By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock charged into the weekend riding a four-game winning streak, but limped out of it nursing a two-game losing skid.
What a difference 48 hours can make in the world of Junior ‘A’ hockey.
The Rock showed none of the heart on display less than 24 hours earlier when they battled back to make a 5-3 loss to the Crunch in Cochrane look at least a little respectable, on Sunday afternoon as they dropped a 6-3 decision to the Iroquois Falls Eskis at the McIntyre Arena.
“It is absolutely disappointing, very, very disappointing,” said Rock assistant coach James Daschuk.
“It was very frustrating. We didn’t have it today. We showed very little emotion. Our game plan was just not present today. It almost looked like we didn’t have a game plan. We didn’t look great, as far as structure goes.”
The Rock actually drew first blood Sunday afternoon, as forward Andrew Green netted his first goal of the season at the 4:03 mark of the first period.
The Rock were able to carry that advantage into the intermission, thanks in large part to some stellar work from goalie Devon Debastos, who was making his first start in a Rock uniform.
“He was solid, for the most part, and kept us in the game,” Daschuk said.
“I thought he was pretty good, especially when we were killing off five-on-threes, so kudos to him.”
Jacob Erwin scored his 19th goal of the season 1:43 into the second period to tie things up at 1-1.
That’s the way the score remained until defenceman Brennan McGuire scored his first goal of the season midway through the second period to put the Rock back in front, 2-1.
Erwin’s second goal of the game and 20th of the season, a power-play marker, again tied things up late in the frame.
Newcomer Dante Juris’ second goal in an Eskis uniform put the visitors in front 3-2 midway through the third period.
The Rock were able to tied this up just 27 seconds later when defenceman Andrew Castagna scored his fifth goal of the campaign to calm the nervous home fans.
The calm didn’t last long, however, as David Stickney potted his second goal of the season just 16 seconds later to restore the Eskis one-goal lead.
“Our D were playing aggressive today with the pinch,” Daschuk said.
“We had a pinch on that play and there was no support to back our guy up. They came down and scored. There is nothing worse as far as a momentum change when your team scores than to give up on goal on the next shift.
“Those guys (Eskis) didn’t give up, they didn’t quit. Unfortunately, I feel as though some of our guys didn’t give a 100% effort today. It is frustrating.”
With one minute remaining in a Rock man advantage late in the third period, coach and general manager Paul Gagne opted to pull Debastos in favour of an extra attacker. The move backfired, however, as David Osborne deposited his 25th goal of the season, a shorthanded marker, into the empty Rock net.
Then, to add insult to injury, Juris scored his third goal of the season into a still empty Rock net to make the final 6-3 in favour of the visitors.
Eskis assistant coach Jamy Bernier was savouring his team’s second-straight victory and third-straight solid outing following the contest.
“We had a really close game (a 3-2 loss) in Kirkland Lake on Friday and that’s where this snowball started getting bigger for us,” he said.
“Last night we picked things up against Blind River (a 4-2 victory) and that was a huge win for us, but the boys had it in their minds that we just weren’t going to lose today.
“Our game plan, going in, was to stick to the system for 60 minutes. We did that and the snowball has just been rolling from there.”
The Eskis concentrated on not giving the Rock too many quality scoring opportunities Sunday afternoon.
“We have been focused ever since we came back from the break in the new year,” Bernier said.
“We knew that cleaning up our defensive zone was the task we needed to do and we have worked on that for the past two weeks and all weekend we have been excellent in our D zone. That was the key to the win tonight.”
A big part of the Eskis strong play in the D zone, of course, can be attributed to the strong play of goalie Joe Sheppard, who came off the bench after a paperwork issue resulted in Matthew Camilleri playing the first 33 seconds of the game.
“Joe stood on his head,” Bernier said.
“He made more than 30 saves.”
Juris continues to make a positive impression on the coaching staff, as well, as does Erwin who now has four goals in his past two games.
“He (Erwin) has been a monster for us,” Bernier said.
In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a player in the lineup who didn’t stand out for the Eskis.
“Basically, we have had 20 guys who have been rolling for us,” Bernier said.
“They all have the same goal, the same passion and the same intensity through 60 minutes.”
Every victory is important, especially this close to the playoffs, but a win against the Rock does feel a little more special for most members of the Eskis franchise, doesn’t it?
“Given some of the history, maybe some of the guys see it that way, but we have 20 guys in the dressing room right now just seeing it as a win is a win,” Bernier said.
“This is the first time we have won two in a row this year and we are not about to dissect anything.”
Daschuk acknowledged that the Eskis outworked his Rock Sunday afternoon.
“They play us tough every game,” he said.
“Maybe we took it for granted that we are a better team than them. We had been on a hot streak, so maybe we thought this was going to be a much easier game than it was.
“Regardless, those guys definitely won a lot of battles. They wanted it and they showed more emotion and more intensity. They played as a team today and they kept things really simple, which is basically the opposite of what we did today. We were trying to complicate life for nothing. We were doing things that were completely out of character for us.”
The Rock will have a week of practice to get ready for their next game, Saturday when they host the Powassan Voodoos at the McIntyre Arena.
Daschuk said: “If we run around taking undisciplined penalties like we did this afternoon we are going to be in for a long night against those guys. Our discipline has not been great, by any means, the last month or so. We have been taking foolish penalties for no reason. Guys are not sucking it up and walking away. They are trying to prove how tough they are, or something.”
Being able to ice a full lineup certainly wouldn’t hurt, either.
“Hopefully, we can get some extra bodies in the lineup,” Daschuk said.
“We have had some suspension, some injuries, stuff like that.”
Forward Tristan Salesse, who served the seventh game of his seven-game suspension, is eligible to return to the lineup against the Voodoos. Defenceman Joe Olson, however, has one more game to serve on the two-game suspension he earned Saturday night in Cochrane.
The status of injured forward Wayne Mathieu (upper-body) and injured goalie Logan Ferrington (upper-body injury) remains up in the air.
After trading forward Devin Panzeca to the Chatham Maroons, of the GOJHL, and forward Mike Norristo the English River Miners, of the SIJHL, prior to the Jan. 10 trade deadline, the Rock acquired 20-year-old forward Landen Matechuk (24, 15-18-33, 30) from English River in a separate transaction.
Matechuk, 5-11 and 190 pounds, is expected to arrive in Timmins on Monday and will likely be in the lineup Saturday night when they host the Voodoos at the McIntyre Arena.
Gagne was still working the phone following Sunday’s game in hopes of making further moves prior to the deadline.
NOJHL NOTES — The Rock went 0-4 on the power play, while the Eskis were 1-5 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 509 … Sunday’s only other NOJHL contest saw the visiting Soo Thunderbirds edge the Voodoos 5-4 in overtime. Caleb Boman’s 12 goal of the season proved to be the game-winner.