GALLERY: Johnson leads Lumberjacks past Rock

THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS Timmins Rock forward Riley Robitaille deflects a shot on Hearst Lumberjacks goalie Nicholas Tallarico during the second period of Friday night’s NOJHL game at the McIntyre Arena. Tallarico turned aside everything the Rock directed his way in the contest — except for Keegan McMullen’s third-period penalty-shot goal — as the Lumberjacks knocked off the Rock 3-1.

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The Hearst Lumberjacks got three points from defenceman Alec Johnson en route to a 3-1 win over the Timmins Rock at the McIntyre Arena Friday night.

It was the second loss in as many nights for the Rock, who dropped a 4-3 decision to the NOJHL-leading Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake Thursday night.

And just like that earlier setback, the Rock clearly were not firing on all cylinders Friday night.

“Apart from three individuals (captain Derek Seguin, Keegan McMullen and Riley Robitaille) tonight, there just wasn’t enough consistency in the tank,” said Rock coach Corey Beer.

“These last two games have been a little bit of humble pie for us. It is going to be back to the drawing board for a lot of our guys.”

Beer has assistant coaches, goalie coaches, trainers, equipment managers and even a statistician on his staff, but perhaps what he needs most is a mad scientist capable of cloning the line of Seguin, McMullen and Robitaille.

That suggestion brought a smile to the second-year Rock coach’s face and brightened his mood slightly.

“If anyone can find that mad scientist, please send him my way,” he said, with a chuckle.

“Those three epitomize everything you want in a hockey player. They are unbelievable. The work ethic, the tenacity, how they forecheck and how they play off one another … and it’s not easy. Those three guys, despite being very talented are the three hardest workers on our club and you cannot replace hard work.

“For guys who want to sit on the outside and work on their toe-drags, their dangles and stuff, that’s great, but if you have the work ethic of those three guys you will be a phenomenal hockey player.”

It took Johnson just 26 seconds to get the Lumberjacks on the scoreboard Friday night, as he beat Rock goalie Jean-Marc Brisson for his second goal of the season.

Giving up a goal in the first or last minute of a period is considered a no-no in the game of hockey and the Rock compounded that earlier blunder when they allowed J.J. Birdal to find the back of the net with a power-play marker, his second goal of the season, with just six seconds remaining in the frame.

Following a scoreless second period, it appeared the Rock had finally found their way onto the scoresheet just shy of the midway point in the third period but referee Brendan Bujold ruled the net had come off its moorings before Derek Seguin fired the puck into the wide-open cage behind Lumberjacks goalie Nicholas Tallarico.

With fans beginning to wonder if the Rock would ever find the back of the net in the contest, Timmins forward Keegan McMullen was pulled down before he could get off a shot with 5:12 remaining in regulation.

Referee Steven Swain awarded him a penalty shot and McMullen made no mistake, drilling a wrist shot past Tallarico for his 10th goal of the season.

That would be as close as the Rock would come to getting back on even terms, however, as Jake Desando potted his 13th goal of the season less than three minutes later to close out the scoring and make the final 3-1 in favour of the Lumberjacks.

Beer realizes the outcome of Friday night’s contest could have been significantly different had Seguin’s goal been allowed to stand.

“You never know what might have happened, but hats off to their goalie, he was unbelievable,” he said.

“He made some incredible saves. That Seguin line, with McMullen and Robitaille accounted for 17 of our shots tonight. Sometimes you just run into a hot goalie who takes away your top scorers.”

The Rock coach didn’t feel the Lumberjacks were doing anything out of the ordinary Friday night, other than coming up with a solid game plan and sticking with it.

“They were tremendous on the forecheck and they gapped up incredibly well,” Beer said.

“They took away a lot of our speed and pace. I think our D do a great job of transitioning when we force turnovers, but when teams forecheck us sometimes we have to take some hits to make plays.

“We needed to move the puck a little bit faster than we are used to and tonight our D had a lot of trouble transporting the puck up ice and getting it into our forwards’ hands cleanly.”

