Timmins Rock forward Derek Seguin’s shot bounces off the chest of Crunch goalie Taylor Unruh while Rock forward Evan Kentish-Stack and Crunch D-man Gordon Whalen look on during the third period of Saturday night’s NOJHL game at the Tim Horton Event Centre in Cochrane. The Crunch defeated the Rock 4-1 after posting a 2-1 win Thursday in Timmins to sweep both halves of their home-and-home series. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
COCHRANE – The Crunch skated to a 4-1 victory Saturday night at the Tim Horton Event Centre to complete a sweep of their home-and-home series with the Timmins Rock.
Despite the loss, the Rock were able to remain two points back of the Hearst Lumberjacks in the race for fourth place in the NOJHL’s East Division standings — thanks to the latter’s 10-7 loss to the Voodoos in Powassan Saturday night.
A disallowed goal might have altered the outcome of Saturday night’s contest at the Tim Horton Event Centre.
With the Crunch enjoying a 1-0 lead, thanks to T.J. Delaney’s 12th goal of the season, the Rock appeared to tie things up with two minutes remaining in the opening period.
While everyone wearing a maroon, gold and white jersey and many in the stands — including more than a few Crunch supporters — thought Derek Seguin had legally redirected the puck into the Cochrane net behind goalie Taylor Unruh, referee Steven Swain saw things differently.
Swain, who was position directly behind Seguin, ruled the Rock forward had redirected the puck into the net with a high stick.
“It was a tough one,” said Rock coach Corey Beer.
“I thought Derek’s stick was under the crossbar, but it was a tough call. The stick was coming down.”
As a result, the Crunch were able to take a 1-0 lead into the dressing room for the first intermission and then build upon that advantage during the second period.
Zach Hayes scored his fifth goal of the season at the 4:17 mark and Clay Ellerbrock followed with his 12th goal of the season 14 minutes later to make it a 3-0 hockey game.
The Rock were finally able to get on the scoreboard early in the third period when Evan Kentish-Stack connected for a power-play marker, his seventh goal of the season.
The Crunch would have the final laugh, however, as captain Connor Lovie replied with a power-play marker of his own, his ninth goal of the season, with just 1:51 remaining on the clock.
The Rock were able to generate more chances during Saturday night’s loss than they had been able to during the 2-1 loss they suffered against the Crunch at the McIntyre Arena Thursday night.
“It is just one of those nights where we came out on the wrong side of the scoreboard,” Beer said.
“I think our transition game cleaned up a bit from Thursday night. We did a good job of getting pucks in behind their defence. We also tried to manage our opportunities a little bit better, but unfortunately their goalie made a couple of good saves that kept them ahead in the game.
“We are going to try and tidy up a couple of things before next weekend’s road trip.”
Kentish-Stack, who scored for the second-straight game, once again caught his coach’s eye Saturday night.
“He is a coach’s dream,” Beer said.
“He does everything you could want him to do. He is a phenomenal penalty killer. He plays against the other team’s top line and you can throw him out there on the power play now. He has added a skill dimension to his game.”
Beer was once again pleased with the play of veteran blue-liner Grant McClellan, as well.
“I have been mentioning him repeatedly for a bunch of games now, but tonight was one of his better games,” he said.
“He does so much for us. He is a good leader and is always poised out there. He plays a physical role and he was great again tonight.
“There were other guys who played well and I really liked our bounce back in the third period. I thought it was one of our best periods in the last couple of games.”
While the Rock were able to score a power-play goal Saturday night, they continued to struggle with the man advantage.
“It has been our Achilles heel all year,” Beer said.
“It certainly wasn’t for a lack of opportunities tonight, just a lack of execution points. It is not surprising. We are a team that has struggled to find the net all year.
“We are going to need our power play to get hot at the right time.”
Even though the Rock have now not tasted victory in four-straight games, the team has not abandoned hope of catching the Lumberjacks for fourth place.
“We would like to be able to steal a couple of points here or there,” Beer said.
“If we can keep things close, you never know what can happen. We could get on a hot streak and they could lose a couple of games.
“It’s unfortunate we couldn’t get a point tonight, but I still thought we battled pretty hard against a pretty good club.”
Crunch coach Ryan Leonard was pleased to see his squad earn its second-straight win against the Rock to close out the home-and-home series.
“In the previous game, I was not overly happy with our forwards,” he said.
“We played well, but we weren’t playing like we had previously. Tonight was another gutty effort and we picked up another two points.
“I think we are doing very well with regard to getting ready for the playoffs. We are on another roll. We have won eight of our last 10 games.”
Indeed. Not only are the Crunch second in the East Division standings, following Saturday night’s action, they are now second overall in the NOJHL — one point ahead of the West Division-leading Blind River Beavers.
Leonard felt his goalie played a key role in Saturday night’s victory.
“I was very, very happy with the energy of Unruh,” he said.
“He was pretty solid and he didn’t give up any big rebounds.”
The Crunch also got a solid effort from two of their big defencemen — Lovie and Noah Bennett — Saturday night.
“Both of those guys were machines again tonight,” Leonard said.
“They did a really good job. Five-on-five, we didn’t give them many shots tonight. We really limited their quality chances. Most of their opportunities came on the power play.”
Unruh turned aside 29 of the 30 shots the Rock fired his way to earn his 17th win of the season for the Crunch.
Rock goalie Tyler Masternak blocked 26 of the 30 shots he faced and he was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Hayes, Kentish-Stack and Unruh … The Rock did not dress forwards Wayne Mathieu (lower-body injury), Stewart Parnell (upper-body injury) and Seth Reuben (undisclosed) and defenceman Eric Paquette (undisclosed) … The Rock went 1-9 on the power play, while the Crunch were 1-4 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the Tim Horton Event Centre was 345 … Saturday’s other action saw the Gold Miners dump the French River Rapids 5-3 in Kirkland Lake, the Thunderbirds edge the Soo Eagles 2-1 in Sault Ste. Marie, the Rayside-Balfour Canadians blank the Express 6-0 in Espanola and the Beavers get past the Elliot Lake Wildcats 3-1 in Blind River … The Rock will return to action on Friday night when they take on the Voodoos in Powassan. The next home game for the Rock will be on Monday, Feb. 19, when they host the Crunch at the McIntyre Arena. Game time for the Family Day contest is 3 p.m.