THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS Timmins Rock forward Linden Spencer celebrates his second-period goal as teammate Jared Dupuis, Cochrane Crunch defender Steven Cope and goalie Demain Wray look on during an NOJHL exhibition game at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls Saturday night. The Crunch got a late goal from Zach Hayes to edge the Rock 5-4. The Rock will return to the ice at the Jus Jordan Arena on Thursday when they host the Hearst Lumberjacks in a contest scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m.
IROQUOIS FALLS — Zach Hayes converted a two-on one pass with just over a minute to play in regulation to lift the Cochrane Crunch to a 5-4 win over the Timmins Rock in NOJHL exhibition action at the Jus Jordan Arena Saturday night.
It was the first exhibition action for both teams and each held out a number of key players to get a look at some of those on the bubble.
Rock coach Corey Beer felt the game was a mix of good and bad, with maybe a little ugly worked into the mix near the end.
“Even on the game-winning goal we gave up, it was the type of hockey we want to play,” he said.
“We want to be aggressive and we want to be pushing guys up into the play. With a better bounce, we would have had a four-on-two in tight and maybe we would have won the game.
“I thought we displayed some good speed tonight. For a lot of the guys, it was their first Junior ‘A’ hockey game.
“Obviously, we have to tidy up out defensive zone. That is something that will be an on-going process and something we will really focus on going forward.
“Overall, I thought a lot of our guys showed well tonight and I am very encouraged by the group we had on the ice. We had a bunch of guys out of the lineup and when they get back in, we will be that much better.”
The Rock jumped out to a 1-0 lead at the 14:45 mark of the opening period when Mahingan Decontie beat Crunch goalie Shayne Battler with a backhand shot off a rebound.
Cochrane stormed right back to tie things up at 1-1, however, on a goal by Hunter Buzzi less than a minute later off a scramble in front of the Rock net.
That’s the way the first period — in which the Rock had a distinctive territorial advantage — finished.
“Our guys came out in the first period with lots of exuberance and energy,” Beer said.
“A lot of the stuff we wanted to work on was on display in that first period.
“Then, it kind of went away although I thought the second half of the second period we played a bit better.
“We still have two exhibition games to go and we are feeling good about ourselves.”
A pair of power play goals by Jacob Stos in the first seven minutes of the second period allowed the Crunch to jump out to a 3-1 lead.
He converted a cross-crease pass from Owen Perala to beat Rock starting goalie Nicholas Dicks for the first of his two markers at the 1:49 mark and then he drilled home a shot from the circle to the right of Dicks just under five minutes later.
The Rock pulled to within a single goal at the 12:46 mark of the middle frame when Josh Dickson notched a power-play marker.
Linder Spencer then got the Rock back on even terms, at 3-3, when he backhanded a rebound behind Crunch goalie Demain Wray less than two minutes later.
For the second-straight period, the Crunch got a goal in the final five minutes of the frame, however, to restore their one-goal lead at 4-3.
Baldino Aiello deposited a backhand shot into the empty net after a shot deflected off Dicks and to his right where Aiello was waiting all alone.
The Rock battled back to tie things up at 4-4 when Darcy Haupt beat Crunch goalie Shayne Battler at the 6:45 mark of the third period.
A number of Rock players impressed their coach with a strong effort during Saturday night’s contest.
“Josh Dickson had a great game for us,” Beer said.
“He is a guy in the middle of the ice who is going to be able to carry possession for us and make some skilled plays.
“I also loved the line of Decontie, (Riley) Robitaille and (Maxime) Piquette tonight. There were two little buzz saws out there making special plays and Robitaille doing his thing as a big man.
“Those guys were really good and Haupt had a great game, too. He took a nice pass from (A.J.) Campbell and buried a nice goal. It is nice to have that kind of depth scoring.
“On the back end, our D had a good night as a group. We have to work on some things, but I thought overall it was a pretty good night for us.”
Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard also saw some good things from his squad Saturday night and a few things they need to improve upon as the exhibition season progresses.
“We had some pretty nice passing plays, but you could see the rust,” he said.
“We just couldn’t finish on a couple of plays. Austin Whelan, who is going to score some goals for us, had two wide-open nets in the third period and he just fanned on the puck.
“The first 10 to 12 minutes of the game, you could tell we were playing a little bit nervous. We only have five returning guys and none of the others have ever played with each other before tonight.
“In the latter stages of the first period, you could see us start to take control of the game. In the second period, we really dominated.
“Then, in the third period, we came out a little slow again, but we picked things up.”
With the Crunch set to host the Dudley-Hewitt Cup tournament, Leonard is confident the group of players he is assembling will have a terrific season.
“We have a lot more skill right now than we have ever had on this team,” he said.
“We are still missing four guys who are not here yet. They will be coming in over the next couple of weeks to help solidify our roster. We have 23 players here right now, but only 19 of them are signed.
“We are pretty happy right now, though. We showed some character there at the end. In the last four minutes, we got a couple of scoring chances and we finally buried one.
“Then, in the last minute, Timmins got some momentum and they almost got one themselves.
“Overall, I am pretty happy, but we have to work on our physical play and defensive play. We have only had three practices so far and it’s a long season.”
Leonard was especially impressed with the effort put forth by a number of his Crunch players Saturday night.
“(Defenceman Ryan) Mooney was probably the best player on the ice,” he said.
“He is so smooth and he can do whatever he wants out there.
“Another guy who really stepped up his play tonight was Sean Meetsma. He is not flashy, but he does his job. He backchecks and forechecks really well.
“Stos was really good on the power play. He got off two really nice shots and scored two nice goals.
“Owen Perala, who is just 16 years old played a real strong game tonight considering it was his first Junior ‘A’ game. He was involved everywhere he went on the ice. He didn’t shy away from the play.”
Justin Vertesi, who played the third period for the Crunch, turned aside nine of the 10 shots he faced to earn the exhibition victory.
Battler stopped nine out of the 10 shots he faced in the first period, while Wray turned aside 14 of the 16 shots he faced in the second period.
Dylan Dallaire, who stopped 13 of the 14 shots he faced in the third period for the Rock, was tagged with the loss.
Dicks, who played the first two periods in the Timmins net, stopped 24 of the 28 shots he faced on the night.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Crunch blue-liner Ryan Mooney, Stos and Rock defenceman Carson Burlington … Official attendance at the Jus Jordan Arena was 349 … The Rock did not dress goalie Tyler Masternak (Saginaw Spirit camp), defenceman Will Caston (healthy scratch), defenceman Owen Shier (Windsor Spitfires camp), defenceman James Robinson (upper-body injury), forward Austin Holmes (Peterborough Petes camp), forward Keegan McMullin (Kitchener Rangers camp), forward Stewart Parnell (healthy scratch) and forward Derek Seguin (healthy scratch) … The Rock will host the Hearst Lumberjacks at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls on Thursday, at 7:30 p.m., before traveling to Hearst to close out their exhibition season on Friday, at 7 p.m.