By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
FRENCH RIVER – The Timmins Rock jumped out to a 4-0 lead and then cruised to a 7-3 victory over the Rapids in their first road game of the 2016-17 NOJHL season Saturday night at the Noelville Arena.
Wayne Mathieu scored a pair of goals and added an assist as the Rock’s second line accounted for five of the visitors’ seven goals.
“It felt great when that first one went in the net,” Mathieu said.
“My linemates were feeding me all night and it felt awesome to get a goal.”
Mathieu, one of the hardest working Rock forwards, generated all kinds of scoring opportunities during the team’s first three regular season games, but he had not been able to capitalize prior to Saturday night.
His linemates, Tyler Romain and Jacob Shankar, both had big nights, as well.
“We were all looking for each other out there tonight and our line was really clicking well,” Matheiu said.
“We got in there hard with the forecheck and once we got the puck, we were able to cycle it and get it to the net. Good things happened.”
Romain also netted his first two goals of the season, while Shankar scored his third goal of the season and also added an assist.
“We were really feeling good out there tonight,” Mathieu said.
“Hopefully, we are going to be able to continue that way.”
Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne was pleased with the effort put forth by his No. 2 line Saturday night.
“It was kind of nice to see them have some success tonight,” he said.
“They were due. Wayne and Tyler were relieved to score their first two goals of the season.
“Tyler was a little more relaxed after his first goal and played a pretty good hockey game. Wayne is a player who comes out to play every night. He generates chances and tonight he was able to bury them.
“Jacob drove to the net and was there for the rebounds. I think he scored his goal about a foot from the net.
“I think five of the seven goals we scored tonight were scored maybe less than three feet from the front of the net.”
Gagne was also happy to see Alexandre Brisson net his first goal of the season Saturday night, as well.
“That third line (Brisson, Cole Gilligan and Marcus Blackned) scored a couple of goals in our last game at home and they have been playing really well,” he said.
“With all of that hard, work it was really nice to see Alexandre get rewarded. Just seconds before he score his goal he had a great opportunity that he missed, but then he got a nice one-time pass and he buried it.”
The Rock outshot the Rapids 21-7 during the first period of play, with Cory Sprague, his fourth goal on the season, Romain and Shankar all finding the back of the Rapids net behind Korlan Vader to put the visitors in front 3-0.
Mathieu’s first goal of the season, 6:43 into the middle frame, expanded the Rock lead to 4-0.
The Rapids finally got on the scoreboard with just under three minutes to play in the second period, as Gregory Trudeau-Paquet spoiled Caleb Barris’ bid for a shutout when he scored a power-play marker.
It took Romain just 33 seconds to restore the Rock advantage to four goals, however, as he netted his second of the night and season to send the game into the second intermission with the visitors up 5-1.
A pair of goals — off the sticks of Alexandre Brisson and Mathieu — early in the third period expanded the Rock advantage to 7-1, but the home side tried to rally.
Trudeau-Paquet netted his second of the night and fifth of the season to cut the Rock lead to 7-2 and then Will Frustaglio beat Barris with just over five minutes remaining in the third period, but that would prove to be as close as the Rapids would come to getting back on even terms.
One of the keys, according to Gagne, was for the Rock to jump on the Rapids early and not let them build any momentum.
“Right now, our forecheck is working really well and we are putting a lot of pressure on other teams’ defence,” he said.
“Tonight, we were playing against a team that has got a young defence, so it made sense for us to continue trying to put pressure on their D right from the start.
“When we do that, we know we are going to generate shots from the point and a lot of shots from in close. That results in rebounds and the other teams making mistakes three or four feet in front of the net and that’s where you score goals.
“Right now, that’s what we are doing. We are playing that game down low, we are getting shots from the point and we are creating chances in front of the other teams’ net.
Barris stopped 29 of the 32 shots he faced to earn his second victory of the season for the Rock.
Vader turned aside 69 of the 76 shots the Rock fired his way and was tagged with the loss.
The Rock will travel to Powassan for a game against the Voodoos Sunday night and Gagne knows they will be facing a much tougher team than the one they thumped 9-1 on home ice Thursday night.
“We are going to have to be prepared to play our game and be disciplined,” he said.
“We are going to have to stay out of the penalty box and play our style of hockey, maintain a good forecheck, work the puck down low and generate some chances to score.”
NOJHL NOTES — Former Rock defenceman A.J. Holenski played his first game in a Rapids uniform Saturday night against his old squad. Holenski wore No. 13, but did not figure in on the scoring … The Rock were without the services of forward/defenceman Kyle Levis, who is ill and did not make the road trip, and defenceman Brendan Campbell, who was serving the fourth game of a four-game suspension he picked up for a checking-to-the-head penalty he was assessed during last year’s playoffs with his former team, the Ridge Meadow Flames, of the PIJHL. Campbell is expected to be in the lineup for Sunday night’s game in Powassan … The Rock went 1-5 on the power play Saturday night, while the Rapids were 1-3 with the man advantage … The three stars of the game were Trudeau-Paquet, Romain and Vader … Saturday night’s other NOJHL action saw the Eagles double the Iroquois Falls Eskis 6-3 in the Sault, Mich., the Cochrane Crunch and the Gold Miners battle to a 3-3 tie in Kirkland Lake, the Soo Thunderbirds shutout the Canadians 3-0 in Rayside-Balfour and the Voodoos blank the Blind River Beavers 6-0 in Powassan.