By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – Bain Cunningham’s goal with less than a second remaining in double overtime lifted the Timmins Rock to a 5-4 win over the Blind River Beavers at the McIntyre Arena Friday night.
Playing three-on-three in the second five-minute session, Cunningham took a cross-ice pass from Jordan Rendle and buried a shot behind Beavers goalie Myles Hector just before the final buzzer sounded for his 14th goal of the season.
“Going up through the neutral zone, I looked up at the clock at it said six seconds, so I was just happy to get the shot off,” Cunningham said.
“Thankfully, I was able to put the puck in the net after what had been a long shift. We didn’t have much gas left in the tank. In three-on-three hockey, there are lots of stops and starts and fast breaks. There are times when you can’t get off. You just have to fight through it and thankfully we did.”
It was the second game-winning goal on the season for Cunningham, who tied for the NOJHL lead in that category in 2015-16 as a rookie.
“Their goalie had been making some great saves all night, so I just decided to go with my bread and butter, low to the blocker side,” he said.
The victory allowed the Rock (26-11-3-0) to keep pace with the Cochrane Crunch (29-11-4-1), who blanked the Gold Miners 6-0 in Kirkland Lake Friday night, in the battle for second place in the NOJHL’s East Division standings.
The Crunch have an eight-point lead on the Rock, but Timmins has five games in hand.
“It was huge for us to get that second point tonight,” Cunningham said.
“We still have five games in hand, but every game counts for us. We can’t let any points slip away from us.”
The Rock jumped out to a 1-0 lead Friday night on Stewart Parnell’s first period goal, his eighth of the season.
Dean Kiriacou added his second goal of the season early in the second period to increase the Rock advantage to 2-0.
The Beavers got that one back just over two minutes later, as Mark Khull scored his sixth goal of the season to pull the visitors to within one goal.
The Rock were able to regain their two-goal advantage midway through the frame, as Tyler Romain scored his team-leading 25th goal of the season, a power-play marker.
Blind River battled back before the end of the second period, however, to tie things up at 3-3 heading into the third period of play.
Dylan McMahon scored beat Rock goalie Jeff Veitch for his 10th goal of the season with 2:40 remaining on the clock and then Zach Lambrecht added his 24th goal of the season just over a minute later.
The Beavers jumped out to a 4-3 lead early in the third period, as Max Khull netted his 18th goal of the season with Blind River on the power play.
That lead held up until late in the third period, thanks in part to some stellar goaltending by Hector.
The Rock were finally able to net the equalizer, however, with 2:20 remaining in regulation, as Cory Sprague scored his 18th goal of the season to bring the 737 fans in attendance to their feet.
Both teams had excellent scoring opportunities in the dying minutes of regulation and playing four-on-four in the first overtime period, but Hector and Veitch each made a number of key stops to keep the game tied.
The action continued in the second overtime session and it looked like the two teams would have to settle for a tie until Cunningham’s last-second heroics.
Despite the double overtime loss, Beavers coach and general manager Kyle Brick was pleased with his team’s effort Friday night.
“To be honest with you, we are happy with the point,” he said.
“We had our chances to win the game in overtime and I thought we dominated the two overtime periods, but we are happy to get a point on a cross-division game.”
Twice in the contest the Beavers battled back from two-goal deficits.
“That is the kind of stuff that has been happening all year for this hockey team,” Brick said.
“That’s one of the reasons we have turned things around is the character in our dressing room. The guys battle every night for us and for the guy next to them in the dressing room.
“We were very happy with our compete level and how we battled tonight.”
Brick was especially pleased with the play of Hector in the Beavers’ net.
“Mile has been doing it all year for us,” he said.
“He makes saves and the crowd oohs and aahs, but we expect him to make those saves. It is safe to say he has been our MVP since he reported in August.”
The goalie wasn’t the only Blind River player to catch his coach’s eye Friday night, either.
“I liked Caleb Serre’s game tonight,” Brick said.
“He played a lot of big minutes for us and Cole Peck on the back end I thought was a rock. The kid just doesn’t seem to get tired out there.”
Rock assistant coach James Daschuk was all smiles following Friday night’s nail-biter.
“It was one of those games that was definitely entertaining, especially for the fans,” he said.
“As a coach, you are kind of walking on egg shells a little bit there as it is going on. Everyone was yelling at Rendle, ‘shoot, shoot, shoot,’ on the two-on-one, but if he shot from where he was there was no way that puck was going in. That would have been an outside perimeter shot. His only option was to pass.”
Daschuk was impressed by the play of Veitch, who got the start in net with Albert Rogers nursing an upper-body injury.
“He played an amazing game tonight and he made some key, key saves. He looked pretty confident tonight. When he is confident, he plays well. That gives everybody else in the room confidence, as well.”
The assistant coach was also impressed with the play of a number of other Rock players.
“I thought Sprague had a good game tonight,” Daschuk said.
“He was going to the net hard all the time. He scored the tying goal and I thought he was playing great even before that. The goal was just kind of a bonus for him. He was pretty excited to score that goal.
“And Bain scored the game-winner. Good for him. I thought he played a good game defensively, as well. He had kind of been a little bit of slump even though he had been getting eight or nine shots a game.”
In addition to playing a regular shift up front, Cunningham also logged a few minutes on the blue-line, especially in overtime after defenceman Jared Hester picked up a 10-minute misconduct.
Veitch stopped 29 of the 33 shots he faced to earn the victory for the Rock.
Hector turned aside 42 of the 47 shots the Rock fired his way and was tagged with the double overtime loss.
NOJHLNOTES — With Rogers not in the lineup, Joel Levesque was summoned from the Kapuskasing Flyers, of the GNML, to back up Veitch. The Rock were also without the services of defencemen Spencer Segui (upper-body) and Brendan Campbell (serving the first game of a two-game suspension he picked up in last Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Voodoos in Powassan). With those two blue-liners out, Timmins Majors D-man Cameron Svec made his first NOJHL start in a Rock uniform … The three stars of the game were Cunningham, Hector and Parnell … Each team went 1-5 on the power play … Friday night’s other action saw the Voodoos thump the French River Rapids 14-2 in Powassan and the Elliot Lake Wildcats get past the Express 6-4 in Espanola … The Rock will return to action Saturday night when they travel to Iroquois Falls for a game against the Eskis at the Jus Jordan Arena.