The coach got his first look at Brisson between the pipes in a Rock uniform Friday night and even though he gave up three goals, he didn’t feel he played that badly.

“He was probably a little nervous, with it being his first home start,” Beer said.

“He will be fine. He will settle in here and get used to the type of shots we give up in our system.”

Lumberjacks coach and general manager Marc Lafleur was pleased to see his squad play a solid road game and earn two points.

“We needed it,” he said.

“Pucks haven’t been bouncing our way lately, but we haven’t been working hard enough to have those pucks bounce our way until tonight.

“I don’t think they (the Rock) brought their A game, either. They are a very well coached team and we know they are going to be ready for the next game.”

The Lumberjacks coach was pleased with his squad’s intensity on the forecheck Friday night.

“It is one thing to get the scrums, it is another thing to win the battles,” Lafleur said.

“We just competed a little harder tonight than we have been lately and we got rewarded for it.”

The only downside to the Lumberjacks’ game Friday night was the number of times they turned the puck over to the Seguin line in their own defensive zone.

“We had been working on our D zone coverage all week,” Lafleur said.

“We need to get better. We were better tonight. We weren’t great, but we were better.

“We are going to keep working on it every single day until we are happy as a coaching staff.”

The coach was once again pleased with the effort put forth by Johnson, whose twin brother Max was out of the lineup serving the final game of a four-game suspension.

“We knew we were getting an impact D-man when he came back,, as well as an impact forward in his brother,” Lafleur said.

“Alec must have given us at least 30 minutes tonight and they were 30 solid minutes. He plays with a mean streak, as well, which I think in today’s game coaches appreciate.

“He wasn’t the only guy. Our back end was pretty solid tonight.”

At 5-8 and 170 pounds, Tallarico is far from being the biggest goalie in the NOJHL but he stood tall in the Lumberjacks’ net Friday night.

“Technically, he is as good as they come,” Lafleur said.

“He is very quick and his rebound control is great. Nic has been like that all year. It’s not like tonight’s game was out of the ordinary for him. He has worn an S (Superman) on the front of his shirt for most of the year.”

A number of other Lumberjacks caught their coach’s eye Friday night, as well.

“Dawson Waddell had a better game tonight, as a 20 year old,” Lafleur said.

“Garett Giertuga brings it every night in terms of blocking shots and Austin Heidt, who we just picked up from Cochrane, had to learn the penalty kill pretty quickly and he gave us some major minutes on the back end, as well.

“And a guy like Bradley Golant is the hardest worker every night on both sides.”

Friday night’s loss leaves the Rock (18-11-1-0) in a second-place tie with the Powassan Voodoos (18-10-1-0) in the NOJHL’s East Division standings.

With the win, the fifth-place Lumberjacks (12-12-2-1) pulled to within 10 points of the Rock and the Voodoos.

Tallarico turned aside 29 of the 30 shots the Rock fired his way to earn his eighth win of the season for the Lumberjacks.

Brisson, who blocked 17 of the 20 shots he faced, was tagged with the loss for the Rock.

NOJHL NOTES — The Daily Press three stars of the game were Johnson, Seguin and McMullen … The Rock did not dress defenceman James Redmond (maintenance day), forward Eamon Bollinger (upper-body injury), forward Darcy Haupt (upper-body injury), forward Josh Dickson (upper-body injury) and forward Benjamin Jossinet (upper-body injury) … The Rock went 0-5 on the power play, while the Lumberjacks were 1-4 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 848 … Friday night’s other action saw the Cochrane Crunch blast the Express 9-5 in Espanola, the Rapids blank the Powassan Voodoos 4-0 in French River, the Rayside-Balfour Canadians edge the Eagles 5-4 in the Sault, Mich., and the Thunberbirds get past the Blind River Beavers 6-4 in Sault Ste. Marie … The Rock will return to action on Sunday when they travel to Hearst for a rematch against the Lumberjacks at the Claude Larose Arena. Game time is set for 4 p.m.