COCHRANE — An inability to stay out of the penalty box cost the Timmins Rock an opportunity to extend their winning streak to four games and continue their recent dominance over the Crunch at the Tim Horton Event Centre Saturday.
Instead, the Rock dropped a 4-3 decision to the Crunch — thanks in large part to a pair of power-play goals.
As one might expect, Rock coach Corey Beer was not happy with the outcome of Saturday night’s contest.
“We felt we were well on our way (to a victory), but unfortunately we had a couple of mental lapses,” he said.
“Our ability on special teams was not very good. Coming into this game, I believe we were ranked second in the league on the penalty kill and doing a good job on it, but for whatever reason tonight we didn’t have anyone getting their assignments done.
“We took too many undisciplined penalties, again. It is the age-old story. We were just in the penalty box too much.
“Some of our guys need to take it upon themselves to do a better job when it comes to being disciplined.
“Most times when you lose the special-teams battle, you are going to be in trouble.”
Given how tightly packed the top five teams in the NOJHL’s East Division standings are, it could prove to be a costly loss for the visitors.
Only eight points separate the division’s top team (Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, 28-13-2-2, 60 points) and its fifth-place squad (Powassan Voodoos, 25-18-1-1, 52 points.
With the victory, the second-place Crunch (27-17-1-3, 58 points) now trail the Gold Miners by just two points.
Meanwhile, the fourth-place Rock (26-16-3-0, 55 points) find themselves two points behind the third-place Hearst Lumberjacks (26-15-4-1, 57 points) and three points ahead of Voodoos.
Timmins does have a game in hand on the Lumberjacks and three on the Crunch.
A regulation victory Saturday night would have vaulted the Rock ahead of the Crunch in the stands, but it just was not meant to be.
The Rock did jump out to a 2-0 lead in the first half of the opening period.
Josh Dickson got the puck rolling when he netted his 12th goal of the season at the 2:16 mark.
Then, Darcy Haupt added his sixth goal of the season four-and-a-half minutes later to put the Rock up be a pair of goals.
The Crunch were able to cut into that advantage just over a minute later, however, when Zach Hayes netted a power-play marker, his 12th goal of the season.
Riley Robitaille’s ninth goal of the season and second in as many games restored the Rock’s two-goal lead just 1:45 into the middle frame.
Blue-liner Ryan Grant’s first goal of the season less than four minutes later cut the Rock lead to 3-2.
Then, fellow D-man Brett Whitehead scored his first goal of the season to tie the game up just past the middle of the frame.
The Crunch took their first lead of the hockey game at the 7:34 mark of the third period when Baldino Aiello scored his team’s second power-play goal of the game, his ninth tally of the season.
That goal would stand up to be the game-winner, as neither team was able to add to its totals.
This is not the point in the season when moral victories count for much, however, there were positives to the Rock’s game Saturday night.
“Our transition game was lights out, to be quite honest,” Beer said.
“For about 45 or 50 minutes, we were phenomenal with our transition game and our offensive zone entry.
“We had tons of speed early on and when guys would gap up on us we would put soft chips in behind them and use our speed to our advantage.
“I felt like we were getting lots of opportunities, too, high-quality chances.
“It was just a matter of inability around the net. A couple of guys were clutching their sticks a little too tight, but I did think we played a pretty good offensive game.
Then that went away and we sat back and we didn’t play our game. When that happens, good teams are going to capitalize on you and unfortunately that happened tonight.
“Our shortcoming tonight was in the defensive zone. We didn’t compete.”
Almost all games the Rock have played since their extended Christmas break, have been decided by a single goal.
“We are learning how to win them and we are learning how to come back from defeats,” Beer said.
“It is all teaching points for us. I look over there and I see a lot of 19 and 20 year olds on their roster and we have a lot of 16, 17 and 18 year old kids.
“Sometimes when you are tested, age can help. When you are young, you have got to learn how to withstand it and I think we are in the process of doing that.”
Despite the loss, there were a number of Rock players who impressed their coach Saturday night.
“Josh Dickson, Mahingan Decontie and Darcy Haupt were pretty good tonight,” Beer said.
“The three of them kind of mixed in a line every once in a while. They were three of our more dynamic forwards tonight, lots of speed and lots of good possession.
“Haupter brings a bit of a different style. He is more of a chip-and-chase kind of guy, but Dicksy and Deco were also very good.
“On the back end, Eric Moreau was lights out again and I really like Will Caston’s game.
“It is just too bad we weren’t able to force this one to overtime and try and steal a point that way.”
Crunch goalie Zach Wickson, who turned aside 40 of the 43 shots the Rock directed his way, earned his 16th win of the season.
Rock goalie Jean-Marc Brisson, who stopped 35 of the 39 shots he faced, was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Whitehead, Aiello and Robitaille … The Rock did not dress defenceman Luka Bolduc (healthy scratch) and forward Benjamin Jossinet (healthy scratch) … The Rock went 0-6 on the power play, while the Crunch were 2-6 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the Tim Horton Event Centre was 390 … Saturday night’s other action saw the Wildcats double up the French River Rapids 4-2 in Elliot Lake and the Beavers derail the Espanola Express 5-1 in Blind River … The Rock will return to action on Tuesday night when they travel to Powassan for a game against the Voodoos. Their next home game will be on Tuesday, Feb. 12, when they host the Crunch at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is set for 7 p.m.