Timmins Rock goalie Gavin McCarthy stretches out his right pad to make a save on a shot off the stick of Elliot Lake Red Wings forward Brodie Kearns during the first period of Thursday night’s NOJHL contest at the McIntyre Arena. The Rock defeated the Red Wings 5-2 to strengthen their hold on top spot the East Division standings. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS
Captain Tyler Schwindt scored a pair of goals and added an assist to lead the Timmins Rock to a 5-2 win over the Elliot Lake Red Wings at the McIntyre Arena Thursday night.
The victory allowed the Rock (33-7-5-1) to increase their lead over the Lumberjacks (33-9-2-0) to four points atop the NOJHL’s East Division standings heading into a showdown at the Claude Larose Arena in Hearst Friday night.
Prior to the start of Thursday night’s contest, the Rock held a ceremony honouring Nicholas Gelinas, who is moving to Welland with his family, and Schwindt made it clear the victory was dedicated to the team’s long-time ambassador.
“Absolutely, Nic’s been a really big part of this team for a while,” he said.
“I remember when I came in as a rookie three years ago. He was phenomenal to me and made me feel at home here in Timmins.
“It is obviously sad to hear he is moving away, but I guarantee he will be around on social media and will make the trip up here to see a couple of games next year, for sure.”
After the Rock thumped the Red Wings 9-1 in Elliot Lake Sunday night, fans at the McIntyre Arena might have been expecting to see a little bit more fireworks.
Instead, neither team was able to find the back of the net during the opening 20 minutes of play.
It took just 35 seconds of the middle frame for the Rock to get on the scoreboard, however, with Dylan McElhinny netting an unassisted marker, his fourth goal of the season.
Schwindt added his first of two goals on the night and 32nd of the season four-and-a-half minutes later to put the Rock in front 2-0.
The second-period outburst continued just past the midway mark in the frame, as Harry Clark scored his eighth goal of the season.
Schwindt then added his second goal of the night and 33rd of the season with less than two minutes remaining in the period to send the Rock to the dressing room for the second intermission sporting a 4-0 advantage.
“We knew if we stuck to the game plan good stuff would happen for us,” Schwindt said.
“We got the job done in the second period.”
Blue-liner Carson Cox netted his seventh goal of the season just past the five-minute mark in the third period to push the Rock lead to 5-0.
The Red Wings added a pair of goals in the second half of the frame to close out the scoring.
Alex Antoine notched a power-play marker, his 16th goal of the season, and Brock McNaughton followed with his eighth goal of the campaign.
The Rock’s top line normally features Schwindt, Clark and Nicolas Pigeon, but with the later out of the lineup Christopher Engelbert stepped into that role.
“He is a great player,” Schwindt said.
“This is his rookie year, although he had a little bit of time last year with Cobourg (of the OJHL).
“He has come in as a younger guy and been phenomenal for us, put up points. He skates well.
“When we get to play with that guy, it’s good stuff.”
Schwindt knows the Rock will need a big effort Friday night in Hearst if they intend to finish first in the East Division standings.
“Since Day 1 here, we have wanted to finish in first place, so it all comes down to Friday night,” he said.
“The boys are going to be ready to go. It will be the most important game of the year, so it’s a big one.”
Rock coach and general manager Brandon Perry was glad to see his squad grab the two points Thursday night, but knows there is room for improvement.
“It was a big two points, we needed them obviously, but we are going to have to be way better Friday night,” he said.
“We definitely have to find a fire, another gear, a will to win.
“Structurally, we are as good as anybody, talent wise, we are as good as anybody in the league.
“Friday night, against a team like Hearst, it is just going to come down to will.”
The second half of the two-game series against the Red Wings mirrored the outcome of the Rock’s two games against the Beavers (10-0 victory in Blind River and 3-2 win back on home ice).
“We just worked harder Sunday night, the same as the game in Blind River,” Perry said.
“After you beat a team that bad, it is easy to come in and not be as mentally sharp as you should be or work as hard as you should.
“They played a lot harder tonight, but we weren’t anywhere to close to being as sharp, or as hungry as we were (Sunday night).”
Perry was once again impressed by the timeliness of Schwindt’s contributions on the scoreboard.
“That’s why Schwinny is our captain,” he said.
“There are times when we need to get going and he has always been there whether we need a goal late, the winner. He has always been that guy, all year.
“We obviously weren’t happy with our first period and he came out and got two goals. It is just who he is, he has been a great leader.”
The Rock employed a pair of affiliate players Thursday night, in Timmins Majors forwards Bradley Moore and Tristan Bouchard.
“Moore has been great,” Perry said.
“He has played the last two (games) for us now and played a game earlier in the season.
“I just know what to expect from him. I coached him for a long time. He is a great kid and he works extremely hard. He is tough.
“And I thought Bouchard did a great job, playing his first Junior ‘A’ game.”
A number of other Rock regulars caught their coach’s eye Thursday night, as well.
“I thought Tyler Gilberds was really good all night,” Perry said.
“I think he gets a little frustrated, maybe not scoring, but I really liked his game.
“I thought (Rock goalie) Gavin McCarthy was solid, although we let him down there in the third period.
“Schwinny and Clarkie were good tonight and Engelbert is just solid every single night. He is so smart and good at commanding the play and the puck.
“There was no shortage of good effort, it is just I thought, as a team, as a whole, our effort could have been a little better.”
McCarthy turned aside 31 of the 33 shots he faced to earn his NOJHL-leading 23rd win of the season.
Red Wings netminder Ryder Gregga, who blocked 27 of the 32 shots the Rock directed his way, was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The Daily Press three stars of the game were Schwindt (two goals, one assist), Clark (one goal, two assists) and Engelbert (two assists) … The Rock went 0-4 on the power play, while the Red Wings were 1-3 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 643 … Thursday’s only other action saw the Cubs dump the Cochrane Crunch 6-1 in Sudbury … The Rock will take on the Lumberjacks at the Claude Larose Arena in Hearst on Friday, at 7 p.m.
Highlight of the Night” – NOJHL YouTube Channel