HEARST — The Timmins Rock were well served by their young during Game 2 of their NOJHL East Division best-of-seven semi-final series at the Claude Larose Arena Sunday night.
Keegan McMullen, who won’t celebrate his 17th birthday until Tuesday, scored three goals and added an assist to lead the Rock to a 6-2 win over the Lumberjacks, evening their series at 1-1 with Game 3 scheduled to be played at the McIntyre Arena Wednesday night.
In addition, 15-year-old affiliate player Rhys Chiddenton netted his first playoff goal in his second post-season contest and blue-liner Carson Burlington, who turned 17 on Jan. 28, chipped in with an assist.
Rock coach Corey Beer was pleased to see his squad steal home-ice advantage away from the Lumberjacks Sunday night, but he knows a lot of work remains to be done if they are going to advance to the East Division final.
“We weren’t really upset with our game Friday night,” he said.
“It was just that a lot of miscues ended up in the back of our net. I liked our game for a lot of that contest. We held good possession and we did a good job on special teams, for the most part.
“We couldn’t put a stop to it the other night, but tonight I thought we were outstanding in all three phases. Our offensive zone was really good, we had good support on the forecheck. Our neutral zone was fast and we had good possession and in the defensive zone, we competed tonight.
“That’s what it takes to knock off a first-place team.”
Two nights after dropping the opening game of the series 6-3 at the Claude Larose Arena, the Rock jumped out to a 3-1 first-period lead and never really looked back.
McMullen’s power-play marker, his third goal of the playoffs, got the Rock on the scoreboard at the 3:15 mark of the opening frame.
He added his fourth goal of the playoffs just past the midway mark of the frame and then set up Rock captain Derek Seguin for his second goal of the playoffs a minute and a half later.
The Lumberjacks finally got on the scoreboard with four-and-a-half minutes remaining in the period when Max Griffioen potted his second goal of the playoffs.
A power-play marker off the stick of Max Johnson, his second goal of the playoffs, with just over five minutes remaining in the middle frame allowed the Lumberjacks to close the gap to 3-2.
The Rock got a power-play marker of their own with less than three minutes remaining in the period, however, when Mahingan Decontie found the back of the net for his third goal of the playoffs.
Chiddenton then beat NOJHL regular-season MVP Nicholas Tallarico for his first playoff goal to extend the Rock lead to three goals at the 2:58 mark of the third period.
McMullen then completed his hat-trick by scoring his fifth goal of the playoffs, a short-handed marker, into the empty Lumberjacks net with Tallarico on the bench in favour of an extra attacker.
The Rock did a good job Sunday night of not letting the Lumberjacks build up any sustained momentum.
“Our guys showed a lot of resiliency and we had great demeanor on the bench,” Beer said.
“Our guys were very calm and that is something we have been preaching all year. We want to have that never too high, never too low type of mentality.
“It was just a matter of focusing on the next shift. For us to get back on the scoreboard and try to put them to bed was great to see.”
Even when there are 500 to 600 people in the Claude Larose Arena, it can be a tough place to play, but there were close to 1,000 fans — mainly cheering for the home side — in the building Sunday night.
“It was nothing our guys can’t handle,” Beer said.
“They get worked up, they are cheering and booing, it might be a bit of a cliché, but our guys had a job to do.”
There was no shortage of Rock players who made a positive impression on their coach Sunday night.
“Tyler Masternak really shut the door, especially in the third period,” Beer said.
“Josh Anderson and Eric Moreau, our whole back end really, were lights out. Will Caston played some great minutes.
“Up front, I thought Josh Dickson again had a phenomenal game and Deco (Decontie), what else can you say about him? He is finding the puck at the right time and playing the game the right way.
“Segs (Seguin) coming back in was important, as well. That line with him, McMullen and Robitaille were next level. Those three were really good all night long.
“Chids (Chiddenton) scored a nice goal coming off the half-wall, snapping it low blocker. He just continues to surprise. He goes out and he plays the right way, contributing in different ways.
“We got contributions from up and down the lineup tonight. It wasn’t just our top unit. It was four lines, six defencemen and one goalie.”
With the series tied up at 1-1, the Rock are not looking past Game 3 Wednesday night at the McIntyre Arena.
“If we are looking too far ahead at what could happen, we are going to miss what is going to happen,” Beer said.
“Our guys are pretty level headed and our staff does such a good job of getting everybody ready and prepared for the task at hand. We are all-systems go for Game 3.”
Lumberjacks coach and general manager Marc Lafleur
“The two big keys in tonight’s Rock victory were, No. 1 they capitalized when they got their chances,” he said.
“Case in point, early in the game, we ended up getting a power play. We buzzed around, but we didn’t bury our chances.
“Then, right after, they came right back with a power play of their own and scored.
“It seemed to be like that all night.
“The second thing is they beat us to pucks and they won puck battles all night.
“As a coach, I can look at our team and say we didn’t show up to compete tonight, but at the same time Timmins came in hungry to steal a game and they deserved it. They earned it.”
Lafleur feels the same thing that helped the Rock win Sunday night’s contest was responsible for his team’s Game 1 win Friday night.
“It all comes back to capitalizing,” he said.
“There weren’t many scoring chances for either team Friday night. It was just a matter of we were able to bury our chances and Timmins wasn’t.
“It is going to be like that all series. You are not going to see wide-open games. There will be a lot of small-area battles. Both teams will probably close the rink off when they don’t have the puck and a lot it will have to be special teams.”
Despite the loss, there were a few Lumberjacks who impressed Lafleur in the contest.
“Troy Daniels have been amazing from the get go,” he said.
“Other than a couple of plays, he was spectacular tonight and Daniel Fisher is your prototypical playoff performer, in terms of winning battles and getting his nose dirty.
“The same thing goes for Christian James-McDonald. You know every night they will be bringing it.”
Even though the Lumberjacks have lost home-ice advantage to the Rock, Lafleur is confident his team can win games in the McIntyre Arena.
“Obviously, we have to steal home ice back from them now, but we are just going to take it one game at a time,” he said.
“We didn’t get the result we wanted tonight. We are going to go over the video and what not, but ultimately we know it is going to be tough to win in Timmins. We will do our best and hopefully we can come out on top.”
The Lumberjacks have been near the top of the NOJHL in terms of attendance all season, but fans in Hearst outdid themselves Sunday night.
“You are looking at about 20 percent of the population Hearst,” Lafleur said.
“There aren’t many places where you can say 20 percent of the population comes out to watch a hockey game.
Masternak turned aside 24 of the 26 shots directed his way to earn his third victory of the playoffs.
Tallarico, who blocked 17 of the 22 shots the Rock directed his way, was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Anderson, James-McDonald and McMullen … Rock forward Tyler Hutchinson served the first game of a two-game suspension he picked up after being assessed a instigator penalty in Game 1 of the series … The Rock went 2-2 on the power play, while the Lumberjacks were 1-8 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the Claude Larose Arena was 973 … Sunday’s other action saw the Powassan Voodoos knock off the Gold Miners 8-3 in Kirkland Lake, the Canadians blank the Soo Eagles 1-0 in Rayside-Balfour and the Thunderbirds double up the Blind River Beavers 6-3 in Sault Ste. Marie … Game 3 of the series between the Rock and the Lumberjacks is scheduled for Wednesday at the McIntyre Arena, with a 7 p.m. start.