By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock will be looking to extend their winning streak to six games when they host the Iroquois Falls Eskis at the McIntyre Arena Wednesday night.
Coming off a 6-5 victory over the NOJHL East Division-leading Cochrane Crunch Sunday afternoon, the Rock (13, 8-4-0-1,17) have now won seven of their past eight games and have taken two of their first three meetings with the Eskis (13, 4-9-0-0, 8).
The Eskis, meanwhile, have lost their past two games — 6-4 at home against the Elliot Lake Wildcats and 7-2 to the undefeated Voodoos in Powassan — after beating the Rapids 6-4 in French River.
To say that the members of the Rock’s top line — Zachary Kercz (13, 10-15-25, 22), Tristan Salesse (12, 10-12-22, 2) and Ryan Theriault (7, 7-5-12, 2) — have feasted on the Eskis might be a bit of an understatement.
Kercz (six goals, three assists) and Salesse (two goals, seven assists) each have nine points in the three games against the Eskis, while Theriault (three goals, one assist) has four points in two games.
What has been the secret to the trio’s success against the Eskis?
“We just want to go out there and compete ever shift, create opportunities and get pucks to the net,” Kercz said.
“We try to use our speed. We are all really good skaters. We can all shoot the puck and we try to take advantage of that.
“Out compete level is up there and there are not many lines in the league that can compete with us when we are going good.”
The Rock rebounded from a tough 8-6 loss in their first meeting with the Eskis in Iroquois Falls on Sept. 16 to post an 8-1 win over them at the McIntyre Arena on Sept. 23 and a 6-2 win in Iroquois Falls on Oct. 4.
“I don’t have any doubt in my mind that the boys are going to come out flying on Wednesday,” Kercz said.
“This game is in our building and we are not going to get pushed around at home.”
The rivalry with the Eskis is a little more personal for Salesse, who put up some impressive numbers (33, 15-30-45, 25) during the 2014-15 campaign with the Abitibi Eskimos franchise that moved to Timmins in the off season to become the Rock.
“It means a lot for us to be playing so well during our first year in Timmins,” Salesse said.
“It was a quick transition, basically starting out as a new team, and we are doing really good this year. The boys are all clicking and we are playing like brothers.”
The 19-year-old Terrace Bay native feels it is important for the Rock to maintain their focus and not dwell too much on the early season success they have enjoyed.
“We don’t really think about the streak per say, but I know the momentum from a win like Sunday’s will carry on into Wednesday’s game,” Salesse said.
“It’s a big factor and it keeps the boys a lot more motivated for practice and stuff and we just come out that much harder.”
As well as the Rock have played this season, Salesse thinks the strong start might just be the tip of the iceberg.
“We are just going to keep rolling,” he said.
“I don’t think anything is really going to get in our way just as long as we keep doing what we are doing and playing our game, playing our systems. I don’t think there is any team that is going to stop us.”
NOJHL teams that have focused too much attention of shutting down the Rock’s top forward unit this season have quickly learned the squad’s No. 2 line of Devin Panzeca (13, 9-6-15, 2), Jordan Rendle (13, 6-7-13, 10) and Bain Cunningham (12, 5-4-9, 6) can be just as deadly.
And the team also has other snipers, such as Michael Norris (13, 7-5-12, 14) and Tyler Romain (13, 3-4-7, 7), who are capable of putting up points.
And the tandem of Logan Ferrington (530, 5-3-0-1, 0, 2.94, .927) and Matthew Nixon (260:00, 3-1-0-0, 0, 2.54, .935) have give the Rock more than solid goaltending so far this season.
What does assistant coach James Daschuk think the Rock will have to do to beat the Eskis Wednesday night?
“Obviously, they can beat us because they have, so we are not going to take them lightly,” he said.
“We are going to show them the respect that they deserve.”
It could be argued the 8-6 loss the Rock suffered at the hands of the Eskis was more a matter of the Rock beating themselves — by four times blowing two-goal leads — as opposed to anything their opponents did.
“It just goes to show if you take anybody lightly then can and probably will beat you,” Daschuk said.
The Rock are preparing for Wednesday night’s game like they would against any other team in the NOJHL, regardless if they are undefeated like the Powassan Voodoos or winless like the French River Rapids.
“We don’t really like to worry about other teams,” Daschuk said.
“We like to focus on our jobs and our tasks and make sure that we are completing assignments.
“We just have to continue playing the way we have been playing and stick to our game plan.”
Offensively, the Eskis rely heavily upon the trio of Brett Ouderkirk (13, 8-11-19, 4), David Osborne (13, 8-9-17, 27) and Jacob Erwin (13, 7-9-16, 2).
No other Iroquois Falls player has more than two goals on the season.
Defenceman Nathan Avery (13, 2-7-9, 26) has been solid at both ends of the ice.
Goalies Dan Davies (266:00, 2-2-0-0, 0, 5.41, .872) and Josh Horner (514:00, 2-7-0-0, 0, 5.60, .888) have played well at times, but have lacked consistency. Newcomer Joe Hacker has yet to see any game action.
The Eskis have made an addition to their lineup since the last time they faced the Rock, as they acquired defenceman Jack Speer (8, 0-1-1, 2) from the Crunch on Thursday.