By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
COCHRANE – The Tim Horton Event Centre remains a house of horrors for the Timmins Rock.
Thursday night’s edition of Nightmare on Tim Horton Drive saw the Rock surrender a pair of shorthanded goals en route to a 5-3 loss to the Crunch in Game 1 of their best-of-seven NOJHL East Division semifinal series.
While the Crunch drew first blood in the series, their coach and general manager — the normally talkative Ryan Leonard — simply replied “no comment,” when asked for his take on the contest.
Leonard also refused to let any of his players be interviewed following the contest.
Can you say sore winner?
The mood was similar in the Rock dressing room following the game, but coach and general manager Paul Gagne was not at a loss for words.
“There was no reason for either of the shorthanded goals we gave up tonight,” he said.
“Our players got outmuscled at the blue-line. It was unfortunate, because we had been pretty good, even with our goals against all year.”
It was the play of the Rock in the second period that really had Gagne upset Thursday night.
“We had a 10 minute lapse where we weren’t forechecking,” he said.
“We had a lot of turnovers at the blue-line and we weren’t chipping the puck in. We weren’t putting it behind their defence.
“Then, in the last period, what did we start doing again? We were getting on the puck and forechecking. That’s how we got our power-play opportunities. We were able to obtain the puck and they were tripping, hooking, holding, cross-checking because we had puck possession.
“That’s the style of play we have to maintain for a full 60 minutes. We didn’t do it tonight. It’s great hockey. When we play that way, we make fewer mistakes.”
The game remained scoreless until late in the first period when Crunch forward Justin Hess streaked down the right side and into the Rock zone before drilling a shot that goalie Albert Rogers appeared to stop and knock into his own net.
The Crunch were able to increase their advantage to a pair of goals just over eight minutes into the second period when Austin Stauffer riffled a shot high over the shoulder of Rogers.
Timmins finally got on the scoreboard two minutes later when Tyler Romain beat Crunch goalie Leighton Williams, cutting the home side’s lead to 2-1.
A pair of goals just over a minute apart near the end of the second period gave Cochrane a 4-1 advantage after 40 minutes of play.
Haiden Karnick potted the first of those two markers and Rock-killer Konnar Dechaine then followed with a shorthanded marker.
Gagne opted to lift Rogers in favour of Jeff Veitch to start the third period and the move appeared to provide the visitors with the momentum swing they were seeking.
Bain Cunningham scored a power-play goal to pull the Rock to within two goals and then Jacob Shankar added a second power-play marker three-and-a-half minutes later to cut the Crunch lead to 4-3.
When Cochrane’s Nicholas Flanders was sent off for holding a few minutes later, the Rock were presented with an excellent opportunity to get back on even terms.
Instead of capitalizing on the power-play opportunity, however, the Rock surrendered their second shorthanded goal of the night as Brandon McReynolds stole the puck, broke in all alone and slipped it under Veitch to provide the Crunch with a little insurance.
Despite trailing by two goals, down 5-3, the Rock pulled Veitch in favour of an extra attacker in the dying minutes of the contest. They were unable to cut into the Crunch lead, however.
In addition to playing an aggressive, forechecking style for a full 60 minutes, Gagne feels another key to ensuring success for the Rock Saturday night will be to minimize the number of mistakes they make.
“There were too many individual mistakes tonight,” he said.
“The first goal, our goalie makes the save and then I don’t know what he was doing … he put it in, that’s what he did … and then there was a nice pass from our defenceman on the two-on-one on Karnick’s goal. These are individual mistakes, and the players know they shouldn’t have made them. It’s unfortunate, but they did and it cost us.
“Hopefully, we will learn from it and come in Saturday night and play the way we did in the third period tonight.”
Despite the loss, Gagne was pleased with the effort put forth by a number of Rock players Thursday night.
“(Stewart) Parnell had another good game tonight and (Tyler) Romain really stepped up,” he said.
“Bain (Cunningham) really played extremely well and on defence, (Brendan) Campbell was punishing everything in sight back there. He played well defensively and took his man.
“And Veitch came in and held his own back there. The goal he gave up was on a breakaway and he can’t stop them all.”
Even though the Rock now trail the series 1-0, Gagne feels it is far from over.
“This was just Game 1, there is lots of hockey left to be played,” he said.
Williams stopped 39 of the 42 shots the Rock fired his way to pick up the win for the Crunch.
Rogers, who blocked 24 of the 28 shots he faced during his 40 minutes of action, was tagged with the loss for the Rock. Veitch, meanwhile, stopped 11 of the 12 shots fired his way in his one period of relief.
NOJHL NOTES — Rock forward Dean Kiriacou left the game and was taken to the hospital after suffering a cut above his eye … The three stars were Stuaffer, McReynolds and Cunningham … The Rock went 2-8 on the power play, while the Crunch were 0-3 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the Tim Horton Event Centre was 426 … Thursday night’s other action saw the Beavers triple the Rayside-Balfour Canadians 6-2 in Blind River to take a 1-0 lead in their best-of-seven West Division semifinal series, while the Soo Eagles edged the Thunderbirds 4-3 in double overtime in Sault Ste. Marie in Game 1 of the other West Division semifinal series … Game 2 of the East Division semifinal series between the Rock and the Crunch will be played at the Tim Horton Event Centre Saturday night, starting at 7:30 p.m.