By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – Kevin Ford’s second goal of the game snapped a 3-3 tie and lifted the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners to a one-goal victory over the Timmins Rock Saturday night at the McIntyre Arena.
It was the second-straight two-goal effort for Ford and the Gold Miners’ second-straight victory to start the season, while the Rock were playing their home opener in front of 1,123 enthusiastic fans.
“Honestly, my teammates have helped me out a lot,” said the Gold Miners red-hot sniper.
“Our power-play has been clicking and if you score one, it gives you confidence.”
Ford knows the Gold Miners were fortunate to escape with two points from Saturday night’s contest.
“They got some power plays late in the game and they could have buried us right there,” he said.
“We were able to kill them off and that really helped us at the end.”
Special teams were a factor in the contest, as the Rock were only able to go 1-11 on the power play and gave up a pair of goals with the man advantage.
It didn’t help either that the Rock’s two best offensive weapons — captain Jordan Rendle and linemate Bain Cunningham — each spent 10% of the contest in the penalty box.
“That is something we addressed already,” said Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“In the first period, we had two-thirds of our better power-play players in the penalty box.
“The penalties made a difference in the first period, but I think the goaltending was the difference tonight.
“Their goalie (Jeffrey Veitch) was outstanding and our goalie (Matthew Nixon) made some big saves but he also let in a couple of goals that I know he would like to have back. One of them was a power-play goal on a penalty he took. He was not happy about it and we were not happy.”
Goaltending issues aside, Gagne felt his team deserved a better fate Saturday night.
“I went into our dressing room after the game and I told them we deserved to win,” he said.
“We didn’t get the two points, but we deserved them. We worked hard. We outshot them. There were a few little mistakes, but that’s normal at this time of the year. Effort wise, though, it was great, entertaining hockey.”
There were a number of Rock players in particular who impressed the coaching staff Saturday night.
“You know what, Cory Sprague was a little spark plug out there tonight,” Gagne said.
“Tyler Romain and Wayne Mathieu up front and Nick Hautanen on the blue-line made a big difference. Even the young (Marcus) Blackned was making things happen.”
With almost two weeks between the Rock’s last exhibition game and their season opener, the team worked hard on the forecheck in practice and it paid off Saturday night.
“We created a lot of pressure on the puck tonight,” Gagne said.
The Gold Miners scored the lone goal of the first period, a power-play marker by William Mizuik.
The Rock battled back to tie things up at 1-1 just one minute into the second period when Sprague netted a power-play goal.
Ford’s first goal of the game, a power-play marker, put the Gold Miners back in front 2-1 just past the midway point of the frame.
The Rock tied things up at 2-2 with less than two minutes remaining in the period when Marcus Blackhead beat Gold Miners Veitch.
It appeared the home side might be headed for victory when Jacob Shankar scored 4:49 into the third period.
The Gold Miners had other ideas, however, as Taylor Urch beat Nixon just over three minutes later to deadlock the contest at 3-3.
That set the stage for Ford’s game-winner and he didn’t hesitate.
The Rock had a glorious opportunity to tie things up in the final two minutes of the contest, as they were on the power play and pulled Nixon in favour of an extra attacker to create a two-man advantage.
Cunningham just missed as his cross-crease sailed just wide of the empty net behind Veitch.
Gold Miners coach and general manager Marc Lafleur was pleased to see his squad battle back after the Rock had taken the lead early in the third period.
“Our compete level was higher tonight, not to start off the game though and I am a little concerned about starting periods a little slow,” he said.
“They got momentum really quickly, but as the game progressed with started playing a little better. The second period was tough because there were a lot of penalties. We got into some penalty trouble, but our penalty kill right now is very good and I think that was one of the keys tonight, all the kills we ended up getting.”
As one might expect, Lafleur was once again impressed with the Ford line.
“There is some really good chemistry there,” he said.
“They are three guys who have really good offensive hockey sense and when they get their chances, they bury them. That’s what good players and good lines do.”
The Gold Miners showed a lot of patience and poise and didn’t get rattled when the Rock battled back to tie the contest twice and then took the lead.
“We managed our shifts well tonight, as well,” Lafleur said.
“We didn’t have long shifts, unless we got caught in our own zone, but outside of that, we played a smart game given that we had a short bench.”
After failed to pick up a victory in the exhibition season and with a roster dotted with so many newcomers, Lafleur realizes how important it was for his squad to get off to a good start to the regular season.
“Let’s face it, this is a brand new team,” he said.
“We went 0-6 in the exhibition season, so for us to start with a couple of wins, including one against a Timmins team that beat us twice in the exhibition season, is a good momentum builder.”
In addition to Ford, a couple of other Gold Miners impressed the coach Saturday night.
“(Austin) Ramirez was very effective quarterbacking our power play unit and Lucas Dolanjski is just 17 years old and you can’t say enough about the kid and his compete level,” Lafleur said.
“He is very smart and he plays hard-nosed. He is the type of defenceman that forwards don’t like to play against.”
Dolanjski, a Timmins native, played for the GNML’s Majors last season.
“Jeff Veitch made some nice saves for us tonight, as well,” Lafleur said.
“We are very happy right now with our goaltending.”
Veitch stopped 45 of the 48 shots he faced to earn the victory for the Gold Miners. Nixon made 33 saves and was tagged with the loss for the Rock.
ROCK NOTES — The Rock did not dress Brendan Campbell (serving game one of a four-game suspension) and forward Stewart Parnell (lower-body injury) … Prior to the game a moment of silence was observed for former Gold Miners defenceman Sam Oden who died in a tragic automobile collision in Minnesota this past summer … The three stars of the game were Ford, Sprague and Mizuik … The Rock will return to action on Friday when they host the French River Rapids at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.