By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock snatched defeat from the jaws of victory Wednesday night at the McIntyre Arena, leaving head coach and general manager Paul Gagne fuming.
What appeared to be — and perhaps should have been — a 4-3 Rock victory became a 5-4 loss in the final six minutes of the NOJHL contest.
“On their fourth goal our guy didn’t do his assignment, our centreman didn’t take his man and they score a goal,” Gagne said.
“Then there is a soft pass to Bain (Cunningham) that is intercepted and they go down and score. You know what, it’s a lack of concentration and undisciplined penalties. We have our best player (Jordan Rendle) who gets kicked out playing against their fourth line.
“We are so undisciplined right now it is disappointing, very much.”
Rendle received a two-minute minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct and a 10-minute misconduct for inciting following a third-period altercation with Crunch defenceman Evan Akkerman.
At the time, the Rock were up 4-3 and looking full value for the one-goal lead, small consolation for the 603 fans in attendance at the McIntyre Arena.
“Eighty percent of the game was awesome,” Gagne said.
“I guess that’s a positive, but our egos are way too big right now. Everything is against us and we are taking stupid penalties. It is unfortunate because we had a great game going. Then we blew it like that for no reason.”
The Crunch jumped out to a 1-0 lead, as Jeremy McNeil beat Rock goalie Devon Debastos for his 15th goal of the season 5:39 into the hockey game.
The Rock responded with a pair of goals 24 seconds apart midway through the opening period, however, to erase the one-goal deficit and build a 2-1 lead.
First Andrew Green drilled a shot past Crunch goalie Brett Young for his third goal of the season and then Tristan Salesse potted his 30th goal of the season.
The Crunch battled back to tie things up at 2-2 prior to the end of the period, as Jon Marzec beat Debastos for his 22ndgoal of the season, a power-play marker.
That’s the way the opening period ended and neither team could find the back of the net in the second period until there was just 3:54 remaining on the clock.
Alexandre Brisson broke down the wing, cut across the front of the net and beat Young for his fourth goal of the season to put the Rock up 3-2.
Again the Crunch responded quickly, however, as Brenden Van Sweden beat Debastos from in close to tie things up at 3-3 just over two minutes later.
The Rock reclaimed their one-goal lead early in the third period, as Aaron Kerr broke down the wing, cut to the front of the net and slipped the puck between Young’s pads for his 17th goal of the season.
The score remained 4-3 in favour of the home side until Crunch forward Seamus Maguire found the puck in front of Debastos during a scramble and put the puck behind the Rock netminder for his 25th goal of the season.
Rock fans remained hopeful the home side would be able to salvage at least a point and force overtime, but Jaren Knorr stole the puck near the top of the face-off circle and found NOJHL scoring leader Hunter Atchison all alone in front of Debastos. Atchison buried his 47th goal of the season to crush the hopes of the home fans and send the Rock down to their fourth-straight loss and fifth in their past six games.
Despite the loss, there were a few Rock players who impressed Gagne Wednesday night.
“The young Brisson worked hard and we played him quite often,” he said.
“He took the man out there and he did his job. He missed a couple of assignments, but they were not critical. I was impressed with him tonight, definitely.
“I thought Devon was awesome tonight, too. He played really well tonight and he made some big saves. The last two goals, weren’t his fault. I was really impressed.”
The game plan for the Rock Wednesday night was simple.
“Forecheck, put the puck in the offensive zone, work it down low and put it behind their defence,” Gagne said.
“We were pretty successful when we were doing that. We hardly had any turnovers, but in the defensive zone our defence don’t want to move the puck forward, just use the plexiglass, gain a zone with the puck. They just want to bring it back, bring it back and I don’t understand it because we are not that good.
“I am very disappointed right now. It’s missed assignments after missed assignments and it’s always the same assignments that are missed.”
What is going to be the secret to the Rock turning things around before the start of the playoffs?
“It all comes down to attitude,” Gagne said.
“Our players might have fun in the dressing room, but they are not having fun on the ice. There is a lot of bitching and complaining that one guy does this, another guy does that.”
Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard was happy to see his squad emerge with the two points Wednesday night, which allowed them to pull within two points of the Powassan Voodoos for top spot the NOJHL’s East Division standings.
“There was a bit of a playoff atmosphere tonight, but I thought it was a sloppy hockey game all away around, from start to finish,” he said.
“You could tell we have been off for 12 days. We fired lots of shots and we were getting a lot of chances but there wasn’t a lot of buzzing around the net for rebounds.
“Then, in the last six minutes, we stepped it up another gear and they couldn’t keep up with our wheels. We need to keep that gear going for 60 minutes, not for six minutes.”
Some of the Crunch’s unsung heroes came up big for them again Wednesday night, as did their big guns.
“John Stevenson had a strong game again tonight,” Leonard said.
“Marzec played well and Atchison and Maguire really woke up there towards the end of the game.
“I thought those guys really stepped up. We were struggling a little bit tonight on defence. We gave up two goals on one-on-one battles on the outside and left Younger out to dry a little bit, but good teams find ways to win hockey games when they are not playing their best and that’s what we did tonight.”
The Crunch have four games left in the regular season, while the Voodoos are down to three.
“We just have to win out our last four games and we are going to finish first,” Leonard said
“Even if we finished tied with Powassan in points we win the tie breaker because of our head-to-head series with them.
“It was a big two points for us tonight and it gives us something to keep playing for since we have been in first since September and we want to finish there.
Young made 33 saves to earn the win for the Crunch, while Debastos blocked 42 of the 47 shots he faced and was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars were Atchison, Knorr and Debastos … The Rock went 0-6 on the power play, while the Crunch were 1-8 with the man advantage .. The Rock were without defencemen Andrew Castagna (lower-body injury) and Ryan Kerr (serving second game of a two-game suspension), as well as forward Wayne Mathieu (upper-body injury) and goalie Matthew Nixon (healthy scratch) … Wednesday’s other NOJHL contest saw the Rayside-Balfour Canadians blank the Rapids 5-0 in French River … The Rock are off until Thursday, March 3, when they will travel to Kirkland Lake for a game against the Gold Miners … The Crunch will host the Canadians Friday night at the Tim Horton Event Centre in Cochrane.