By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock will be looking to snap a couple of streaks when they host the Cochrane Crunch at the McIntyre Arena Wednesday night.
Heading into the contest, the Rock have lost three-straight games — including Saturday night’s embarrassing 10-6 setback against the Rapids in French River — and four of their past five NOJHL starts.
And, after winning their first two 2015-16 regular-season meetings with the Crunch, the Rock have now lost five-straight games to their neighbours from Cochrane.
No wonder Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne was lamenting the possibility of an early exit from the playoffs following a 4-2 loss to the Eskis in Iroquois Falls on Feb. 15.
After allowing 10 goals to the league’s lowest-scoring team Saturday night, perhaps Gagne should be petitioning NOJHL commissioner Robert Mazzuca for permission to ice two goalies instead of one for Wednesday night’s contest.
The Crunch, after all, have scored 158 more goals this season than the Rapids, who finally cracked triple figures (108 goals) thanks to their offensive explosion against the Rock.
“Right now, defensively, if we make a mistake, it’s a goal against,” Gagne said.
“We need somebody to support us and right now we are not getting the support back there. The forwards have to help out a little bit more, which they have been, and the defence has got to take less risk and start taking their man and our goalies have got to start stopping the puck. End of story.
“We are having goalie practice today (Monday) for a reason. We need to step up and those kids know it. Logan (Ferrington) has been average and sometimes great, so he needs consistency and he knows it.
“We need to work really hard with the goalies and that will make it or break it. If you look at the Montreal Canadiens, well they have got good goaltending but good goaltending is not good enough. You need great goaltending to make a difference in a game.
“That’s why we were able to to win games 6-5, but right now when the other teams score more often than we do it’s hard. Our players start squeezing their sticks a little bit more. The forwards have to score. If they don’t score you know the other team is coming in our defensive zone and they are going to shoot and it’s going to be a goal.
“We need to tighten up defensively, definitely, but we need some goaltending.”
Despite a couple of stints on the injury list this season, Ferrington (1,877:00, 19-12-1-1, 1, 3.90, .901) trails only Brett Young (2,171:00, 23-9-0-2, 1, 3.29, .911), of the Cochrane Crunch, Kevin Labelle (2,124:00, 9-28-0-0, 1, 4.12, .892), of the Espanola Express, and Garrett Forrest (2,026:00, 22-10-0-1, 5, 2.31, .935), of the Powassan Voodoos, in terms of time played this season.
He ranks ninth in goals against average, eighth in save percentage and third in wins.
Gagne hopes the Rock get off to a good start Wednesday night to provide a boost to the team’s confidence level.
“You pretty well want to start strong and that’s a basic of any game,” he said.
“We are going to do the same things we normally do. Our preparations, our tactics and our program will be the same.
“When you have everybody, and I have said this before, bringing their A game, you play good hockey. We can’t afford to have even one passenger. We are going to need everybody to be at their best.”
It doesn’t help that the Rock are currently without two of their better blue-liners — Andrew Castagna (45, 10-15-25, 29) and Ryan Kerr (43, 5-32-37, 40)
Castagna suffered a lower-body injury against the Crunch on Feb. 9 and is not expected back in the lineup until the start of the playoffs, while Kerr will be serving the second game of a two-game suspension Wednesday night he picked up for “flipping the bird” at fans during Friday night’s game in Powassan.
“Castagna is probably a week or two away,” Gagne said.
“We are hoping he will be 100%, conditioning wise.
“Kerr got involved with the fans in Powassan, so you know the kind of state the players are in when they start doing that. He will be ‘available’ to play after Wednesday’s game, but we have 23 players.”
With Castagna and Kerr out of the lineup, Spencer Segui — who was signed as a free agent on Feb. 10 — has been seeing increased ice time.
“The players have been impressed with him,” Gagne said.
“He wasn’t a liability on the ice. He has been making the right plays. He moves the puck well and he has a great shot, a quick shot he gets on net.
“He has played three games for us and he has fit in nicely. He even got a little bit of power-play time.”
Rock fans will get their first opportunity to see Segui in action Wednesday, as his first three games with the team have all been on the road.
Zachary Kercz (49, 25-54-79, 82), the Rock’s leading scorer, had the game-winning goal in both of the team’s victories against the Crunch this season — 4-3 at the Tim Horton Event Centre on Nov. 26 and 6-5 at the McIntyre Arena on Oct. 18.
“I think we are ready to put our recent losses behind us and turn a new page,” he said.
“We just need to play our system, play simple hockey and not try to do too much. Everybody needs to be accountable for the roles we need them to play.
“I am confident we have the team in that room to make a run for it. We haven’t shown much in the last couple of games, but if we can just get back to playing our kind of hockey, getting pucks in deep, working hard and keeping our compete level high, we are going to be OK.
“We have proven in the past that we can play with the big teams and beat the big teams.
“We are a good team at home and Wednesday we are going to come back and find our groove again.”
Kercz realizes that the secret to the Rock solving their recent defensive woes is for everybody — goalies, defencemen and forwards — to be on the same page.
“We have proven night in and night out we can put the puck in the net, but I think we need to focus more on playing from the back out,” he said.
“We need to play a full 200-foot game and the goals will come, especially with the depth we have up front. If we can all buy into the defence first mentality, I am confident we can still put the puck in the net.”
With the Rock and the Crunch having crossed sticks seven times already this season, it is safe to say there is little one team doesn’t know about the other.
“We have a good feel for them and how they play,” Kercz said.
“They probably have the same kind of feeling about us. I think it is just going to come down the compete level and who wants it more Wednesday night.”
With only four games remaining in the regular season for the Rock, it would appear to be an ideal time for the squad to shed its recent woes and get ready for the post season.
“With our first round of the playoffs (a best-of-three series against the Iroquois Falls Eskis) already set, we want to get into the right groove going into that run,” Kercz said.
Should the Rock get past the Eskis — certainly not a given since the boys from Iroquois Falls have taken two of the last three regular-season meetings — it could set up a potential second-round match-up against the Crunch.
“Early in the year, we showed that we can beat them,” Kercz said.
“We have struggled with them, of late, but we want to make sure they know they are going to be in for a lengthy series if we do meet them in the playoffs.”
With the Rock guaranteed of finishing fourth in the NOJHL’s East Division and hosting the Eskis in Round 1 of the playoffs, Wednesday night’s contest holds more meaning for the Crunch who are in a battle with the Powassan Voodoos for first place in the division.
Heading into the game, the Crunch (49, 36-9-2-2, 76) trail the Voodoos (51, 38-9-3-1, 80) by just four points and the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (49, 34-12-2-1, 71) are not completely out of the equation yet, either.