By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – Wayne Mathieu’s goal 55 seconds into overtime lifted the Timmins Rock to a 3-2 win over the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners at the McIntyre Arena Saturday night.
The victory helped the Rock strengthen their hold on third place in the NOJHL East Division standings, as they increased their advantage over the fourth-place Gold Miners to five points. Timmins also has three games in hand on the visitors.
“It felt great to get the win,” Mathieu said.
“The boys were buzzing and we should have had it (the game-winning goal) before that, but we found a way to come back and get the win.
“We really needed the two points and we needed to take this game from them.”
It was defenceman Jared Hester who did most of the work on Mathieu’s game-winning goal.
“Jared came out of the corner and put the puck on net,” Mathieu said.
“The puck was sitting on the line and me and Rendle both pushed it in, but I guess they gave me credit for it.”
Mathieu may have gotten the accolades for scoring the game-winning goal, but he was quick to share the credit.
“It was a real team win tonight,” he said.
“Right from the goaltending to the forwards, everyone played their roles tonight and played them well.”
Even after the Gold Miners tied things up late in the third period, Mathieu said the Rock remained confident they were going to be able to pick up the two points.
“When they got that goal, it just motivated us to play even harder,” he said.
“Our boys fight hard every night.”
It was the Gold Miners who found the back of the net first in this contest, as Matthew Brassard scored the first of his two goals on the night just 1:24 into the first period.
Rock starting goalie Matthew Nixon looked shaky on the play, but quickly settled down to keep his team in the game.
Defenceman Spencer Segui got the Rock back on even terms just past the midway point in the frame when he drilled a wrist shot over the glove hand of Gold Miners goalie Victor-Olivier Courchesne for his second goal of the season.
The contest remained deadlocked until late in the second period when Tyler Romain scored his eighth goal of the season.
The Rock carried that 2-1 advantage late into the third period, but he Gold Miners were able to tie things up and force overtime when Brassard scored his second goal of the game and fourth on the season with just 1:21 remaining in regulation.
Despite allowing that late goal, the Rock came close to regaining the lead in the final minute of the third period when Mathieu’s just missed picking the top corner of the net on a wrist shot to Courchesne’s glove side.
Again, early in the first overtime period Mathieu had a glorious scoring opportunity that he was unable to convert, setting up his third excellent scoring chance in the span of two minutes — the one he converted for the game-winning goal.
Rock assistant coach Marc Bisson was pleased with his team’s effort Saturday night.
“We stuck to our game plan,” he said.
“We were trying to get pucks in deep and in the overtime the idea was for our defence to jump into the play. We really wanted to get the two points out of tonight’s game.”
The assistant coach felt the Gold Miners deserved to get the single point they were able to earn with the overtime loss.
“They are a good hockey team and you can’t take that away from them,” Bisson said.
“They came in here earlier this year and beat us. They have obviously made a lot of changes since then, but you can’t take them lightly.”
In that earlier contest, a 4-3 loss in the home opener, Nixon was not at his best.
“I thought Nixon had a good game for us tonight,” Bisson said.
“That was important. In the first period tonight we came out a little flat and we didn’t have the forecheck going the way we did in the second and the third periods.”
Nixon was not the only Rock player to bring their A game to the rink Saturday night.
“That power-play goal Romain scored in the second period to give us the lead was pretty important,” Bisson said.
“(Jordan) Rendle’s line with Mathieu and (Cory) Sprague is playing really well for us right now and they got the overtime winner tonight.
“Mathieu has the biggest heart. He never says die and his effort game-in and game-out is one of the reasons he has got an A on his jersey. He is respected in the dressing room by all of the guys because he just does not give up.”
Gold Miners coach and general manager Marc Lafleur was happy to see his squad fight back and earn a valuable point.
“Any time you can get a late goal to tie things up and get a point on the road is good, but we felt this was our game to win,” he said.
“We felt we outplayed them, but there were just a couple of key plays where we made very bad mistakes that killed us.”
The Gold Miners showed a great deal of patience when they fell behind, biding their time until they were able to get the equalizer.
“We have been working on trying to sustain pressure in the offensive zone and tonight we had it,” Lafleur said.
“When you get your chances, no matter what the score is, then there is confidence there. We knew we would get a break somehow late in the game and it happened.
“We played a structured game tonight, but it was just one of those games where a couple of mistakes really killed us.”
Lafleur was pleased with the effort put forth by number of Gold Miners Saturday night.
“Matthew Brassard is just 18 years old and I thought he was our best forward tonight,” he said.
“(Alex) Storjohann, who we just picked up, is learning the ropes right now and he played very well.
“Defensively, Lucas Dolanjski had another solid game.”
The Gold Miners have been playing a bit better hockey lately, but Lafleur is not convinced they have completely turned the corner just yet.
“We are still in a slump,” he said.
“We are playing better, but we are a better team than what we are showing right now. We just have to get everything together. For example, if our goaltending is red hot one night, that same night we have got to have our D playing well and our forwards playing well.
“The last couple of games, I feel it has been the other way around. We just have to get all the guys playing well at the same time.”
Nixon turned aside 27of the 29 shots the Gold Miners fired his way to pick up the win.
Courchesne, who was tagged with the loss, blocked 18 of the 21 shots he faced Saturday night.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars were Mathieu, Brassard and Rendle, wo picked up two assists in the contest … Defenceman Colin Esperon made his debut in a Rock uniform Saturday night … The Rock’s other new blue-liner, James Watier, was a healthy scratch … The Rock went 1-4 on the power play, while the Gold Miners were 0-5 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 681 … Saturday night’s other NOJHL action saw the Eskis dump the Blind River Beavers 7-2 in Iroquois Falls, the Eagles get past the Elliot Lake Wildcats 5-3 in Sault, Mich., the Powassan Voodoos edge the Canadians 3-2 in Rayside-Balfour and the Soo Thunderbirds blank the Rivermen 4-0 in Espanola … The Rock will return to action Wednesday night when they host the Eskis at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.