GALLERY: Gold Miners leapfrog Rock

Timmins Rock forward Stewart Parnell’s shot clangs off the post to the left of Kirkland Lake Gold Miners goalie Ryan Winter and ricochets behind the netminder and harmlessly out the far side during the second period of Saturday night’s NOJHL game at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex. It was typical of the Rock’s luck during the contest, as they went on to drop a 3-1 decision to the Gold Miners who, with the win, were able to leapfrog them into fifth place in the East Division standings. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS

By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)

KIRKLAND LAKE – One step forward, one step back and when the music stopped Saturday night the Timmins Rock found themselves in last place in the NOJHL’s East Division standings.

Consistently inconsistent might be the best way to describe a hockey team that scored an emotional 3-1 victory over the Rayside-Balfour Canadians on home ice Friday night and then went out and dropped 3-1 decision at the hands of the Gold Miners Saturday night at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex.

“It is just frustrating, coming off such a high the last game,” said Rock assistant coach James Daschuk.

“It just demonstrates our inability to show up every night and it ended up costing us.

“We got off to a slow start and we didn’t have any jump from the pre-game warm-up to the on-ice warm-up, to the drop of the puck. We were flat coming out of the gate.

“As a coaching staff, we could see it.”

The Rock dug themselves a deep hole in the opening 20 minutes of play, while spotting the Gold Miners a 3-0 lead.

Gold Miners captain Marshal Nikitin started things off when he beat Rock goalie Brendan Bishop for his fourth goal of the season at the 6:56 mark of the first period.

Then, defenceman Linden Namagoose’s point shot found its way through a screen in front of Bishop for a power-play marker — his first goal of the season eight-and-a-half minutes later.

It took Namagoose less than three minutes to add his second goal of the season, this time with the two sides playing five-on-five hockey.

The Rock finally got on the scoreboard midway through the second period when defenceman Connor Losen potted his second goal of the season, but that would be as close as they would come to getting back on even terms.

The Rock pulled Bishop with 5:40 remaining in the third period and the visitors on a power play to create a six-on-four advantage, but there were unable to find the back of the net.

Then, with 1:57 remaining in regulation, they pulled him again in favour of an extra attacker but they were not able to score on that occasion, either.

“I guess we played OK after we dug ourselves that hole, but obviously not good enough to dig ourselves out of it,” Daschuk said.

“We shut them down in the last two periods, but we didn’t capitalize on any chances and we didn’t generate any offence either.

“The work ethic wasn’t there. We just can’t seem to put a string of two games together. We are kind of just holding on for dear life right now.”

The Rock were billed to be a speedy, hard-working team heading into the 2017-18 campaign.

“We keep telling ourselves we have speed, but when every other game we don’t show it, are we really a fast team?” Daschuk asked.

“We weren’t a skilled team that used its speed tonight, obviously. When your feet are planted in the concrete, you are not going to have odd-man rushes. There was a lot of puck watching tonight and a lot of slow reactions.

“Guys were not where they were supposed to be and they were not reading the set plays, not anticipating … it just wasn’t there.”

Newly acquired forward Jordan Picard made his debut in a Rock uniform Saturday night, wearing No. 7, following Friday’s trade that brought the Timmins native home from the French River Rapids in exchange for forward Donny Schultz.

“We run a very systematic team, with a lot of set plays, so it will likely take him a little while to adapt,” Daschuk said.

“Tonight, he basically played on skill alone. I thought he looked OK for his first game with a new team.

“He is a guy we are hoping will be able to find the back of the net for us and he got four or five shots tonight, which is good.”

Picard drove up to Kirkland Lake from Sudbury and met his new teammates there, so he has not had a chance to practise with them and learn any of the Rock systems yet.

Gold Miners coach Ryan Wood knows all about teams digging holes for themselves, as his squad had to rally from a three-goal, third-period deficit to salvage a 4-4 tie the last time the Rock visited the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex.

“It is always nice to play with a lead and this is one of the few times we have been able to do it this year,” he said.

“It takes a little bit of pressure off the guys when they don’t have to come from behind in a game. It was nice.”

With the win, the Gold Miners (4-4-1-1) were able to move one point ahead of the Rock for fifth place in the East Division standings and they have a game in hand on Timmins.

“The guys are starting to get it,” Wood said.

“When you put 25 new hockey players on the ice who have never played together before, there is obviously going to be a learning curve. Our players are continuing to learn and they are continuing to develop. They are also starting to buy in to what we, as a coaching staff, are looking for from them.

“We are starting to see results because of that.”

The Gold Miners were effective at keeping the Rock getting inside the house for much of the game.

“We did a good job of collapsing to the net,” Wood said.

“We made sure the rebounds were put into the corners and played a good strong defensive game.

“A key for any successful hockey team is to give the goaltender an opportunity to make the saves he should make.”

Namagoose, who has experience in the QMJHL, continued to impress Wood with his strong play Saturday night.

“He is really, really settling in,” he said.

“For a 2000-birth-year player, we didn’t know what we were going to get. Going into it, people gave us mixed reviews, but at the end of the day he is a really nice piece for our hockey club.

“He is confident and he is a good skater. You don’t play four Major Junior games as a 15 year old if you don’t have the skill set. He is here to develop, continue to improve and get the ice time and minutes he needs.”

Wood was also impressed with the play of a number of other Gold Miners Saturday night.

“Marshal Nikitin is our captain and he is a true leader for our hockey club,” he said.

“He goes out there and works hard every shift and Vito Sica blocked shots and did the little things you need to do to be successful.

“We got some good shifts from Sam Ellwood and Adam Kusior, as well, some of our supporting guys who are not here to produce a ton of points. The block shots, get in lanes and do the things you need to do to be successful.

“We got a great effort from everybody from top to bottom tonight.

“I have to give Ryan Winter some credit, as well. He played really well in net and made the saves he was supposed to make.”

Gold Miners goalie Ryan Winter turned aside 21 of the 22 shots the Rock fired his way to pick up his third win of the season.

Bishop, who stopped 22 of the 25 shots he faced, was tagged with the loss for the Rock.

NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Namagoose, Gold Miners forward Gabriel Rheault and Winter … The Rock did not dress defenceman Will Caston (upper-body injury) and forwards C.J. Bradburn (lower-body injury), Tyler Planetta (healthy scratch) and Kevin Kutasi (healthy scratch) … The Rock were 0-5 on the power play, while the Gold Miners were 1-6 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex was 245 … Saturday night’s other action saw the Eagles dump the Cochrane Crunch 5-1 in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., the Voodoos get past the Blind River Beavers 6-4 in Powassan and the Thunderbirds blank the Elliot Lake Wildcats 3-0 in Sault Ste. Marie … The Rock will return to action on Tuesday afternoon when they play the first of their two games at the NOJHL Showcase in Sudbury against the Canadians. They will play their second game Wednesday when they face off against the winless Espanola Express.