COCHRANE — Hunter Buzzi’s shorthanded marker at the 6:38 mark of the third period snapped a 1-1 tie and propelled the Crunch to a 3-1 win over the Timmins Rock in the first half of a home-and-home series at the Tim Horton Event Centre Friday night.
It was a costly regulation loss for the Rock (34-8-1-1) in their battle with the Powassan Voodoos (35-7-1-0) for top spot in the NOJHL’s overall standings.
While the Rock failed to pick up a point at the Tim Horton Event Centre, the Voodoos managed to salvage a single point from a 4-3 overtime loss to the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake.
As a result, the Voodoos hold a single point lead over the Rock and have a game in hand on their East Division rivals.
Meanwhile, the fourth-place Crunch (20-19-3-2) were able to inch closer to clinching a playoff berth.
It was the Rock who found the back of the net first Friday night at the Tim Horton Event Centre, with blue-liner Zachary Fortin netting his first NOJHL goal at the 2:01 mark of the opening period.
That one-goal advantage held up until just past the midway point of the middle frame when the Crunch got a power-play marker off the stick of Billy Paschen, his seventh goal of the season.
Buzzi then gave the Crunch the lead when stole the puck just inside the Rock blue-line and after Rock goalie Tyler Masternak stopped his original shot deposited the rebound behind him for what would prove to be the game-winning goal.
It was the 17th goal of the season for the Ignace native.
The visitors, who outshot the Crunch 18-7 in the third period, continued to press for the equalizer in the dying minutes of the frame but any hopes they had of forcing overtime were dashed when Matthew Minichiello deposited his 23rd goal of the season into an empty Rock net with Masternak on the bench in favour of an extra attacker.
Crunch goalie Zach Wickson, who turned aside 45 of the 46 shots the Rock directed his way, picked up his 10th win of the season.
Masternak, who stopped 14 of the 16 shots he faced, was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Wickson, Paschen and Fortin … The Rock went 0-5 on the power play, while the Crunch were 1-3 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the Tim Horton Event Centre was 382 … Friday night’s other action saw Hearst Lumberjacks thump the Rapids 8-3 in French River, the Thunderbirds blank the Blind River Beavers 4-0 in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and the Eagles edge the Espanola Express 3-2 in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. … The Rock will entertain the Crunch in the second half of the home-and-home series at the McIntyre Arena on Saturday, at 7 p.m.