By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The last time the Soo Eagles touched down at the McIntyre Arena they spoiled the Steve Sullivan jersey retirement party, so the Timmins Rock have plenty of incentive to be rude hosts Friday night.
Not only did the Eagles skate off with a 6-4 victory, they also knocked the Rock’s No. 1 puck stopper — Logan Ferrington — out of action early in that contest on Dec. 6.
The Rock did gain a modicum of revenge when they blanked the Eagles 3-0 — with Ferrington turning aside 55 shots — at Pullar Stadium in Sault, Mich., on Dec. 18.
Still, a victory on home ice Friday night would go a long way toward erasing any lingering ill will from Dec. 6.
“We played some pretty good hockey in that game,” said Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“I thought we outplayed them, but we had goalie injuries. We could have won that game, but we didn’t and it leaves a little bad taste in our mouths, for sure. Hopefully, we have a little redemption coming.”
With backup goalie Matthew Nixon on the injury list for that game, affiliate netminder Bradley Dobson, from the GNML Timmins Majors, was pressed into service to finish the game when Ferrington was unable to continue after the first period.
Both Ferrington and Nixon are healthy heading into the weekend and the Rock also have another veteran goalie, Timmins native Devon Debastos, in camp, as well.
“Logan made three or four incredible saves when we beat them 3-0 in Sault, Mich.,” Gagne said.
“The rest, for him, were just routine saves, good rebounds going into the corner, angling the puck off, or no rebounds whatsoever.”
Like most teams in the NOJHL, the Eagles made a number of changes in the days leading up to the Jan. 10 trade deadline, so the Soo squad that invades the McIntyre Arena Friday night won’t be the same one that stole two points during their previous visit.
“The Eagles are on a bit of a streak, the last 10 games or so, so we will definitely have our hands full,” Gagne said.
“They have improved quite a bit.”
The Eagles enjoyed a stretch in January that saw them win five-straight games, including a 2-1 victory over the Soo Thunderbirds on Jan. 23.
With a record of 18-21-0-2, the Eagles find themselves in a similar position in the NOJHL’s West Division as the Rock, 25-17-0-1, are in the East Division.
Both teams are fourth in their division, well back of the third-place team and well in front of the fifth-place squad.
Both squads appear destined to host best-of-three first-round series against the fifth-place squads in their divisions, while the Top 3 teams in each will enjoy a bye.
With the Rock playing on Friday night, they have one fewer practice to get ready for the Eagles than they did last week with the Rayside-Balfour Canadians in town on the Saturday night, but Gagne doesn’t think that will make a big difference.
“We have had a couple of good practices already,” he said, prior to Wednesday’s on-ice session.
“Hopefully, our players will be in game mode right away on Friday.”
During the three games the Rock have played against the Eagles this season, including a 1-1 tie at Pullar Stadium on Sept. 19, their best players — such as Tristan Salesse, Jordan Rendle and Zachary Kercz — have been their best players.
“It’s an old cliche, but we have to bring our A game,” Gagne said.
“It’s not just the Top 2 lines, either. It’s also the third and fourth lines. Whenever they are put out, if they do their assignments, it takes a lot of pressure off the first and second lines. That means getting ice time, killing penalties, scoring a goal here and there.”
While the Eagles may have a few new players in their lineup for Friday night’s game, the Rock also have a couple of pretty impressive additions to their lineup who have not yet faced the Soo.
“Aaron Kerr and Lander Matechuk weren’t in the lineup when we faced them before,” Gagne said.
“We have added some nice players there and I am looking forward to see how they play against the Eagles.”
Kerr and Matechuk play on the Rock’s No. 1A line along with Salesse, while the team’s 1B line features Rendle, Kercz and Bain Cunningham.
The Rock will have a full roster of players available for Friday night’s game, as forward Kyle Levis who had to be helped off the ice during Saturday night’s win over the Canadians is showing no ill effects from the upper-body injury he suffered.
There were also no suspensions from the ugliness that plagued the final three minutes of that contest.
The visit by the Eagles will be the first of two home games for the Rock this weekend, as they will also welcome the Elliot Lake Wildcats to the McIntyre Arena Sunday afternoon for their first and only regular-season visit of the 2015-16 campaign.
“The game we played against them in their building was like a playoff game,” Gagne said.
“The intensity was incredible and the speed on both teams was amazing. We are pretty evenly matched teams. They have got good goaltending. They have got a couple of good lines that can score goals. They have got a good defence.
“We match up pretty good against them.”
There will be one key difference between the two teams Sunday afternoon in Gagne’s mind, however.
“We are going to be playing at home and we are going to have an extra player in our home fans,” he said.
“We need to take advantage of it.”
Friday’s game against the Eagles is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m., with Sunday’s face off against the Wildcats set for 2 p.m.