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French River visit proves pointless

After dropping a 6-4 decision to the Rapids at the Noelville Community Centre Sunday afternoon the Timmins Rock will need a lot of help to hold onto top spot in the NOJHL’s East Division standings.

Thomas Perry
The Daily Press/Postmedia Network

That scenario became a reality because the Rock were only able to earn one of a possible four points on the weekend, thanks to Sunday afternoon’s setback and Friday night’s 2-1 shootout loss to the Lumberjacks in Hearst.

Even though the Rock (33-8-5-2) continue to enjoy a three-point lead over the Lumberjacks (34-9-2-0), they have completed their 2021-22 regular-season schedule while Hearst has three road games remaining — against the Soo Thunderbirds on Thursday, the Blind River Beavers on Friday and the Soo Eagles on Saturday.

For the Rock to maintain their hold on top spot in the East Division standings, the Lumberjacks will have to lose at least one of those contests in regulation and another in overtime or a shootout.

Should the Rock and Lumberjacks tie for top spot in the East Division standings, the tie breaker would go to Timmins due to the fact they outscored Hearst 28-27 during their eight-game regular-season series, which saw each side win four games.

Rock coach and general manager Brandon Perry was clearly not pleased with his team’s effort during either weekend contest.

“I don’t even know, I don’t even know,” he said, when asked how Sunday afternoon’s contest got out of hand.

“We just have a lot of issues, a lot of issues as a team right now.

“There is just no like urgency, no … there is just nothing. We got nothing, absolutely nothing.”

For the second-straight game, the Rock were outshot by their opponents Sunday afternoon.

“It just seems like ever since the (CJHL trade) deadline, we thought we needed to bring in some veteran presence, we loaded up on talent, we stabilized our back end with some veteran guys with a ton of ability, we got some guys back who were in Rock uniforms last year and the year before in (Gabinien) Kioki and (Harry) Clark and we are a worse hockey team,” Perry said.

“Before the break, we played with urgency, we played with passion, we played with heart, we played with character and we were never out of a game.

“Now, it’s just not a lot of effort in this dressing room right now.”

The Rock’s best game since the COVID-19 extended Christmas break was a 5-4 overtime win over the Eagles in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., on Feb. 18, a contest in which they only dressed 15 skaters — one of whom was an affiliate player.

“The passion in that game man, holey … guys just wanted to win so bad and then it just disappeared,” Perry said.

Things had been looking good for the Rock early on Sunday afternoon, as the jumped out to a 2-0 lead over the Rapids.

In fact, it took Riley Brousseau just 1:01 to get the Rock on the scoreboard when he netted his 19th goal of the season.

And Clark added his ninth goal of the season shortly after the midway mark in the period.

The Rapids were able to cut the Rock lead in half before the end of the frame, however, as Ryan Goral scored his ninth goal of the season.

Captain Tyler Schwindt’s 34th goal of the season 59 seconds into the second period extended the Rock advantage to 3-1.

Things began to fall apart shortly thereafter, though, as the Rapids got a tally from Dominik Godin, his 35th goal of the season, just over a minute later.

The Rapids were able to tie things up at 3-3 just short of the midway mark in the frame when Spencer Hughes added his 15th goal of the campaign.

Cooper Bowman then gave the Rapids their first lead of the contest at the 2:46 mark of the third period when he scored his 25th goal of the season.

The Rapids then got a pair of empty net markers, both courtesy of Chase Lefebvre, with Rock goalie Gavin McCarthy on the bench in favour of an extra attacker.

Lefebvre’s 28th and 29th goals of the campaign, both scored in the final 1:20 of regulation, extended the Rapids’ lead to 6-3.

Ironically, the Rock were finally able to add a fourth goal, Christopher Engelbert’s 17th tally of the season, with 20 seconds left on the clock but by then it was too little, too late.

Perry was blunt when asked if there were any Rock players who impressed him with their effort Sunday afternoon.

“Nope,” he said.

Even though their regular season is over, the Rock still don’t know if they will finish first or second in the East Division.

“To be honest, I am not thinking about that right now,” Perry said.

“Whomever our opponent is going to be, it is who it is. It doesn’t really matter at this point.

“We have way bigger issues to fix in our group. If we play like this, it isn’t going to matter who our opponent is, we aren’t going to get out of the first round.”

Perry feels the Rock have taken the Rapids too lightly, a fact borne out by three losses in the past four games against French River.

“Every time we play French River it is the same thing,” he said.

“We go up by one, think it is going to be an easy game. We play loose, we don’t work, we stickhandle at blue-lines, we turn pucks over, odd-man rush after off-man rush. Guys are cheating for offence and then they beat us. That’s it.”

While the Rock will have some time to fix what ails them, regardless of whether they finish first or second in the East Division, it clearly won’t be an easy task.

“We need to work on everything,” Perry said.

“Every single detail of the game of hockey, we need to work on, because we are not even close to being a team that can win a championship right now.”

Rapids goalie Cole Sheffield turned aside 31 of the 35 shots the Rock directed his way to earn his 13th win of the season.

McCarthy, who stopped 31 of the 35 shots he faced, was tagged with the loss.

Photo: Dal Photography