French River Rapids goalie Spencer Eschyshcyn juggles the puck with his catching glove as Timmins Rock forwards Seth Reuben, left, and Evan Kentish-Stack look on during the third period of Friday night’s NOJHL game at the McIntyre Arena. Eschyshcyn was able to hang onto the puck and force a faceoff on the play, as the Rapids went on to beat the Rock 3-1 and spoil their home opener. The Rock will host the Hearst Lumberjacks at the McIntyre Arena Saturday night . THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock failed to negotiate the Rapids Friday night and the end result was a 3-1 loss to French River in their 2017-18 NOJHL home opener at the McIntyre Arena.
After compiling a preseason record of 3-0-0-1, the Rock — at least their players —figured the Rapids, who finished dead last in the 12-team NOJHL in 2016-17, would be easy pickings.
“They have a terrific hockey team and we gave our players fair warning, but they assumed it was going to be a pushover,” said Rock coach Corey Beer.
“We were the ones who got rolled over, so lesson learned.”
Neither team was able to generate much in the way of offence in the first 11 minutes of the opening period, but the Rapids were finally able to break through when Jacob Uridil lifted a shot over Rock starting goalie Brendan Bishop to put the visitors in front 1-0.
The Rapids expanded their lead to 2-0 less than a minute and a half later, when Gregory Trudeau-Paquet beat Bishop with what would prove to be the game-winning goal.
Then, just over five minutes later, Rapids captain Jordan Picard, a Timmins native, beat Bishop to make it a 3-0 hockey game.
The Rock were finally able to get on the scoreboard with just under two minutes to play in the opening period when C.J. Bradburn scored his first goal of the season to cut the deficit to 3-1 heading into the first intermission.
Beer opted to pull Bishop, who had surrendered three goals on eight shots, in favour of Eric Jackson to start the second period and the back-up held the Rapids off the scoresheet for the remainder of the game.
Unfortunately for Rock fans, the home side was unable to generate any offence in the final 40 minutes of the contest, either.
“We had too many one and dones,” Beer said.
“You are never going to sustain any kind of pressure that way. We have to have a better commitment to winning the small battles and owning the puck.
“Any time you face a good, tight-checking team like French River, you have to take advantage of the opportunities you get, but we certainly didn’t do that tonight.”
Beer was pleased with the play of Jackson in relief of Bishop.
“Eric did a great job, but we have to have the puck to score goals,” he said.
“When we are chasing the puck around and not winning the battles, that’s what is going to happen.”
There is no secret to what the Rock have to do to turn things around the next time they step on the ice.
“I think work ethic has to be No. 1,” Beer said.
“If we are not going to be prepared to win battles and outwork the opposition, we are not going to win games. It is a pretty simple recipe.”
Who, in addition to Jackson, impressed Beer Friday night?
“Eric Jackson played really well,” he said.
That pretty well summed it up from the home team’s perspective.
Rapids coach Ken Strong was happy to see his squad open up its 2017-18 NOJHL campaign with a big road win.
“Our goaltending was really strong tonight,” he said.
“We had a little bit of a letdown in the second period, but the guys came back out in the third period and played well.
“That’s a good, fast hockey team we played tonight and they moved the puck well. Our goalie stood on his head and we have some guys who can score goals and we did take advantage of it.
“Their second goalie (Jackson) came in and really did a great job.”
Given the struggled the Rapids have experienced the past couple of years, Strong felt it was important for French River to get the jump on the Rock Friday night and took the crowd out of the game.
“That was our game plan, because we know this building can be very difficult to play in,” he said.
“They have great fans here in Timmins, but we were able to get a couple of quick goals, which took the wind out of their sails.
“This was a huge win for us. Our kids have to learn how to win again. We played a number of games in the exhibition season where we would get up in the first period and then just say, ‘OK we are not supposed to be here,’ and give up the game.
“Tonight (Friday), we hung in there and worked extra hard in the third period.”
Strong was impressed with the effort put forth by a number of his Rapids players in the contest.
“Our goalie, obviously, (Spencer) Eschyshcyn played phenomenally tonight,” he said.
“A couple of our forwards, Trudeau-Paquet and Picard, played really well and Uridil also played well.
“Three or four of our D also played well tonight. (Connor) Loft and (Stephen) Calisti were solid throughout the entire game.”
Despite the big road victory, Strong knows the Rapids are far from a finished product at this point.
“We still have a lot to work on,” he said.
“It’s still early in the season, but we know where we are going and what we need to work on. We are going to continue to do so moving forward. It’s all the little things that make the big difference.”
Rapids goalie Eschyshcyn stopped 25 of the 26 shots the Rock fired his way to earn the victory.
Bishop, who stopped five of the eight shots he faced, was tagged with the loss. Jackson stopped all 13 shots fired his way during the final two periods.
NOJHL NOTES — The Rock did not dress defenceman Shawn Sloan (healthy scratch) and forward Halen Cordoni (lower-body injury) … The Daily Press three stars of the game were Eschyshcyn, Trudeau-Paquet and Bradburn … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 1,066 … Friday night’s other NOJHL action saw the Lumberjacks blank the Soo Thunderbirds 2-0 in Hearst, the Voodoos dump the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners 7-2 in Powassan, the Rayside-Balfour Canadians defeat the Wildcats 5-2 in Elliot Lake and the Blind River Beavers get past the Express 6-4 in Espanola … The Rock will be back in action Saturday night when they will host the Lumberjacks at the McIntyre Arena, starting at 7 p.m.