THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS French River Rapids goalie Kevin Donaghey tries to find the loose puck as teammate Chad Lafortune ties up Timmins Rock forward Linden Spencer in the crease during the first period of Saturday night’s NOJHL contest at the McIntyre Arena. The Rock went on to win the contest, their home opener, 3-0, over their East Division rivals. The Rock will entertain the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners at the McIntyre Arena on Sunday, at 7 p.m.
The Timmins Rock opened their 2018-19 NOJHL campaign with a 3-0 win over the French River Rapids at the McIntyre Arena Saturday night.
Rock goalie Tyler Masternak turned aside all 24 shots he faced — including 20 in the first two periods — to pick up the shutout.
The contest remained scoreless until late in the second period when 16-year-old forward Keegan McMullin scored his first Junior ‘A’ goal from in close with just 18.04 seconds remaining on the clock to put the Rock in front 1-0.
“It is a really good feeling to get the monkey off your back in the first game,” he said.
“I feel that goal took a bit of the wind out of their sails and then we were able to add a couple of goals in the third period, which was really good.”
McMullen picked up an assist on one of those third-period goals, giving him a two-point night.
Not bad for a player who did not see action in any of the Rock’s three exhibition contests because he was away at training camp with the OHL’s Peterborough Petes.
“It was really nice to get into my first game tonight in front of such a large crowd,” McMullen said.
The 6-0, 165-pound Cambridge native noted the Rapids did not give the Rock much space — especially during the first two periods.
“They were really hard on the forecheck and they were really fast,” McMullen said.
“We had to change our game around a bit, but after that we did pretty well.”
McMullen’s second-period goal stood up to be the game-winner as the Rock came out flying in the third period, outshooting the Rapids 11-4.
Maxime Charbonneau provided the home side with a little insurance at the 4:11 mark of the period when he notched his first goal in a Rock uniform.
Defenceman Alexis Quane-Arsenault then iced things when he scored his first goal of the season just 35 seconds later.
Rock coach Corey Beer was pleased with the outcome of Saturday night’s contest, but felt there was room for improvement in his team’s game.
“We got off to a bit of a slow start, maybe because of jitters playing in front of such a large crowd,” he said.
“As things got going, we kind of settled in and Tyler Masternak made a bunch of calm saves and took care of business that way.
“It was great to see our guys execute in the third period and really get things going. We were waiting for the offence to kick into gear and it finally did.”
Beer agreed McMullen’s goal late in the second period was a turning point in the contest.
“It was huge,” he said.
“Any time a team scores a goal in the last three minutes of a period or the first three minutes of a period it is such a momentum builder.
“I thought McMullin was terrific all game. He forechecks so hard and he hunts the puck so well. He has got good skill and his speed is terrific. I thought he was probably one of our best players overall all night.
“For him to score his first Junior ‘A’ goal was special for him.”
McMullin was one of three 16 year olds making their debut in a Rock uniform Saturday night. The others were blue-liners Owen Shier and Carson Burlington.
“There are going to be nights when they look their age and nights when they don’t,” Beer said.
“I think tonight was a mix of both. Getting a win certainly helps. Everybody looks better in a win.”
Shier had the crowd buzzing late in the third period when he dove face first in front of a shot to the left of the Rock net. Luckily the puck deflected off another part of his body up and over the glass.
“He bit a little too hard the one way and the next thing you know, he slid over and made that play,” Beer said.
“He got a little bit of a pat on the back from the boys and I am sure he felt good about that, but I think the guy who was the happiest was probably Tyler Masternak.”
New Rock captain Derek Seguin, who picked up an assist on Quane-Arsenault’s goal, also played a strong game.
“I thought he was great on the power play, the penalty kill and at regular strength,” Beer said.
“He played a good two-way hockey game. We are fortunate to have guys who can play down the middle of the ice.
“When you look at Seguin and (Stewart) Parnell, too, they are 200-foot monsters. You don’t win in the long run without those kind of guys in your lineup and both of them were terrific tonight.”
Going forward, Beer knows his team needs to clean up a few of the miscues that didn’t cost them any goals against Saturday night.
“I think we need to tidy some stuff up in our own zone,” he said.
“We also need to make sure we manage the puck a bit better. I don’t think we did a great job of that early on in this game. We had a lot of turnovers and a lot of toe drags.”
For the Rapids, Saturday night’s setback was the second loss on a three-game road trip through the North that started with a 4-1 decision against the Crunch in Cochrane Friday night.
New coach Shawn Frappier feels his squad has lots of room for improvement.
“Our boys were tired tonight,” he said.
“We can use any excuse we want, but that’s part of Junior ‘A’ hockey. If our guys want to move on to the next level, they can’t blame the referees and they can’t blame being tired. They have just got to play.”
Frappier knows the importance of every point his team gets or doesn’t get — even early in the season.
“The league is going to be competitive this year,” he said.
“We have got a young team, but our guys have got to learn they have to show up every day. A lot of them have never played in a system before, which is kind of mind boggling to me.
“Growing up, playing in the OHL and playing professionally, it is your Bible. They have learned a lot of new things already and they have played portions of the system. A lot of it is just good habits, whether it is stopping on the puck, or making that good first pass.
“Our guys did a lot of good things tonight, but when the wheels came off, they came off.”
Despite the loss, goalie Donaghey impressed his coach with his strong play Saturday night.
“He played well,” Frappier said.
“He was always square to the puck. You really couldn’t fault him for the loss. He made a lot of really nice saves.
“The first goal, the two-on-one, that was just tough. It was a real nice play. On another one of the goals, our guys just backed in on him.
“He played a really good game and he impressed me, for sure.”
The Rapids made great strides towards respectability last season and Frappier wants to take that a step further in 2018-19.
“The team has had a culture of losing and I want to change that,” he said.
“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We can’t make excuses. We can’t blame anybody but ourselves.”
Consistency is one of the things Frappier is looking for out of his players.
“It’s practice, practice, practice,” he said.
“You play the way you practice. If you practise like crap, you are going to play like crap.
“All I ask is every practice they show up for two hours. It’s a learning process.”
In addition to picking up the shutout, Masternak earned his first win of the season in his first start of the campaign.
Donaghey, who stopped 27 of the 30 shots he faced, was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The Daily Press three stars of the game were Masternak, Charbonneau and McMullin … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 1,211 … Both the Rock and the Rapids were 0-6 with the man advantage … The Rock did not dress forwards Mahingan Decontie and Maxime Piquette, as well as defencemen Connor Mullins, Ian Elkins and Eric Moreau … Saturday night’s other action saw the Powassan Voodoos get past the Gold Miners 6-4 in Kirkland Lake, the Beavers blast the Espanola Express 8-1 in Blind River and the Soo Eagles dump the Wildcats 4-1 in Elliot Lake.
Game Photos courtesy of Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)