COCHRANE — The Timmins Rock closed out their 2019-20 NOJHL regular season at the Tim Horton Event Centre Friday night the same way they started it — with a victory.
Converted blue-liner Phil Caron scored a pair of goals, as the Rock doubled up the Crunch 4-2, in a game that had originally been scheduled for Thursday night but was postponed because of bad weather and highway closures.
With the victory, the Rock — the first team in the league to wrap up their 56-game regular-season schedule — locked up second place in the NOJHL’s overall standings.
The Rock (42-11-2-1) will finish behind only the Powassan Voodoos (44-9-1-0) in both the East Division and overall standings and ahead of the West Division-champion Rayside-Balfour Canadians (39-11-3-2).
Things did not start out well for the Rock Friday night, as the Crunch dominated the opening five minutes — outshooting the visitors 5-0 and taking a 1-0 lead.
Michael Chapman got the Crunch on the scoreboard first when he beat former Cochrane goalie Justin Vertesi for his second goal of the season at the 2:34 mark of the opening period.
Despite the slow start, Rock coach Corey Beer was a lot happier with his team’s effort Friday night than he had been with Wednesday night’s home-ice 5-2 victory over the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners.
“That Kirkland Lake game, we were a little loose, but tonight we tightened up a lot of things, which was great,” he said.
“I looked up early on and we were getting outshot 5-0, but from that point on, I think it was 50-7 the rest of the way.
“It was a great response and I think it was one of our hardest-working games in a long time. I think that is great heading into the playoffs.”
The Rock, once again with a number of regulars out of the lineup, came alive less than three minutes later, however, with Caron notching his first of two goals on the night, his 20th tally of the season, tying the game at 1-1.
Karter Renouf followed with his 18th goal of the season nine-and-a-half minutes later to give the Rock a lead they would not surrender.
After being outshot 5-0 early on in the frame, the Rock held a 15-3 advantage in the remainder of the frame.
A pair of unanswered second-period goals allowed the Rock to expand their lead to 4-1.
Caron accounted for the first of those two tallies when he struck for a shorthanded marker, his second goal of the night and 21st of the season, with 3:36 remaining in the frame.
Then, 43 seconds later, Harry Clark — one of four affiliate players in the Rock lineup — struck for his first NOJHL goal to send the visitors to the dressing room enjoying a three-goal cushion.
“It feels awesome to get my first NOJHL goal,” said Clark, a Timmins Majors forward who was playing in his fourth game with the Rock Friday night.
“It was a nice pass and I had a wide-open net, so I knew it was going in.”
Having a few of his teammates (forward Landon Deforge and backup goalie Julien Lefebvre) in the lineup helped Clark feel a little more comfortable in the contest.
“It shows all of our hard work this year with the Majors is really paying off,” he said.
Beer was certainly pleased with the contributions from his affiliate contingent again Friday night.
“They did such a good job again,” he said.
“With Landon Deforge and Harry Clark, the fit is so good, with Brandon Perry teaches them with the Majors.
“They came in and played the game the right way, which was good to see.
“You look over at the other squad and they had most of their lineup out there, while we had seven or eight guys out of the lineup tonight.
“It was another good team win for us.”
The Crunch, who had been outshot 16-3 in the middle frame, finally showed a little life when Billy Paschen netted his 11th goal of the season at the 13:12 mark of the third period.
They had an excellent opportunity to close the gap even further when Rock blue-liner Evan Beaudry was sent off for interference when 2:25 remaining in regulation.
In the later stages of the man advantage, the Crunch pulled goalie Tomi Gagnon in favour of an extra attacker, but they were unable to secure either of the goals they would have needed to force overtime.
Beer was pleased with the two goals Caron scored Friday night and his strong push for a third, but he was even more impressed with another aspect of his game.
“The play that stood out for me was a goal opportunity, but he checked it down, did a turn back, cycled it, kept the puck in their zone for a minute straight,” he said.
“That’s the stuff you love seeing as a coach when the player takes the information you are giving him and asks himself, ‘is this a risky pass, or should I make something better of the chance?’
“That kind of consistency is what we need going into the playoffs. We need to hem teams in and not allow them to catch their legs on turnovers and such.”
There was no shortage of Rock players who caught their coach’s eye during the contest.
“You could go up and down the list, it was one of those wins,” Beer said.
“It was a good team effort, but I loved the line of (Cameron) Kosurko, (Riley) Robitaille and (Zach) Smith.
“They were just doing smart things out there and getting pucks in the zone.
“Josh Dickson, as well, got to centre ice and just rolled the puck in instead of going on a dangerous rush.
“It is nice, as well, that we have been playing offensively but know we can lock things down and play good defensive hockey. That’s a huge step forward for us heading into the playoffs.”
Friday night’s victory could prove to be a costly one, as forward Gabinien Kioki went down with an apparent upper-body injury in the third period and did not return.
“We will have to wait and see the full extent of his injury,” Beer said.
“We are hoping it is not too bad, but it didn’t look good.
“He is a guy who has been doing things the right way for us and has been a great player.”
Kioki, who hails from Attawapiskat, was acquired by the Rock from the CCHL’s Rockland Nationals just prior to the CJHL’s Jan. 10 trade deadline.
Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard was not happy with his squad’s lack of consistency Friday night.
“It is just one of those things,” he said.
“We are going into March this weekend and we finally came out with some good jump against these guys, put them on their heels.
“The goalie made a couple of good saves to keep it 0-0, then we score a nice goal to go ahead and we made the biggest mistake you can make as a defenceman.
“How does a guy beat you in a six-foot race when you have six feet on him? He catches you, gets a breakaway and scores.
“Guys are just not prepared enough to play. We don’t have enough character right now.
“We are going into the playoffs and we need more character. That’s the difference right now. When we play with confidence and character, we can be good, but when we play like we are still 17 or 18 year olds, it is not very good hockey.
“You see jumps and spurts, like all of a sudden in the last six minutes we woke up again, but it is like an up-and-down yoyo.
“There are so many little things this hockey team needs to fix in the next week and I hope they can be fixed before the playoffs start or it is going to be an early exit.”
There were a few Crunch players who impressed their coach Friday night.
“Chapman was great for us tonight and of course Tomi Gagnon played well,” Leonard said.
“We have two great goaltenders (including Zach Wickson). He made some excellent cross-crease saves and glove saves tonight.
“Chapman was really getting in people’s faces. He is a defenceman, but we have been using him as a forward lately.”
Vertesi, who turned aside 14 of the 16 shots he faced, earned his second victory since joining the Rock as an affiliate goalie.
Gagnon, who blocked 38 of the 42 shots the Rock directed his way, was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Caron, Clark and Paschen … The Rock did not dress goalies Tyler Masternak (upper-body injury) and Vance Meyer (upper-body injury), blue-liners Quinn Schneidmille (upper-body injury) and Aidan Milne (upper-body injury), and forwards Derek Seguin (maintenance day), David Laroche (upper-body injury) and Stewart Parnell (serving the third game of a six-game suspension) … The Rock went 0-6 on the power play, while the Crunch were 0-4 with the man advantage … While the dates for the Rock’s East Division semi-final series against the third-place Hearst Lumberjacks have yet to be announced, the fourth-place Crunch will open their best-of-three East Division play-in series against the Gold Miners at the Tim Horton Event Centre on Thursday night.