By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
COCHRANE – The Crunch shook off a little rust to dump the Timmins Rock 4-1 in Game 1 of their best-of-seven NOJHL East Division semi-final series Thursday night at the Tim Horton Event Centre.
The Rock, fresh off a sweep of the Iroquois Falls Eskis in their Round 1 playoff series jumped out to a 1-0 lead just 41 seconds into the contest.
Landen Matechuk split a pair of pinching Crunch defenceman and raced in all alone before firing a shot past Cochrane goalie Brett Young.
That would prove to be the only chink in Young’s armor, however, as try as they might the Rock could not get another shot past him the rest of the night.
“I had faith in our team and we bounced back pretty quickly,” said Young, describing how giving up that early goal helped to focus him.
“We got a goal shortly after that got us right back in the game.”
The Livonia, Mich., native said the close score help him keep that focus for the remainder of the contest.
“Come playoff time, you are just focused 100% of the time, regardless of whether you are getting seven shots a period or 20, you are always ready for the next shot,” he said.
With the Rock and the Crunch meeting eight times during the regular season — not to mention twice in exhibition action — Young is quite familiar with all of the Rock forwards and their shooting tendencies.
“I try not to think about individual guys out there, I just try to take every shot one at a time, but definitely there are some guys that our team needs to shut down and try to watch out for,” he said.
Young had a lot of help from his teammates Thursday night, especially defenceman Joe Thielen who got his leg in front of a Rock shot that appeared headed for the back of the net in the dying seconds of the first period.
“Our defence definitely made my job a lot easier tonight,” he said.
“The first period they only got 10 shots and just seven in the second period. Our guys were there when I needed them.”
As you might expect from a playoff game between two familiar foes, Thursday’s contest was pretty physical, although the 6-4, 200-pound Young was quite content to leave that part of the game to his teammates.
“Once the whistle is blown, you try to get out of there and not get a penalty, hit in the face, or anything like that,” he said.
The Rock’s downfall Thursday night would prove to be their not-so-special teams.
First, they gave up a power-play goal to NOJHL MVP Hunter Atchison midway through the first period, as the Crunch tied things up at 1-1.
Then they surrendered the game-winning goal early in the second period while they were on the power play, thanks to a mental blunder.
After the Crunch had fired the puck down the ice, a Rock defenceman picked it up and skated up near his own blue-line before leaving it for the other point man to pick up.
The puck stayed where it was, however, as the one Rock D-man looked at the other who simply looked back at him while Crunch penalty killer Tyler Minoletti grabbed the puck, cut to the top of the face-off circle to the left of Rock goalie Logan Ferrington and beat him for a short-handed marker.
Dustin Cordeiro scored with less than three minutes remaining in the second period to increase the Crunch advantage to 3-1 heading into the second intermission.
Defenceman Zach Anderson beat Ferrington early in the third period to extend the Crunch lead to 4-1.
Despite being outscored 1-0 in the final frame, the Rock actually played their best period of the contest, outshooting their hosts 16-7, but they could not beat Young.
Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne was clearly frustrated following the contest.
“We gave them four gifts and I found that we had just as many, if not more, gifts, but we didn’t capitalize, we didn’t even hit the net,” he said.
“We had some great opportunities, but we didn’t put them in. Young made two great saves tonight, but other than that, we had opportunities but we didn’t hit the net. One time he (Young) wasn’t even in the net and we shot high. I think they are going to have to get some Windex and clean the plexiglass tomorrow because every time we shot it would hit the plexiglass, so there will be lots of cleaning up to do.
“Other than that, we gave them too many chances. There were four or five of them that we gave them.”
The worst of those “chances,” of course, was the one that resulted in the Minoletti shorthanded goal.
“It was miscommunication,” Gagne said.
“Those things happen, but unfortunately they happened now.”
While the Rock killed off five of the six penalties they took, they still had a negative impact on their game.
“They are momentum killers,” Gagne said.
“They are penalties we shouldn’t be taking, a little retaliation, slashing, cross-checking. There is no room for that kind of thing. Our players are going to reflect on this someday and say, ‘we should have, we could have.’”
Despite the loss, the Rock remain a confident group heading into Game 2 of the series Saturday night.
“These kids still believe,” Gagne said.
“The last 12 minutes of the game, we applied a little bit of pressure and they had to call a timeout to get organized. We were down 4-1 at the time and it just shows the character of this team. Our guys kept going and going, right until the last minute.”
Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard was happy to see the Crunch earn a big W in their first playoff game after such a long break.
“Things started a little slowly, when they got that goal right off the bat, but the shots at one point were 16-4 or 16-5 and we had a little momentum in the first period,” he said.
“It was good that they scored quickly like that to wake us up. Once we got our first goal, we kind of cruised. I think the shots were 42-13 at one point.
“Once we got the 4-1 lead, I wasn’t happy after that. Once we got up 4-1 we kind of just sat back and thought, ‘OK, we won, game over, whatever.’ They came at us hard, but they weren’t getting any quality, in-the-zone shots. We were doing a lot of shot blocking and playing the man.
“We were just a little too relaxed for my liking in the third period. Overall, I thought it was a sloppy game and we won 4-1. Hopefully, we will come out and play a little bit better on Saturday. I thought tonight was only a 70% effort.”
Leonard was pleased with the play of Young.
“He was great tonight and he stopped all the shots he had to stop. I thought the defence did a good job, as well, helping him out.”
Leonard knows the Crunch still have a lot of work to do before they can say good bye to the Rock.
“Timmins is down a game, but they are not just going to roll over,” he said.
“They are going to come back hungrier. Every game we play from now on is going to get harder.”
Young stopped 32 of the 33 shots he faced to earn the victory for the Crunch, while Ferrington turned aside 45 of the 49 shots the Crunch fired his way and was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Young, Anderson and John Stevenson … The Rock went 0-3 on the power play and surrendered a shorthanded goal, while the Crunch were 1-6 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the Tim Horton Event Centre was 525 … The Rock did not dress defenceman Jared Hester, forward Cole Gilligan, forward Kyle Levis and goalie Devon Debastos … Thursday’s other NOJHL action saw the Elliot Lake Wildcats shutout the Rayside-Balfour Canadians in Game 1 of their West Division semi-final series … Game 2 in the series will be played at the Tim Horton Event Centre Saturday night, with Games 3 and 4 at the McIntyre Arena Tuesday and Thursday nights.