By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
COCHRANE – The Crunch sent the Timmins Rock packing in the second half of a home-and-home series Saturday night at the Tim Horton Event Centre.
And that might have been quite appropriate given that a number of the visitors left Timmins without the equipment necessary to compete in the NOJHL contest that ended with the Crunch treating their fans to a 6-1 victory.
“We had players who couldn’t even get in the game because they didn’t bring their equipment to the rink,” said Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“We had three players who didn’t bring their stuff.”
One of those players was goalie Albert Rogers, who turned in a strong game to help the Rock beat the Crunch 5-3 in Timmins Thursday night, but was forced into a back-up role Saturday night.
“I thought (Jeff) Veitch was going to be our back-up tonight,” Gagne said.
“But when you have two goalies and only one of them has a pair of skates, then there is an issue there.”
Veitch was sharp — especially early on — and turned aside 55 of the 61 shots the Crunch fired his way.
“He played well, absolutely,” Gagne said.
The Crunch jumped out to a 1-0 first period lead when Konnar Dechaine scored his first of two goals on the night and his 29th of the season.
Jacob Shankar’s 16th goal of the season, just 2:06 into the second period, tied things up at 1-1.
It took the Crunch just over a minute to regain the lead, however, as Austin Whalen scored what would prove to be the game-winning goal, his 10th on the season.
“I thought we were in the game there when we tied it and then we thought there was going to be an icing call, but they eventually scored,” Gagne said.
“That’s hockey. It is unfortunate. We thought it was icing, but it wasn’t.”
The Crunch added to their lead with 41.1 seconds remaining in the second period, as Darrian Harris scored his ninth goal of the season.
“Our leaders have to be our leaders and on that play they weren’t,” Gagne said.
“We gave them a four-on-two. We had four 20 year olds on the ice and yet we gave them a four-on-two. You can’t have that.
That goal seemed to take a lot of the wind out of the sails for the Rock and the Crunch added three more goals in the third period to make the final 6-1.
Colin Boudreau got the puck rolling at the 8:07 mark when he scored his third goal of the season on a play that many of the Rock fans in attendance thought was offside.
“We thought the play, right in front of our bench, was offside, but it wasn’t,” Gagne said.
“We had some momentum going up to that point, but after that we didn’t play well enough to make any good plays.
“We weren’t even consistent making player to player passes. I don’t think we made three passes in a row to each other all night. You can’t play hockey like that.”
Dechaine added his second of the night and 30th of the season 49 seconds after Boudreau’s unassisted marker to increase the Crunch advantage to four goals.
Then Alex Brisson — not to be confused with Cochrane native Alexandre Brisson who plays for the Rock — added a little icing on the cake when he netted his second goal of the season with 52 seconds remaining on the clock to make the final 6-1.
While Gagne did acknowledge the efforts of his Brisson, Stewart Parnell and defenceman Brendan Campbell, he was at a loss to identify any other positives.
“This was not Rock hockey at all,” he said.
“It was not great at all. It was not good. Our big guns had two shots on net and you can’t have that.
“First of all, we have got to give them the puck and we weren’t able to get them the puck. We were getting it to them in their feet. We were giving it to them in the plexiglass. I think we put more passes up into the stands tonight than we put on the tape of our forwards’ sticks.”
Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard was happy to see his squad bounce back to take the second half of the home-and-home series.
“Tonight, these referees let us play hockey at the Junior ‘A’ level,” he said.
“There weren’t penalties every two seconds and that was a nice thing. There was flow to the game all night. I think they only called one penalty a side up until the shenanigans near the end.
“That was the difference tonight. There was an experienced crew on the ice and they let the guys play at the Junior ‘A’ level. There was nothing stopping us tonight like there was on Thursday night. Guys could make big hits and not worry about going to the penalty box. That’s the way the game is supposed to be played at this level.
“The way we played in during the first period in Timmins is the way we played for three periods tonight. I have got to give all our guys credit. Tonight, not one guy took a shift off. Everybody did their jobs and we didn’t give them many scoring opportunities.
“It was very sound defence considering we were only playing with four defencemen. We were missing two of our better defencemen who are out with injuries.
“We have to be happy with the outcome tonight. We fired 61 shots at them and you have to give that Veitch kid credit. If it wasn’t for him in the first 30 minutes of the game, it wouldn’t have been 6-1. I could have been 15-0, or 15-1 the way we were flying. He made a lot of saves there and we kind of wore him down the last five mintues or so.”
With the Rock chasing the Crunch for second place in the NOJHL standings, Leonard knows how important it was for his team to bounce back and win Saturday night’s contest.
With the win, the Crunch (26-11-4-1), who defeated the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners 4-3 Friday night, increased their lead over the Rock (23-10-3-0) for second place in the East Division standings to eight points. The Rock have six games in hand, however.
Like Gagne, Leonard was pleased with the play of his Brisson, as well.
“He had an excellent weekend,” he said.
“Everybody likes to brag about their teams and how they have four lines that can score, but there is nobody with a deeper fourth line in the league.
“The other night in Timmins, that line scored. Last night, that line scored.”
Leonard was also pleased with the play of goalie Taylor Unruh, who made his first start for the Crunch against the Rock Saturday night.
“He didn’t have a lot of work tonight, but what I like is that he is really calm back there,” he said.
“He doesn’t panic. He keeps things simple. He is not always on his knees. He is a stand-up goalie. He is very focused. He got wins for us two nights in a row.
“We were holding on for a while there. It was 1-0 and Timmins came out with a bit of momentum when they got their first chance on the power play. He faced about six shots in about three minutes, but he held the fort. Then, we were able to go back to work. That’s what you need from a goaltender, especially when they are not getting a lot of shots.”
Unruh went the distance in goal for the Crunch and stopped 22 of the 23 shots the Rock fired his way to pick up the victory.
Veitch, meanwhile, suffered his first regulation loss in a Rock uniform despite his 50-plus save performance.
NOJHL NOTES — Rock defenceman James Watier and the Crunch’s Boudreau were both ejected from the game after receiving five-minute majors for fighting and game misconducts following a third-period tussle. Because the battle occurred in the final 10 minutes of the contest, both players were receive one-game suspensions, as well … The three stars of the game were Crunch defenceman Quinn Robelle, Whelan and the Crunch’s Brisson … Both teams went 0-2 on the power play … Satuday night’s other action saw the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners blank the Eskis 7-0 in Iroquois Falls, the Powassan Voodoos double up the Thunderbirds 4-2 in Sault Ste. Marie, the Canadians derail the Espanola Express 9-3 in Rayside-Balfour and Elliot Lake Wildcats battled back to tie the Eagles 4-4 in Sault, Mich. … The Rock will return to action Sunday night when they will play host to the Eskis at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.