By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock’s hopes of finishing second in the NOJHL’s East Division standings were dealt a severe blow Thursday night at the McIntyre Arena.
While the Rock (27-12-3-0) were sleep walking their way through a lethargic effort that ended with the visiting Kirkland Lake Gold Miners skating off with a 4-1 victory, the Cochrane Crunch (32-11-4-1) edged the Eskis 3-2 in Iroquois Falls to take the first half of their home-and-home series and extend their lead over Timmins to 12 points.
True, the Rock still have six games in hand on their rivals, but assistant coach James Daschuk knows time is running out — quickly.
“Eventually, those games in hand won’t be games in hand anymore,” he said.
“If we can’t play any better in a home game before a weekend off, and come out like this with no sense of urgency, it’s not acceptable.
“We have got to make up those points somewhere if we want home-ice advantage in the playoffs. We have got to start winning. Kirkland Lake is a good team, but we have got to win these games.”
The victory allowed the Gold Miners (21-20-4-2) to pull within nine points of the third-place Rock and further distance themselves from the Eskis (15-26-3-0), allow Timmins has five games in hand on Kirkland Lake and Iroquois Falls has played three fewer games.
Daschuk was not happy with the effort the Rock put forth Thursday night and thought their compete level left much to be desired.
“When we got our goal to tie things up at 1-1, we expected the momentum to turn in our favour but it didn’t seem like we had any momentum the whole night,” he said.
“We were flat and I thought we were a little bit behind the whole night, a little bit behind reading plays, a little bit behind on our forecheck. There were a lot of attempted stick checks, with their guys just skating right by our guys, instead of our guys throwing body checks.
“There just didn’t seem to be any sense of urgency and the key word tonight, I think, was selfishness. We had the same guys turning the puck over five of six times.
“In the offensive zone, in my opinion, our play was just selfish and our guys were not taking the hit to make plays in the defensive zone. Our D were not moving the puck up to our forwards.
“Our guys were not sticking to the program 100%.”
The Gold Miners jumped out to a 1-0 first period lead Thursday night, as Gunnar
Wegleitner scored his ninth goal in six games since making the move to Kirkland Lake.
The Gold Miners had acquired the rights to the Vancouver native from the Surrey Eagles, of the BCHL, back in July, but he spent most of the season with the Victoria Royals, of the WHL.
Daschuk, for one, was impressed with the play of the new Gold Miners sniper.
“Tonight is the first time we have faced him,” he said.
“They picked him up at the deadline and obviously he is a good player.”
The Rock tied things up just 51 seconds into the second period, as captain Jordan Rendle scored his 25th goal of the season.
Wegleitner’s second goal of the game and 10th of the season with 2:33 remaining in the middle frame restored the visitors’ one-goal lead, however, and Kevin Ford added his 28th goal of the season 41 seconds later to send the Gold Miners to the dressing room for the second intermission with a 3-1 lead.
That’s the way the score remained until late in the third period when the Rock pulled goalie Jeff Veitch in favour of an extra attacker and Alex Storjohann deposited his 13th goal of the season into the empty net to make the final score 4-1 in favour of the Gold Miners.
In addition to being lethargic, Daschuk felt the Rock deviated too far from their game plan Thursday night.
“Our guys who have the speed weren’t using it tonight,” he said.
“We weren’t trying to go wide on anybody. When we did try to go wide, we weren’t getting anything productive out of it. We would kind of bury ourselves in the corners.
“We did have some scoring chances, but for the most part we were dead tonight.
“We just didn’t have it tonight. I am not sure why. We looked prepared before the game.”
The assistant coach felt the Gold Miners deserved the two points they earned Thursday night.
“I thought they played a fantastic road game,” he said.
“They kept things simple all night and they were able to get pucks deep on us. They really forechecked us and they had very good puck pursuit. They committed very few turnovers. When they got in trouble, they just flipped the puck out off the glass. Basically, they did what we normally tell our players to do.”
Safe to say the Gold Miners beat the Rock at their own game.
Despite picking up two points, Gold Miners coach and general manager Marc Lafleur feels his squad has room for improvement.
“We played well, but there were moments where we weren’t smart,” he said.
“If it weren’t for (Gold Miners goalie) Ridge Gerads, who bailed us out quite a few times, with some of our puck management mistakes, it could have been a different outcome.
“He was a difference maker for us tonight.
“There is a time to go for it and have four guys in the rush and there are times when you have got to ease up.
“If you don’t have a play with the puck, you have to just get rid of it. We are getting better at it, but we still have a lot of improvements in that area that we have to make before the playoffs start.”
Lafleur was again impressed with the play of Wegleitner Thursday night.
“We made the deal in the summer and we were hoping it would pay off for us,” he said.
“We were happy that Gunnar ended up making Victoria at the start of the year and while things didn’t work out for him in the WHL this year, we are happy to have him come here and get a lot of ice time, get his confidence and see what happens for next year.
“He is riding a wave of confidence right now and he has given us a shot of offence up front that I think we needed. His arrival has greatly improved our depth up front.”
The Gold Miners also added Evan Look to an already solid defensive corps.
“He has really shored up our blue-line,” Lafleur said.
Home-grown product Marshal Nikitin also caught his coach’s eye Thursday night.
“He is playing left wing now and he is still getting acclimatized to that position,” Lafleur said.
“He played terrific at both ends of the ice tonight and managed the puck very well.”
Gerads turned aside 31 of the 32 shots the Rock fired his way and picked up the win for the Gold Miners.
Veitch stopped 27 of the 30 shots he faced against his former teammates and was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The Rock did not dress forward Jacob Shankar (undisclosed) and goalie Albert Rogers (upper-body) … The Daily Press Three Stars of the Game were Wegleitner, Rendle and Gerads … The Rock were 0-3 on the power play, while the Gold Miners were 1-2 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 568 … The Rock will return to action on Tuesday night when they host the Crunch at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is 7:30 p.m.