By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock overcame a two-goal deficit to edge the Cochrane Crunch 4-3 in Game 4 of their NOJHL East Division semifinal series at the McIntyre Arena Saturday night.
Alexandre Brisson’s first goal of the playoffs midway through the third period snapped a 3-3 tie and allowed the Rock to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series with Game 5 scheduled for the Tim Horton Event Centre in Cochrane Sunday night.
“(Jacob) Shankar hit one D-man on the wall and Stewart (Parnell) took the other D-man out front and the puck just went to the tape on my stick,” Brisson said.
“I just shot it on net hoping for the best and it went in.”
Crunch goalie Leighton Williams got a piece of the puck, but it trickled in behind him and slowly crossed the goal line.
“Honestly, I don’t think the goalie saw the shot,” Brisson said.
“He was trying to find the puck and it was rolling right behind him. By the time he did find it, it was too late.”
Brisson, a Cochrane native, knows just how important it was for the Rock to take Game 4 and not have to return to the Tim Horton Event Centre with the series tied at 2-2.
“Obviously, this was a big win, but it is a seven-game series and you never know what is going to happen,” he said.
For the second time in the past three games, the Crunch jumped out to a 2-0 lead and for the third-straight game the Rock battled back to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Rock-killer Konnar Dechaine scored his fourth goal in four games to put the Crunch in front 1-0 just 1:17 into the first period.
That goal stood up until the 7:14 mark of the second period when Brandon McReynolds scored his second goal of the playoffs, a power-play marker, to make it a 2-0 hockey game.
The Rock battled back to tie things up before the end of the middle frame, however.
Jacob Shankar got the puck rolling when he scored his third goal of the playoffs at the 12:114 mark of the second period.
That goal seemed to add a little extra jump to the step of the Rock players.
“We had a good shift right before that, I think it was (Jordan) Rendle’s line,” Shankar said.
“We got a big save from Rogers and we were able to turn things around. Brisson made a nice pass on the play, I got the shot off and it went in.”
From Shankar’s perspective, there is no secret to what the Rock need to do to finish off the Crunch.
“Hard work,” he said.
“That’s been our game plan all series.”
Steward Parnell, who was the hero of Game 3 in the series, then tied things up just over two minutes later when he struck for his fourth goal of the playoffs.
The Rock jumped out to a 3-2 lead early in the third period on Bain Cunningham’s second goal of the playoffs, but the Crunch got back on even terms just before the midway mark of the frame.
Haiden Karnick beat Rock goalie Albert Rogers for his second goal of the playoffs to tie things up at 3-3.
That set the stage for Brisson’s game-winner.
The Crunch pulled out all the stops in an effort to deadlock the game once again, but the Rock were able to weather the storm.
Fans were left scratching their heads when Rogers skated off the ice and exited to the Rock dressing room following a stoppage in play in the Timmins end with 6:38 remaining in the third period.
As it turns out, Rogers was feeling ill and Jeff Veitch came on in relief with the Crunch ramping up the pressure in hopes of securing a tying goal.
Veitch held the fort, however, and Rogers returned for the final 8.3 seconds of the contest.
The Crunch pulled goalie Williams in favour of an extra attacker with about a minute and a half remaining in regulation and they were able to generate sustained pressure.
It was the Rock who had the best scoring opportunity, with a shot at the empty net from just outside the Timmins blue-line hitting the post and bouncing harmlessly into the corner.
Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard was not happy to see his team blow another lead against the Rock Saturday night.
“It wasn’t for a lack of effort again tonight,” he said.
“I thought we played well. When you hold a team to under 30 shots, you should win. That’s my take on things.
“We make it too easy for them. Their D are making it hard for our forwards to get to the net and on the first goal they scored tonight … that goal should never have happened at the Junior ‘A’ level. We had a defenceman standing still at the blue-line with the puck almost in his skates and he waited and let them come and grab the puck for a two-on-one instead of just hammering the puck down the ice.
“When you are in a building with almost 1,350 people, you can’t give them momentum like that. That is a lack of experience. That’s why you want to play veteran players as much as you can in the playoffs.
“That right there was the big turning point of the game. It was 2-0 and we made a clear mistake like that. It was huge.”
The coach felt the Crunch outplayed the Rock in the third period, but gave up two goals that shouldn’t have gone in.
“We just made it too easy for them,” Leonard said.
“They got to the net easy on two plays against the same defenceman and they scored both times.
“It is frustrating because we worked hard tonight. It is just clear mental defensive mistakes that are killing us.
“I thought all of our forwards had strong games tonight. It’s just that the mental defensive mistakes killed us. I thought everybody played well, but we can’t have these breakdowns in the playoffs.”
Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne was happy to see his team take a 3-1 lead in the series, but knows they can’t keep giving the Crunch the lead game after game.
“We have got to get away from that situation,” he said.
“Our defenceman had the puck and he was trying to hit the stretch guy and they intercepted the puck. Even our other defenceman figured he was just moving up with the play and here you go. It wasn’t even a mistake. It was just a good play by them to intercept the pass.
“We don’t want to be starting behind the 8-ball every game, but it is nice to see the determination our players have. They don’t have any doubt. They just continue on and continue on. When they do that, something positive is going to happen and they are going to get compensated.”
Playing in front of a large home-ice crowd for the second-straight game certainly gave the Rock a little more swagger to their step.
“When we scored that first goal, I thought the roof was going to pop off the building,” Gagne said.
“That goal gave us a big lift and we continued on from there. Anyone who was here tonight, saw Junior ‘A’ hockey at its best.”
It was the Rock’s third line, with Brisson, Shankar and Parnell that excelled Saturday night.
“They certainly made a big difference tonight,” Gagne said.
The coach was also impressed with the play of Veitch, who came in cold and held the Crunch at bay until Rogers was able to return.
“It kind of threw us off when Rogers left,” Gagne said.
“Everybody was wondering what the hell was going on. Veitch was calm and went in there and did his job. There was only about six-and-a-half minutes left when he came on and they were putting a lot of pressure on us.
“(Nicholas) Hautanen and (Brendan) Campbell were strong back there on defence, as well. Campbell was making things happen and taking the body, while Hautanen was really calm and cool back there.
“And Bain scored another big goal for us again from two or three feet in front of the net. He is a big, strong guy.”
For the fourth-straight game, the Rock held NOJHL regular-season scoring leader Braeden Cross off the scoresheet.
“We had Cunningham playing against him all night,” Gagne said.
“We go out there and play our program and our players are aware of who is on the ice against them.”
Rogers stopped 28 of the 31 shots fired his way to pick up the victory, while Veitch stopped the only shot he faced in his relief appearance.
Williams turned aside 24 of the 28 shots the Rock fired his way and was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — Rock forward Cory Sprague left the contest late in the third period with what appeared to be an upper-body injury, but there was no word following the contest on how severe it might be … The Daily Press Three Stars were Shankar, Dechaine and Brisson … The Rock went 0-4 on the power-play, while the Crunch were 1-3 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 1,339 … Saturday night’s only other contest saw the Rayside-Balfour Canadians double up the Beavers 4-2 in Blind River to take a 3-2 lead in their best-of-seven West Division semifinal series … Game 5 in the East Division semifinal series between the Rock and the Crunch will be played at the Tim Horton Event Centre Sunday night. Game time has been set for 6 p.m.