By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – NOJHL scoring leader Hunter Atchison score a pair of goals to lead the Cochrane Crunch to a 5-2 win over the Timmins Rock at the McIntyre Arena Saturday night.
It was the first win in three regular-season tries for the Crunch against the Rock and moved the East Division leaders into first overall in the 12-team NOJHL, with 51 points.
“The key tonight was finding a way to solve (Rock goalie Logan) Ferrington,” said Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard.
“All of the games up until now we had outshot them by a margin of almost two-to-one and he stole the show almost every time. Tonight in the second period we finally broke him because he saw 20 shots. We finally wore him down a bit and in the third period you could see the fatigue in him and we took advantage of our chances.
“I thought we played an excellent hockey game. We were good on the power play. We were good on the penalty kill and five-on-five we were dominant against them.”
Another key for the Crunch Saturday night was that there best players were their best players.
“In the last three or four games, none of them had any goals at all,” Leonard said.
“Today I changed up the lines and loaded up one line (Atchison with Seamus Maguire and Dustin Cordeiro) and all four of our lines played well.”
The Cochrane coach decided to play a hunch when it came to his choice in goaltenders for Saturday night’s game.
“I had a gut feeling, Ferrington versus (Brett) Young had seen Young lose three battles in a row,” Leonard said.
“So I decided to try something different tonight. We put our back up in and (Alan) Menary proved that he can be a No. 1, also. Menary is going to battle Young to see who is going to be our No. 1 goalie. We need a good solid goalie down the stretch here.”
The Crunch did a solid job Saturday night of keeping the Rock on the perimeter.
“We were clogging up the middle, as well, and they weren’t breaking out as easy,” Leonard said.
“We were taking away a lot of pucks at the blue-line and at centre ice.”
The Rock actually drew first blood Saturday night, as Tristan Salesse scored his team-leading 21st goal of the season midway through the first period.
Maguire scored his 19th goal of the season to tie things up for the Crunch six minutes later and the two teams skated into the first intermission deadlocked at 1-1.
A pair of power-play goals allowed the visitors to establish a 3-1 advantage during the middle frame.
Jeremy McNeil beat Ferrington for his ninth goal of the season just 59 seconds into the period.
Jaren Knorr potted his 18th goal of the season midway through the frame to put the Crunch up by two goals.
That’s the way the period ended, as Ferrington made 18 of his game-high 41 saves to keep the Rock within striking distance.
“The guy was a wall in there again tonight,” Leonard said.
“We were up 3-1 after the second period, but we should have been up 6-1. He made some pretty incredible glove saves.
Nicholas Hautanen scored his second goal of the season just over seven minutes into the final period to pull the Rock to within one goal, but that is as close as the home side would come to getting back on even terms.
The Rock did press for a while, but Atchison’s first of his two goals on the night, his 31st of the season put the Crunch up 4-2 midway through the frame.
He added his 32nd of the season, a short-handed marker, with just over three minutes remaining on the clock to put the final nail in the Rock’s coffin.
“Timmins is the only team we hadn’t beaten heading into tonight,” Atchison said.
“It is always nice to get a big win and two points against a division rival as we approach the Christmas break.
“I think we play them five more times after the Christmas break, so this is just a big building block.”
Atchison anticipates the intensity level will continue to rise with each of those contests.
“When you play a team eight or 10 times in a season, every game tends to get a little chippier,” he said.
“It builds toward kind of a playoff-style game. You develop rivalries with certain guys on the other team. They get in your face and you remember things from the previous game.”
Atchison, who leads the NOJHL in points, assists and goals, has struggled at times against the Rock.
“It feels nice to get a couple of goals tonight, but mostly I am glad we got the win and the two points,” he said.
“I go into every game hoping we can come out with the win, but it does feel nice to get a couple of goals.
“I have struggled a bit against Timmins. They have a great goaltender. He has robbed me a few times this year and he robbed me a few times tonight. It was just nice to get a couple of bounces that went my way.”
Rock assistant coach James Daschuk felt his squad did not play too poorly Saturday night.
“It certainly wasn’t our worst game of the season,” he said.
“We had some good chances. I thought for the most part we played decent hockey. It is still disappointing.
“There was a key moment in the third period when we scored a big goal to bring us within one goal and we were right back in the game, then we let in the next goal and that one kind of broke us a little bit.
“With the luck we had been having in this game, it didn’t look good from that point on.”
The Crunch are not an easy team to have to play catch-up hockey against.
“They played really well defensively,” Daschuk said.
“You have to give them a lot of credit. Their best players are the ones who killed us tonight. Those guys score a lot of goals and they only gave up two tonight, so obviously they were doing something well.
“Their goalie didn’t make a lot of saves but he made the saves he had to make. He didn’t let in any bad goals. Kudos to them.”
The Rock assistant coach was impressed with the play of a number of players Saturday night.
“Hautanen played really well tonight,” Daschuk said.
“Him and his partner (Brennen McGuire) have been playing well. Hautanen scored a goal for us last night and he actually got another one tonight. When I say he played well, I don’t mean because of the offence. I just mean his game was pretty solid. He stepped up at the right time and closed the gaps. He laid on the hits when he had to. I thought those two guys played pretty well.
“Up front, (Devin) Panzeca was relentless tonight on the forecheck. That is what you get from him every game. He was one of our better forwards tonight.”
Menary made 25 saves to pick up the win for the Crunch, while Ferrington, who made 41 stops, was tagged with the loss for the Rock.
NOJHL NOTES — The Rock went 0-5 on the power play and surrendered a short-handed goal, while the Crunch were 2-6 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 651 … Saturday night’s other NOJHL action saw the Eskis double the French River Radpids 6-3 in Iroquois Falls, the Gold Miners get past the Espanola Express 6-3 in Kirkland Lake, the Elliot Lake Wildcats edge the Canadians 3-2 in Rayside-Balfour, the Thunderbirds hold off the Powassan Voodoos 3-2 in Sault Ste. Marie and the Soo Eagles edge the Beavers 3-2 in Blind River … The Rock will return to action Wednesday night when the host the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.