After hitting Cochrane Crunch goalie Taylor Unruh, the puck bounces up past his face and off of Timmins Rock forward Wayne Mathieu during the first period of Game 2 of the NOJHL East Division final at the Tim Horton Event Centre Saturday night. Mathieu was unable to gain control of the bouncing puck, however, as it deflected away from the Crunch net after hitting him. Mathieu was able to score his fourth goal of the playoffs in the second period, but it was not enough as the Crunch dumped the Rock 3-1 to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. Action will switch to the McIntyre Arena for Game 3 Monday night. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
COCHRANE – To borrow a phrase from another sport, the Crunch held serve at the Tim Horton Event Centre Saturday night.
One night after the Crunch posted a 6-2 victory over the Timmins Rock in Game 1 of the NOJHL’s East Division final, they skated to a 3-1 victory to open up a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Saturday’s contest was much closer, although the Crunch once again never trailed in the contest.
Rock coach Corey Beer, who felt his squad played 10 minutes of good hockey in Game 1 of the series, agreed they did better Saturday night even though they fell well short of 60 minutes.
“It was maybe not our best start, but I thought as the game went along our pace picked up,” he said.
“We were able to generate some good offence, some good push, but if we are going to be successful we are going to need to do it for a full 60 minutes.”
The Crunch jumped out to a 1-0 first-period lead on Caleb Dolman’s second goal of the playoffs at the 6:37 mark.
Four minutes later hulking 6-6, 190-pound Crunch forward T.J. Delaney steamrolled over Rock goalie Tyler Masternak, earning a two-minute minor penalty for goalie interference.
Masternak lay prone on the ice for several minutes and had to be assisted to the Rock bench by trainers Dan Ansara and Rick Plourde.
Eric Jackson came on in relief with 9:26 remaining in the opening period, but Masternak returned to the Rock net 2:12 later and managed to finish up the remainder of the period.
Crunch captain Connor Lovie got one past Masternak with just 1:15 remaining in the period to send the home side to the dressing room with a 2-0 lead.
Still feeling the effects of the massive hit, Masternak did not return for the start of the second period — with Jackson going the rest of the way in the visitors’ net.
Even though the Rock were outshot 15-6 in the frame, they were able to cut the Crunch lead in half on Wayne Mathieu’s fourth goal of the playoffs at the 3:49 mark.
That would prove to be the only offence during the middle 20 minutes and the two teams headed to the third period with the Crunch enjoying a 2-1 advantage.
The Rock hopes of being able to battle back and even the series took a severe blow midway through the third period.
With Timmins forward Jace Soroko off serving a two-minute minor penalty for tripping, Crunch sniper Levi Johnson struck for a power-play marker, his third goal of the playoffs.
The Rock pulled Jackson in favour of an extra attacker late in period, but they were unable to find the back of the net.
Beer knows the Rock, who were only down a goal heading into the third period, were close to finding the success they will need at the Tim Horton Event Centre if they are to battle back and take the series.
“I like the way we were pushing in the third period,” he said.
“We had a couple of good offensive chances, but we were just not able to sneak one past their goalie (Taylor Unruh). He did a good job and then, unfortunately, we took a dumb penalty and it ended up costing us.
“If the score was still 2-1 with two minutes to go in the game, we would have been in better shape with the goalie out, trying to get one goal as opposed to trying to get two goals.
“You just have to chalk it up to shoddy discipline.”
The coach agreed the physicality displayed by the Crunch Saturday night gave the Rock fits.
“That’s a strength of their squad,” Beer said.
“They have a big squad and they move pretty well, but I liked our speed tonight. We are never going to win a physical match-up against them, so we have to try and out position them and make sure we are making the right plays. Unfortunately, we just didn’t make enough of them tonight.”
Despite the second-straight loss, a number of Rock players caught the eye of their coach Saturday night.
“On the back end, we got a lot of big mileage out of our big guys. (Will) Caston and (Grant) McClellan were awesome. (Jared) Hester and (Shawn) Sloan played big games. Those guys were great on the penalty kill.
“Up front, it was great to see Wayne Mathieu get a goal. I thought he was tremendous. (Derek) Seguin and (Riley) Robitaille were good and I thought we got a better game tonight from Jordan Picard.
“Unfortunately, we lost Stewart Parnell (upper-body injury), but I though him and Kenty (Evan Kentish-Stack) were good.
“Unfortunately, we just could sneak enough past their goalie tonight.”
The loss of Masternak, who has been a rock throughout the playoffs, is a concern, as well, but the team has confidence Jackson.
“We feel real comfortable with Eric in net,” Beer said.
“He is a guy who was in net for us most of the year and he has played a lot of minutes.”
The Rock made adjustments between the first two games of the series and fans can expect to see that continue as the series returns to Timmins for the next two games.
“We are going to have to look for different ways to get offence against these guys,” Beer said.
“They do a good job of boxing out. They are big, they are fast and they close you off pretty quick.
“We are going to have to try and do a better job of getting penetration through the middle of the ice, some better red-zone chances.
“I thought later on tonight we did a better job of getting point shots through, but we didn’t generate any secondary chances off of them.”
Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard was pleased to see his team turn in another efficient effort Saturday night.
“We didn’t give them a lot of quality scoring chances again tonight,” he said.
“They got a lot of stuff from the outside, but they didn’t get rebound shots.
“Our game tonight was probably sloppy at times, but we outworked them and we outplayed them. We just weren’t clicking like we were Friday night, but we still found a way to win tonight.”
The only goal the Crunch surrendered was the result of a fluke play.
“Our defenceman made a really good play, but he got a bad bounce off of his skate,” Leonard said.
“Wayne Mathieu, who has a lot of speed, was able to break in, but other than that, we did a pretty good job.
“I was happy with our work ethic again tonight, but we just didn’t seem to be clicking, although we still got the win and that was the main goal.
“We are up 2-0 and we will take it for what it is and look to be better on Monday night.”
There was no shortage of players deserving a little extra praise following the Game 2 victory.
“Lovie was a true captain again for us tonight,” Leonard said.
“He was really good. He was a monster and Johnson was really good out there.
“All of our lines were clicking again. The Dolman and (Mitchell) Booth line got a goal tonight.
“Everybody was doing their job. It was a real team effort.”
Even though there was once again a large contingent of Rock fans in attendance, the Crunch fans did a good job of showing their support for the home side.
“It was loud and there was lots of energy,” Leonard said.
Unruh turned aside 20 of the 21 shots the Rock fired his way to earn his fifth victory of the playoffs.
Masternak, who stopped 10 of the 12 shots he faced during his 17:48 of work, was tagged with the loss. Jackson blocked 26 of the 27 shots directed his way during his 42:12 of relief.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Lovie, Mathieu and Johnson … The Rock did not dress forwards C.J. Bradburn (upper-body injury) and Linden Spencer (serving the fourth game of a 12-game suspension he was assessed for spitting during the Rock’s East Division semi-final win over the Powassan Voodoos) … The Rock were 0-2 on the power play, while the Crunch were 2-5 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the Tim Horton Even Centre was 510 … Saturday’s other contest saw the Canadians edge the Soo Thunderbirds 3-2 in Rayside-Balfour to even the West Division final at 1-1 … Game 3 of the East Division final will be played at the McIntyre Arena on Monday, starting at 7 p.m.