Timmins Rock captain Wayne Mathieu and Crunch forward Thomas Hernandez spin to the ice to the right of the Cochrane net during the second period of Tuesday night’s NOJHL game at the McIntyre Arena. Mathieu was assessed a two-minute minor for hooking on the play, while Hernandez drew a two-minute minor for holding. The off-setting penalties did not have a bearing on the outcome of the game, however, as the Crunch went on to defeat the Rock 3-1. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock were no match for the East Division’s second best team Tuesday night at the McIntyre Arena.
From the drop of the puck during the opening face-off to the final buzzer, the Rock seemed to be a half step behind their opponents while dropping a 3-1 decision to the Cochrane Crunch.
What did Rock coach Corey Beer think of his team’s effort Tuesday night at the McIntyre Arena?
Perhaps the words of Timmins’ own Shania Twain might sum it up best: “That don’t impress me much.”
Beer had been hoping to see his team snap out of a funk that has seen the Rock go 2-7-1-0 in its past 10 games — despite having a number of injured veterans return to the lineup.
“We were half asleep to start the game,” he said.
“We gave them as much information as we could to prep them, but they chose to sleep through it.”
Perhaps an even bigger problem was the number — and type — of penalties the Rock took Tuesday night.
“We took too many lazy penalties 200-feet away from our net where there was no threat from the other team to score,” Beer said.
“There were stupid hooking, tripping, lazy penalties, and undisciplined ones, too.
“It was a terrible effort from our group tonight.”
It wasn’t as much that the Rock lost to the Crunch Tuesday night that upset their coach, as it was how badly they played while doing so.
“I have no problem losing to a good Crunch team, as long as we are playing good hockey,” Beer said.
“But when you go out and give this kind of an effort in front of our good fans, people who pay money to come and watch us play, it is inexcusable.
“It’s a hard league and you have to compete every night. You have to show up on time and we didn’t do it tonight.”
Despite being outshot 15-5 during the opening 20 minutes, the Rock were only trailing 1-0 heading into the first intermission — thanks to some stellar netminding from Eric Jackson, who returned from a lower-body injury to make his first start since being run over during a Nov. 26 game against the visiting Powassan Voodoos.
Austin Stauffer, with his first of two goals on the night and 24th on the season, gave the Crunch 1-0 lead heading to the dressing room.
“I thought E.J. was great tonight,” Beer said.
The Rock finally gave their fans something to cheer about late in the second period when Derek Seguin — playing his first game since suffering a fractured jaw during a game against the Beavers in Blind River on Oct. 26 — scored his sixth goal of the season to tie things up at the 17:58 mark.
It appeared the Rock might have taken a 2-1 lead in the dying seconds of the frame when a shot from just inside the blue-line eluded Crunch goalie Shayne Battler, but time expired just before the puck crossed the goal line.
There was no doubt, however, when the Crunch jumped in front 2-1 at the 9:48 mark of the third on Austin Whelan’s seventh goal of the season.
“Eric didn’t have much of a chance on that shot,” Beer said.
“Our defenceman’s gap was 30 feet back, allowing an easy pass through the seam. Our forward didn’t backcheck and got on the wrong side of the body. You can’t fault E.J. for that.”
Stauffer’s second of the night and 25th of the season, a power-play marker, with 3:37 remaining in the third period, provided the Crunch with a little insurance and caused an early exit for most of the 628 fans in attendance.
The Rock devised a solid game plan to slow down the Crunch, but unfortunately the execution was lacking.
“We wanted to take away their speed through the neutral zone,” Beer said.
“We wanted to limit their inside chances and we wanted to play a little bit tighter defensively down low.
“We didn’t do any of that, not once.”
While the Rock welcomed back Jackson and Seguin Tuesday night, they lost defenceman James Redmond midway through the first period.
“I think it is a recurrence of the same (upper-body) injury that kept him out before, so he will be out for a while,” Beer said.
Redmond had just returned on Dec. 1 from an upper-body injury that aggravated in a game on Nov. 4.
Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard was pleased to see his team final get rewarded for its hard work against the Rock after dropping a 7-5 decision in Timmins on Sept. 19 and suffering a 2-1 double-overtime setback against the Rock in Cochrane on Nov. 10.
“All three games we have played against these guys this year, we have dominated them,” he said.
“Finally, we were able to get the monkey off our back. The kid (Jackson) did a really good job holding them in there like he has every time we have played them this year. Finally, we got he bounces we had not been getting against these guys.
“I thought in all three periods we really dominated. They might have had two shifts all night where they were able to put some pressure on us.
“Our speed was a big factor tonight and out defence didn’t allow them a lot of opportunities. We have a hard-working, fast-skating team.
“As you could see tonight, we have a lot of systems to our play. We are not just a free-wheeling team like we were in past years. We have a lot of stuff in place.”
Leonard was impressed with the contributions he received from every player wearing a Crunch uniform Tuesday night, but he opted to single out a few of them for a little extra praise.
“I thought Eli Hernandez and Gordon Whalen on defence played really solid tonight, as did Connor Lovie,” he said.
“Connor Lovie plays a solid game every night.
“I thought some of our forwards really showed some spunk tonight, as well. Laramie Kostelansky made a nice pass to Whelan on our second goal.
“He was in every corner, banging bodies, and the group of (Caleb) Dolman and (Mitchell) Booth killed 20 seconds at a time, keeping the puck in the corners and cycling it.
“We have a lot of good guys, who work hard, and that’s the kind of hockey club we have this year. Our fourth line is as good as our first line. That’s why we can roll four lines.”
The coach was also again impressed by the play of Stauffer, whose 25 goals lead all NOJHL snipers.
“He is not flashy, or a dippsy-doodle kind of player,” Leonard said.
“It is all hard work and going to the net. You don’t see too many of his goals being scored from the top of the circle, or on dangles or breakaways. They are just dirty-area, in front of the net goals.
“He is leading the league because he knows how to work hard and win battles in the dirty areas.”
With their victory, the Crunch (20-10-2-1) pulled to within 10 points of the East Division-leading Voodoos (25-3-1-2) — but Powassan has two games in hand.
Tuesday’s loss leaves the Rock (11-19-1-2) all alone in fifth place in the East Division standings — one point behind the Hearst Lumberjacks (12-14-2-0), who have five games in hand, and one point ahead of the French River Rapids (10-19-4-0).
Battler stopped 20 of the 21 shots the Rock fired his way to pick up his 11th win on the season and ninth in a Crunch uniform.
Jackson turned aside 33 of the 36 shots he faced and was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The Daily Press three stars of the game were Stauffer, Lovie and Seguin … The Rock did not dress defencemen Jared Hester (lower-body injury) and Eric Paquette (lower-body injury) and forwards Tyler Planetta (upper-body injury) and Stewart Parnell (upper-body injury) … The Rock were 0-4 on the power play, while the Crunch were 1-8 with the man advantage … The Rock will travel to Kirkland Lake for a game against the Gold Miners Thursday night at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex. The next Rock home game will be on Saturday night when they host the Espanoa Express at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is set for 7 p.m.