By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock battled back to derail the Espanola Express 4-2 at the McIntyre Arena Friday night.
Bain Cunningham’s goal 49 seconds into the final period snapped a 2-2 tie and stood up to be the game-winner.
Cunningham, playing his first game after returning from the injury list, beat Express goalie Mitchell Jones from in close for his second goal of the game and fourth of the season.
“I was just driving hard to the net, hoping to get some nice rebounds and scoring opportunities and good things happened tonight,” Cunningham said.
The power forward actually had a couple of opportunities to net a third goal later in the third period, but he just couldn’t complete the hat-trick.
“I was hoping for one, but it didn’t happen,” Cunningham said.
“We had a lot of momentum and I had a couple of chances but I just couldn’t bury them.”
Playing in his familiar spot on a line with centre Jordan Rendle and right winger Devin Panzeca, Cunningham didn’t miss a beat.
“We were getting shots on net and we were moving the puck really well in the offensive zone,” he said.
“We kept getting shots and good things happened.
“We weren’t too bad in the defensive zone, either. We kept moving the puck out quick.”
What was the big difference in the play of the Rock in the second and third periods after the sluggish first?
“Just our attitudes,” Cunningham said.
“Coming out of the first, we were really negative but we put things together and had a really good second and third and won the game.”
Cunningham was impressed with the play of the Express Friday night.
“You can’t underestimate any team in this league because they are all really good teams and you never know what is going to happen,” he said.
“They are a solid team and you could really see it in the first period. Thankfully we were able to bounce back.”
Rock assistant coach James Daschuk was a lot happier with his team’s play in the second and third periods than he was during the opening frame.
“Our first period was definitely a slow one,” he said.
“I was not impressed. Everything we seemed to try wasn’t working for us. We didn’t stick to our game plan one bit. We had talked about being aggressive with these guys and we expected to create a lot of turnovers but we came out flat. Simple assignments were not being done. Stuff that we had been doing since August, was not being done. Simple dump ins, we could do it. Taking our guy off the face-off, all the easy things we had been doing for a long time just wasn’t being done in that first period.
“We had been winning hockey games lately by using our brains and focusing, so we just drilled into their heads and reinforced the game plan between periods.
“There was no need for panic. We were down two but we knew if we stuck to the plan it wouldn’t be too bad.”
Friday’s victory extended the Rock’s victory streak to four games and they have now won six of their past seven contests.
Daschuk was glad to see Cunningham back in the Rock lineup Friday night.
“Bainer plays on our second line, so when he gets back it just makes every other line better,” he said.
“He is a big body and he works hard. He has been playing well with Panzeca and Rendle and that line has been together since Day 1. They love playing together and they feed off each other.”
Dachuk was also impressed with the play of Rock goalie Matthew Nixon, who earned his second victory in two starts against the Express.
“Nix let in two goals, but one was a deflection and he had no chance on the other one,” he said.
“It’s his first home win, so he is pretty happy.
“And (defenceman Jared) Hester got his first goal of the season. When guys like that are contributing, it’s awesome.
The first period was all Express, with the visitors building up a 2-0 lead on a sluggish Rock squad that was seeing its first game action since Oct. 7.
Ian Thompson potted his third goal of the season 14:04 into the opening frame to get the ball rolling for the visitors.
Aaron Beauchamp increased the Express advantage to 2-0 just 25 seconds later when he beat Nixon.
The Rock came out much stronger in the second period and Cunningham’s third goal of the season, a power-play marker, cut the Express lead to 2-1 at the 13:24 mark.
Hester netted his first goal of the season just over two minutes later to get the Rock back on even terms before the end of the second period.
After Cunningham’s second goal of the game put the home side up 3-2, Ryan Theriault scored his sixth goal of the season at the four-minute mark to provide the home side with a little insurance.
As the period progressed, the Rock buzzed all around Jones but the goalie was able to hold the deficit at two goals.
While the Express have only won one hockey game, coach Tom McCarthy has not lost faith in his young squad.
“We don’t have a lot of junior hockey experience but the biggest thing we need to do is stay the course,” he said.
“Probably about eight minutes into the second period tonight we stopped doing the things that we had been doing well in the first period to build up our lead. That changed the momentum and gave it to the other team.
“We are not doing the small, little, simple things that need to be done consistently and that is our biggest issue.”
You could almost see a drop in the confidence level of the Express players once the Rock netted their first goal.
“The first word written on my board was trust and our players need to understand how to bounce back from that goal. You could read the body language of our team and it has been a little bit of a nemesis for us all year. We take three, four or five minutes after the other team scores to get back into the game. If they get another chance to score again, it compounds again.
“We need to flip right away and get a little bit more aggravated so that we don’t allow it and change that. That is one of our major issues and it does become a mental thing more than a physical thing.”
McCarthy was pleased with the play of a few Express players Friday night.
“We just acquired a few hockey players, so they are new to me, but I enjoyed (Patrick) Smith’s game tonight,” he said.
“He is a new player we just got Wednesday and he has just played a couple of games. I am liking his game.
“I am also liking the game of the young (MacKenzie) Aiken. He is only 16 years old and for a young man he is physically capable and mentally capable. He really needs to mature and get more experience to add to his whole repertoire.
“I also liked the play of the young (Riley) Tilot boy on defence. He plays a simple game. He is not going to rock ’em sock ’em, but he is going to play steady Eddie every time he is on the ice.”
Nixon turned aside 22 of the 24 shots he faced to earn the victory for Timmins, while Jones blocked 32 of the 36 shots the Rock fired his way and was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The Rock went 1-2 on the power play, while the Express did not have any extra-man opportunities … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 410 … The Rock will return to action Sunday afternoon when they host the Cochrane Crunch at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is 2 p.m. … Friday’s other action saw the Crunch edge the Elliot Lake Wildcats 6-5 in Cochrane and the Soo Eagles get past the Rapids 5-3 in French River.