By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The brothers Kerr combined forces to spoil a solid effort by the Eskis at the Jus Jordan Arena Friday night.
Nineteen-year-old forward Aaron Kerr, playing his first game in a Rock uniform after two-and-a-half years in the QMJHL, and 20-year-old defenceman Ryan Kerr each scored a goal and picked up a pair of helpers as Timmins came back to edge the Eskis 5-4 and record their sixth-straight victory against their hosts.
A crowd of 407 mostly Eskis fans had plenty to cheer about early in the contest, as the home side jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first six minutes of the game.
Jacob Erwin beat Rock goalie Logan Ferrington for his 14thgoal of the season on a power play at the 2:45 mark.
Tanner Bowditch’s first of two goals and fifth on the season increased the home side’s lead a few minutes later.
“We started to pick things up in the last 10 minutes of the first period,” said Rock assistant coach James Daschuk.
“For some reason we always seem to get off to slow starts here. They caught us off guard. I can’t explain it. I don’t know what it is, but it is obviously something that has to be looked at.
“We didn’t play terrible, but when you are down 2-0 it looks worse than it is. Logy (Ferrington) let in the first one and he probably wants that one back.”
Daschuk was impressed with Aaron Kerr in the forward’s first game with the team.
“He brings a lot of speed to the lineup,” he said.
“I think that is his best asset. He is playing with Sale (Tristan Salesse) and (Ryan) Theriault right now and that opens up the ice for those two guys. They like to put the puck in the net and I think they will really benefit from playing with him. As soon as he picks up the puck, the first two strides, he has pretty much hit top speed and it seems like five defensive players kind of focus on him.
“He hit his brother today with a great back-door pass today where five guys seemed to be looking at him and Ryan was wide open back door and all he had to do was put it on net and it was going in.”
While Ryan Kerr was able to match his brother point for point Friday night, Daschuk isn’t convinced he will be able to keep up with him long term.
“I think Ryan will definitely have his hands full if he is trying to match his brother,” he said.
“He is a guy we look to more as a shutdown defenceman. With the skill he has, the points will come naturally, but it is definitely not what we are looking for from him.”
The assistant coach was also pleased with the play of forward Andrew Green, making his second start in a Rock uniform Friday night.
“Greener was great on the PK (penalty kill) tonight,” Daschuk said.
“He works hard every shift and he has a little bit of offensive skill. Defensively, he is really good, as well. He is not a big guy, but he works hard and plays in-your-face hockey. He reminds me a lot of (Wayne) Mathieu. They are not very big guys but they just work hard every shift.”
The Rock got on the scoresheet late in the period, as Aaron Kerr beat Eskis goalie Joe Sheppard for his first goal in a Rock uniform.
Any momentum the visitors may have gotten from that marker was quickly negated early in the second period, however, as Bowditch scored his second of the night and sixth of the season at the 1:27 mark of the middle frame to put the Eskis in front 3-1.
The Rock had an excellent opportunity to pull within one goal shortly thereafter, as they enjoyed back-to-back-to-back two-man advantages, but were not able to convert on any of the three.
Finally, with a one-man advantage, Ryan Kerr took a nice set up from Aaron Kerr to drill a shot from the point past Sheppard and cut the Eskis lead to 3-2.
It was the blue-liner’s third goal of the season and he admitted he was trying to keep up with his younger brother.
“He wanted to get more points than me and he wanted to be better than me,” the older Kerr said with a chuckle.
“Every since we were younger, we went at it with each other to see who is better at what.”
Ryan Kerr was appreciative of the nice setup he got from his brother for his goal, however.
“I was scared that if I would have missed it that he would have killed me,” he said.
The Rock got back on even terms three-and-a-half minutes later, as Ryan Theriault scored his 14th goal of the season, also on the power play, to tie things up at 3-3.
Blake Holowaty’s first goal in an Eskis uniform 6:32 into the third period restored the home side’s one goal advantage and gave the fans some hope their squad might finally end its losing streak against the Rock.
Those hopes were dashed, however, as Devin Panzeca scored his 14th goal of the season to tie things up just over four minutes later.
Then, with just under three minutes to play in the third period, Bain Cunningham broke in on a two-on-one with linemate Zachary Kercz and drilled a wrist shot past Sheppard to put the Rock in front 5-4.
Ryan Kerr felt the key for the Rock turning things around Friday night was just persevering.
“It was just a matter of getting pucks in deep, working behind the net, throwing the body and avoiding taking stupid penalties,” he said.
The Eskis did not give up though and when Rock forward Andrew Green took a penalty in the offensive zone the home side applied solid pressure and pulled Sheppard in the final minute to create a two-man advantage.
Try as they might, however, they were not able to get puck past Ferrington to force overtime.
Eskis assistant coach Jamy Bernier felt his team deserved a better fate Friday night.
“The boys played hard tonight,” he said.
“They played most of the 60 minutes. We had a couple of bad bounces and took a couple of bad penalties late in the game, and early in the second period, too. We killed off six to seven minutes of five-on-three hockey. We were relentless at that and we battled back and continued to respond when they scored.
“There was a little missed assignment on the game-winning goal, but we are definitely feeling a lot more confident right now in the dressing room.”
Holowaty, fellow forward David Stickney and defenceman Kyle Sutherland played their first home game for the Eskis following the four-player trade that sent defenceman Nathan Avery to the Dryden Ice Dogs, of the SIJHL.
“We have made five new additions to our club in the past couple of weeks and these kids are have tremendous speed and they are capable of playing Top 6 roles, but they also provide a checking aspect to our game and some size,” Bernier said.
“Alex Mitsionis was huge for us in a penalty-killing role tonight and he wins face-offs for us and he is just a big asset to our game alongside the other boys we have added in the last couple of weeks.”
Sutherland made his presence felt out on the ice with some solid physical play, as well.
“That is what we wanted when we added this guy to our lineup,” Bernier said.
“We were looking to add grit. Sutherland plays with a chip on his shoulder and he plays against every guy like they are the same. I noticed during the past three games he plays against other guys like he has been playing against them for years.
“He definitely brings a physical aspect to our game that we didn’t have before.”
If the Eskis continue to play like they did Friday night they might begin to collect wins with some regularity in the second half of the season.
“I think the boys are confident with the additions we have made,” Bernier said.
“There is a tremendous buzz in our dressing room that was lacking during the first half of the season. The second half is going to be a new season for us and we are definitely going to roll.”
Ferrington made 36 saves to earn the victory for the Rock, while Sheppard turned aside 45 shots and was tagged with the loss for the Eskis.
NOJHL NOTES — Former Rock defenceman Mikael Rancourt has signed with the Eskis and was in the lineup Friday night wearing No. 7 … Rock goalie Matthew Nixon was not available to play after aggravating a lower-body injury and the team dressed Kapuskasing Flyers goalie Joel Levesque to back up Ferrington … The Rock went 2-8 on the power-play, while the Eskis were 1-8 with the man advantage … Friday’s other NOJHL action saw the Crunch beat the Soo Eagles 6-1 in Cochrane, the Gold Miners top the French River Rapids 6-1 in Kirkland Lake, the Powassan Voodoos edge the Express 3-2 in Espanola and the Soo Thunderbirds beat the Wildcats 4-1 in Elliot Lake … The Rock will return to action Sunday afternoon at the McIntyre Arena when they take on the Soo Eagles. Game time is 2 p.m. … The Eskis are off until Friday night when they will host the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners at the Jus Jordan Arena. Game time is 7:30 p.m.