HEARST – The Timmins Rock finally figured out how to win at the Claude Larose Arena, edging the Lumberjacks 3-2 in overtime in Game 1 of their NOJHL East Division best-of-three quarterfinal series Saturday night.
Evan Kentish-Stack’s goal at the 5:14 mark of the first overtime period proved to be the deciding factor in the contest.
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
“Segs (Derek Seguin) just skated down the wall, stopped and chipped the puck to Stewie (Stewart Parnell) who was battling hard in the corner,” Kentish-Stack said.
“He bumped it down and there was a rebound and I just tapped it in along the ice.”
It was clearly the biggest goal of the Timmins native’s Junior ‘A’ career.
“For sure, it was huge for us to go in there and take a win in their barn,” Kentish-Stack said.
“Now, we have the advantage heading into Game 2 on Monday.”
The Rock failed to gain a victory in four regular-season visits to the Claude Larose Arena and the Lumberjacks won five of the eight games the two teams played in 2017-18.
“The crowd was really loud tonight,” Kentish-Stack said.
“They were screaming, ‘Go ’Jacks, go’ and ‘Go Hearst, go.’ It is always hard going into a barn like that and try to get up for a game, but we did what we had to and now we get to go back home.”
The Rock clearly embraced the underdog role after finishing five points behind the fourth-place Lumberjacks in the East Division standings.
“We worked really hard in practice and we knew their game plan,” Kentish-Stack said.
“We went out there tonight and we executed ours.”
The line of Kentish-Stack, Seguin and Parnell got stronger as the game progressed.
“We started off pretty slow, but as the game progressed we started doing better in our own end,” Kentish-Stack said.
“We took care of the things we had to do.”
The Rock jumped out to a 1-0 lead Saturday night on a Riley Robitaille goal despite being outshot 19-10 in the opening period.
It took the Lumberjacks just two-and-a-half minutes to tie things up at 1-1 once the second period got underway, however, on Max Johnson’s first goal of the playoffs.
The Lumberjacks then took a 2-1 lead three minutes later on defenceman Colin Boudreau’s power-play goal.
That lead stood up until almost the midway mark of the third period, but the Rock were able to tie things up at 2-2 on an even-strength goal off the stick of defenceman Jared Hester.
That goal set the stage for Kentish-Stack’s overtime heroics.
Rock coach Corey Beer was pleased to see his team finally put together a solid 65:14 of hockey in Hearst.
“We showed a little bit of resiliency tonight,” he said.
“It was a very up-and-down game. Hearst is a very good team and they definitely pressed up on us pretty good and caused us some problems. It was good for our guys to battle back.
“We got a massive goal from Jared Hester to tie things up and then the hard-worker Evan Kentish-Stack is, got the OT winner, but there were a lot of sacrifices by our guys. They did a good job blocking shots.
“There were a lot of unsung heroes tonight. It was obviously a good effort by our team.”
Even though the Rock were officially outshot 19-10 in the first period, Beer didn’t feel that was an accurate representation of the opening 20 minutes.
“A bunch of those shots were from the outside,” he said.
“We did a pretty good job of keeping them at bay. It didn’t feel like the type of game where we were being dominated or outshot that badly.
“A lot of their shots were from the perimeter and Masty (goalie Tyler Masternak) did a good job of tracking them.”
Patience was the key to the Rock being able to hold the Lumberjacks to a one-goal lead after the home side battled back in the second period.
“We changed up a couple of things tactically,” Beer said.
“We tried to catch them off guard with a couple of things and we were able to ramp up our forecheck and get on top of them.
“Our guys kind of knew it was gut-check time. We had a pretty intense chat during the second intermission about how we wanted to come out and be more assertive. We needed to get pucks in behind their guys. It was a little bit of a change of mindset.
“We just needed to understand this is the playoffs and everything ramps up in terms of intensity.
“Credit to our players, we did a great job of forcing the pace in the third period.”
The coach was pleased with the effort of his entire team Saturday night, but did opt to single out a few for a little extra praise.
“Tyler Masternak was great, you can’t say enough good things about him,” Beer said.
“It was his first Junior ‘A’ playoff game and he did a fantastic job in a tough building that hasn’t been very friendly for us.
“On the back end, Frank Zhong and Jace Soroko played one of their best games in a long time.
“Jared Hester and Frederic Leclair-Pouw were real good, too. They were a real steady pairing. (Will) Caston and Mac (Grant McClellan) were pretty steady, too. They got caught a couple of times on a couple of plays, but our back end was great.
“Evan Kentish-Stack blocked a lot of shots and scored a big goal. He does everything for us.
“It was also a good push-back game for Wayne Mathieu. He had been sick for a while, so it was good to see. Jordan Picard and C.J. Bradburn were just warriors for us.
“Riley Robitaille and Riley Brousseau and lots of other guys right down the lineup had great games for us. You need that in a playoff series. You need some surprise guys to score some goals and make key plays.
“Overall, it was a very good night for our club.”
While the Rock thoroughly enjoyed the bus ride home, they know the series is a long way from over.
“We fully expect they will play their best game of their season against us in Game 2 Monday night,” Beer said.
“They are going to be fighting for their lives, so we are going to have to take the game we played today and ramp it up.
“That’s the thing about playoff hockey. Any time you get a team on the ropes, they are going the scratch and claw … do whatever they have to in order to get back into the series.
“We are going to have to up our intensity level even more. The McIntyre Arena has been a good spot for us all season and we will try to make good use of the home-ice advantage, with the last change, that sort of thing.
“Hopefully, our special teams will be able to give us a bit of spark and we definitely want to feed off our home crowd.”
While Beer and the Rock have finally mastered the secret to winning at the Claude Larose Arena, they definitely don’t want to have to go back there for a Game 3.
Masternak turned aside 48 of the 50 shots the Lumberjacks fired his way to earn his first playoff victory.
Lumberjacks goalie Matt Kustra, who blocked 40 of the 43 shots he faced, was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Kentish-Stack, Masternak and Boudreau … The Rock were 0-2 on the power play, while the Lumberjacks were 1-4 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the Claude Larose Arena was 710 … The Beavers blanked the Elliot Lake Wildcats 3-0 Friday night in Blind River to take a 1-0 lead in the NOJHL West Division quarterfinal series … Game 2 of the East Division quarterfinal series between the Rock and the Lumberjacks will be played at the McIntyre Arena on Monday night, starting at 7 p.m.
Photos courtesy of Jimmy Cote Photography