Timmins Rock forward Jace Soroko cuts to the front of the net and prepares to get off a shot on Cochrane Crunch goalie Taylor Unruh during the second period of Game 1 of the NOJHL East Division final at the Tim Horton Event Centre Friday night. Soroko was not able to find the back of the net on this play, but he did score a third-period goal in the contest. It would not matter, however, as the Crunch went on to post a 6-2 victory. Game 2 in the best-of-seven series will be played at the Tim Horton Event Centre Saturday, at 7 p.m. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
COCHRANE – The Crunch got a pair of power-play goals from defenceman Eli Hernandez en route to a 6-2 win over the Timmins Rock in Game 1 of their NOJHL East Division final series at the Tim Horton Event Centre Friday night.
Three unanswered second-period goals allowed the Crunch to break open what had been a close contest through the first 20 minutes of play.
Nicolas Flanders’ third goal of the playoffs, from an almost impossible angle, had staked the Crunch to a 1-0 first period lead, but the home side turned up the heat in the middle frame.
Former Rock forward Marcus Blackned-Rabbitskin’s first goal of the playoffs at the 2:38 mark increased the Crunch advantage to a pair of goals.
Then, just over three minutes later, Levi Johnson scored what would prove to be the game-winning goal, his second marker of the playoffs, to make it a 3-0 hockey game.
That goal signalled the end of Rock starting goalie Tyler Masternak’s night, with Eric Jackson coming off the bench in relief.
Hernandez then beat Jackson for his first goal of the playoffs with just 16 second remaining in the frame to send the Crunch to the dressing room holding a 4-0 lead.
The Rock finally managed to get on the scoreboard early in the third period, as affiliate forward Austin Holmes took a pass from Wayne Mathieu and beat Crunch goalie Taylor Unruh for his first goal of the playoffs.
Four minutes later, the Rock were able to cut the Crunch advantage to 4-2 when Jace Sorok netted his second goal of the playoffs.
Any thoughts of a third-period comeback for the visitors was dashed, however, when Hernandez netted his second power-play goal of the night to increase the home side’s advantage to three goals.
Then, with less than five minutes remaining in the contest, Austin Stauffer added insult to injury when he beat Jackson for his fourth goal of the playoffs to make the final score 6-2 in favour of the Crunch.
Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard was pleased with his team’s effort Friday night.
“We held them to five shots in the first period and overall we played a really good game,” he said.
“We got a little bit complacent in the first five minutes of the third period, once we got that 4-0 lead, but we woke up again after they got those two quick goals.
“We got back to matching our lines, back into our systems and we started moving our feet again. That was really key for us tonight, keeping our feet going. They ended up taking a lot of hooking penalties tonight because they couldn’t catch us.
“If we keep moving our feet and move the way we know we can play, we know exactly what we can do here.”
Leonard felt the Crunch got a complete effort from everyone on the team Friday night.
“There were no individuals tonight,” he said.
“Our defence scored a couple of goals tonight and all of our lines were on the ice for a goal for, once again. That has been the story for us all the way through the playoffs and the regular season.
“(Kyle) Herbster didn’t have a hat-trick, or two goals for us tonight. Eli Hernandez stepped up and got a pair of goals for us. Guys like that, Johnson got a goal tonight.
“Everything was spread out amongst our roster.”
With the Rock riding high after their upset of the NOJHL’s top team, the Powassan Voodoos, in the East Division semi-finals, the Crunch made sure they did not let them get any momentum early in the contest.
“They have had a tough time in our building all year and we have skated them hard all season,” Leonard said.
“We have a faster, more skilled team and you could see the difference tonight, but we don’t want to give these guys any hope. We let that happen for five minutes tonight and you saw what happened.”
Rock coach Corey Beer would rather have seen his squad win Game 1 of the series, but he knows his squad was able to battle back and upset the Voodoos after dropping Game 1 of that series, as well.
“The down side for us was that we probably played 10 minutes of good hockey tonight,” he said.
“We kept the score to 0-0 in the first period during that time frame and then, in the third period, we played better and got on the scoreboard, started playing our game.
“The problem was for 45 to 50 minutes we were content and just happy to be here.
“That’s too good of a hockey team over there. Cochrane has a loaded roster. They have tons of great players, guys who can transition the puck.
“They were 100 times better than us tonight.”
Speed is traditionally one of the Rock’s biggest strengths, but they seemed to be missing a gear against the Crunch Friday night.
“There is a size difference and we can’t sprout up and grow six inches in two days,” Beer said.
“So, for us, we have to be able to play that speed game. At times tonight, I thought we did OK trying to get it going, but when you are not getting out of your own zone with speed and options and guys are standing flat-footed, all of a sudden you are not an option on an exit.
“There was a lot of stuff we will have to look at on video and hopefully get better from.”
Despite the loss, there were a few Rock players who impressed their coach Friday night.
“I thought Grant McClellan and Will Caston played some tough minutes tonight,” Beer said.
“They always play a lot of minutes and I thought they were good. I loved Grant’s leadership on the bench, as well. We were down in the third period, but he kind of got the guys going. He has a confident voice and he is a guy who stuck to the game plan.
“Up front, Evan Kentish-Stack and Derek Seguin appear to be the only forwards who know how to penalty kill on this team. The rest of them do whatever they want on the penalty kill and against a top-flight team like Cochrane, the puck will be in the back of our net every time.
“Maybe we have to play Kenty and Segs for two minutes straight to see if we can’t kill them off.”
Unruh blocked 24 of the 26 shots the Rock fired his way to pick up his fourth win of the playoffs for the Crunch.
Masternak, who stopped 14 of the 17 shots he faced before getting the hook, was tagged with the loss. Jackson turned aside 22 of the 25 shots he faced in relief.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Hernandez, Crunch forward Austin Whelan (three assists) and Holmes … The Rock did not dress forwards C.J. Bradburn (upper-body injury) and Linden Spender (serving the third game of a 12-game suspension picked up during Game 4 of the East Division semi-final against the Powassan Voodoos … The Rock went 0-3 on the power play, while the Crunch were 2-4 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the Tim Horton Event Centre was 703 … Friday night’s other contest saw the Soo Thunderbirds blank the Canadians 2-0 in Game 1 of the West Division final in Rayside-Balfour … The Rock and the Crunch will meet in Game 2 of the East Division final at the Tim Horton Event Centre Saturday, at 7 p.m.