By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock will be looking to snap their three-game losing streak when they host the Iroquois Falls Eskis at the McIntyre Arena Wednesday night.
After dropping an 8-6 decision to the Eskis in Iroquois Falls back on Sept. 16, the Rock have won their past three meetings — 8-1 at the McIntyre Arena on Sept. 23, 6-2 in Iroquois Falls on Oct. 4 and 10-2 at the McIntyre Arena on Oct. 21.
The importance of getting back into the win column is underscored by the fact the Rock will play five-straight games on the road and six out of seven following Wednesday night’s game at the McIntyre Arena.
With that in mind, the Rock have been working hard in practice this week in an effort to maximize their chances of ending their losing streak Wednesday night.
“We have been working pretty hard on one-on-ones and three-on-threes and taking the body, being a little bit more physical,” said Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“We have always had good intensity in practice, but I can can honest to God say we raised the level, just to finish our checks and compete a little bit more, be stronger on the puck.”
The Rock won’t be taking the Eskis lightly, especially given the Iroquois Falls squad has won two of its past three games.
And the Eskis have some pretty impressive offensive weapons, including forwards Brett Ouderkirk (20, 10-18-28, 6), David Osborne (20, 12-15-27, 29), Jacob Erwin (20, 10-11-21, 6) and Dillan Bruce (20, 5-5-10, 14), as well as defenceman Nathan Avery (18, 4-10-14, 40).
In addition, the club has re-acquired goalie Joe Sheppard (239.00, 1-3-0-0, 0, 4.02, .860) from the Amherst Ramblers, of the MHL.
The Eskis also dealt away the rights to forward Christopher Rolf von de Baumen (0, 0-0-0, 0) to the Delhi Travellers, of the OHA.
While the Rock are coming off a home-ice loss to the Soo Thunderbirds Saturday night, Gagne was a lot happier with his team’s effort in that contest than he had been against the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake 48 hours earlier.
“Sure, we lost 6-3 but we competed,” he said.
“We hadn’t competed at that level in maybe three or four games. If we can play the way we played in that game, we are going to win some hockey games.”
The Rock are determined to add a victory before heading out on the road.
“We are on a mission right now,” Gagne said.
“We have had meetings. We will be having a video session tonight. We have concluded we don’t have to get a win, we want to get a win. We all want to get back in the win column.”
While forwards Tristan Salesse (15, 14-16-30, 4) and Jordan Rendle (16, 11-9-20, 16) returned to the Rock’s lineup against the Soo Thunderbirds Saturday night, winger Devin Panzeca (17, 11-9-20, 2) remains out of action with an upper-body injury.
“He will probably be back on the ice Monday,” Gagne said.
“He has been doing a lot of therapy and he is going home for about a week. I am not saying he is going to be ready to play on Monday, but he should be able to be back on the ice, skating and practising.”
After parting ways with forward Tyler Romain (18, 4-6-10, 7) prior to Saturday night’s game, the Rock have yet to bring in a replacement.
“It’s in the works,” Gagne said.
“We are working on it, hopefully we will have something sooner than later.”
With eight defencemen on the roster, the Rock will continue to use a blue-liner up front.
“We have been putting (Mikael) Rancourt (13, 0-2-2, 0) up front every once and a while,” Gagne said.
With starting goalie Logan Ferrington still not 100%, Matthew Nixon (560:00, 5-4-0-0, 0, 3.86, .899) will get the start in goal for the Rock Wednesday night against the Eskis and he will also likely be between the pipes Friday night in Powassan when they take on the Voodoos and in French River Saturday night when they face off against the Rapids.
Nixon has struggled during the past three games — a 7-4 loss to the Canadian in Rayside-Balfour on Oct. 31, a 9-5 loss to the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake Thursday night and a 6-2 loss to the Soo Thunderbirds at the McIntyre Arena Saturday night — but had the best saves percentage in the NOJHL prior to that stretch.
“Even during the game against the Gold Miners, he would have liked to have one or two goals back,” Gagne said.
“We know that for a fact and the last game I think he would have liked to have had three or four back.
“The kid knows he could have played a little bit better, but those things happen. It happens to the best of them. It happens to NHL goalies like (Carey) Price.
“He is having a good week and he has worked hard. He has had some good dialogue with Marc Bisson, our goalie coach.”
Gagne has been more than happy with his goaltending tandem of Ferrington and Nixon this season.
“This is probably the best duo that we have had in the last 15 years,” he said.
Ferrington, who has backed up Nixon the past four games, is getting closer to being able to see game action.
“He has been practising and I am going to say he is at 90% right now,” Gagne said.
“When it comes to a lower-body injury with a goalie especially, or anybody, you have to be really careful and make sure they are at 100%.
“He has been going for therapy and he has really been stretching.”
Timmins Majors goalie Bradley Dobson (486, 0, 4.44) has been practising with the Rock, as has Majors forward Jace Soroko (13, 8-5-13, 20).
Neither will see any action with the Rock either Wednesday night or on the weekend, however, as the Majors will be in Kapuskasing to take on the Flyers Wednesday night and they will travel to New Liskeard to take on the Cubs Friday night.
“Sooner or later, we will get our affiliate players in the lineup,” Gagne said.
“There is a lot of tactical stuff that we do and by having them practise with us they are part of it. That way the transition to playing Junior ‘A’ hockey will be a lot easier for them.”
Beating the Voodoos (14-2-0-0) in Powassan Friday night will not be easy, as they have yet to lose on home ice, but it would be quite satisfying as the Rock are still upset about the last-second 5-4 loss they suffered against their East Division rivals on Oct. 24.
“There would not be a better way to start the road trip,” Gagne said.
“The Voodoos have been incredible all season. They don’t do anything special. They work hard. They compete well and they are hard on their sticks. They have two lines that can make a difference in the lineup. They have good goaltending.
“They have been bringing their A game every night.”
Saturday night’s meeting between the Rock and the Rapids in French River will be the first ever between the two squads.
“I haven’t had a chance to see them play at all this season,” Gagne said.
“We will, however, look at video from some of their games between now and the game.”
The focus for the coaching and staff and the players will remain on Wednesday night’s game as they take things one game at a time.
NOJHL NOTES — The Blind River Beavers have acquired defenceman Troy Murray (7, 0-0-0, 11) from the Elliot Lake Wildcats … The Wildcats have acquired defenceman Ned Simpson (16, 2-4-6, 18) from the Rayside Balfour Canadians … The Espanola Express have acquired goalie Kevin Labelle (431:00, 3-4-0-0, 0, 3.90, .888) from Canadians … The Kirkland Lake Gold Miners have traded defenceman Cory Bussing (16, 1-1-2, 29) to the Chatham Maroons, of the GOJHL … The Powassan Voodoos have reacquired forward Michael Silveri (Voodoos: 7, 2-12-14, 6) (Olympiques: 6, 0-1-1, 2) from the Gatineau Olympiques, of the QMJHL.