The third time proved to be the charm for Timmins Rock blue-liner Eric Moreau at the McIntyre Arena Wednesday night.
After twice being credited for his first NOJHL goal in his first 101 regular season games, only to later have them officially awarded to teammates, the 18-year-old Penetanguishene native finally notched his initial tally during the Rock’s 5-2 win over the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners.
With the Rock having already locked up second place in the East Division standings and the Gold Miners firmly entrenched in fifth place, there was little on the line for either team Wednesday night.
Still, the victory moved the Rock (41-11-2-1, good for 85 points) four points in front of the West Division-leading Rayside-Balfour Canadians (38-10-3-2, good for 81 points) in the battle for second place in the NOJHL’s overall standings.
The Rock emerged victorious Wednesday night despite having five affiliate players in the lineup and eight regulars sidelined for a variety of reasons.
With both Rock goalies, Tyler Masternak and Vance Meyer, out of action due to upper-body injuries, former Cochrane Crunch and Elliot Lake Wildcats netminder Justin Vertesi got the start between the pipes at the home end of the ice.
The 20-year-old Hamilton native spent the 2019-20 season with the GOJHL’s Sarnia Legionnaires and was signed as an affiliate by the Rock prior to the Jan. 10 roster freeze.
He was backed up Wednesday night by Timmins Majors goalie Julien Lefebvre, who saw action in Saturday night’s 6-3 loss to the Lumberjacks in Hearst.
Also wearing the maroon, gold and white in the contest were Majors forwards Landon Deforge and Harry Clark, along with blue-liner Gavin Martel.
In addition to Masternak and Meyer, those out of the lineup included blue-liners Quinn Schneidmiller (upper-body injury), Aidan Milne (upper-body injury) and Evan Beaudry (upper-body injury), as well as forwards Stewart Parnell (serving the second game of a six-game suspension), Karter Renouf (lower-body injury) and Riley Brousseau (upper-body injury).
In addition, forward David Laroche — who made his return to the lineup after recovering from an upper-body injury Wednesday night — left the game with an undisclosed injury.
The Rock jumped out to a 1-0 lead just past the midway point of the opening period, courtesy of 16-year-old rookie Cameron Kosurko’s 12th goal of the season.
A Zach Smith power-play marker, at the 1:51 mark of the middle frame, his 10th goal of the season, increased the Rock advantage to a pair of goals.
The Rock then added a pair of goals nine seconds apart to break the game wide open.
Moreau netted the first of those two markers and it proved to be the game-winning goal.
Converted blue-liner Phil Caron then added an unassisted marker, his 19th goal of the season to make it a 4-0 hockey game.
The Gold Miners finally got on the scoreboard 23 seconds later when Kyler Campbell struck for his 12th goal of the season.
The Rock got that one back early in the third period when Gabinien Kioki notched a power-play marker, his 11th goal of the season and fifth in a Timmins uniform.
With just over two-and-a-half minutes remaining in the third period, the Gold Miners added a power-play marker of their own, as Connor Van Weelie netted his 21st goal of the season.
Rock assistant coach Marc Bisson was pleased with his squad’s effort Wednesday night — especially given the number of regulars out of the lineup.
“I thought our APs (affiliate players) really did a job for us,” he said.
“They weren’t just on the fourth line, playing just three or four minutes. They have regular shifts out there.
“I thought Landon, Gavin and Clarkie were all great.”
While Vertesi is considerably older than the other affiliates who saw action Wednesday night and he has experience in the NOJHL, he still impressed Bisson, who coaches the Rock goalies.
“We know him well,” he said.
“We faced him twice last year and he had two outstanding efforts against us.
“For him to come here from Hamilton, after his season with Sarnia had ended, was great. He drove up here on Monday, practised on Monday and Tuesday. He looked good in practice and looked quite sharp tonight.”
Smith continued his stretch of strong play Wednesday night in all three zones.
“He has played great for us the last seven or eight games,” Bisson said.
“He has been just phenomenal and tonight he was paired up with a few different guys, playing with Kosurko and (Riley) Robitaille.
“I thought that was probably our best line out there tonight. They were very consistent for us tonight.”
Smith, known more for his defensive play early in the season, now has four goals in his past four games.
“Earlier, Zach would take one step forward and two steps back and I use that analogy not too negatively,” Bisson said.
“Sometimes a mistake would overshadow three good things he would do out there. Now, he has eliminated those mistakes and the three good plays he makes really get noticed.”
The assistant coach sees a lot of similarities in the career paths of Kosurko and former Rock forward Keegan McMullen.
“Their stories are very similar, draft picks in the OHL,” Bisson said.
“They both came here as 16 year olds and had good seasons. Keegan, in the playoffs last year just took it to another level and we are kind of expecting the same thing out of Cameron.
“He has just been a great player for us as a 16 year old, willing to do whatever it takes, in terms of finishing checks. He is not a big guy and we know that.
“He knows our playbook like the back of his hand because he puts the work in and studies it.”
Everyone on the Rock bench and in the stands was thrilled to see Moreau finally get rewarded for all his hard work Wednesday night.
“He has absolutely been our hardest worker the last two seasons,” Bisson said.
“I can say that without hesitating. He puts the work in at the gym. He puts the work in before practice and after practice. He does not waste on minute of time on the ice.
“He is always working on a skill. He knows what his weaknesses are and he is always trying to improve.
“So, it is wonderful to finally see him get that first goal.”
And fans can rest assured this goal will not be taken away from No. 27.
“We made sure,” Bisson said.
“It didn’t touch anyone. It went from his stick to the net.”
After going two games without a victory, Bisson was happy to see the Rock regain their winning ways prior to the end of the regular season.
“We thought it was very important to end this winless streak and bounce back with a big win,” he said.
“It is huge for our confidence going into the playoffs.”
The assistant coach is also grateful his squad will have a chance to heal before it opens the East Division semi-finals on home ice against the Hearst Lumberjacks.
“We are looking forward to this little break,” Bisson said.
“We are going to do a lot of prep to get ready for Hearst, but it will also give us a chance to heal some bumps and bruises.”
The East Division best-of-three play-in series will see the fifth-place Gold Miners take on the fourth-place Cochrane Crunch, with the winning moving on to face the first place Powassan Voodoos.
Game 1 of the play-in series is set for the Tim Horton Event Centre in Cochrane on Thursday, March 5, with Game 2 at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex in Kirkland Lake on Friday, March 6.
If necessary, Game 3 would be played at the Tim Horton Event Centre on Sunday, March 8.
Vertesi stopped 21 of the 23 shots he faced in the contest to pick up his first win of the season.
Gold Miners goalie Kyle McNair, who turned aside 23 of the 28 shots the Rock directed his way, was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The Daily Press three stars of the game were Moreau, Smith and Kosurko … The Rock went 2-7 on the power play, while the Gold Miners were 1-3 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 787 … The Rock are scheduled to conclude their 2019-20 regular-season schedule with a game against the Crunch at the Tim Horton Event Centre in Cochrane Thursday night.