By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – Trailing the NOJHL East Division semifinal series 2-1, Cochrane Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard was promising changes prior to Game 4 against the Timmins Rock Saturday night at the McIntyre Arena.
“On Saturday, you will see two veterans out of the lineup and two guys who have been sitting and are hungry to play will be in the lineup, 100%,” he said.
“They are not going to be happy about it, but we have made the decision. We knew going into this game, if things didn’t change some veterans would be sitting.
“At the end of the day, I would rather go with somebody who is going to give me a better effort than somebody who is just going to be out there going through the motions because they know they are good.
“Austin Whelan (38, 10-11-21, 6) and Alex Brisson (23, 2-6-8, 8) will both be in the lineup for us Saturday night.
Whelan with two goals — including a game-winner — and a pair of assists in five games against Timmins this season has had some success against the Rock.
Leonard stopped short of naming which two veteran Crunch forwards would be sitting in the stands Saturday night, but his comments after Wednesday night’s contest certainly made it clear he is not happy with the play of Braeden Cross (54, 37-45-82, 38), who led the NOJHL in scoring during the regular season, but has yet to register a single point in three playoff games.
“At the end of the day, I am just disappointed in some of our forwards,” he said.
“We had four of the Top 20 scorers in the league — Cross, Konnar Dechaine (10th, 54, 33-35-68, 32), Brandon McReynolds (12th, 54, 27-41-68, 36) and Nate Viberg (14th, 50, 27-38-65, 22) — but where the hell are they in the playoffs.
“Bailey Shaver (3, 0-0-0, 2) is just lost out there right now and we have a guy like (Shane) Woolsey (3, 0-0-0, 0) who was in the Top 10 scoring in the NOJHL the past two years.
“Guys like that think they have got to play and deserve a lot of ice time, but they have to earn it. Right now we have some hungry young guys who want to play and they are going to get an opportunity on Saturday so we can see if things are going to turn around here.”
Dechaine (3, 3-2-5, 6) is the Crunch’s leading scorer in the playoffs, while McReynolds (3, 1-3-4, 4) is second and Viberg (3, 1-1-2, 2) is tied for fourth on the team.
Aside from the effort the Crunch have put in — or failed to put in — during the first three games of the series, Leonard is not too worried about them trailing 2-1 heading into Saturday night’s contest.
“Our older guys aren’t stepping up,” he said.
“Their top guys are Jordan Rendle (3, 2-1-3, 4), Wayne Mathieu (3, 0-3-3, 0), Tyler Romain (3, 2-3-5, 0) and Cory Sprague (3, 0-1-1, 0) and you look at those guys. They are all over the ice and all over the gamesheet because those guys are leaders. They had points all year and they are showing it again in the playoffs.
“They are not taking the playoffs off like some of our guys are.”
Indeed, through the first three games of the series, those four players identified by Leonard — as well as Bain Cunningham (3, 1-7-8, 2), Stewart Parnell (3, 3-1-4, 0) and Jacob Shankar (3, 2-0-2, 6) all have at least one point.
Rock assistant coach James Daschuk realizes that while his squad has recorded some pretty big victories in the past two games, they really don’t have anything to celebrate just yet.
“The feeling in our room right now is never get too high and never get too low,” he said.
“Our guys are smart. They know we are only leading the series 2-1. They know this series could very well go seven games.
“They have played the game long enough and we have coached the game long enough that our next game now becomes our most important game of the year. Every game from this point on will be the most important one.
“The guys know what is on the line. Just getting out of this series seems to be a big thing and all the fans around the league are watching this series.
“Saturday night is going to be exciting and we know it is going to be a battle. Those guys (the Crunch) will not give up. I can guarantee that. Cochrane is going to keep firing at us and they know we are going to keep firing at them.
“It has been a good series so far and relatively clean, which makes it exciting for the fans.”
After attracting 825 fans to Wednesday night’s contest, the Rock are expecting one of the largest crowds of the season for Saturday night’s contest — especially after a pair of exciting back-to-back victories.
“A game like we played tonight certainly doesn’t turn fans away,” Daschuk said.
“Getting 825 fans out for our first home playoff game on a Wednesday night is certainly nothing to complain about.”
Special teams have played an important role in the first three games of the series, with the Rock with an efficiency rating of 90.0% having the top penalty killing unit in the NOJHL.
The Crunch, at 88.2%, have also enjoyed a great deal of success and are ranked No. 2 in the league.
Given those two statistics, it should come as no surprise that neither team is near the top of the heap in terms of power-play success.
The Rock, at 11.8%, sit in seventh spot in the league, while the Crunch, at 10.0%, are eighth.
The Crunch have notched a pair of shorthanded markers, as well, while the Rock have one.
While players on both teams are likely nursing a few bumps and bruises, neither the Rock nor the Crunch were reporting any serious injuries following Wednesday night’s contest.
Saturday night’s game at the McIntyre Arena is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m., while Game 5 in the series at the Tim Horton Event Centre on Sunday will get underway at 6 p.m.