By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
SAULT STE. MARIE – The Timmins Rock salvaged two points from their three-game weekend road trip by hanging on to edge the Thunderbirds 5-4 Sunday afternoon.
The victory followed a 7-6 loss to the Beavers in Blind River Friday night and a 9-2 drubbing at the hands of the Eagles in Sault, Mich., Saturday night.
“We had lost two games in a row and it seemed like we were in a big slump,” said Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“We made some mistakes today (Sunday), but we played some pretty good hockey. The previous two games, it just seemed like we were finding ways to lose. We were working hard, but just going in the wrong direction.
“Going into the third period today, our players really played well. Our forecheck was good and we capitalized on our power play and we found a way to win.
“There were some good individual efforts, with players getting the puck out of our zone and getting it into their zone and keeping it deep. We got a power play out of it, just by having puck possession. Then, we capitalized on it.”
A power-play marker from defenceman Grant McClellan, his third goal of the season, midway through the third period snapped a 4-4 tie and lifted the visitors to a much-needed victory.
The Thunderbirds jumped out to a 2-1 first-period lead Sunday afternoon.
Ryan Waterhouse scored his seventh goal of the season, a power-play marker, just 1:21 into the contest to put the home side in front 1-0.
Bain Cunningham got the Rock back on even terms midway through the frame when he scored his eighth goal of the season, but Gage Stephney’s eighth goal of the season put the Thunderbirds back in front by a goal heading into the first intermission.
The Rock exploded for a pair of goals in the first five minutes of the second period to take a 3-2 lead.
Tyler Romain’s 17th goal of the season deadlocked the game at 2-2 and then Cory Sprague added his first goal of the night and 12th of the season to give the visitors’ their first lead.
The lead did not last long, however, as Waterhouse netted his second of the night and eighth of the season a minute-and-a-half later to tie things up at 3-3.
Then Stephney added his second of the night and ninth of the season, a shorthanded marker, to put the Thunderbirds back in front 4-3 heading into the second intermission.
Sprague’s second of the night and 13th of the season midway though the third period got the Rock back on even terms and set the stage for McClellan’s game-winner.
That decisive power-play marker came just over a minute after Sprague had tied things up.
Gagne was pleased with the play of his No. 1 line — Rendle, Sprague and Wayne Mathieu — Sunday afternoon.
“Their leadership skills shone through all weekend,” he said.
“They worked hard and they made things happen. Sprague had two big goals today and I would have to say Rendle was our big star of the weekend.
“Cunningham was awesome today, as well. He played with the third line and the fourth line.”
The coach was also impressed with the play of McClellan, who entered the weekend with just one goal, but finished up with three on the season, as well as his third line — Alexandre Brisson, Stewart Parnell and Cole Gilligan.
“His family was here to watch him play on the weekend and he definitely was looking forward to being able to put on a good show for them,” Gagne said.
“He was probably one of our better defencemen back there on the weekend.
“We were in a 5-4 hockey game, playing shorthanded in the last couple of minutes because our goalie took a (delay of game) penalty and they won the faceoff and got the puck out. Kudos to them. They really worked hard.”
The Rock were actually playing four-on-six at the time, as the Thunderbirds had lifted goalie Brandon Gordon in favour of an extra attacker.
“They found a way to win and they really executed their assignments,” Gagne said.
Matthew Nixon turned aside 23 of the 27 shots he faced to pick up the win for the Rock.
Gordon blocked 25 of the 30 shots the Rock fired his way and was tagged with the loss.
Gagne realizes just how big Sunday afternoon’s victory was in light of the losses the team suffered in the first two games of the trip.
“We are not used to losing two games in a row like that,” he said.
“We weren’t in a crisis, but it felt uncomfortable. It felt terrible. It was not a good feeling.”
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of Sunday’s game were Sprague, Stephney and Waterhouse … The Rock did not dress forward Marcus Blackned (illness) and forward Jacob Shankar (serving the third game of a four-game suspension) … The Rock went 1-5 on the power play, while the Thunderbirds were 1-6 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the Essar Centre was 110 … The Rock will return to action on Saturday night when they host the French River Rapids at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.