By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
COCHRANE – Timmins Rocked the Tim Horton Event Centre on Saturday night for the first time since Nov. 26, 2015.
The come-from-behind 4-2 victory allowed the Rock to even their best-of-seven NOJHL East Division semi-final series at 1-1 and take home-ice advantage away from the Crunch.
Captain Jordan Rendle — with his father, Rock Western Canada player evaluation consultant Dave, in attendance — scored a pair of goals and set up another to pace the attack for the vistors as they finally found some success in a building that had become somewhat of a house of horrors for them in recent years.
Coach and general manager Paul Gagne couldn’t remember the date of the Rock’s last victory at the Tim Horton Event Centre, but he likely won’t soon forget March 18, 2017.
“We played extremely well tonight,” he said.
“We made a couple of mistakes, including a neutral zone turnover, but we stuck to our game plan. It’s very simple, go forecheck and keep the puck in the offensive zone.
“The one area we really improved tonight was not letting them get into our house (the slot area in front of the Rock net). We didn’t give them too many shots from inside the house.
“The other thing is we didn’t have any passengers tonight.”
Another key factor was the Rock were on the delivering end of far more hits Saturday night than they had been in Game 1 Thursday night.
“We are not a very big team, but tonight we played big,” Gagne said.
“All we have to do is finish our checks and get in their way. The other difference tonight is we had our fair share of puck possession.”
Things did not start off well for the visitors, who dropped a 5-3 decision in Game 1 of the series Thursday night.
After a scoreless opening 20 minutes, the Crunch jumped out to a 1-0 lead when Konnar Dechaine scored his second goal of the series 48 seconds into the second period.
Crunch captain Connor Lovie increased the home side’s advantage to a pair of goals less than four-and-a-half minutes later when he beat Rock goalie Albert Rogers with a wrist shot.
The Crunch had an opportunity to expand their lead to three goals midway through the frame, with the Rock’s Jacob Shankar off for elbowing, but it was Timmins, not Cochrane, that found the back of the net.
With a faceoff in the Crunch zone, Rendle took a feed from Wayne Mathieu, who won the draw, and beat Cochrane goalie Leighton Williams with a shorthanded marker.
“Normally, I would have been taking that faceoff, but I have to give kudos to our coach, who kind of told us the play,” Rendle said.
“Wayne made a nice pass across after taking the faceoff and I got lucky to put one behind him (Williams). Obviously, it was a big goal and big for momentum. We were down 2-0.”
Even though the Rock were trailing in the game 2-0 and in the series 1-0, the players were confident they could battle back.
“That’s the way we have been all year,” Rendle said.
“Whenever we have been down, we have kept battling. We have come back in the third period of quite a few games this year. We just never give up in our dressing room. Everyone is so supportive.”
Like Gagne, Rendle and the Rock players breathed big sighs of relief when the final buzzer sounded Saturday night.
“It was an unbelievable feeling to finally get a win here,” he said.
“It means even more for the guys who were here last year, but even for the guys who are in their first year, this is a huge win. We are extremely happy to be going home tied 1-1.
Indeed, it could be argued Saturday night’s win is the biggest for the franchise since the team relocated back to Timmins prior to the start of the 2015-16 season.
The second period ended with the Rock trailing by a goal, but they got back on even terms early in the third when Stewart Parnell scored to deadlock the game at 2-2 at the 1:14 mark.
Just over five minutes later, Rendle added his second of the night — a goal that would prove to be the game-winner — on a nice feed from Cory Sprague.
Two-and-a-half minutes later Rock blue-liner Jared Hester added a little insurance when he scored his first goal of the playoffs to make it a 4-2 hockey game.
The Crunch pressed the attack in the game’s final five minutes, but they were unable to eat into the Rock’s two goal lead.
Gagne continues to be impressed with the play of Parnell in the series.
“It is nice to see him get a goal here and there because he deserves so many more,” he said.
After working so hard to steal home-ice advantage away from the Crunch, Gagne is confident the Rock will be able to maintain it with the series shifting to Timmins for the next two games.
“The secret is for us to just play the way we played tonight,” he said.
“I mentioned to our players after the game that this was the team we know that showed up tonight to play the Crunch.”
The Rock have enjoyed tremendous fan support — tops in the NOJHL — all season long and Gagne feels the crowd for Game 3 might be even larger thanks to the squad’s impressive road win Saturday night.
“We even had quite a few Timmins fans in attendance here at the Tim Horton Event Centre for tonight’s game,” he said.
“Hopefully, we will get a big crowd out Wednesday night to help motivate the players.”
Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard felt his team started off the contest on the right foot.
“We were playing well and we were up 2-0, but Timmins does it to us all the time,” he said.
“They suck us into their crap and we get all caught up in it. Eventually, it is going to bite you in the ass and it did tonight. Every time we get a good lead on them they start getting under our skin and get a little chippy and we start getting undisciplined. That’s what happened again here tonight.”
Leonard agreed Rendle’s shorthanded goal led to a turn in momentum.
“We were on the power play and we were up 2-0 and our veteran defenceman who was out there let him walk right through him,” he said.
“You can’t let that kind of thing happen. It killed us. They scored three goals tonight where their guys were wide open for shots and we had nobody taking the body down low.”
Leonard was not surprised to see the Rock battle back in the game and the series.
“We knew this was going to be a tough series,” he said.
“It’s a best-of-five series now, starting Wednesday night in Timmins. We need our boys to worry about what they have to do and stay away from the crap. If we can do that, we are going to win hockey games, but at the end of the day we have four or five guys on our hockey team who are pretty big hot heads and they have got to get involved.
“We had two power plays coming to us in the third period and two of our guys go after their guys and the next thing you know it is even and we are playing five-on-five. It almost bit us on the butt the other night and tonight it did.”
Despite the loss, Leonard was impressed with the effort put forth by a number of Crunch players Saturday night.
“Lovie and (Joseph) Thielen were both animals back there on defence tonight,” he said.
“And I thought Williams was pretty strong, although he let in a pretty week goal on that last power play on the shot from the point. Other than that, he made some huge saves all game long.
“Overall, though, it’s gut-check time.
Rogers turned aside 32 of the 34 shots he faced to pick up the victory for the Rock, while Williams, who blocked 35 of the 39 shots Timmins fired his way, was tagged with the loss for the Crunch.
NOJHL NOTES — Rock forward Tyler Romain left Saturday night’s contest with an upper-body injury, but it may not be as severe as had been feared when he was leaving the ice surface … Rock blue-liner Brendan Campbell and Crunch D-man Taylor Armbruster were ejected from the game after the heavy weights received five minute majors and game misconducts for their third-period fight … The Rock did not dress forward Cole Gilligan (undisclosed) and affiliate defenceman Cameron Svec (healthy scratch) … The three stars of the game were Rendle, Cunningham and Lovie … The Rock went 0-6 on the power play, while the Crunch were 0-5 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the Tim Horton Event Centre was 436 … Saturday night’s other action saw the Beavers defeat the Rayside-Balfour Canadians 6-3 in Blind River to take a 2-0 lead in one West Division semi-final series, while the Soo Eagles edged the Thunderbirds 4-3 in Sault Ste. Marie to take a 2-0 series lead in the other … Game 3 of the East Division semi-final series between the Rock and the Crunch will be played Wednesday night at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.