Timmins Rock forward Wayne Mathieu has his stick knocked out of his hand by a shot from Cochrane Crunch defenceman Eli Hernandez during the second period of Game 3 of the NOJHL East Division final at the McIntyre Arena Monday night. After hitting Mathieu’s stick, the puck deflected harmlessly into the corner. Mathieu would later score his fifth goal of the playoffs to help the Rock defeat the Crunch 2-0, cutting their deficit in the best-of-seven series to 2-1. Game 4 will be played at the McIntyre Arena on Wednesday, at 7 p.m. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – Sorry Crunch fans, it’s time to put those brooms away. There will be no sweep in 2018 NOJHL East Division final.
After dropping the first two games of the best-of-seven series in Cochrane, the Timmins Rock rebounded to blank the Crunch 2-0 Monday night at the McIntyre Arena.
Stellar goaltending from Eric Jackson — making his first start of the playoffs — and some timely scoring from a pair of 20-year-old veterans played a big part in the Rock’s formula for success in Game 3.
Jackson, who made relief appearances in both Game 1 and Game 2 in Cochrane, stopped all 32 shots he faced Monday night to record the first shutout of his junior hockey career.
And the Toronto native couldn’t have picked a more ideal time to record that goose egg.
“It is definitely an emotional day,” Jackson said.
“I am a bit at a loss for words right now, because it is a really cool feeling.
“There is no doubt this is the best time I could have gotten this shutout because we definitely needed this win to get us back in the series.”
So, just when did Jackson begin to feel he might be able to finally record the first shutout of his junior hockey career?
“To be honest, early in the season, I fell into the situation where I started thinking, oh the clock’s running down and we have no goals against, this could be the night, but tonight I sort of went at it thinking one shot at a time, one shift at a time,” he said.
“Let’s keep the play moving, keep that clock ticking. I didn’t think about getting a shutout at all. I just wanted to keep the play moving and get the win. That’s the most important thing.”
Jackson, of course, had plenty of help from his teammates Monday night.
“It was a great team effort all around,” he said.
“Our team did a phenomenal job of blocking shots, getting the puck out of our zone and getting it deep in their zone.
“I think we definitely deserved the win. We took it to them after suffering two hard losses to them in their barn. It was a nice rebound game for everyone on the team.”
While Jackson got in just four of the Rock’s first 11 playoff games — all in relief of Tyler Masternak — he had no problem biding his time.
“Tyler deserved to play,” he said.
“When I got hurt, he took over the reins and did a fabulous job. He played some great hockey and I was perfectly fine sitting on the sidelines watching him do his job.
“Obviously, I am happy to be back in the net, though.”
Neither team was able to find the back of the net during the opening 20 minutes of play, with each squad generating nine shots on goal.
The Rock lost forward Linden Spencer — who had just returned to the lineup after having his 12-game suspension for spitting in Game 4 of the East Division semi-final series reduced to four games — late in frame when he was struck in the face by the stick of Crunch forward Caleb Dolman.
Dolman was assessed a double minor for high sticking on the play, while Spencer had to be taken to emergency room at Timmins and District Hospital to have a cut under his right eye stitched up.
Dolman’s second minor penalty carried over into the second period and with Crunch forward Nicolas Flanders being assessed a two-minute minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct as the buzzer sounded on the opening frame, the Rock had a five-on-three advantage to open the stanza.
And veteran blue-liner Jared Hester took advantage by beating Crunch goalie Taylor Unruh for what would prove to be the game-winning tally, his second goal of the playoffs, at the 1:55 mark.
That goal stood up until midway through the frame when veteran forward Wayne Mathieu scored his fifth goal of the playoffs to provide the Rock with a little insurance.
There was no scoring in the third period, but the Crunch were able to generate a number of excellent opportunities in the frame, including a few after they had lifted Unruh in favour of an extra attacker.
Jackson would stand tall, however, making a number of saves including one on a blast from the point by Crunch captain Connor Lovie that went through a Rock defender on its way to the net.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Jackson said.
“There is a little bit of luck involved in goaltending. I won’t say I saw the entire shot. I saw the release and based upon the angle, I tried to get my body in position and if it hits you, it hits you, and I was on the right side of the luck today.”
Rock coach Corey Beer feels the experience his squad gained in the East Division quarterfinals against the Hearst Lumberjacks and the semi-finals against the Powassan Voodoos helped out big time Monday night.
“Our bench, despite a couple of hiccups, stayed pretty calm,” he said.
“Our guys have a good composure level late in games. Nothing rattles us.”
The coach realizes it took a lot of hard work for his Rock to string together 60 minutes of solid hockey.
“You have to give a lot of credit to Cochrane,” Beer said.
“They kept coming at us at the end there and for our guys to keep doing the job, boxing out and blocking shots was huge for us.”
