By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – Jordan Rendle scored two goals and added two assists to lead the Timmins Rock to an 8-1 win over the Iroquois Falls Eskis at the McIntyre Arena Saturday night.
The victory gave the Rock a 1-0 advantage in their best-of-three NOJHL East Division Round 1 playoff series, with Game 2 to be played at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls Sunday night.
“We had some good practices throughout the week heading into the playoffs and we just got back to the simple things tonight,” Rendle said.
“I think we were trying too much this last month, but luckily we found our game out there tonight.
“I had been in a little bit of a slump lately, so it was nice to get a couple of goals.”
The line of Rendle, Zachary Kercz and Bain Cunningham was at its best Saturday night, accounting for half of the Rock goals.
“On my first goal tonight, Bainer (Cunningham) just chipped the puck in front, just off the far side and it was tough for the goalie to get over there and the puck ended up going post and in,” Rendle said.
“The second one was on the power play and Joe (Olson) just gave me the puck down low and I had a little room, so I walked in and ended up putting it five hole. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my linemates.”
There was no lack of intensity on the part of either team, especially during the opening 10 minutes.
“It was pretty hard to keep our emotions in check at the start of the game,” Rendle said.
“We had butterflies in our stomachs, but it was fun. It was good to get the first game out of the way and we are excited for tomorrow (Sunday).”
Despite posting a one-sided victory in Game 1 of the series, the Rock know it is far from over.
“We are not taking them lightly at all,” Rendle said.
“We are going to go in there tomorrow and play out game, go twice as hard as we did here tonight. We are going to come out flying.”
The Eskis actually drew first blood Saturday night, as Blake Holowaty put the visitors in front at the 7:00 mark of the opening period.
It took the Rock just 10 seconds to get back on even terms, however, as Ryan Theriault beat Eskis goalie Matthew Camilleri from in close.
The Rock then took a lead they would not surrender four-and-a-half minutes later as Wayne Mathieu netted what would prove to be the game winning goal.
Then Rendle scored twice in the span of four-and-a-half minutes — with the second coming on the power play — to increase the home side’s lead to 4-1.
That second marker signalled an end to Camilleri’s night, as he was pulled in favour of Joe Sheppard.
The goalie switch did not have the impact the Eskis’s coaches had hoped, however, as Aaron Kerr scored to increase the Rock lead to 5-1 with just 38.58 seconds remaining in the opening period.
The Eskis settled down significantly in the second period and they played a much more consistent 20 minutes.
Despite the improved play, the Rock were able to extend their lead to 6-1 on Kercz’s first of two goals on the night.
The Rock appeared to push their lead to 7-1 at the 9:04 mark of the third period, but referees Jeff Golden and Max Kallio gathered with linesmen Evan McCrory and Jeff Pearcey to discuss the play and the goal was waved off, with Theriault being assessed a double minor for high sticking.
After killing off the double minor, it took the Rock just over five minutes more to add a seventh goal to the scoreboard, with Kercz grabbing a rebound and stuffing a shot behind Sheppard for his second goal of the night, with the Rock on the power play.
With the final outcome long decided, Rock affiliate player Jace Sororko scored with 3.66 seconds remaining in the game to make the final score 8-1 in favour of the home side.
Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne was happy with is squad’s compete level Saturday night.
“It was an exciting first period,” he said. “The intensity was incredible, from both sides. Then, going into the second period, I thought the level dropped down quite a bit from both teams. We still played well in the second period, but we were sort of trying to be too fancy with the puck. We gave up two-on-ones and three-on-twos, too many of them.
“We addressed it going into the third period and we never gave anything away in the third period. That was a bonus.
“Now, we are going to digest this game for 20 minutes and get ready to get on the bus tomorrow.
“We are going to have to control our emotions on Sunday. If we give up a goal against, we can’t get down and start bickering. The other thing is going to be discipline. If we can keep our cool, we are going to play better hockey.”
The Rock took a few too many penalties Saturday night, but a strong penalty kill offset that negative.
Gagne agreed the Rock’s quick response to the Eskis’ goal was a key moment in Saturday night’s victory.
“Theriault really came through,” he said.
“He made a big difference and he played extremely well tonight, too. He was skating, he was taking the man, he was scoring, he was passing. He did an excellent job.”
Gagne was impressed with the play of the Rendle, Kercz and Cunningham unit Saturday night.
“It was a little bit of redemption for them after the last game of the regular season,” he said.
“They didn’t play too well in that one. I believe they were minus four or five that game. They worked hard in practice this week and they were geared up for this game. Kudos to them, they really worked hard.”
The coach was also pleased with the play of the Rock’s fourth line Saturday night, as well.
“Right down to the last minute, (Alexandre) Brisson and Soroko just brought some intensity to the ice,” Gagne said.
“They are great players. They know their role and tonight they certainly played their role well. They got to play a little bit more and they did a good job killing penalties. They are confident kids and they are learning the program and we are really happy about that.”
Eskis assistant coach Jamy Bernier felt a lack of consistency was his squad’s undoing Saturday night.
“It seems to be a reoccurring thing where we get caught with a couple of bad mistakes, a couple of brain farts, if you want to call them that,” he said.
“They end up costing us the game. I felt we came out strong and we scored a goal, but they responded right away. Then we kind of fell apart late in the first period. We came back in the second period and we battled hard. In the first 15 minutes of the third period, other than a little hiccup at the end, with the last goal, I thought we competed. We have just got to prevent mistakes.”
To be successful Sunday night, the Eskis will have to play a full 60 minutes of hockey.
“It’s playoff time, 59 minutes isn’t going to win us a hockey game,” Bernier said.
“To Rock came out hungry tonight and they wanted it more than we did and they got it. We need to come out tomorrow and play 60 minutes of hockey, or …”
The Eskis proved near the end of the season that they are capable of rebounding from a one-sided loss to earn a victory. After dropping a 9-2 decision to the Rock at the McIntyre Arena on Feb. 13, the Eskis scored a 4-2 win on home ice two nights later.
“That is in the back of our minds, but at the same time it will depend which team comes out for us tomorrow night,” Bernier said.
“If the team that came out in that game on Feb. 15 comes out, then absolutely we will take the win, but if the team that came out today and only played 50 minutes of hockey comes out tomorrow, it is not going to cut it.”
Despite the loss, a number of Eskis impressed Bernier Saturday night.
“Sam Vigneux stuck out for the better part of the game,” he said. “He is a 99 who was asked to play some bigger minutes with the loss of Holowaty early in the game.
“Jack Spear was also noticeable on the forecheck. He was aggressive and had a couple of good looks tonight. He has been very strong for us in the last couple of games.”
Rock goalie Logan Ferrington turned aside 32 of the 33 shots he faced Saturday night to earn the win for the Rock.
Camilleri, who suffered the loss for the Eskis, stopped five of the nine shots the Rock fired his way, while Sheppard made 32 saves in relief.
NOJHL Notes — The three stars of the game were Rendle, Kercz and Kerr … Rock defenceman Ryan Kerr and Holowaty were ejected from the game late in the first period. They each received five-minute majors for fighting and game misconducts, with Kerr drawing a two-minute minor penalty for instigating and Holowaty being assessed a two-minute minor penalty for checking from behind … The Rock went 2-5 on the power play, while the Eskis were 1-7 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 785 … Game 1 of the best-of-three West Division Round 1 series saw the Eagles thump the Espanola Express 11-0 in Sault, Mich., Friday night … Game 2 of the East Division Round 1 series between the Rock and the Eskis will be played Sunday night at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls. Game time is set for 5:30 p.m.