By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock will be looking to close to within one point of second place in the NOJHL East Division standings Wednesday night when they host the Cochrane Crunch at the McIntyre Arena.
Heading into the contest, the second-place Crunch (16-5-4-1) have a three point advantage over the Rock (17-6-0-0), but Timmins has three games in hand.
The Rock, with a record of 7-3-0-0 in their past 10 starts have won two-straight games, while the Crunch, 4-4-2-0 during that same span are coming off a 3-1 loss to the Thunderbirds in Sault Ste. Marie on Sunday.
Wednesday night’s contest will be the third of season between the rivals, with the Crunch having taken the first two — 4-2 at the NOJHL Showcase in Sudbury on Oct. 11 and 8-3 on the McIntyre Arena on Sept. 28.
“It’s a bit of a mental thing with us and we talked about it a little bit at practice on Monday,” said Rock assistant coach Marc Bisson.
“We have to have the mindset that we are confident we can beat them. I think sometimes it is mind over matter.
“I think we are in a good place right now, especially with the (Canadian Junior Hockey League) rankings coming out Monday.”
Those rankings have the Rock sitting at No. 12 in the country. The only other NOJHL squad among the weekly Top 20 are the Powassan Voodoos, who moved up to No. 7 from their No. 8 spot last week.
That is the highest Canada-wide ranking for the franchise since the CJHL began listing its weekly Top 20.
Another reason for the Rock’s positive frame of mind heading into Wednesday night’s contest has been the calming influence of the arrival of goaltender Albert Rogers in last Thursday’s trade with the Rapids that sent forward Tyler Planetta to French River.
“Even in practice, he is making saves and the guys are looking back saying ‘did you see that, did you see that,’” said Bisson, who works with the Rock goalies.
“He is going to be important to our team breaking through and getting that first win against Cochrane.
“He will give the guys that extra bit of confidence playing in front of him so that they can pinch in or jump up and create a three-on-two or two-on-one because they have so much confidence in him back there.”
Strong goaltending is especially important against an offensively gifted team like the Crunch (116), who sit second to Timmins (129) in terms of goals scored so far this season.
“They want to play a run-and-gun style of game,” Bisson said.
“I don’t think the goals we score are coming the same way they score goals. We score our goals through a lot of hard work whereas their defence likes to flip the puck right up into the middle of the ice to try and create breakaways and two-on-ones.”
With four players — Braedan Cross (24, 24-22-46, 18), Brandon McReynolds (24, 16-22-38, 18), Konnor Dechaine (25, 20-11-31, 18) and Rory Milne (24, 8-17-25, 4) — in their lineup who have already cracked the 25-point barrier already this season, the Crunch were already one of the top offensive units in the NOJHL.
The Crunch bolstered that attack by picking up sniper Shane Woolsey (9, 5-2-7, 4) from Elliot Lake last week in a deal that sent forward Leejay Meguinis (12, 3-4-7, 8) and defenceman Connor Harding (20, 0-2-2, 34) to the Wildcats.
“They have numerous players who are offensively gifted,” Bisson said.
“We are going to have to play sound defensive hockey and our defence will have to watch when they pinch or jump up to join in the play.
“We don’t want them to shy away from that, but there are definitely a few players who we will have to keep an eye on an in practice this week, we are working on three-on-threes down low, concentrating on defensive play first.”
In addition to acquiring a new goaltender since their last meeting with the Crunch, the Rock have also added two new defencemen — James Watier (10, 2-7-9, 6) and Patrick Gazich (9, 1-7-8, 10).
After getting off to their typically fast start, the Crunch have struggled a little bit in the past two or three weeks, especially in their defensive zone.
“We will be trying to put lots of shots to the net,” Bisson said.
“Our game plan is to forecheck their defence and if their defence is a little bit vulnerable, we have three lines that will force them to make mistakes.”
The Rock attack features 10 forwards — captain Jordan Rendle (23, 17-17-34, 40),Tyler Romain (23, 17-12-19, 11), Bain Cunningham (23, 8-20-28, 29), Wayne Mathieu (21, 11-14-25, 4), Cory Sprague (23, 15-9-24, 30), Marcus Blackned (16, 7-15-22, 4), Cole Gilligan (23, 11-9-20, 0), Alexandre Brisson (22, 11-8-19, 20), Jacob Shankar (18, 8-10-18, 17) and Stewart Parnell (23, 3-15-18, 8) — who have either cracked the 10-goal barrier or are averaging close to a point a game so far this season.
Shankar, who has missed the past four games while serving a suspension he picked up for being assessed a slew-footing penalty during a Nov. 8 game against the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, will return to the lineup Wednesday night against the Crunch.
“We are looking forward to having Jacob back in the lineup,” Bisson said.
“He brings a physical element to our second line that we just didn’t have the last four games.”
Defenceman Spencer Segui, who missed Saturday’s 5-1 victory over the French River Rapids with an upper-body injury, is still listed as day-to-day, but Bisson is hopeful he can return to the lineup for Wednesday night’s game against the Crunch.
Goalie Matthew Nixon (lower-body injury) returned to practice Monday, but his status for Wednesday’s game remains up in the air.
“He has an MRI scheduled for Friday, so he did not go all out on Monday,” Bisson said.
“We had three goalies out at practice. (Schumacher Cubs goalie) Dylan Dallaire is still with the team.”
With Timmins painting the town red for Rogers Hometown Hockey on the weekend, Rock officials are hoping to see another big crowd out for Wednesday night’s contest in the wake of the 948 who took in last Saturday’s 5-1 win against the Rapids.
“Rogers, coming from French River and I don’t know what the biggest crowd he played in front of there was, definitely noticed how big our crowd was for that game,” Bisson said.
“He mentioned to the boys how nice it was to play in front of such a great crowd.
“I would imagine we are going to be well over 1,000 fans this Saturday, so hopefully we will have a nice crowd for Wednesday night’s game, as well.”
The 948 fans the Rock attracted for Saturday’s game against the Rapids is the largest crowd for a single NOJHL game so far this season.
With an average of 707 fans per home game, the Rock continue to lead the NOJHL in attendance so far this season. The Soo Eagles, at 621, are second, followed by the Iroquois Falls Eskis, at 371.
NOJHL NOTES — The Eskis have traded forward Jordan Picard (19, 3-4-7, 12), a Timmins native, to the Rapids … The Eskis have also acquired 6-6, 235-pound defenceman Jacob Hryhoriw (3, 0-0-0, 0), from the English River Miners, of the SIJHL … The Rayside-Balfour Canadians have acquired forward Zach Grzelewski (12, 0-1-1, 4) from the Saint John Sea Dogs, of the QMJHL … The NOJHL’s Three Stars of the Week are Kirkland Lake Gold Miners forward Tyler Fyfe, Soo Eagles goalie Kade Phipps and Duchaine, of the Crunch.