By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – Only five points separated the Cochrane Crunch and the Timmins Rock at the end of a 56-game NOJHL regular season.
So, it shouldn’t come as too big a surprise that there is little to choose between the two squads following the first two games of their East Division semifinal series.
Heading into Game 3 of the series Wednesday night at the McIntyre Arena, each team has won one game. Each team has scored seven goals and each team has allowed seven goals.
The Crunch have spent 12 more minutes (45 to 33) in the sin bin during the first two games of the series.
That could prove to be a factor as the series progresses, as the Rock have scored on two of their 14 power-play opportunities for a success rate of 14.3%, while the Crunch have not capitalized on any of their eight chances with the man advantage (0%).
In Game 1 of the series, Thursday night in Cochrane, the Rock surrendered a pair of shorthanded goals to the Crunch and in Game 2, also in Cochrane on Saturday night, it was Timmins that scored a shorthanded marker, setting the stage for a come-from-behind victory.
The Rock’s No. 2 line, featuring Bain Cunningham (2, 1-3-4, 0), Tyler Romain (2, 1-2-3, 0) and Dean Kiriacou (2, 0-0-0, 2), has enjoyed a lot of success early on in the series.
“Our line has been moving the puck well,” Cunningham said.
“We have been getting the puck in deep as much as we can and the scoring opportunities have been coming for us.”
The Crunch have five veteran blue-liners — captain Connor Lovie (2, 1-0-1, 4), Joseph Thielen (2, 0-2-2, 6), Zack Anderson (2, 0-1-1, 4), Taylor Armbruster(2, 0-0-0, 7) and Quinn Robelle (2, 0-0-0, 0) — who bring a combination of size, toughness and speed to go along with their experience.
Cunningham doesn’t think the Rock approach games against the Crunch any differently, however.
“It is just like playing against any other NOJHL team that has skilled defencemen,” he said.
“There are a lot of D-men in this league.”
The Rock exhibited patience in Game 2 of the series Saturday night in Cochrane, even after they fell behind 2-0.
“We knew that we were playing our program and even though we were down, we were still playing a great game,” Cunningham said.
“We continued to stick with the things that have been working for us all year. We knew that if we kept playing our program, the goals would come.”
The 19-year-old Barrie native knows it is just as important for the Rock to employ that approach if they are playing with a lead.
“If we can get the lead on them Wednesday night that is going to be huge, especially here on our home ice,” Cunningham said.
“The McIntyre Arena can get pretty rowdy at times, so it is going to be important for us to get an early lead and then keep moving forward.”
After the Rock’s big victory in Cochrane Saturday night to take home-ice advantage away from the Crunch, Cunningham is hoping to see a large crowd in the stands for Wednesday night’s contest.
“It was great to be able to split the series up in Cochrane and now coming home the crowd is going to give us some great support,” he said.
“It’s great to have the fan base we have here in Timmins.”
The Rock’s top line, with captain Jordan Rendle (2, 2-1-3, 4), Wayne Mathieu (2, 0-2-2, 0) and Cory Sprague (2, 0-1-1, 2) is also off to a strong start in the series.
Braedan Cross (54, 37-45-82, 38), of the Crunch led the NOJHL in scoring during the regular season and Cochrane had four players among the league’s Top 20 snipers.
Two games into the playoffs, Cross does not have a single point and there are no Crunch players to be found among the Top 20 scorers.
That last fact might be slightly impacted by the fact the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners and the Soo Eagles have both played five games to this point, while the Crunch have only played two, but clearly Cochrane needs Cross and a number of their other top offensive weapons to begin contributing.
Through two games, the Crunch attack has been led by Konnar Dechaine (2, 2-1-3, 2), Brandon McReynolds (2, 1-1-2, 2) and Austin Stauffer (2, 1-1-2, 0).
After playing nine regular-season game against each other and a pair of playoff tilts, there isn’t much the Rock don’t know about the Crunch and vise versa.
“There is definitely a rivalry between our two teams,” said Rock defenceman Brendan Campbell (2, 0-0-0, 0), who went toe-to-toe with fellow heavy weight Armbruster in the third period of Game 2.
“I think this series is going to get more physical as it progresses. We know we can get under their skin when we play that way and it has been working out for us.”
Believing it is better to give, than receive, the Rock initiated much of the physical contact in Game 2 Saturday night.
“I think we have a lot smaller team than they do, but everybody is buying in, hungry to win and dedicated,” Campbell said.
“We know what we have to do out there.”
Even though the 20-year-old Surrey, B.C., native battled Armbruster, a 20-year-old from North Vancouver, in Game 2, there is no animosity between the two blue-liners.
“I actually think he is a really nice guy,” Campbell said.
“We talked about it a little bit the game before, so we kind of knew it was going to happen at some point in the series.”
Campbell, 6-3 and 203 pounds, and Armbruster, 6-3 and 220 pounds, are pretty evenly matched and both managed to get in a few good shots — to the delight of the fans at the Tim Horton Event Centre — before they wrestled each other to the ice.
After being assessed 82 minutes in penalties during the regular season and nine in the first two games of the playoffs, Campbell is no stranger to the sin bin.
He knows for his game to be successful, he has to play a physical style, keeping the area in front of goalie Albert Rogers clear of Crunch forwards and making them pay the price in the corners, while staying out of the penalty box.
“I think we can definitely outplay them when it is five-on-five out there, so I want to stay out of the penalty box,” Campbell said.
“I don’t want us to have to kill off penalties because of something I did out there.”
The Crunch have five players from B.C., but Campbell didn’t didn’t know any of them before he joined the Rock.
With the Rock and the Crunch both scoring and allowing the same number of goals through two playoff games, it isn’t surprising Rogers (100:00, 1-1-0, 0, 3.60, .903) and the Crunch’s Leighton Williams (120:00, 1-1-0, 0, 3.50, .914) have similar stats to this point in the series.
Jeff Veitch (20:00, 0-0-0, 0, 3.00, .917) came on in relief of Rogers at the start of the third period in Game 1 of the series.