IROQUOIS FALLS – Josh Roberts’ goal 13 seconds into overtime lifted the Cochrane Crunch to a 6-5 win over the Timmins Rock Friday night at the Jus Jordan Arena.
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
It was the first exhibition game of the NOJHL pre-season for both clubs, with many veterans kept out of both lineups as their respective coaches tried to get a better look at the newcomers in camp under game conditions.
The Rock rallied for two goals in the final 1:02 of regulation to force the extra period.
With the Crunch in command, holding a 5-3 advantage and just over a minute remaining in the third period, it looked like Cochrane would post a relatively easy victory.
That all changed, however, when Rock defenceman Shawn Sloan took a pass from C.J. Bradburn and beat Crunch goalie Taylor Unruh to pull the visitors within one goal at the 18:58 mark of the third period.
Then Donny Schultz, with Bradburn again setting up the play, beat Unruh with just 28 seconds remaining in regulation to deadlock things at 5-5.
Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard was not pleased to see his team surrender a two-goal lead late in the game.
“I talked to Unruh and he wasn’t very happy with his play as a 20 year old,” he sai.d
“The first goal he gave up was on a long shot that left a little rebound sitting on the side, then, later he gave the puck away to the other team while we were on the power play and their guy put it into the open net.”
Meanwhile, new Rock coach Corey Beer had mixed feelings about his team’s performance Friday night.
“Anytime you can come back from being two goals down late in the third period and tie up a game, it is certainly a positive,” he said.
“Late in the third, we saw a lot of good execution from our players and a lot of good breakouts, good offensive zone entries. Our compete level was there.
“There were certainly some challenging points, too, with it being the first junior game for a lot of our guys.
“They have a very good team over there and they certainly poured on the gas in the second period. That was a tough one for us, but there were lots of positives.”
Beer is introducing a defence-first system that challenges the Rock’s entire five-man unit to be defensively responsible, but there were clearly many speed bumps Friday night, with far too many unforced giveaways in the Timmins defensive zone.
“A little bit of that might have been caused by jitters,” Beer said.
“It was the first junior game for a lot of our guys and they were trying to play in a new system, but it is something we are going to have to try and clean up.
“More than anything, guys have to have confidence in where their teammates are out there on the ice.
“I was happy to see us kind of get things back on track later on in the hockey game, but certainly early on we had our struggles.”
At times — especially early on — the contest resembled a Novice hockey game due to the number of off-side plays at the attacking blue-lines for both teams.
“It certainly seemed like the first period was taking forever to play with all the whistles,” Beer said.
“I think it was probably a combination of things. Guys getting used to new linemates, both teams playing well in the neutral zone defensively, which caused a lot of congestion, but it certainly took away a bit from the pace of the game.”
Despite giving up six goals in the contest, Timmins Majors goalie Jordan Yaremchuk had a solid night filling in for injured Rock goalie Brendan Bishop.
“He is just a 17-year-old kid who is getting himself going and I thought he battled very hard and made some key saves,” Beer said.
“It is something he can hang his hat on. He did a good job tonight, but we should have done a bit better job in front of him defensively to seal off some of those Grade A chances we gave up.”
Yaremchuk wasn’t the only player to impress the Rock coach Friday night.
“I thought Donny Schultz had a great game, especially in the third period,” Beer said.
“He and C.J. Bradburn certainly elevated themselves and Derek Seguin was terrific all night. Two other guys who come to mind are A.J. Campbell and Seth Reuben, who both played very good puck possession games and blocked shots on the penalty kill, which is always a good thing.
“On the back end, Grant McClellan was good and I thought (Lucas) Dolanjski and (Will) Caston showed really well.
“Overall, there were lots of good things. We will tidy up some of the small errors, but I think most guys are walking away pretty happy even though we took a loss.”
The Rock drew first blood in Friday night’s contest, with Bradburn scoring at the 5:20 mark of the opening period to put the visitors in front 1-0.
A power-play goal, off the stick of Crunch veteran Austin Whelan, midway through the frame got Cochrane back on even terms.
But the Rock were able to retake the lead before the end of the first period when Derek Seguin scored a power-play goal with 1:55 remaining on the clock.
Any momentum the Rock were able to gain from that late marker was quickly lost when the second period of play opened.
Goals by Kyle Podwika and Christian Snyder a minute-and-a-half apart early in the frame turned a one-goal deficit into a one-goal advantage for the home side.
The Rock battled back to tie things up at 3-3two-and-a-half minutes later when penalty killer Evan Kentish Stack intercepted a pass from Unruh and deposited the puck behind the Cochrane goalie for a shorthanded marker.
It was then the Cochrane’s turn to strike for a marker late in the period to take a one-goal lead into the intermission, as Austin Caza scored with 2:09 remaining in the frame to make it a 4-3 hockey game.
The Crunch increased their advantage to a pair of goals at the 12:58 mark of the final period, with Alex Brisson finding the back of the net.
Leonard felt Friday night’s contest was a typical exhibition game.
“The first period, you could tell both teams were really nervous,” he said.
“It was really scrappy hockey, then in the second period we came out a little stronger than they did. From the drop of the puck in the second period, until the final two minutes of the third period, we really came at them hard.
“They only had seven shots on goal during that period of time. You could see our experience kicking in.”
After surrendering the lead late in the third period, Leonard was happy to see his veterans take care of business quickly in OT.
“Roberts and Podwik up front, with (Connor) Lovie and Noah Bennett on defence created havoc,” he said.
The coach is confident the Crunch will be able to clean up their play once they get to work out the kinks in practice.
“We have only had three practices together as a team,” he said.
“We haven’t even had any time to work on any systems. We just threw them out there to play rag-tag hockey to see what they can do. I saw some really good things tonight. We made a couple of real nice passing plays and I liked the way our D were moving.”
The Crunch hope to have a few reinforcements in their lineup shortly, as well.
“We are looking good considering we have four, or five veterans who aren’t here but who should be here next week,” Leonard said.
Unruh turned aside 25 of the 30 shots the Rock fired his was to pick up the victory, while Timmins affiliate goalie Jordan Yaremchuk stopped 38 of the 44 shots he faced and was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The Rock took seven minor penalties in the contest, including a bench minor for a red-line infraction to start the contest, while the Crunch were assessed three minor penalties … Official attendance at Friday night’s game was 301 … The Rock did not dress defencemen Jared Hester, James Watier and James Redmond, forwards Wayne Mathieu and Stewart Parnell, as well as goalie Brendan Bishop … The two sides will do battle again on Sunday night at the Jus Jordan Arena as the exhibition season continues for both sides.