who played sick today. If they are still ill, maybe they will get a day off.”
Even though the Rock came out on the losing end of a 6-1 score Tuesday night, there were still a few players who impressed the coaches.
“(Alexandre) Brisson, a Cochrane guy, kind of brought it tonight,” Bisson said.
“He always finishes his checks and does the small things. On the back end, I thought Campbell played fairly well and up front Wayne Mathieu is always pretty consistent with his effort and what he brings to the lineup game-in and game-out.”
Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard was pleased with his team’s effort Tuesday night.
“Our transition game was really good tonight,” he said.
“The first three goals we scored were really pretty, tick-tack-toe, one-timers. Rogers didn’t have a chance, especially on our fourth goal.
“We were patient tonight and until all the shenanigans happened in the last three or four minutes we were pretty disciplined. That’s something we have to work on. Tonight showed that if we are disciplined we are not going to have too hard of a time against these guys. The games we have struggled against them have been the games where we have been undisciplined and taken too many penalties.
“The last two games in Timmins, we had eight or nine power plays against us and they were well-deserved penalties. We have just got to keep our mouths shut, play hockey and do our jobs. We did that tonight and they were getting frustrated and taking all the dumb penalties.”
The Crunch excelled in their defensive zone coverage Tuesday night, something that has not always been the case when they take on the Rock.
“We did a great job tonight and we have been working on it a lot in practice,” Leonard said.
“We were playing man-to-man down low, which is nice, and having a goalie who does not give up many rebounds helps a lot, as well. (Taylor) Unruh was sound tonight and he did a good job.”
The coach was also impressed with the play of his captain a few other players.
“Connor Lovie again was a horse for us out there tonight,” Leonard said.
“Robelle, Joey Thielen and (Taylor) Armbruster all had great games back there. All our D really played well.
“Up front, (Nicolas) Flanders was plugging away out there and he and (Kyle) Herbster were really flying.
“I was also impressed with the play of Cross. He is playing a 200-foot game and he is helping out defensively. He actually stopped a goal tonight.
“That’s how you are going to win games, when you have guys who are the leading goal scorers in the league coming down low, blocking shots and helping out. That kind of thing is going to go a long way when it comes playoff time.”
Unruh turned aside 37 of the 38 shots the Rock fired his way to pick up the win for the Crunch.
Rogers, making his fifth-straight start in the Rock net, blocked 39 of the 45 shots he faced on the night and was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Dechaine, Viberg and Crunch forward Bailey Shaver, who picked up a pair of assists … Rock forward Jacob Shankar was ejected from the game after picking up a five-minute major penalty for kneeing and a game misconduct in the third period … The Rock went 0-6 on the power play, while the Crunch were 2-6 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the Tim Horton Event Centre was 298 … The Rock will return to action Thursday night when they travel to Kirkland Lake for a game against the Gold Miners at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex. The next home game for the Rock will be on Saturday night when the Elliot Lake Wildcats will make their lone visit of the 2016-17 campaign to the McIntyre Arena.