Following the Game 2 loss in Cochrane, in which Masternak left with an upper-body injury, the coach expressed complete confidence and faith in Jackson and it was rewarded big time Monday night.
“He is a guy who all year has been consistent for us and he carried the mail for a lot of the year before he got hurt,” Beer said.
“We knew we had two competent guys. Masty was hot early on and E.J. had to wait his time, but he got in there and did a heck of job tonight. It was great to see.”
The coach was also happy to see two of his 20-year-old veterans come up big in the offensive zone Monday night.
“Both of them (Hester and Mathieu) are probably playing the best hockey I have seen them play all year,” Beer said.
“Wayne had kind of an up and down season from an expectation stand point, but my goodness hasn’t he been fantastic in the playoffs. He has dialed his game up. He is playing with pace and with confidence. He has rediscovered his scoring touch.
“He is everything you want in a veteran player and he is doing it both ways, on offence and on defence.
“Jared Hester is the one who controls the play back there (on defence). As a coach, you sometimes have to live with some of the offensive stuff he brings to the table and maybe you pull your hair out, but if you want to have that healthy balance of transition and good offensive push, you have to have guys like that.
“Hess is a massive part of it and he has really been mentoring a lot of our younger defencemen all year in terms of how to have confidence and poise with the puck.
“It is great to see him playing the way he is playing right now.”
And those weren’t the only Rock players to impress their coach Monday night.
“You can go down the list,” Beer said.
“I thought tonight everyone was great. Top to bottom, we got massive efforts in all three zones.
“You don’t win a hockey game against a great team like Cochrane without getting full contributions from everybody on your team.”
Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard didn’t like much about his squad’s effort Monday night.
“Our guys didn’t come to compete,” he said.
“We took six undisciplined penalties tonight and they were all deserved penalties.
“When your guys can’t play with emotions, you are not going to win hockey games. Some of our better players can’t play with emotion. We were doing a good job killing a four-minute penalty and Flanders takes a cross-checking penalty. The guy wasn’t even in the play and it put us down three-on-five.
“You can’t be doing that kind of stuff this time of year.
“And then there was talking back to the refs after every whistle. Three of our 19- and 20-year-old veterans, you are not going to win hockey games like that.
“They can’t play under pressure and we have noticed it two years in a row now in this rink. The older guys can’t handle it.
“We have got to find a way Wednesday to handle the pressure. We didn’t look like the same hockey team tonight as the first two games of the series. We are getting lazy and we are not going to win if we are lazy. We have the horses, but we were lazy tonight.
“I am not happy with a couple of veteran defencemen. They left their goalie hung out to dry on the second goal tonight. That’s the second game in a row they have done it. They need to fix it pretty quick because we don’t want to let these guys back in the series.
“Timmins played a perfect game at home again. They capitalized on their opportunities and then sat back and played five guys down deep against us so we couldn’t get to the net.”
There were others who did not escape their coach’s ire, either.
“We need to dig down deep and guys like (Kyle) Herbster need to step up,” Leonard said.
“He was one of our better players all year and this whole series so far he has been invisible. He needs to wake up.
“Some guys, like (Levi) Johnson need to hold their check in place. The referee has to warn him every stop, or whistle to quit talking, quit chirping. It’s a discipline thing and we need to wake up.
“I wasn’t overly pleased or happy with Unruh’s play. The power-play goal was a wrist shot from the point, no screen and he whiffed on it. Even though it was a power-play goal, he has to stop that. Jackson was stopping everything at the other end.
“Our 20-year-old goalie got beat by a 19-year-old goalie.”
There were a few Crunch players who did manage to impress Leonard in the contest.
“Laramie Kostelansky, Clay Ellerbrock and Marcus Blackned-Rabbitskin played really well,” he said.
Jackson, who had 10 wins for the Rock during the regular season, stopped all 32 shots he faced to pick up his first playoff victory.
Unruh, who turned aside 29 of the 31 shots the Rock fired his way, was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The Daily Press three stars of the game were Jackson, Hester and Mathieu … The start of Monday night’s contest was delayed more than half an hour because a flat tire on the Crunch bus delayed the team’s arrival in Timmins … The Rock did not dress forward C.J. Bradburn (upper-body injury), forward Jace Soroko (undisclosed) and affiliate defenceman Frederic Leclair-Pouw (undisclosed) …The Rock were 1-6 on the power play, while the Crunch did not have any opportunities with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena 1,428 … Tickets for the second-annual Timmins Rock Sports Celebrity Dinner and Auction in the McIntyrea Ballroom on Thursday will once again be on sale in the lobby during Game 4. Cocktails are at 6 p.m., with dinner to follow at 7 p.m. They are also available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org … Game 4 of the East Division final will be played at the McIntyre Arena on Wednesday, starting at 7 p.m.