THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS Timmins Rock goalie Tyler Masternak watches the puck fly off to his right after he made a first-period save during Sunday’s NOJHL game at the McIntyre Arena. Masternak stopped all 18 shots to faced to record his NOJHL-leading fourth shutout of the season as the Rock blanked the visiting Soo Thunderbirds 1-0. The victory allowed the Rock to stay within one point of the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners atop the NOJHL’s overall standings.
Tyler Masternak recorded his NOJHL-leading fourth shutout of the season as the Timmins Rock blanked the Soo Thunderbirds 1-0 at the McIntyre Arena Sunday afternoon.
With the victory, the Rock (14-7-1-0) were able to remain within one point of Kirkland Lake (15-4-0-0) atop the NOJHL’s overall standings.
The Gold Miner maintained their hold on top spot by blanking the Cochrane Crunch 2-0 at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex Sunday night.
The tight race for NOJHL supremacy has the Rock tied with the Powassan Voodoos (14-6-1-0), while the Thunderbirds (14-5-0-0) — the top team in the West Division — are one point back.
Sunday’s victory allowed the Rock to snap their mini two-game losing streak and hand the Thunderbirds their second setback during a three-game weekend road trip that wrapped up at the McIntyre Arena.
The final score might have been far different if the Rock snipers had a little better aim, as they rang five shots off the crossbar behind Soo goalie Colin Ahern during the penalty-filled contest and two more off the posts.
As it was, however, Austin Holmes’ first goal of the season, a power-play marker just past the midway point of the second period would prove to be the lone tally in the contest.
Rock coach Corey Beer was a lot happier with the outcome of Sunday’s contest than he was after Saturday night’s 3-2 loss to the Soo Eagles.
“We had a full, 60-minute effort in this game,” he said.
“There were a lot of penalties, so the flow of the game got taken out of it but I thought our guys’ attention to detail — especially through the neutral zone — was really good.
“We forechecked well and kept guys to the outside in our zone, so it was a good team win for us, for sure.”
The Rock took four of the six minor penalties called during the opening 20 minutes of play, but the Thunderbirds took all but one of the 11 infractions during the middle frame as their frustrations mounted.
Gage Stephaney was assessed a two-minute minor for roughing, a 10-minute misconduct for inciting, a second 10-minute misconduct for failing to go directly to the penalty box and a game misconduct for taking a second 10-minute misconduct in the same game during one stoppage in play.
Then, Tanner Mayne was assessed a double minor for spearing and a 10-minute misconduct for harassing an official/unsportsmanlike conduct less than two minutes later.
Rock defenceman Carson Burlington was tossed from the game just past the eight-minute mark of the third period when he was flagged for a check from behind and given to a game misconduct to go along with his two-minute minor.
The Thunderbirds were handed a glorious opportunity to net the equalizer when Rock defender Will Caston was sent off for cross-checking with 39 seconds remaining on the clock.
They pulled Ahern in favour of an extra attacker to create a two-man advantage, but the power play only lasted 37 seconds as Matthew Bazarin — a frequent visitor to the penalty box throughout the contest — received a double-minor for roughing, a 10-minute misconduct for inciting, a second 10-minute misconduct for failure to go directly to the penalty box, and a game misconduct for taking two misconduct penalties in the same game.
Rock forward Eamon Bollinger took a two-minute minor for roughing during the tussle.
Even though the Rock took penalties in the contest, their discipline was evident as Timmins players — including enforcer Tyler Hutchinson — walked away from confrontation after confrontation on Sunday.
“Hutch is one of those guys who is going to draw that kind of attention,” Beer said.
“With his reputation and how big he plays, it was credit to him and all of our guys for keeping their composure, especially in the second period.
“We had multiple power plays, but unfortunately I think we set a record for hitting crossbars and posts in a game. We just couldn’t bury the puck.”
One of the keys for the Rock was limited the number of miscues they had in their own zone.
“It was like night and day for our defence compared to Saturday night’s game,” Beer said.
“Our gap control was better and they were supporting their partners a lot better. I thought our hinge was terrific on transition, as well. We also moved the puck crisply today. When your defence can transport the puck cleanly into the forwards hands it makes for a cleaner game.”
