By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – It was a night to remember of Kirkland Lake Gold Miners dynamic duo of Brayden Stortz and Logan Fredericks.
For the Timmins Rock and their fans, however, Wednesday night’s 6-1 loss at the McIntyre Arena was one — like seven of the past nine games — they would just as soon forget.
Stortz (54, 38-62-100, 32) had a goal and three assists in the contest to win the NOJHL scoring championship by one point over Hunter Atchison (53, 50-49-99, 34), of the Cochrane Crunch.
“We got off to a bit of a slow start tonight, but we finished strong,” Stortz said.
“We picked things up in the second half of the game, for sure. We started getting pucks on net and pucks deep behind their defence.”
As the game progressed, Stortz knew he needed three points to tie Atchison and four to beat him but he was not dwelling on that fact.
“I kind of just played it like any other game,” he said.
“Things have been working out. I have gotten points all year. I knew the points would come eventually.
“I can feed the puck to Logan anywhere on the ice and I am sure he will put it in the back of the net. I can give him the puck at anytime, anywhere and he will make it work.”
The outcome of Wednesday night’s game did not have any impact on the standings, but the Gold Miners, who are hosting the Dudley Hewitt Cup this year, were determined to gain the W.
“We hadn’t won in this rink all year and if we end up playing these guys in the playoffs, it was good to get that first win in this rink this year tonight,” Stortz said.
“There is just a different atmosphere here. There is a smaller neutral zone and they come out to play here every night and they always have big crowds. They get fired up every time they step on the ice here.”
Meanwhile, Fredericks (53, 51-38-89, 51), who also had a goal and three assists, edged out Atchison for the goal-scoring title.
“I was kind of shocked when I got the goal, but I was very happy,” said the Gold Miners forward who was sporting a nice-sized gash on his right cheek courtesy of a first-period high stick following the game.
“As soon as I scored the goal, Stortz looked at me and said ‘we did it.’ It was a good feeling.
“The cut in the face kind of pushed me back a little bit, but I was able to persevere.”
Given the choice, Fredericks would much rather have the deep cut on his cheek and the big goal than no injury and no goal.
“Absolutely, I would take it any day,” he said.
Like Stortz, Fredericks feels the Gold Miners’ top line has chemistry.
“Throughout the year, we have been connecting really well,” he said.
“We crash the net and play simple hockey and we play well. The coaches have been emphasizing that we need to keep things simple, get pucks deep, grind things out and compete until the play is over.”
Neither team found the back of the net during a scoreless first period of play, but both squads produced some excellent scoring opportunities that were thwarted by the Rock’s Logan Ferrington and the Gold Miners’ Victor-Olivier Courchesne.
The Gold Miners finally broke through midway through the second period when they struck for the first of three goals in an eight-minute span.
Stortz got the puck rolling when he netted his 38th goal of the season.
The Gold Miners, looking to have both of their goalies sharp for the playoffs, pulled Courchesne at the 9:44 mark of the second period and brought in Tyler Mazzocato to finish up the game.
Sam Mancini followed up Stortz’s goal with his eighth tally of the season, a power-play marker that would prove to be the game-winning goal just under six minutes later.
Blake Anderson followed that up with his 11th goal of the season with 3:33 remaining in the period.
Timmins finally got on the scoresheet with just 9.5 seconds remaining in the frame, as Ryan Kerr beat Mazzocato for his sixth goal of the season.
The Rock were not able to build any momentum from that late goal, however, as the Gold Miners added to their lead early in the third period.
Alexander Hester — the third member of Gold Miners’ top line — potted the first of his two goals on the night and his 11th of the season at the 4:55 mark to put the visitors in front 4-1.
Hester’s second goal of the game and 12th of the season just under nine minutes later pretty well sealed the deal and made it a 5-1 hockey game.
The only thing to be decided at that point was whether or not Fredericks would net the goal he needed to pass Atchison for the goal-scoring title.
That marker came with just 2:31 remaining on the clock and the outcome of the game long decided.
Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne felt his team played a strong first period, but could not maintain the pace in the second and third.
“We had a great first period, both teams did,” he said.
“It was tight and there were hardly any mistakes being made, but then in the second period those three goals … one of them was basically a five-on-four against us and we did not come back. Then, we did not come back into the defensive zone and it caused a mistake and we gave up a three-on-two against. We took a bad check at the blue-line and they went down and they went down on a two-on-one.
“When we scored our first goal, we got a little momentum and we were on the power play and you never know what is going to happen, but we took a stupid penalty, a hit behind the head and we were on the power play 100 feet from our net.”
The Rock forecheck and cycle game left much to be desired Wednesday night.
“The second and third period we weren’t intense and there was no reason for it,” Gagne said.
“We had a lack of discipline and I am just not happy with the way we are playing. We are not playing great hockey, we are not.”
One of the few bright spots for the Rock Wednesday night was the play of the team’s third line of Mathieu, Andrew Green and Alexandre Brisson.
“They played great, even when they were killing penalties,” Gagne said.
“They were aggressive. They were great and we praised them after the game.”
Courchesne stopped all 17 shots he faced to earn the victory for the Gold Miners, while Mazzocato stopped 19 of the 20 shots he faced in relief.
Ferrington, who suffered the loss, blocked 38 of the 44 shots the Gold Miners fired his way.
NOJHL Notes — The three stars of the game were Fredericks, Stortz and Mathieu … The Rock did not dress defenceman Spencer Segui (healthy scratch), forward Kyle Levis (healthy scratch), forward Aaron Kerr (serving the third game of his three-game suspension) and goalie Devon Debastos (healthy scratch) … The Rock went 0-3 on the power play, while the Gold Miners were 1-6 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 464 … The NOJHL’s other Wednesday contests saw the Thunderbirds blank the Elliot Lake Wildcats 4-0 in Sault Ste. Marie and Espanola Express steamroll the Rapids 8-1 in French River … The Rock will open their best-of-three East Division Round 1 playoff series against the Iroquois Falls Eskis Saturday night at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.