By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Powassan Voodoos will land at the McIntyre Arena Tuesday night looking to continue a playoff run that has seen them reel off a record of 6-0-0 in post season play.
That string of success has seen the Voodoos sweep the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners 4-0 in one NOJHL East Division semifinal series and build a 2-0 lead over the Rock — who got past the Cochrane Crunch 4-2 in the other — in the best-of-seven final.
With Game 3 and Game 4 at the McIntyre Arena Tuesday and Wednesday night respectively, the Rock will be looking to slow Powassan’s roll and get back in the series.
That may be easier said than done given that the Voodoos have scored more goals, 32, than any other team to this point in the playoffs and only one team — the Elliot Lake Wildcats — has allowed fewer goals than the 12 surrendered by Powassan.
And, it should be noted, the Wildcats gave up 11 goals in three games before they bowed out of the playoffs and the Voodoos have given up one more goal while playing six more games.
“We have been playing pretty well as of late,” said Voodoos coach Scott Wray.
“Our players have really bought in an they are playing a well-rounded, 200-foot game. We are playing in-your-face, playoff type hockey.”
Wray does not anticipate any change to the way the Voodoos will approach Games 3 and 4 in Timmins.
“We are going into a rink where we are going to be the road team and there will be nobody to impress,” he said.
“We can even simplify our game even more, just play our game.”
The final two games of the Crunch series saw the Rock attract in excess of 1,300 fans, but the Voodoos coach doesn’t playing in front of those kinds of crowds in Timmins will have any impact on his players.
“It should be a good carnival-like atmosphere,” he said.
“The crowd is definitely going to be like a seventh man for Timmins, which should give them a good jolt. We will have to keep our emotions in check, but we have nobody to impress and this is just a business trip for us.
“It is awesome to see nearly 1,400 people go to a Tier 2 Junior ‘A’ hockey game. We have been lucky enough to play in front of a crowd like that in Timmins before and we are looking forward to doing it again.”
The Voodoos scored a 5-3 victory over the Rock back on March 5 with 1,065 fans in attendance with Paul Coffey in Timmins and were also the opponents with Rogers Hometown Hockey in the city on Nov. 26, a night that saw Powassan skate off with a 4-3 double overtime victory in front of 1,662 fans.
Nate McDonald (360:00, 6-0-0, 1, 2.00, .926) — the NOJHL’s regular-season MVP and top goaltender — has been in the net for every minute of every game the Voodoos have played so far in the playoffs, including a 6-2 win over the Rock Friday night and a 4-0 triumph Saturday night.
As good as McDonald has been, he currently ranks third in the NOJHL in terms of goals against average, behind the Rock’s Jeff Veitch (98:00, 0-0-0, 0, 1.23, .968) and the Blind River Beavers’ Myles Hektor (315:00, 4-0-12, 1.52, .964).
It should be noted, however, that Veitch has yet to start a game in the playoffs, with Albert Rogers (396:00, 4-4-0, 0, 4.10, .888) starting all eight games to date.
As strong as the Voodoos have been in the playoffs, they will get a boost Tuesday night from the return of blue-liner Dayton Murray (2, 1-4-5, 5) to the lineup.
Murray has missed the last four playoff games after being assessed a major penalty for slew-footing during Game 2 of the semifinal series against the Gold Miners on March 19.
“Getting Dayton back from suspension will help out power play,” Wray said.
“I am looking forward to him being out there on the power play to calm things down on the back end. He adds another threat out there. I know he is ready to go and the boys are looking forward to having him back.”
With an efficiency rating of 35.9%, the Voodoos lead the NOJHL in power-play scoring, while the Rock are ninth out of the 10 teams that made the playoffs at 8.2%.
The Voodoos, with an efficiency rating of 90.9%, also have the top penalty-killing unit in the NOJHL, while the Rock, at 76.3%, sit in seventh place.
“At this level, you win or lose on the strength of your power play and penalty killing,” Wray said.
“Your special teams have to come through and if your special teams are coming through, you know you are going to have a successful night. We take pride in our special teams.”
