By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
COCHRANE – The Timmins Rock had a golden opportunity to pull into a second-place tie with the Crunch in the NOJHL East Division standings Friday night at the Tim Horton Event Centre.
Unfortunately for the visitors it turned out to be fools’ gold, as the home side skated to a 7-5 victory to lengthen their lead over third-place Timmins to four points. The Rock, of course, still have four games in hand.
Timmins assistant coach James Daschuk was less than impressed with his team’s defensive effort Friday night.
“On the offensive side of the puck, we were fantastic tonight,” he said.
“We generated 35 shots and we scored five goals. Our cycle was fine and we worked hard tonight, for the most part, but unfortunately there are two sides to ever puck and tonight on the defensive side, we got outshot. We lost on the scoreboard and we lost the battles down low.
“We made mistakes over and over and over again. We just didn’t seem to want to change anything. The same guys were making the same mistakes. The message obviously didn’t get across. We were definitely frustrated with our play on the defensive side of the puck.”
Both teams came out flying in the opening 20 minutes of play, with both Rock goalie Albert Rogers and Crunch keeper Jacob Burhans under siege.
Rogers did not look as sharp as he did during his first three starts in a Rock uniform, but he did not get a lot of support from his teammates, either.
“I think we kind of left him out to dry a few times, with three-on-ones and two-on-ones,” Daschuk said.
“Our defensive system is pretty simple. We play a three-on-three down low, man-to-man and those guys had an easy, easy time tonight, walking out of the corners, or coming in on odd-man rushes.
“We know they are a good skating team, but we just refused to grasp that concept. We know they like to fly up and down the ice and a lot of times our defencemen were flat footed. The Crunch had a good transition game tonight.”
The Crunch peppered Rogers with 16 shots in the opening frame and overcame a 1-0 deficit to take a 4-3 lead after one period of play.
Wayne Mathieu put the Rock in front 1-0 6:27 into the game when he beat Burhans for his 13th goal of the season.
It took Darian Harris just 14 seconds to get the Crunch back on even terms, however, as he beat Rogers for his fifth goal of the season.
Nicholas Flanders then put the home side in front 2-1 less than two minutes later, as he scored his seventh goal of the season.
The Rock deadlocked the game at 2-2 midway through the period as Cole Gilligan scored his 12th goal of the season, but a Connor Lovie power-play marker, the defenceman’s sixth goal of the season just over a minute later restored the home side’s one-goal advantage.
Justin Hess’ first goal in a Crunch uniform then put Cochrane in front 4-2 with 5:02 remaining in the frame.
Cory Sprague’s 16th goal of the season, a power-play marker less than two minutes later pulled the Rock back to within one goal heading into the first intermission.
Things settled down in the second period, with the two sides exchanging goals to make the score 5-4 in favour of the Crunch after 40 minutes of play.
Mathieu netted his second goal of the game and 14th of the season, on the power play, to tie things up at 4-4 just past the midway point of the period.
Austin Stauffer’s sixth goal of the season, late in the frame, restored the home side’s advantage.
Defenceman Joseph Thielen scored a power-play marker, his second goal of the season, midway through the third period to put the Crunch up 6-4.
Tyler Romain’s 20th goal of the season, scored five minutes later, pulled the Rock back within one goal and gave the visitors a little hope heading into the final few minutes of the third period.
Still trailing 6-5, the Rock pulled Rogers in favour or an extra attacker, but the move backfired when Romain coughed up the puck in his own zone and Kyle Herbster buried his sixth goal of the season into the empty net.
Now trailing by two goals, the Rock again pulled Rogers but they were unable to get the two goals they needed to get back on even terms.
Daschuk was pleased with the play of the Rock’s No. 1 line — Mathieu, Jordan Rendle and Sprague — Friday night.
“Mattie played a good game and really worked his butt off tonight,” he said.
“He scored a couple of goals and that whole line was pretty good.
“It was also good to see Romain score another goal tonight and out third line were really steady Eddies.”
Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard was pleased to see his team pick up its third victory in four starts against the Rock this season.
“It was a pretty entertaining game for our fans, but we have got to be more disciplined,” he said.
“We sat in the box for 10 minutes during the second period and it’s hard to get anything going when you are in the box two minutes, two minutes, two minutes.
“We have got to do a better job of moving our feet. I think we took four-straight tripping calls.
“When we were playing five-on-five, I thought we did a good job and our power play looked really good tonight. We were moving the puck, which was nice to see, and we kind of stuck to the game plan.
Fans of offensive hockey certainly had plenty to cheer about Friday night at the Tim Horton Event Centre.
“We saw some pretty goals tonight,” Leonard said.
“Both of our teams have a lot of fast forwards, so when we meet it is always going to be an offensive game. Whichever team’s defence comes to play is going to win and we had the advantage tonight.
“Our defence needs to be a little stronger, though. We gave up way too many two-on-ones and breakaways. If we want to win tomorrow night against Powassan, we are really going to have to fix this.”
Hess, playing his first game in front of the home town fans, caught the coach’s eye Friday night.
“He played a really strong game for us,” Leonard said.
“That whole line played really well and so did Flanders’ line. Lovie also played a strong game tonight for us.”
Unlike the last time these two teams met, Leonard was a lot happier with the way his skaters got to the dirty areas Friday night.
“We were crashing the net tonight and that was huge,” he said.
Burhans stopped 30 of the 35 shots the Rock fired his way to pick up the win for the Crunch.
Rogers turned aside 36 of the 42 shots he faced and was tagged with his first regulation loss in a Rock uniform.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Lovie, Thielen and Mathieu … The Rock went 2-6 on the power play, while the Crunch were 2-4 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the Tim Horton Event Centre was 306 … Friday night’s other NOJHL action saw the Iroquois Falls Eskis battle back to edge the Wildcats 4-3 in Elliot Lake, the Powassan Voodoos edge the Gold Miners 4-3 in Kirkland Lake and the Soo Eagles dump the Express 5-1 in Espanola … The Rock will return to action Saturday night when they travel to Kirkland Lake for a game against the Gold Miners at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex. The Crunch will host the Voodoos at the Tim Horton Event Centre. Sunday afternoon the Rock will return home to entertain the Voodoos at the McIntyre Arena.