By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – Timmins Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne juggled his lines Monday night, resulting in the visiting French River Rapids getting bounced 8-3 at the McIntyre Arena.
“Our second line, which was (Wayne) Mathieu, (Tyler) Romain and (Nicholas) Hway, were on the ice for five or six of our goals,” he said.
“They really turned it on and that made a big difference. Mixing the lines seemed to give everybody a little extra life.
“We needed some more production from our first line and our second line and we got it tonight.
Romain finished with a goal and four assists, while Mathieu had a goal and three helpers.
With Mathieu dropping down from the first line to the second and Cory Sprague sidelined with an upper-body injury, captain Jordan Rendle was joined on the first line by Bain Cunningham and Jacob Shankar.
The one line Gagne did not tinker with Monday night was the third unit featuring Alexandre Brisson, Stewart Parnell and Cole Gilligan.
“They put on another seminar tonight,” he said.
“It was just incredible.”
With newly acquired forward Maxime Lague not available, the Rock used affiliates Evan Kentish-Stack and Seth Rueben, from the Timmins Majors, up front.
“They fit right in and they had some good chances,” Gagne said.
“Evan could have had two goals tonight.”
Playing the first game of four in seven nights, the coach opted to go with Jeff Veitch in goal in place or Albert Rogers Monday night.
“I thought the last game we played in Kirkland Lake, Rogers played excellent, but we have seen him play better,” Gagne said.
“And we wanted to get Jeff some action. We don’t want him to get stale sitting on the bench, plus we have a lot of games ahead of us.”
The Rock pounced on the Rapids early and built up a 3-0 first-period lead while outshooting the visitors 26-3 during the opening 20 minutes of play.
Hway, promoted to the second line, got the puck rolling when he beat Rapids goalie Korlan Vader for his fourth goal of the season at the 5:43 mark of the opening frame.
Rendle increased the Rock advantage to two goals when he netted his 23rd goal of the season just under three minutes later.
Defenceman Brendan Campbell added his third goal of the season, a power-play marker, five-and-a-half minutes later to send the Rock to the dressing room for the first intermission with a 3-0 lead.
Fellow blue-liner James Waiter scored his third goal of the season 3:26 into the second period to increase the Rock lead to four goals.
It took the Rapids just 24 seconds to respond, however, as Christian Gaudreau beat Veitch for his eighth goal of the season to make it a 4-1 hockey game.
Then Austin Hickner added his fourth goal of the season 12 minutes later to pull the Rapids to within a pair of goals.
That would be as close as the visitors would come to getting back on even terms, however.
Romain struck for his 23rd goal of the season just over a minute after Hickner’s goal to put the Rock in front 5-2 heading into the third period.
With his line accounting for 11 points Monday night, Romain agreed there was instant chemistry among the trio.
“We were clicking today and finding each other out there,” he said.
“Wayne and Nick both played great games tonight. Nick knows what he has to do when he is out there and we were talking all game about stuff to work on and he was ready for the task.”
Romain knew the Rock could not give any more ground after the Rapids had battled back to make it a 4-2 hockey game.
“We knew we had to keep things simple and we couldn’t give them any more life,” he said.
“Getting that fifth goal was big and we knew what we had to do out there. We had to keep the puck down low and work it down low. When we cycle the puck, we are a pretty hard team to stop.”
Defenceman Patrick Gazich scored his fourth goal of the season 3:13 into the third period to put the Rock in front 6-2.
Mathieu then added his 15th goal of the season to increase the home side’s advantage to five goals.
Brisson netted his 14th goal of the season, a power-play marker, just over three minutes later to make it an 8-2 hockey game.
It appeared that would be the way the contest would end, but William Michaud beat Veitch for his second goal of the season, a power-play marker, with just 20 seconds remaining on the clock to make the final 8-3.
Gagne was impressed with how the Rapids kept coming, even after they fell behind by six goals.
“I have to give them credit,” he said.
“They really work hard and they make things happen. You could tell it was hard on their morale, but their goaltender made some incredible saves or it would have been a lot more than eight goals against.
“There was one play where Parnell made a pass across to Brisson and he came across so quickly it was amazing. He is a nice little goalie.”
Rapids assistant coach Denis Commanda was not too disappointed in his team’s effort Monday night — especially given that it was the Rapids’ third game in three nights and that they have been ravished of late by the injury bug.
“We did fairly well considering the number of injuries we sustained,” he said.
“I think the schedule wore our guys out a little bit. We played a good game in Cochrane (a 2-1 loss to the Crunch Saturday night) and then we fell 5-3 to the Eskis Sunday in Iroquois Falls.”
Commanda refused to speculate about how bad any of the injuries his team suffered Monday night might be or how long the players would be out.
“I am not a medical person,” he said.
“Hopefully, they will be OK.”
The assistant coach agreed with Gagne’s assessment of Vader’s play.
“He played really well for us again this evening,” Commanda said.
“He played really well for us in the first game in Cochrane, as well.”
Veitch, making just his second start in a Rock uniform, stopped 24 of the 27 shots he faced to pick up his first victory with his new squad.
Vader turned aside 47 of the 55 shots the Rock fired his way and was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars were Romain, Mathieu and Vadar … The Rock were 2-9 on the power play, while the Rapids were 1-4 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 519 … The Rock will return to action on Thursday night when they host the Cochrane Crunch at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.