By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Soo Eagles crashed the party and spoiled the fun for Steve Sullivan and the Timmins Rock Sunday afternoon at the McIntyre Arena.
On the day when the Rock retired the No. 26 of the former NHLer best known as the Timmins Tornado, the visitors skated off with a hard-fought 6-4 victory — ending their three-game road trip through the North on a positive note.
“I feel really good when we score six goals,” said Eagles coach Bruno Bragagnolo.
“We have had trouble scoring goals all year, so today was a nice pleasant surprise. Although our record (1-2-0-0) for the weekend doesn’t show it, we played extremely well. We had one maybe bad period and played five or six really good periods, so yeah, we are really pleased.”
Even though he gave up four goals in the game, Eagles goalie Jack Hickey made a number of big saves — especially when his team was leading by just the one goal.
“He has played like that for most of the year,” Bragagnolo said.
“With us being a young team, things are a little harder on our goaltenders. Sometimes they don’t get the protection they deserve. He was certainly full marks for helping us win today.”
Hickey wasn’t the only Eagle who flew high Sunday, either.
“I thought Sam Rappaport had a pretty good game,” Bragagnolo said.
“And Gord Helmuth, I think he was the second star, had a pretty good game, but for us to win games, we have to work by committee.
“We really don’t have any standouts. When we win it is a team effort and, for the most part, I thought our team played pretty well.”
After spending time with three different NOJHL teams — the Cochrane Crunch, the Blind River Beavers and the Mattawa Blackhawks — last season Reed Gregory has found a home with the Eagles.
“He is one of the few guys we have who has some Junior ‘A’ experience,” Bragagnolo said.
“He needs to score goals for us. We don’t have a lot of natural goal scorers and he seems to be a guy who can score. We need to depend on him a little bit.”
It wasn’t just the Rock players who were a little bit in awe of the man whose jersey was retired prior to Sunday afternoon’s game, either.
“Most of our guys know who Steve Sullivan is and it was a pretty exciting day,” Bragagnolo said.
“It was nice to see Steve be rewarded like that in his home town.”
A pair of four-letter words describe what the Eagles have to do to beat the Rock, or any other NOJHL team for that matter.
“We just have to work hard,” Bragagnolo said.
“We need to stick to our game plan. We are good in most games for bits and pieces, but never for the full 60 minutes. In this league, with so many good teams now, you take a couple of shifts off and the next thing you know, you are down a couple of goals.
“Consistency is a big thing for us. I think we are heading in the right direction. We have played some really good games and we are getting to be a little bit more consistent.
“If that continues, we can create some problems for some teams.”
The Rock struck first Sunday afternoon, as defenceman Nicholas Hautanen netted his first goal of the season at the 4:50 mark of the opening period.
Things went from bad to worse from that point on for the home side.
The Eagles swooped in an put three-straight goals past Rock goalie Logan Ferrington.
Gregory scored his eighth goal of the season on the power play to tie things up at 1-1 midway through the period.
Then Rappaport beat Ferrington for his second goal of the season at the 18:11 to put the Eagles in front 2-1.
To add insult to injury — of the lower-body kind — Evan Ketner beat Ferrington, who had been crashed into moments earlier for his ninth goal of the season, with just 1.66 seconds remaining on the clock.
For those who haven’t been counting, that’s the third time this season the Rock have surrendered a goal with less than two seconds remaining in a period.
Ferrington was unable to continue to start the second period and affiliate goalie Bradley Dobson came on in relief. Dobson received the call to back up Ferrington because the Rock’s other goalie Matthew Nixon lasted just one practice while trying to return from a lower-body injury of his own.
The Rock shook that goal off any ill effects from the late goal at the end of the previous period and Bain Cunningham netted his 14thgoal of the season 12:12 into the middle frame to cut the Eagles’ lead to 3-2.
Helmuth’s second goal of the season less than three minutes later restored the visitors’ two goal advantage.
Rappaport added his second goal of the night and third on the season just 10 seconds later to put the Eagles in front 5-2.
The Rock battled back to cut the Eagles’ advantage to one goal prior to the end of the period, however, as Jordan Rendle scored his 16th and 17th goals of the season less than a minute apart late in the frame.
Those late tallies provide the crowd of 1,123 — the largest of the season — with some hope heading into the third period.
The Rock were not able to capitalize on an momentum from those late goals and the Eagles put the game away when Jake Saxton scored his eighth goal of the season at the 13:10 mark to make the final 6-4.
For the most part, Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne was happy with his team’s effort on Sunday.
“We played some great hockey,” he said.
“I am not saying we dominated, but we played a great down-low game. We had our chances and when we had an incredible opportunity their goalie stood on his head.
“He (Hickey) made the big saves when he was called upon and that made the difference. We played about five shifts in a row in the offensive zone and we were making things happen. We were getting our chances and then they would come down and score a goal on a wrist shot.
“Mistakes were being made and a lot of time mistakes are made by a forward or made by a defenceman, but in some games they are made by our goalies and that was the difference tonight.
“There were four goals that should have been stopped and they weren’t. That’s hockey and it’s unfortunate and the first people to know are the goalies themselves.”
There were a few players who caught their coaches eye Sunday afternoon for the positive things they did out on the ice.
“Cunningham and Rendle, to me, were an inspiration out there,” Gagne said.
“They worked hard and they made things happen. And young (Andrew) Castagna, on defence, did the right things. He was always moving the puck. Ryan Kerr played an incredible game and played a lot of minutes.
“These guys are leaders. The bring lots to the dressing room and they bring lots out on the ice.”
Hickey of the Eagles made 28 saves to record the victory, while Ferrington, who turned aside nine of the 12 shots he faced was tagged with the loss for the Rock. Dobson blocked 19 of the 22 shots fired his way in relief.
NOJHL NOTES — The Rock announced after the game they have signed goaltender Devon Debastos. Debastos () spent the 2014-15 season with the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners … The Rock went 1-7 on the power play, while the Eagles were 1-5 with the man advantage … The three stars of the game were Rappaport, Helmuth and Rendle … The Rock will host the Espanola Express at the McIntyre Arena Friday night and the Cochrane Crunch Saturday night.