GM2: Lumberjacks rally, tie series

Lumberjacks defender Jaden Raad engages Timmins Rock forward Dylan McElhinny just inside the Hearst blue-line during the first period of Game 2 of the NOJHL East Division final series at the McIntyre Arena Wednesday night. The Lumberjacks overcame a three-goal first-period deficit to defeat the Rock 5-3 and even the series at 1-1. Game 3 will be played at the Claude Larose Arena in Hearst on Saturday, at 7:30 p.m. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS

The Hearst Lumberjacks overcame a three-goal first-period deficit to hand the Timmins Rock their first setback of the 2022 NOJHL playoffs, a 5-3 defeat, at the McIntyre Arena Wednesday night.

Thomas Perry
The Daily Press/Postmedia Network

It evened their best-of-seven East Division final series at 1-1, with action set to switch to the Claude Larose Arena in Hearst for Game 3 Saturday, at 7:30 p.m.

Rock assistant coach Marc Bisson acknowledged the beginning of his squad’s downfall could be traced back to a shift in momentum.

“We gave up a goal at the end of the first period, kind of took the crowd out of the game,” he said.

“That gave them a little bit of momentum because the place had been electric before that.”

Even though they were outshot 11-7 in the opening period, the Rock jumped out to a 3-0 lead and it looked like the 1,000-plus fans in attendance might be treated to another one-sided victory.

Henry Brock got the puck rolling for the Rock when he netted his first goal of the playoffs just past the midway mark in the frame.

Less than two minutes later, Lumberjacks nemesis Tyler Gilberds struck for his third goal of the playoffs and second tally of the series to double the Rock advantage.

And then Harry Clark broke in all alone to tuck the puck around the outstretched pad of Lumberjacks goalie Liam Oxner for his second goal of the playoffs to extend the Rock lead to 3-0.

The Lumberjacks were able to get on the scoreboard before the end of the period, however, as Ryan Glazer netted his sixth goal of the playoffs with 2:02 remaining on the clock.

That goal clearly signaled a switch in momentum, as the Lumberjacks came storming out of the gate in the second period to score three unanswered goals.

Blue-liner Jaden Raad potted a power-play marker, his fourth goal of the playoffs, at the 4:56 mark.

William Neeld then tied things up at 3-3 43 seconds later when he notched his first goal of the playoffs.

And Robbie Rutledge then converted a centering feed from Riley Klugerman for a power-play marker, his first goal of the playoffs, with 1:12 remaining in the frame to put the Lumberjacks in front 4-3.

“We needed the next one (goal) and we preached that between the first and the second periods, or we were going to have our hands full,” Bisson said.

“They came out and got the next one and the next one and the next one.”

The Rock tried to turn up the pressure in the third period, but the Lumberjacks continued to carry the play to the home side.

And Zachary Demers iced the victory for the visitors when he deposited his fifth goal into the empty Timmins net with goalie Gavin McCarthy on the bench in favour of an extra attacker and 1:22 remaining in regulation.

During the regular season, the Lumberjacks had the best power play in the NOJHL and they have been making the Rock pay for a lack of discipline so far in the series, adding a pair of man advantage goals Tuesday night.

“We prepped for their first power play, even though (Raphael) Lajeunesse was out tonight, but we just took stupid penalties,” Bisson said.

“You give a team a man advantage and it’s called a man advantage for a reason and they definitely took advantage of it.

“The second (first power-play) goal was a screen that went through five-hole on Gav (Gavin McCarthy).

“The third goal was even strength, but the fourth was another power-play goal.

“You keep giving a good hockey team chances and eventually they are going to capitalize and on that note we had a few chances in the third to capitalize. We had a few power plays but we barely got shots on net.

“How are you going to score if you don’t get shots on net, 21 shots tonight is definitely not acceptable?

“As a group, we average about 40 shots a game.

“We started strong, but the wind just came out of our sails.”

The Lumberjacks appeared to dominate the physical play Tuesday night, as well, especially as the contest progressed.

“When they started playing physical, we stopped playing hockey,” Bisson said.

“Our forecheck wasn’t as effective and we got off our game and we got into the stuff after the whistle.

“We talked between the first and the second (periods) and the second and the third: Stay out of the box, stay out of the scrums. Let’s play physical but let’s remember we are a fast-skating team.

