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GALLERY: Crunch hold on, upset Rock

Cochrane Crunch goalie Michael Nickolau makes a sprawling save on a backhand attempt from Timmins Rock captain Derek Seguin during the second period of Sunday afternoon’s NOJHL game at the Tim Horton Event Centre in Cochrane. Nickolau made 53 saves to help backstop the Crunch to a 4-2 win over the Rock, helping avenge a pair of setbacks earlier in the weekend. The two teams will faceoff at the McIntyre Arena on Tuesday, at 8:30 p.m. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS

The third time proved to be the charm for the Crunch as they held on to upset the Timmins Rock 4-2 in NOJHL action at the Tim Horton Event Centre Sunday afternoon.

Thomas Perry – The Daily Press/Postmedia Network
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After dropping the first two games of a 10-game set to the Rock — 6-2 Friday night and 9-4 Saturday night — on home ice, the Crunch were able to close out the deal Sunday afternoon.

Michael Nickolau turned in a 53-save performance, although it was not enough to impress those picking the three stars, and Steven Klinck notched a hat-trick to help the Crunch earn their fourth victory of the season.

Crunch coach, general manager and owner Tom Nickolau was pleased to see his team turn in a complete effort Sunday afternoon.

“I just told the players before the game instead of playing 30 minutes let’s play 60 minutes of hockey and let’s play our system,” he said.

“Again, we still allowed a lot of shots on net but our goalie was just stellar today and the guys played well defensively, which created some offence.

“That was the biggest thing and we stayed the course for 60 minutes.”

Tom Nickolau purchased the Crunch franchise from Ryan and Katherine Leonard in August and it has endured some growing pains, resulting in a 4-8-2 record after Sunday’s victory.

“With COVID-19, the breaks in between and the lockdown, it hasn’t been easy coordinating lines and systems,” he said.

“It is a process and after today’s win, I think we are starting to believe in ourselves more than we have been.

“As long as we stay the course and play our hockey, we will be able to compete against a very, very, very deep, strong Timmins team.”

For the third-straight game, the Crunch got on the scoreboard first Sunday afternoon, thanks to Ryan Hunter’s team-leading 10th goal of the season at the 7:30 mark of the opening frame.

The Rock got back on even terms just under four minutes later when Henry Brock netted a power-play marker, his second goal of the season.

That’s the way the first period ended, but the Crunch capitalized on a pair of power-play opportunities in the final five minutes of the middle stanza to take a 3-1 lead.

With Rock captain Derek Seguin in the penalty box serving a tripping penalty, Klink scored his sixth goal of the season to give the Crunch an advantage they would not surrender.

Then, with blue-liner Evan Beaudry off for interference, Klink added what would prove to be the game-winning marker, his seventh tally of the campaign.

The Rock were able to cut the Crunch advantage to a single goal when Seguin picked up his 13th goal of the season at the 7:40 mark of the third period, but that would be as close as they would come to getting back on even terms.

They pulled goalie Tyler Masternak in favour of an extra attacker to create a two-man advantage during the second half of a power play and 2:04 remaining on the clock, but they were unable to capitalize.

And then, with 22.6 seconds remaining in regulation, Klinck completed his hat-trick be depositing his third goal of the game and eighth of the season into the empty Rock net to make the final score 4-2 in favour of the home side.

Tom Nickolau was impressed with the effort put forth by a number of his Crunch players Sunday afternoon.

“Obviously, Steven Klinck is a star player and I had to put Ryan Hunter back on D when one of our defencemen got thrown out of the game,” he said.

“As a whole, our D did very well, but one player I rely on a lot is No. 57, Benjamin Orgil. He did a fantastic job in the defensive and offensive zones.”

The Crunch coach acknowledged Sunday’s victory is worth far more than just two points in the standings.

“It is a matter of believing,” Tom Nickolau said.

“We have had leads, but the guys would get down once we fell behind in a game. The key here is to stay the course.

“Once we get a lead, we feel we can open up a bit more but against a team like this … it happened yesterday (Saturday), with a 4-3 lead, we tried to open up and look what happened.”

Meanwhile, Rock assistant coach James Daschuk didn’t feel his squad got full value for the 50-plus shots they fired at the Crunch goal Sunday afternoon.

“Out of those 50 shots, a lot of them were without traffic (in front of the net), which made it easy for that guy (Michael Nickolau), not to take anything away from him,” he said.

“He played a great game, but of the 55 shots I would say 20 of those were wasted shots from bad areas that weren’t going to go in the net, shots from the point with no traffic, guys refusing to go to the net. I don’t know.”

The assistant coach admitted team discipline was an issue, as well, with a number of power-play opportunities negated by unnecessary penalties.

“It was the same story all three games a lack of discipline, 100 per cent, no two ways about it,” Daschuk said.

“We talked about it and guys said, ‘Yeah, we will get better,’ but we still had the same guys taking the same penalties.

“We speak of the importance of our power play and our big guns on the power play and we just keep giving them away. We will never win that way.

“In the sport of hockey, if your special teams are not working, you are not going to win.”

The assistant coach agreed his squad may have taken the Crunch too lightly after battling back to earn victories over them Friday night and Saturday night.

“Absolutely,” Daschuk said.

“We put up 15 goals in two games and then we came in here and figured the game was already done. A few guys had a bit of success the first couple of games and thought it was going to come easy for us, but obviously it didn’t.

“We preached to them how hard that Cochrane team works. They work their butts off.”

Despite the loss, there were a few guys who stood out for Daschuk on Sunday.

“I think Freddie (Felix Cadieux-Fredette) is a guy who puts the team first, 100 per cent, nothing fancy,” he said.

“He will block shots, he will kill penalties. He gets a bit of power play time but for the most part he just does his job every single night.

“Guys like that don’t get enough credit for what they do.

“I thought Gibby (Tyler Gilberds) played well in the first three games, as well.

“Speed through the neutral zone is the key to his success. Clarkie (Harry Clark) is greasy down low. It is hard to catch that guy.”

The assistant coach was also pleased to see a number of Rock players (Nicolas Pigeon on Friday and Graeme McCrory and Brock on Saturday) get their first NOJHL goals on the weekend.

“They are guys who don’t put up many points, but you would take them on your team any day,” Daschuk said.

Michael Nickolau, who blocked 53 of the 55 shots the Rock directed his way, picked up his fourth win of the season.

Masternak, who turned aside 24 of the 27 shots he faced, was tagged with the loss.

NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of Sunday’s game were Klinck, Hunter and Dickson … The Rock went 1-6 on the power play, while the Crunch were 2-4 with the man advantage … Rock blue-liners Beaudry and Cole Williamson and Crunch D-man Jackson Grozelle were each ejected from the game for separate incidents … Sunday’s other contest saw the Thunderbirds double up the Blind River Beavers 8-4 in Sault Ste. Marie … The Rock and the Crunch will play the fourth game of their 10-game set at the McIntyre Arena on Tuesday, at 8:30 p.m.