Balance has been one of the keys to the Voodoos success this season, both in the playoffs and before that during the regular-season.
“We take pride in being four lines deep and 20-men deep,” Wray said.
“We have had three guys who have been healthy scratches throughout the playoffs who could be on anybody’s Top 3 lines. It is tough to sit healthy players like that, but it just shows how deep we are.
“I believe in Junior ‘A’ hockey, you are only as good as your fourth line and our fourth line has been doing a lot of work for us. They have not only come up with some timely goals, they have thrown some great hits and got the momentum shifted back in our favour.
“And our six D have been playing pretty steady. Our transition game has been pretty good as of late and we are hoping to continue that.”
Offensively, the Voodoos have three players — Gary Mantz (6, 6-5-11, 4), fourth; Tyson Gilmour (6, 5-4-9, 6), sixth; and Parker Bowman (6, 5-3-8, 27), 12th — among the NOJHL’s Top 20 scorers.
And Powassan has plenty of other offensive weapons, including forwards Andy Baker (6, 3-3-6, 4), Tyler Gervais-Rolfe (6, 1-4-5, 2), Shane Beaulieu (6, 3-1-4, 2), Ryan Theriault (6, 0-4-4, 6), Brett Hahkala(4, 1-2-3, 4) and Gabriel Rheault (6, 2-0-2, 8).
Wray realizes that the Voodoos need to keep working hart to prevent the Rock from getting back in the series.
“Game 3 is very important to us,” he said.
“We don’t want to see a big shift in the momentum in this series, so it is a must win for us. We could be tied 2-2 just as quick as we got up 2-0, so we have to be ready to go.”
The Rock actually have four forwards — Bain Cunningham (8, 3-9-12, 2), third; Tyler Romain (8, 2-7-9, 0), ninth; Stewart Parnell (8, 6-2-8, 2), 11th; and Jordan Rendle (8, 4-4-8, 12) — among the NOJHL’s Top 20 scorers, but the majority of their damage was done against the Crunch.
Like the Voodoos, the Rock have plenty of other offensive weapons — including Jacob Shankar (7, 3-4-7, 14), Wayne Mathieu (8, 3-3-6, 0), Alexandre Brisson (8, 1-4-5, 6) and Cory Sprague (8, 1-2-3, 10) — capable of lighting things up very quickly.
Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne knows if his team can win Game 3 and Game 4 on home ice they will be in pretty good position, but he is not looking past the first shift of the first period of Tuesday night’s contest.
“We would like to win both games, but we have to concentrate on the first one,” he said.
“Coming back home, there is a comfort zone. We were a little out of sync down there, especially during the first game.
“Tuesday night, we are just going to have to get our compete level back to where it has been all year. Our 5-10 players play like they are 6-3 when we are at home.
“We had a good practice today (Monday) and we worked on a couple of little things. We tweaked a couple of our lines.”
Giving up goals in the first two minutes of periods or the the final two minutes can be deadly for teams and the Rock were plagued with that issue during both games in Powassan.
“You are playing catch-up hockey and it is hard to get back into the game,” Gagne said.
“The boys were prepared and they were ready, but mistakes do happen. You can address it. You can talk about it. If it’s the same guy every time, it’s a situation, but that wasn’t the case.”
Like Wray, Gagne realizes the importance of special teams — especially during the playoffs.
“We are playing against the best goalie in the league,” Gagne said.
“The last game, we had three breakaways and two two-on-ones and seven power plays, with some incredible chances, but we didn’t capitalize.
“We have got to get one past him here on the power play to get our confidence going. There is no better time to do it than Tuesday night.”
The coach agrees the Rock need to get more traffic in front of McDonald and get more shots through to the net.
“There is no secret to it,” Gagne said.
“You have the man advantage, so you have to outman them to get to the rebounds or when something happens down low.
“We have got to get some quality shots and some quality net-front presence.”
The Rock spent a good part of Monday’s practice working on the power play and the penalty kill.
A number of Rock players are banged up following the first two games of the series, but Gagne was not about to tip his hand as to whether they will be in the lineup Tuesday night.
“It will be a game-time decision,” he said.
Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.