“We just didn’t take advantage of our speed tonight and our forecheck.

“Maybe it has to do with their physicality. Maybe they are a more physical team than we are at this point.”

Heading to Hearst for the next two games in the series, Bisson feels the key will be to forget about Wednesday night’s loss and dwell on the positives from Tuesday night’s series-opening victory.

“We will get back to work Thursday and have a couple of practices before we head up to Hearst, address a few things, maybe the PK (penalty kill) is one thing,” he said.

“We are going to go there and we have won in Hearst this year (5-1 on Nov. 19), so we have to take home ice back.

“They took it from us tonight.”

Bisson doesn’t feel any added frustration given the Rock worked so hard for 48 regular season games to ensure they had home ice through the East Division final only to lose it in 42:02 of hockey.

“We didn’t expect a sweep here, we didn’t expect to reel off four-straight against Hearst,” he said.

“We were fortunate to do that against French River but we knew this was going to be a battle.

“It’s two evenly matched teams.”

Lumberjacks coach Marc-Alain Begin, a Hearst native who helped lead the Rock franchise to its last Dudley-Hewitt Cup appearance back in 2010 when it was located in Iroquois Falls, was much happier with what he saw from his squad Wednesday night, despite the slow start.

“It was all about hard work,” he said.

“I told the boys we had to play like it was the last game of the year. We had to play like it was desperate hockey.

“Scoring that goal at the end of the first period really changed a little bit of the momentum to our side.

“I gave them a little speech between the first and the second and we came out flying in the second period.

“We played to the game plan and got the result we wanted.”

Getting physical was certainly part of the game plan for the Lumberjacks.

“Timmins dominated that part of the game Tuesday,” Begin said.

“That was one of the key points, not searching for the big hits, but finishing our checks.

“It is going to be a long series for both teams, so the more hits you give early on, the more everyone will feel it later on, in Game 6 or Game 7.”

Begin did not hesitate to once again turn to Oxner is net, even though early on in Wednesday’s contest that decision looked a little questionable.

“Liam Oxner is a battler,” he said.

“He is probably one of the hardest working guys on our team. He wants to win at all costs.

“Every time he is in net, he is going to battle.

“That first round, and even Tuesday wasn’t his fault, with the loss. We just pulled him to make sure we got Matteo (Gennaro) some reps.

“Right now, Liam is my guy. I have full confidence in him.”

There was no shortage of other Lumberjacks who left a favourable impression on their coach Wednesday night.

“I cannot say enough about Jaden Raad,” Begin said.

“In my mind, he is the best D in the league. He does everything for us, kills penalties, power play, plays against other teams’ top lines.

“All our Ds, Owen Porter played an unreal game. Dylan Ford battled it out. He wasn’t 100 per cent.

“Same thing for Jaxson Holmes, a lot of our D played the game plan pretty well.

“Up front, I cannot say enough about Brayden Palfi. He is the heart and soul of this team and works hard every night. He is a big PK guy. Third period, he was clutch with a few face-off wins and blocked shots.

“That’s what winning is all about.”

Begin is looking forward to getting back to the friendly confines of the Claude Larose Arena for Game 3 and Game 4, but he was happy to see numerous Lumberjacks fans in the stands Wednesday night.

“I cannot say enough about our fans,” he said.

“Even when we went down to Powassan (for the East Division semifinals), lots of fans came down.

“We know the rivalry, Hearst vs Timmins, and it is only a two-and-a-half hour drive.

“We could really hear our fans in the third period. Can’t wait to play in our building on Saturday, it is going to be rocking.”

Oxner turned aside 18 of the 21 shots the Rock directed his way to earn his fifth win of the playoffs.

McCarthy, who blocked 27 of the 31 shots he faced, was tagged with the loss.

NOJHL NOTES — The Daily Press three stars of the game were Demers (one goal, one assist), Gilberds (one goal) and Klugerman (two assists) … The Rock went 0-4 on the power play, while the Lumberjacks were 2-4 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 1,068 … Wednesday’s other contest saw the Thunderbirds edge the Soo Eagles 4-3 in overtime in Sault Ste. Marie to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven West Division final series … The Rock will travel to Hearst for the Game 3 of the East Division final series at the Claude Larose Arena on Saturday, at 7:30 p.m.