Masternak faced just nine shots combined in the first two periods, but he had to come up with some key stops in the third period when the Thunderbirds matched that production.
“He did a tremendous job for us in the third period,” Beer said.
“He made the saves when we needed him to make them. It was a wild game. He really showed why he is a go-to guy for us.”
The Rock coach was pleased to see Holmes finally get on the scoreboard on Sunday.
“I think he scored in his first game with us as an AP (affiliate player) last year,” Beer said.
“He got that one out of the way real quick, but he has been working towards this goal, finding his way up and down the lineup.
“He is starting to play hockey the right way. He is getting rid of the toe drags. He is getting rid of the needless turnovers and he is starting to play more north-south hockey.
“He is really doing a good job on the penalty kill now, something he wasn’t noted for but he is starting to have more of an impact that way.”
For the first time this season, the Rock used a pair of affiliate players in the victory over the Thunderbirds, as Timmins Majors forward Landon Deforge and defenceman Cameron Dutkiewicz made their NOJHL debuts in the contest.
“I was incredibly impressed with both of them,” Beer said.
“Obviously, (Majors coach) Brandon (Perry) has done a great job of getting them ready to compete at the next level.
“They played limited minutes in a very intense game against a great hockey club, but I thought they did a tremendous job.”
A few Rock players who don’t normally enjoy the limelight caught the eye of their coach on Sunday.
“A few of the workmanlike guys, such as Darcy Haupt, had a great end to the game,” Beer said.
“Josh Dickson blocked a couple of shots for us tonight, as well. Hutch was good on his defensive exits and we had a lot better game from Capy (Matt Capisciolto).
“It was great to see from those guys. I might have rung them a bit hard last night for not having a good effort, but it was tremendous to see them come back and give us the effort we needed.”
Hutchinson was clearly in his element during Sunday’s contest, as he quickly got under the skin of a number of Thunderbirds.
“Beersy had a good game plan for us and he told me straight up, play hard, play physical, don’t change your game, but maybe stay out of the box,” he said.
“Let them take the stupid penalties and get revved up. Smile at them and wave as they make their way to the box.”
Hutchinson managed to be the object of the Thunderbirds’ wrath even when he wasn’t trying on Sunday.
On one play, the 6-4, 221-pound forward stepped off the Rock bench on a line change just as a Thunderbird was cruising past on a rush. The Soo player didn’t see the obstacle step out in front of him and crashed heavily into Hutchinson before crumbling to the ice.
“The boots were moving today and I just wanted to play some hockey,” he said.
“I didn’t want to spend time in the box or sit out. I just wanted to help get a big win for the boys.”
Thunderbirds coach John Parco must have thought he was in the Twilight Zone.
“It was one of the weirdest hockey games I have ever seen,” he said.
“It is what it is. We didn’t get a chance to play our hockey game. There was just penalty after penalty after penalty.
“When we stayed out of the box in the third period, we got some pressure but with this being our third game in three nights, we waited too long to play our game.
“With all the penalties, there was no flow to the game and it was tough to get going.”
Asked if this being the second meeting of the two teams in seven days might have accounted for it being a physical game, Parco said: “No, I don’t think so. Was it a physical game? There were lots of penalties, but I didn’t see much as far as clean, aggressive hockey. I just saw a lot of garbage.”
Ahern was solid in the Thunderbirds net and that fact didn’t elude his coach.
“It probably would have been 5-0 or 6-0 if it wasn’t for him,” Parco said.
Masternak needed to make just 18 saves to record his fourth shutout of the season and earn his 12th win of the campaign.
Ahern, who stopped 25 of the 26 shots the Rock directed his way, was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The Daily Press three stars of the game were Masternak, Holmes and Hutchinson … Rock forward Riley Robitaille served the first game of a three-game (under review) suspension he picked up for his actions at the end of Saturday night’s loss to the Soo Eagles … The Rock went 1-7 on the power play, while the Thunderbirds were 0-7 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 668 … Sunday’s only other contest saw the Rapids edge the Blind River Beavers 3-2 in French River … The Rock will travel to Powassan for a game against the Voodoos Friday night and then take on the Rapids in French River Saturday night. The next home game for the Rock will be on Friday, Nov. 16, when they host the Crunch at the McIntyre Arena.