Sharp special teams play helped the Hearst Lumberjacks knock off the Timmins Rock 5-3 at the McIntyre Arena Saturday night to complete a sweep of their home-and-home series.
A 3-1 victory on home ice at the Claude Larose Arena in Hearst Friday night got the puck rolling for the Lumberjacks, who managed to pick up four points on the Rock in the East Division standings.
Saturday night, the Lumberjacks went 2-4 on the power play and also scored a shorthanded goal in the contest.
Rock coach Corey Beer was understandably frustrate by his team’s effort — especially during the opening 20 minutes and in the first half of the third period.
“We had a good video session this morning, focusing on stuff that it we stuck to the game plan, we would have been okay,” he said.
“We probably had too many guys who deviated from the game plan, however. When that happens, you don’t get the consistency throughout the lineup that you need.
“Unfortunately, it took for some guys to sit down and not play some minutes, for them to get some urgency back in their game. Unfortunately, we enter the break on a little bit of a (two-game) losing streak.”
The Lumberjacks got on the scoreboard first Saturday night, with Max Griffioen netted a shorthanded marker, his 17th goal of the season, midway through the first period.
Five minutes later, Jake Desando added a power-play goal, his 17th tally of the campaign to make it a 2-0 hockey game.
Then, just 1:29 into the middle frame, J.J. Berdal struck for his third marker of the season to increase the Lumberjacks’ advantage to three goals.
Rock fans finally got something to cheer about two minutes later when captain Derek Seguin came through with his team-leading 23rd goal of the season, a power-play marker to cut the Lumberjacks’ lead to 3-1.
That goal provided the home side with a little bit of momentum and Darcy Haupt added his fifth tally of the season with just two-and-a-half minutes to go in the period to make it a one-goal hockey game.
Unfortunately for the home fans, the Lumberjacks were able to get that one back with 59 seconds remaining on the clock, as Bradley Golant netted a power-play marker, his 10th goal of the season.
The Rock had a five-on-three advantage for the first 1:01 of the third period, but they were not able to generate any sustained pressure and it took the team 10:36 to register its first shot on goal in the frame.
“It was mindboggling to be quite honest,” Beer said.
“The puck distribution from certain players was below par, to be nice about it. I really think if we had better puck movement (during the five-on-three), the shots would have been there and we could have been more effective.
“Too many guys were asleep at the helm tonight.”
The Lumberjacks extended their lead to 5-2 just past the eight-minute mark of the third period when Blaise Arkle potted his 12th goal of the season.
Seven minutes later, Rock forward Riley Robitaille bulled his way to the front of the Lumberjacks’ net and beat goalie Nicholas Tallarico for his seventh goal of the season to pull the home side within a pair of goals.
The Rock pulled goalie Jean-Marc Brisson in the dying minutes in hopes of netting the two goals they needed to get back on even terms, but they effort failed to produce any results — although Rock forward Keegan McMullen did ring a shot of the near post with 1:28 remaining on the clock — leaving the final score 5-3 in favour of the visitors.
Beer acknowledged the Lumberjacks’ strong forecheck once again gave the Rock fits Saturday night.
“They are a team that really pushes the pace,” he said.
“They get on top of our defencemen and whether our D are doing the right things on breakouts and stuff is going to dictate whether the puck moves out of our end, or not.
“We thought we had the game plan in place, but it goes back to our guys and execution. Hearst does such a good job clogging up the neutral zone and when we don’t want to play in the tough areas, we get pushed around a bit.”
The standings might not show it — yet — but Beer is convinced the Lumberjacks are a much better squad than their point total indicates.
“From top to bottom, that is a very good hockey team,” he said.
“They have a lot of depth and the way (Lumberjacks coach and GM Marc Lafleur) Marc’s teams go, regardless of how they start, they just keep getting better and better.
“They are certainly going to be a team to contend with right to the very end.”
Despite the Rock’s current mini-slump, Beer is happy to see his squad tied for top spot in the East Division heading into the break.
“Our team dynamics are completely different than they were at this point last year,” he said.
“We have young talent that is growing. We have older talent that is very mature and doing the right thing. This is a team that I am confident is going to be right there to the very end.
“We have some great skill on this team and some hard-working guys. When everything is going good, our guys buy into the program.”
A number of Rock players caught the eye of their coach during Saturday night’s contest.
“Three guys really stood out on the back end,” Beer said.
“Carson Burlington had another good game. He was very steady and (Eric) Moreau and (Luka) Bolduc are unheralded. They don’t get a lot of time on the power play, but they go out there and they do the right things.
“You look at a guy like Ben Jossinet, who came into the lineup after being a scratch Friday night. He had lots of jump and I was very impressed with him.
“The top guys were good, as well. Josh Dickson is playing some great hockey right now.”
Lafleur was naturally happy to see his Lumberjacks sweep the home-and-home series from the Rock.
“We knew going into the weekend that getting any points would be very tough,” he said.
“So, to get the four points, we are very happy. We are playing pretty solid hockey right now.
“At the same time, it is a game of bounces and the last couple of games the pucks have bounces our way a little bit more than they did for the Rock.”
As one might expect, Lumberjacks coach was pleased with his squad’s defensive play — especially during the first half of the third period —Saturday night.
“We knew special teams were going to play a big part in a home-and-home series like this,” Lafleur said.
“We killed off some pretty big penalties and won the key moments in tonight’s game. When you win the key moments, you are going to win the game.
“It was through hard work, obviously, but Lady Luck was on our side.”
Even though Tallarico allowed three goals in the contest, he was a difference maker — especially at key points when it looked like the Rock were starting to build momentum.
“He has been rock solid for us all year and Nic turned in another terrific performance for us,” Lafleur said.
Tallarico, of course, was not the only Lumberjacks player to impress his coach Saturday night.
“When you win games like this, you go around the room and you notice that a lot of guys chipped in,” Lafleur said.
Despite the loss, the Rock (22-14-2-0) remain tied with the Cochrane Crunch (22-14-0-2) atop the NOJHL’s East Division standings heading into the Christmas break.
Meanwhile, the victory allowed the Lumberjacks (18-12-4-1) to leapfrog past the Powassan Voodoos (19-14-1-1) into fourth place in the East Division standings.
Tallarico, who turned aside 36 of the 39 shots the Rock directed his way, picked up his 12th win of the season.
Brisson, stopped 26 of the 31 shots he faced, was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The Daily Press three stars of Saturday night’s contest were Tallarico, Griffioen and Robitaille … The Rock did not dress defenceman Owen Shier (upper-body injury), forward Linden Spencer (middle-body injury) and forward A.J. Campbell (serving a one-game suspension he picked up for being assessed an instigator penalty Friday night in Hearst) … The Rock went 1-7 on the power play, while the Lumberjacks were 2-4 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 926 … Saturday’s only other contest saw the Rayside-Balfour Canadians top the Eagles 5-2 in the Sault, Mich. … The Rock will return to action on Saturday, Jan. 5, when the take on the Rapids in French River. The next home game will be on Tuesday, Jan. 15, when they host the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is set for 7 p.m.