By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
KIRKLAND LAKE – Gunnar Wegleitner scored three goals and set up a fourth to help lead the Gold Miners to their seventh-straight victory Thursday night at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex
Gold Miners coach and general manager Marc Lafleur was pleased with his squad’s effort.
“We just want to take things shift by shift right now and game by game right now,” he said.
“Obviously, we are on a streak. As a coach, we usually welcome weekends off, but right now we are so hot I wish we would be playing this weekend. We are just going to enjoy this little break and come back on Tuesday and get back to work.”
Lafleur agreed one of the keys for the Gold Miners Thursday night was being patient.
“All year, we have been stressing puck management but you have to remember we don’t have one vet back from last year,” he said.
“It comes back to guys understanding how to play when they are away from the puck. There is a time to go for it and a time not to. Our guys are buying in and they are starting to understand.
“If you break it down, we are winning our one-on-one battles, both offensively and defensively.”
The 4-1 setback was the second-straight for the Timmins Rock who were playing their fifth road game in seven nights.
Despite that hectic schedule, the Rock outplayed the Gold Miners during the opening 20 minutes of play, although neither team was able to find the back of the net.
The scoreless standoff stretch just past the midway point of the second period and it wasn’t snapped until Wegleitner broke down the left wing and drilled a shot that seemed to handcuff Rock goalie Albert Rogers.
The netminder appeared to duck on the play thinking the puck was going to sail harmlessly over the crossbar, but it found the back of the net for Wegleitner’s 12th goal of the season.
Timmins got back on even terms just under three minutes later when Alexandre Brisson broke in all alone while killing a penalty to beat Kirkland Lake goalie Ridge Gerads for his 17th goal of the season.
It took the Gold Miners just 10 seconds to regain the lead, however, as Ashton Amaya scored his 24th goal of the season with Kirkland Lake still on the power play.
Wegleitner’s 13th goal of the season and second of the night less than two minutes later expanded the home side’ lead to 3-1 heading into the second intermission.
That’s the way the score stayed until late in the third period with the Rock contemplating lifting Rogers in favour of an extra attacker.
Before that could happen, however, the Gold Miners broke in on a two-on-one and Wegleitner converted on a cross-crease pass for his 14th goal of the season and third of the night to make the final score 4-1.
Rock assistant coach James Daschuk agreed the contest had bit of a playoff atmosphere to it.
“It was a pretty tight game, back and forth,” he said.
“Both teams were playing pretty good hockey and there weren’t too many mistakes being made out there.
“I thought we were right there with them. They just brought a little bit more than we did tonight. Maybe they won three or four more faceoffs that we did tonight. Maybe they had five or six more shots than we had tonight. Through the course of a 60-minute game, it adds up. That, I think, was the difference.
“We maybe made one or two more mistakes more than they did and they found the back of the net. Our mistakes seemed to find the back of the net tonight and that’s usually the outcome in hockey games.”
The Rock have led the NOJHL in goals for most of the season, but Thursday night they were only able to get one past Gerads.
“We had a lot of good scoring chances, but we just couldn’t capitalize on them,” Daschuk said.
“Their goalie made the saves he had to make and I think that was a factor. Those guys worked hard, too, and they came back hard on the backcheck.
“They played pretty tight defensively and you are not going to score five or six goals every game. You can’t expect your team to do that.
“We have been pretty consistent with the goals all year and I don’t think one or two games is going to turn us into a low-scoring team all of a sudden.”
Even though the Rock were playing their fifth game in seven nights, they showed more jump than they had Tuesday night against the Crunch in Cochrane.
“I don’t think we played tired tonight,” Daschuk said.
“I don’t feel fatigue caused any of our mistakes. I don’t think it was a factor whatsoever tonight.
“I thought the boys worked hard tonight. A lack of hard work wasn’t our problem tonight. We are in pretty good shape and the guys are in mid-season form.”
Daschuk was impressed with the play of the Rock’s blue-line corps Thursday night.
“They were keeping things pretty simple tonight,” he said.
“There wasn’t anything fancy out there. Everybody just did their jobs. (James) Watier had a pretty good game. He has been playing pretty aggressive and with more confidence. He has been pinching and taking the body.”
The line of Wegleitner, Amaya and Alex Storjohann accounted for all four Kirkland Lake goals Thursday night, but Lafleur felt the contributions of his other units were just as important.
“At the end of the day, they got all for goals, yes, but you have got to remember the other lines and what they contributed offensively and defensively,” he said.
The Gold Miners had perhaps their most impressive game of the season in terms of defensive zone coverage.
“We were very weak defensively at the start of the year,” Lafleur said.
“Every single practice, we have worked on technique. Defensively, our guys are getting better and I hope we are peaking at the right time.”
The coach was again pleased with the netminding of Gerads, who was forced to change his mask following a collision with a Rock forward midway through the contest but did not miss a beat.
“Our goaltending has been very solid since December,” Lafleur said.
“They (Gerads and Allan Menary) are making the key saves at the key moments. If you want to go far and have success as a team, you best position has to be your goaltending.
“If you know Ridge, he is probably the most competitive kid you have ever met, whether he is playing ping pong, or whatever. He is so competitive, I don’t think he even noticed that he should have been rattled when he was forced to change his mask.
“He made a couple of big saves right after that happened.”
Lafleur was also impressed with the effort put forth by a number of other Gold Miners Thursday night.
“Marshal Nikitin is learning the left side and he has been terrific in terms of puck management,” he said.
“And Max Cavallini is coming into his own playing a rough, in-your-face game, winning one-on-one battles. He is small, but he is very competitive.
“Brandon Carr-Ansah, on the blue-line, was solid, as well. He is just getting better and better as the schedule progresses.”
Gerads stopped 31 of the 32 shots the Rock fired his way to pick up the victory.
Rogers, making his sixth-straight start in the Rock net, turned aside 28 of the 32 shots he faced and was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The Rock were without the services of forward Jacob Shankar (serving the first game of a four-game suspension he picked up for a kneeing infraction incurred during Tuesday’s 6-1 loss in Cochrane) and defenceman Brendan Campbell (illness) … The three stars of the game were Wegleitner, Gerads and Amaya … The Rock went 0-2 on the power play, while the Gold Miners were 1-3 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex Thursday night was 231 … The Rock will return to action on Saturday night when they host the Elliot Lake Wildcats at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.