By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Soo Thunderbirds doubled the Timmins Rock 6-3 at the McIntyre Arena Saturday night to extend their winning streak to 12 games.
While displeased with the final outcome, Rock assistant coach Eric Paquette was a lot happier with his team’s effort than during their 9-4 loss to the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake Thursday night.
“We definitely played a lot better than we did on Thursday,” he said.
“The boys came out to play and stuck to the game plan. All in all, it wasn’t that bad. It was actually a decent hockey game. I will take that kind of play anytime.
“We weren’t happy with our play in Kirkland Lake, but the boys came back and showed some character.”
While the Rock were able to net a pair of power-play goals, on 11 opportunities, their special teams were not as efficient as they could have been Saturday night. In addition to allowing three power-play goals on five opportunities, the Rock also surrendered a shorthanded goal to the Thunderbirds.
“When you give up four special team goals it isn’t good,” Paquette said.
“I always say sometimes your best penalty killer is your goaltender and I am sure Nixy (Matthew Nixon) would like to have a couple of those back but everybody has one of those games every once in a while.”
The Rock lineup received a boost from the return of forward Tristan Salesse, back from a three-game suspension, and Jordan Rendle, back from a lower-body injury.
“They are a focal point of our offence and our team,” Paquette said.
“We will welcome those guys back to the lineup any time.”
The assistant coach was particularly pleased with the play of a couple of Rock players Saturday night.
“I thought (Nick) Hautanen had a great hockey game on the back end,” Paquette said.
“He was standing up guys where he needed to be and I also thought (Kyle) Levis had a decent game.”
Like Thursday night, the Rock drew first blood against the Thunderbirds Saturday night.
Ryan Theriault’s 10th goal of the season, a power-play marker, 3:46 into the opening period staked the Rock to a 1-0 lead.
Matt Caruso tied things up five minutes later when he beat Rock goalie Matthew Nixon for his fourth goal of the season, also on the power play.
Goals in the final minute of a period or the first minute of a period are traditionally killers and the Rock were dealt a double dose Saturday night.
First Matthew Mitchell scored with 7.68 seconds remaining in the first period to put the Thunderbirds in front 2-1.
Then Matthew Busby scored a power-play goal, his fifth of the campaign, just 43 seconds into the second period to extend the Soo advantage to 3-1.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the Rock surrendered a shorthanded goal midway through the period .
Thunderbirds captain Brett Jefferies beat Nixon for his eighth goal of the season to put the Soo up 4-1.
Jaren Bellini’s 10th goal of the season, scored on the power play, extended the Thunderbirds’ lead to 5-1 before the end of the second period.
Salesse’s 14th goal of the season provide the 515 fans in attendance at the McIntyre Arena with a little hope and cut the Thunderbirds lead to 5-2.
Joey Miller’s eighth goal of the season midway through the third period restored the Thunderbirds’ four-goal advantage, however.
Rendle scored his 11th goal of the season on the power play with just over three-and-a-half minutes on the clock, but that would be as close as the Rock would come to getting back on even terms.
Thunderbirds coach Jordan Smith was happy to see his team notch its 12th-straight victory, but felt they were not quite as sharp as they were in registering a 3-0 win over the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake Friday night.
“We are happy with the outcome of tonight’s game, but I think there are still some areas we definitely need to improve upon,” he said.
“The final score was 6-3, but I don’t think that was indicative of the game. It felt a lot closer.
“I think the difference tonight was goaltending. I think (Nathan) Warren came up with some big saves for us and I think the Nixon kid would like to have a couple back.”
Smith acknowledged the goal late in the first period, followed by one early in the second period, provided a key shift in momentum.
“Anytime you can score in the last minute of a period, it is always a backbreaker for a team,” he said.
“So, scoring with 7.68 seconds left in the first and heading into the second period with the lead on the road was huge for us.”
Jefferies had a goal and an assist, but his play away from the puck was just as important as any offensive contributions he made Saturday night.
“Our captain, Brett Jefferies, was solid again tonight,” Smith said.
“You know what you are getting from Brett pretty well every night and that’s why he is our captain.”
Smith described Saturday’s victory as a total team effort.
“I would like to see us stay a little more disciplined,” he said.
“Two nights in a row we have run into penalty trouble and the message is clear to our guys that we need to be smarter about that and stick to our game plan for 60 minutes.”
Thunderbirds goalie Warren made 37 saves to earn the win, while Nixon turned aside 25 shots and was tagged with the loss for the Rock.
NOJHL NOTES — Timmins native Tyler Romain (18, 4-6-10, 7) is no longer with the Rock. Paquette confirmed the move but would not say if it was the team’s decision or Romain’s … Rock forward Devin Panzeca remains out of the lineup with an upper-body injury … Saturday night’s other NOJHL games saw the Iroquois Falls Eskis dump the visiting French River Rapids 6-1, the Rayside-Balfour Canadians edge the visiting Powassan Voodoos 3-2 and the Elliot Lake Wildcats get past the Eagles 3-2 in Sault, Mich. … The Rock will return to action on Wednesday night when they host the Eskis at the McIntyre Arena.