By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
RAYSIDE-BALFOUR – Cole Gilligan scored once and set up two other goals to help lead the Timmins Rock to a 6-2 win over the Canadians Saturday night at the Chelmsford Arena.
It was the third-straight win for the Rock who started off their current three-game road trip with a 4-2 win over the Express in Espanola Friday night.
The victory also helped the Rock (30-12-3-0) close to within 10 points of the Cochrane Crunch (34-13-4-1) in the battle for second place in the NOJHL’s East Division standings.
And the Rock still have seven games in hand on the Crunch who dropped a 7-6 decision to the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake Saturday night.
Despite the win, the fourth-place Gold Miners (24-20-4-2) still trail the Rock by nine points and have played five more games than Timmins.
Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne felt his squad could have played better in the opening 20 minutes, but was happy with their effort the rest of the way.
“We played a so-so first period, with a few missed assignments, but we still played well,” he said.
“I guess you could call it a good road period. In the second period, for whatever reason, we put things together. We scored a couple of goals, but it wasn’t just the goals. We kept them out of the dangerous areas in our defensive zone and any shots we gave them were coming from the outside.
“We were able to generate lots of counterattacks and two-on-ones and a few three-on-twos.
“We were able to capitalize on our chances in the second and third periods.”
The Rock jumped out to a 2-0 lead in Rayside-Balfour Saturday night, but the Canadians battled back to tie things up at 2-2 after 20 minutes of play.
Dean Kiriacou got the Rock on the scoresheet first when he beat Canadians goalie Cameron Lamour for his fourth goal of the season at the 9:49 mark of the opening period.
Jacob Shankar, who had a pair of goals Friday night against the Express, added his 19th goal of the season just over three minutes later to increase the Rock lead to 2-0.
New Liskeard native Cayse Ton got the home side on the scoresheet two-and-a-half minutes later when he beat Rock goalie Albert Rogers for his 10th goal of the season.
Kaleb Peldjak deadlocked things at 2-2 just over a minute later when he scored his seventh goal of the season.
The Rock took the lead for good just 2:04 into the second period, however, as Bain Cunningham scored his 15th goal of the season.
Stewart Parnell’s eighth goal of the season, just past the midway point of the frame, put the Rock in front 2-0 prior to the second intermission.
Despite being outshot 18-9 in the third period, the Rock were able to add two more goals.
Gilligan netted his 20th goal of the season, with the Rock on a power play, at the 1:49 mark.
Then Wayne Mathieu added his 23rd goal of the season with just 1:32 remaining on the clock to make the final score 6-2 in favour of the visitors.
With captain Jordan Rendle again sidelined as he served the second game of a two-game suspension he picked up for a hit-to-the-head infraction in Tuesday’s 4-0 win over the Crunch, a number of Rock players stepped up to help fill the offensive void.
“Gilligan really stepped up tonight,” Gagne said.
“He played well offensively, for sure. He made a big difference. And we got scoring from five other players.
“Mathieu and Kiriacou made some nice plays, as well.”
And it wasn’t just the Rock’s goal scorers who impressed their coach.
“Maxime (Lague) played really well tonight,” Gagne said.
“He was making things happen tonight and he was involved. We gave him some more ice time and he is starting to feel a little bit more comfortable with our program. He made some really nice plays and he set up Gilligan’s goal.”
Normally, the Rock would only be thinking about one game at a time, one period at a time and one shift at a time, but that was not the case Saturday night.
“Second place is really on our minds right now,” Gagne said.
“We have talked about it and we know we have some points to gain with our games in hand and as soon as our game was over, we were checking the score in the Kirkland Lake Cochrane game.
“We gained another two points tonight and we still have seven games in hand. That in itself is motivation.”
Rendle will return to the lineup Sunday night in Elliot Lake and the Rock roster has also been bolstered by the return of defenceman Spencer Segui (upper-body) to the lineup Friday night.
“We had him playing forward,” Gagne said.
“He only had a chance to get in one practice after returning, so we used him on the fourth line and he scored our first goal in that game.
“He also played some forward for us tonight, killed some penalties and then the last six or seven minutes of the game, we had him back playing defence.”
The Rock are clearly focused heading into the final game of their three-game road trip Sunday night in Elliot Lake.
“We are eating, sleeping and playing hockey right now,” Gagne said.
“This trip and playing three games in three nights has been a great team bonding experience.”
Rogers, making his third-straight start since returning from an upper-body injury, turned aside 38 of the 40 shots he faced to earn the victory.
Lamour blocked 36 of the 42 shots the Rock directed his way and was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES —In addition to missing Rendle Saturday night, the Rock were also without forward Nicholas Hway (illness) … The three stars of the game were Gilligan, defenceman Brendan Campbell, who had a pair of assists, and Rogers … The Rock went 1-6 on the power play, while the Canadians were 0-3 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the Chelmsford Arena was 114 … Saturday night’s other contest saw the Eagles thump the French River Rapids 11-1 in Sault, Mich. … The Rock will conclude their three-game road trip with a game against the Wildcats in Elliot Lake Sunday night.