GALLERY: Crunch edge Rock

Timmins Rock goalie Tyler Masternak makes a save on a shot from Cochrane Crunch forward T.J. Delaney during the second period of Thursday night’s NOJHL game at the McIntyre Arena. Delaney’s breakaway attempt was just one of a number of tough stops Masternak had to make in the contest, but the Crunch were able to get a pair of pucks past him en route to a 2-1 victory in the first half of a home-and-home series. The Rock and the Crunch will play the second half of the series Saturday night at the Tim Horton Event Centre. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS

By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)

TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock’s hopes of finishing in fourth place in the NOJHL’s East Division standings were dealt another blow Thursday night at the McIntyre Arena.

Trailing the idle Hearst Lumberjacks by two points heading into the contest, the Rock dropped a 2-1 decision to the visiting Cochrane Crunch in the first half of a home-and-home series.

The Rock had little zip to start the contest and it took until almost the 19-minute mark of the opening period for the home side to generate its second shot on goal.

As a result, the Crunch were able to establish a 1-0 first-period lead while outshooting the Rock 12-4 in the frame.

Clay Ellerbrock’s 11th goal of the season, scored at the 3:30 mark of the period, staked the Crunch to that advantage.

“There were too many times when went didn’t have two guys on the puck and when you have just one guy on the puck fighting a battle, it is too hard,” said Rock coach Corey Beer.

“Teams are too good defensively and they use swarm tactics. Having one guy working hard and two guys just waiting for pucks just isn’t going to work.”

There were times, as well, where it seemed like the Rock just couldn’t get out of their own way out on the ice.

“There was no real rhythm,” Beer said.

“I think we had too many guys trying to do everything themselves tonight. They weren’t playing a team game and they weren’t trusting their linemates.”

Adding to the frustration was the fact the Rock only lost Thursday night’s game a single goal to one of the NOJHL’s top squads.

“It was a very winnable game,” Beer said.

“For us to come out and play dumb hockey, for the lack of a better term, I was not impressed.”

The Rock played a much better second period, outshooting the visitors 10-9, and they were able to tie things up at 1-1 on Evan Kentish-Stack’s sixth goal of the season at the 2:20 mark of the frame.

That’s the way the score remained until just past the midway mark of the third period when Austin Whelan provided the game-winner when he scored his 13th goal of the season.

Beer realizes the Rock lost to a very good hockey team Thursday night.

“They are a team that has got a lot of firepower,” he said.

“They can certainly come at you in waves. We definitely didn’t play a good first period tonight, but from that point on, we were a lot better.

“This is back-to-back games where the other team has been able to take us out of our comfort zone. We were not able to outshoot our opponents by a drastic margin like we had been able to the last little bit.

“When a team pushes back, we have to be able to fight back a bit and get out of our comfort zone. That’s a lesson for our guys to learn. I didn’t like the way handled the last two games, Tuesday night against Hearst and tonight against Cochrane.

“It will be back to the drawing board for a lot of our guys to make sure their heads are into and they understand come playoff time scoring chances go down, shots go down. Everything is tighter and we have to be comfortable in those type of games.”

Beer admitted the Crunch’s size advantage created problems for the Rock Thursday night.

“It might have been a factor, especially mentally,” he said.

“I certainly felt like our guys didn’t engage in battles. The Crunch have a big team and they can move well.”

In earlier contests, the Rock were able to use their speed to offset the Crunch’s size advantage, but that was clearly not the case Thursday night.

“I think a lot of that was transition,” Beer said.

“Our defence was grenade central tonight. There were not many clean passes. I thought Grant McClellan and Will Caston were great, but I didn’t see much from the rest of our guys. We had to move Jace Soroko back there just to insulate things.

“I was not impressed at all with our transition game tonight.”

Rock goalie Tyler Masternak was once again solid in net Thursday night, especially in the first period when the Crunch were all over the home side.

“What a great bounce-back game for him,” Beer said.

“There were a couple of goals in that Hearst game he would have liked to have had back, but he was hung out to dry on both goals he allowed tonight.

“Nobody was able to pick up a back-side guy and our defencemen were puck watching.

“Tyler was unbelievable and he gave us every chance to win. He has been lights out for us all year.”

Crunch captain Connor Lovie agreed his squad’s fast start was a key to Thursday night’s victory.

“Our first period for sure was probably one of the better periods we have played all year,” he said.

“Then, we got a little too complacent in the second and the third. We can’t sit back, especially coming up to the playoffs. We have seven games left in the season and that is not acceptable.”

While it is almost guaranteed the Crunch will finish second in the East Division standings, that isn’t their only goal.

“We are still trying to battle to finish second overall in the league,” Lovie said.

“It is important to have home-ice advantage in the later stages of the playoffs.”

The veteran defenceman agreed they Crunch’s size advantage paid dividends for the visitors Thursday night.

“We have a lot bigger team than they do and that’s kind of our style,” Lovie said.

“We like to get pucks in and lay the body. You could see tonight guys like Laramie Kostelansky used that to their advantage. He is a big boy and he won a lot of battles.”

Crunch goalie Taylor Unruh was not overly busy — especially during the first period — but he made a number of key stops in the second and third period to keep the Rock from gaining any momentum.

“He has been a key factor in our team’s success this year,” Lovie said.

“He and Shayne Battler have been a dynamic duo for us. They come out to play every night and they work hard.”

Lovie is confident the Crunch will be able to complete the sweep of their home-and-home series with the Rock Saturday night.

“We just have to go out and play like we did in the first period tonight,” he said.

“We need to get pucks in deep, lay the body and move our feet. We like to play what I call caveman hockey, keep things simple, chip pucks in and get pucks on the net.”

Unruh turned aside 27 of the 28 shots the Rock fired his way to pick up his 16th win of the season.

Masternak stopped 24 of the 26 shots he faced and he was tagged with the loss.

NOJHL NOTES — The Daily Press three stars of the game were Whelan, Masternak and Unruh … The Rock did not dress forwards Stewart Parnell (upper-body injury) and Wayne Mathieu (lower-body injury) and goalie Eric Jackson (lower-body injury) … The Rock went 0-5 on the power play, while the Crunch were 0-2 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 692 … Thursday’s only other contest saw the Canadians blank the Espanola Express 11-0 in Rayside-Balfour … The Rock and the Crunch will play the second half of their home-and-home series Saturday night at the Tim Horton Event Centre. The next home game for the Rock will be on Monday, Feb. 19, when they once again host the Crunch. With it being Family Day, game time is set for 3 p.m.