GALLERY: Rock hang on to edge Crunch

COCHRANE — On the ice, it would be hard to imagine things going much better for the Timmins Rock at the Tim Horton Event Centre Saturday night.

After all, their 2-1 victory over the Crunch was their second in as many nights over NOJHL East Division rivals after Friday night’s 4-1 win over the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake.

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Off the ice?

Well, a Crunch player (name withheld due to the possibility of criminal charges) had a verbal confrontation with Rock trainer Lacey Rigg outside the visitors’ dressing room, attempted to enter the dressing room and then punched Rock player Tyler Hutchinson twice in the face resulting in the OPP being called to the arena.

While all of that was going on inside the Tim Horton Event Centre, the Rock team bus got stuck in the parking lot outside the arena — requiring a piece of heavy equipment to get it mobile again.

Regardless of all of the off-ice shenanigans, Rock coach Corey Beer was happy to see his squad wrap up a four point weekend against some pretty tough competition.

“It was a well-rounded effort once again,” he said.

“Top to bottom, our guys maybe did a bit more on the defensive side of the puck tonight, blocking shots and making all the small plays. Friday night, our offence was kind of on display. Tonight you saw more of a complete-game effort.

“It was a monster weekend for us, with some great hockey being played, for sure.”

On the ice, all of the scoring took place in the game’s opening 20 minutes.

A.J. Campbell staked the Rock to a 1-0 advantage when he scored his eighth goal of the season at the 4:17 mark.

Then, two-and-a-half minutes later, Linden Spencer put Timmins in front by a pair of goals when he netted his seventh tally of the season.

The Crunch were able to cut the lead to 2-1 five minutes later, with Zach Hayes scoring his 13th goal of the season.

Neither team was able to find the back of the net in the second period, with the Rock dominating the frame in terms of territorial advantage but only outshooting their hosts 12-10.

The Crunch put on a big push in the third period, however, as they attempted to get back on even terms and they outshot the Rock 13-6 in the frame.

Thanks to the strong goaltending of Rock netminder Tyler Masternak they were unable to come up with that badly needed goal, leaving the final 2-1.

Beer was once again happy to see two of his team’s best checkers — Campbell and Spencer — chipping in with big goals.

“They have been great,” He said.

“They do all the small things in the D zone, block shots, stay with their man and take the tough assignments, so it is great to see them get rewarded in the offensive zone.

“There was some pretty slick passing from them, as well. It lifts our team up when guys like that score goals.”

Beer was not surprised to see his team enjoy a territorial advantage in the second period.

“We put such a focus on our breakouts and our transition game,” he said.

“Sometimes when you are not a big team, you have to be a faster team, be more efficient with the puck.

“If teams are going to come at us with different types of offence, we better be able to defend quick and get the puck out of our zone quick.

“Tonight was a great example of that. We have had some tough games in this rink, being hemmed in our own zone for extended periods of time.

“We put a lot of detail into that and for our guys to be able to come out and execute was great to see and it certainly fed to our legs in the third period to be able to withstand their pressure.”

Beer was expecting a big push from the Crunch in the third period and the home side certainly didn’t disappoint.

“They have a tremendous hockey team and this is a tough rink to play in,” he said.

“When they get going, they can be a very good team. For us, to be able to come in here a couple of weeks ago and win that one-goal game, with the empty-netter, then have that late-game collapse the last time and lose that one, for us to be able hang on — and I say it all the time — is such a growing thing for a young hockey club.

“I am incredibly proud of our guys, top to bottom. We got big contributions from throughout the lineup.”

Having the NOJHL’s top goalie in net certainly helps and Tyler Masternak — who leads the league in wins (25),  goals against average (2.30), shutouts (six) and minutes played (2,193) — was at his best once again Saturday night.

“Masty was rock solid again tonight, no pun intended,” Beer said.

“It is one of those things, more times than not if you show me a good goalie, I will show you a good team. There is no better reflection of that than when Tyler is in the net.

“When he is at the top of his game, he gives us a chance to win every night and when our team plays the style we want to play, I think we are one of the best teams in the league. It is all about believing in ourselves as a young group and I think we are getting there.”

Masternak was pleased to be able to help his team get a pair of key wins on the weekend.

“I am just getting in a groove right now and getting ready for playoffs,” he said.

The 2000-birth-year Oshawa native was not overly busy during the second period, but he managed to maintain his focus throughout the 20 minutes.

“It can be tough every now and then, but as soon as you touch the puck, you get right back into it, your mind resets,” he said.

“Our forwards and our D did a great job of blocking shots tonight. They have a five-on-three against us and I think our guys blocked about four or five shots. They did a great job and made my job a lot easier tonight.”

Even though he has played more minutes than any other goalie in the NOJHL this season, Masternak had no issue playing in back-to-back road games.

“You just go out there with the same frame of mind every night, no matter what the circumstances are,” he said.

“We just have to go out there and get the two points.”

Beer was pleased with all aspects of his team’s on-ice performance Saturday night, but a few stood out above the others.

“I loved out penalty kill tonight,” he said.

“Any time you can kill off an extended five-on-three and block as many shots as we did, it is great.

“If there is one guy tonight who got his game going from a 200-foot standpoint, it was probably Josh Dickson. He is a guy who has got the offensive flare and we have really been working with him on the trade-off for his offensive opportunities versus his turnover rate.

“I thought tonight he made the decision to take pucks deep and take pucks hard to the net. He drew a penalty he has been tremendous.”

For the second-straight game, blue-liner Owen Shier patrolled right win on a line with Campbell and Spencer.

“He is a guy who has got offensive instincts,” Beer said.

“He can contribute to our transition game that way and we are trying to get his game kick started. He had been a little flat footed the last couple of games, so for him to get an offensive taste is good for him.”

With Shier up front, the remainder of the Rock defensive corps was once again solid on the back end.

“They did a really good job on box outs,” Beer said.

“We have put a big focus on that the last little bit and I think it is paying off for our guys. The last couple of games we have been really good at keeping the other team’s shots away from the house.”

With the win, the fourth-place Rock (28-17-3-0) now trail the second-place Crunch (29-18-1-3) by three points and the third-place Gold Miners (28-15-2-2) by one point.

The Rock have played one more game than the Gold Miners, but they have three in hand on the Crunch.

While Masternak, who stopped 30 of the 31 shots he faced, picked up the win, Crunch goalie Zach Wickson, who turned aside 26 of the 28 shots the Rock fired his way, was tagged with the loss.

NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Spencer, Masternak and Wickson … The Rock did not dress goalie Jean-Marc Brisson (lower-body injury), forward Mahingan Decontie (undisclosed) and Hutchinson (undisclosed) … Affiliate goalie Joshua Dubeault, of the Kapuskasing Flyers, backed up Masternak … Both the Rock and the Crunch went 0-4 on the power play … Official attendance at the Tim Horton Event Centre was 250 … Saturday night’s other action saw the Hearst Lumberjacks double up the Rapids 4-2 in French River, the Powassan Voodoos power past the Express in Espanola, the Rayside-Balfour Canadians blank the Wildcats 6-0 in Elliot Lake and the Soo Thunderbirds top the Eagles 4-2 in the Sault, Mich. … The Rock will return to action Tuesday night when they host the Crunch at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is set for 7 p.m.