COCHRANE – The Timmins Rock were unable to overcome a second-period collapse Friday night at the Tim Horton Event Centre, which allowed the Crunch to post a 5-2 victory.
A pair of goals 35 seconds apart in the first five minutes of the middle frame proved to be the undoing of the visitors.
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
Trailing 2-1 following the opening 20 minutes of play, the Rock fell behind by a pair of goals when Levi Johnson scored the first of his two goals on the night and fourth of the season at the 4:16 mark.
Johnson’s second of the night and fifth of the season 35 seconds later made it a 4-1 hockey game and spelled the end of Rock starting goalie Eric Jackson’s night.
Tyler Masternak came in to relieve Jackson and the move appeared to slow the Crunch’s roll — at least temporarily.
Rock coach Corey Beer admitted Johnson’s second goal was a bit of a backbreaker for the visitors.
“The guy walked right through us and I don’t think we touched him at all,” he said.
“You can’t go on the road and play a more experienced team like the Crunch and not match up against them from a physical standpoint. We didn’t hit anybody tonight and when that happens, teams are going to walk all over you.
“We got outworked tonight and we got outmuscled. We came out on the wrong end of a lot of battles tonight.”
Then, when Jordan Picard scored a power-play marker, his ninth goal of the season, with 2:55 remaining in the period, it appeared the Rock might have an opportunity to stage a third-period comeback.
Those hopes were dashed, however, as defenceman Connor Lovie scored a power-play goal, his eighth of the season, to restore the Crunch’s three goal advantage and make the final 5-2.
The Rock actually got off to a solid start in Friday night’s contest, taking a 1-0 lead at the 3:03 mark of the opening period when Paul Spadafora scored his third goal of the season.
“We got off to a good start, but they we had a complete breakdown,” Beer said.
“One of our centres left a guy wide open in front of our net and he tapped it in and unfortunately that was the beginning of a downward spiral.
“After a good start from an execution standpoint, physically we just weren’t where we needed to be tonight. We didn’t work hard enough tonight to get the two points.”
Goals by Mitchell Booth, his fifth of the season, and Austin Stauffer, his 28th of the campaign, two minutes apart midway through the frame allowed the Crunch to tie things up and then take a one-goal lead into the first intermission.
Beer was not surprised to see the Crunch bring their A game Friday night given the Rock had won the first meeting of the two teams at the Tim Horton Event Centre back on Nov. 10 and split the two games they had played at the McIntyre Arena.
“We had played good hockey against them in the previous three games,” he said.
“Tonight, though, as soon as the puck dropped, we got pushed around. It was basically like a big brother versus a little brother. They boxed us out. They won loose-puck battles.
“You can’t take nights off in this league, especially in the back half of the schedule. Every night is important, but unfortunately we only had four or five guys who showed up tonight and it wasn’t good enough.”
If there is a silver lining in the dark cloud of Friday night’s defeat, it might be the fact the Rock power play finally found the back of the net.
“It was a five-on-three goal and the guys finally did the things we had been asking them to do,” Beer said.
“We wanted to establish pucks low and get them to the net. Our power play has had its struggles because we don’t work hard enough and we have been out there on the fringes, so it was good for us to get that pay off tonight.”
Despite the loss, there were a few players who caught their coach’s eye in a positive fashion Friday night.
“Jared Hester and Grant McClellan were lights out on the back end for us tonight,” Beer said.
“They played big minutes and they were far and away our best defencemen.
“I thought Paul Spadafora had a great game for us and Evan Kentish-Stack worked hard through a flu bug. It was good to see them get going. Wayne Mathieu and Jordan Picard were pretty good, too, as was C.J. Bradburn.
“The rest of our forwards, I don’t even know if they were in the building.”
It was the second-straight game in which Spadafora has found the back of the net.
“He is becoming more of a well-rounded player,” Beer said.
“He is able to play a 200-foot game, battle and compete. He is a guy who works really hard, so it is nice to see him getting rewarded.”
With Friday night’s victory, the Crunch — who hold down second place in the East Division standings — 26-14-2-1 on the season, while the fifth-place Rock fall to 15-23-2-2.
Crunch goalie Taylor Unruh turned aside 23 of the 25 shots the Rock fired his way to earn his 13th win of the season.
Jackson, who blocked 24 of the 28 shots he faced in his 24:51 of work was tagged with the loss for the Rock. Masternak stopped 19 of the 20 shots fired his way in relief.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Johnson, Crunch forward Kyle Herbster (two assists) and Bradburn (two assists) … The Rock did not dress forwards Riley Robitaille (serving the second game of a five-game suspension) and Stewart Parnell (upper-body injury) … The Rock were 1-7 on the power play, while the Crunch went 1-3 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the Tim Horton Event Centre was 320 … Friday night’s other action saw the Hearst Lumberjacks edge the Rapids 2-1 in French River, the Voodoos fly past the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners 5-1 in Powassan, the Soo Thunderbirds beat the Wildcats 2-1 in Elliot Lake and the Soo Eagles double the Express 4-2 in Espanola … The Rock will return to action on Wednesday night when they host the Gold Miners at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is set for 7 p.m.