By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock jumped out to a four-goal first-period lead, but then had to hold off a methodical comeback by a determined Soo Eagles squad to post an 8-6 win at the McIntyre Arena Friday night.
Trailing 2-1, the Rock exploded for five-straight goals in the span of 6:29 late in the opening period to head into the first intermission with a commanding 6-2 advantage.
Rock assistant coach James Daschuk was happy to see his team get the win Friday night, but admitted it was a bit of a nail-biter.
“The message we gave the boys in the room after the game is that two points are two points and we will put them in the bank, but some things didn’t go unnoticed tonight,” he said.
“It wasn’t pretty by any means. I am definitely happy we had a little bit of a comfortable lead after the first period. Other than that, we would have been in a little bit of trouble.
“It is one of those games where after the first period the guys were all smiles and it was hard to stay focused. Still, that’s not an excuse. You have still got to out and play two more periods.”
Daschuk was not surprised to see the Eagles elevate their level of play following the first period.
“They play us tough all the time,” he said.
“They are the type of team that battles and if any team was going to pull out a greasy road win, it would be a team like the Soo. I give them a lot of credit. They worked hard and battled us right to the end. They won a lot of battles, won a lot of face-offs, threw a lot of hits and it didn’t look like we were ready for some of it.”
Daschuk was again impressed with the play of Theriault, who has played some of his best hockey of the season the past couple of games.
“Theriault was pretty good again tonight,” he said.
“He usually gets recognized for his offensive game and he did score two tonight, but the guys in the room definitely noticed his 200-foot game tonight. One thing that stood out for me was a huge backcheck at the end of the second period.
“We were down a two-on-one and he battled back and tied his man up and took away a scoring chance. Even in the third period, he was battling in front of the other team’s net. He showed some emotion and got a penalty out of it.
“He has been playing well lately and the two goals he got tonight were a bonus.”
Theriault wasn’t the only Rock player to impress Daschuk, either.
“(Joe) Olson was great on the back end on the penalty kill tonight and Wayne Mathieu and (Andrew) Green up front, too. Guys like Greener and Mattie, that’s their job and that’s why they are on the team, and they did a great job.”
Aaron Kerr staked the Rock to a 1-0 lead just 54 seconds into the hockey game when he beat Eagles goalie Jack Hickey for his 13th goal of the season.
The Eagles tied things up and then took a 2-1 lead on Bradley Hofelich’s ninth goal of the season and Evan Ketner’s 15th.
That set the stage for the Rock’s five-goal onslaught.
Zachary Kercz started things off when he potted his 21st goal of the season at the 11:27 mark to tie things up at 2-2.
Defenceman Jared Hester netted his sixth goal of the season, a power-play marker, 54 seconds later to put the Rock in front 3-2.
Twenty-nine seconds later Tristan Salesse struck for his 27th goal of the season to extend the home side’s advantage to 4-2.
Twelve seconds later, it was Ryan Theriault who scored the first of his two goals on the night and 16th of the season to up the lead to 5-2.
Eagles coach Bruno Bragagnolo lifted Hickey in favour of Cam Bruggrabe following Theriault’s first, but it didn’t seem to make a difference.
Theriault’s second goal of the night and 17th of the season with just two seconds remaining in the opening frame made it a 6-2 hockey game.
“I had a lot of help from my linemates (Mathieu and Green) tonight,” Theriault said.
“We played really well. On the first goal, it was a spinnerama to Wayne, then a spinnerama to Greener and then I shot it back door for a tap in.
“The second goal was another tap in. Kerr was walking in and he slid it back to me and I just tapped it in.”
Theriault acknowledged the Eagles were not any easy team to play against Friday night.
“They are quick, they are physical,” he said.
Hickey returned to the Eagles net to start the second period and he finished up the contest.
The break seemed to rejuvenate the Eagles and they potted a pair of second-period goals — Nate Harris’ 16th and 17th of the season — eight minutes apart to cut the Rock lead to 6-4 heading into the third period.
Ketner’s second goal of the game and 16th of the season, with the two sides playing four-on-four, cut the Rock lead to 6-5 early in the third period and had the home fans feeling more than a little nervous.
Bain Cunningham scored what would prove to be the game-winning goal, his 23rd marker of the season, just over two minutes later to put the Rock in front 7-5.
Cunningham had a wide open net on the play, as Hickey was caught out of position thanks to a strange bounce off the boards behind the Eagles’ net.
The Eagles weren’t done yet, however, as Gord Helmuth netted his 11th goal of the season, a power-play marker with the visitors enjoying a five-on-three advantage, to again cut the Rock’s advantage to a single goal.
The Rock killed off another penalty in the dying minutes of the game and after the Eagles pulled Hickey in favour of an extra attacker as they pressed for the equalizer, Jordan Rendle deposited his 29th goal of the season into the empty net with 10.08 seconds remaining on the clock.
Bragagnolo didn’t feel the Eagles got off to the start they needed to Friday night.
“It was a long ride and we slept on the bus and I think we slept for most of the first period,” he said.
“The 6-2 score flattered us. Our goalie made some pretty nice saves to even keep the game that close.”
The adjustments the Eagles made between the first and second periods paid big dividends.
“We just talked a little bit about the compete level,” Bragagnolo said.
“At that point, it really wasn’t coaching that was going to win the game, or not, it was our will to win and our will to compete.
“I thought in the second and third periods, we did a good job of that.”
The Eagles also used their size to better advantage in the final two periods and were much stronger in their end of the rink, as well.
“We had been a little bit soft in the first period,” Bragagnolo said.
“They have a lot of skilled players and in order to be effective against them, you have to take their time and space away. To take their time and space away, you have to be a little bit more physical.
“We didn’t do that in the first period. We kind of watched in our end and watched them skate around and get plenty of opportunities in the blue paint. In the second and third periods, we competed a little harder and got more physical and generated more scoring chances.”
Rock goalie Logan Ferrington stopped 33 of the 39 shots he faced to pick up the victory, while Hickey who turned aside 35 of the 41 shots fired his way was tagged with the loss. Bruggrabe stopped one of the two shots he faced.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Theriault, Kerr and Harris … The Rock went 1-5 on the power play, while the Eagles were 1-5 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 635 … Friday’s other NOJHL action saw the Elliot Lake Wildcats claw the Eskis 5-1 in Iroquois Falls, the Cochrane Crunch double the Gold Miners 6-3 in Kirkland Lake, the Soo Thunderbirds derail the Express 5-1 in Espanola and the Voodoos overcome a three-goal deficit to edge the Blind River Beavers 4-3 in overtime in Powassan … The Rock will return to action Sunday afternoon when they host the Wildcats at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is set for 2 p.m.