By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock will be looking to end the home-ice pre-Christmas portion of their NOJHL season on a winning note when they host the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners at the McIntyre Arena Wednesday night.
They will also be looking to gain a little revenge for their two most-recent outings against the Gold Miners — 9-4 and 8-1 setbacks in Kirkland Lake.
The Rock have lost all three of their regular-season visits to the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex, but have won both of their encounters with the Gold Miners at the McIntyre Arena — the site of Wednesday night’s clash.
“We have always had some problems against Kirkland Lake,” said Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“They have a good, well-coached hockey team. They should have a powerhouse because they are hosting the Dudley Hewitt Cup.
“We have had issues and what I mean by that is our goals against. We are going to have to concentrate on our assignments and on our special-teams units. The last couple of games, we have given up eight or nine goals a game.
“We are not happy about that.”
The Rock have only given up three goals against during their two games against the Gold Miners at the McIntyre Arena — a 6-1 win on Sept. 12 and a 4-2 win on Oct. 7 — and they only surrendered four during an opening night loss to the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake on Sept. 11.
With starting goalie Logan Ferrington (1,010:00, 10-6-0-0, 0, 3.50, .912) out with a lower-body injury, back-up netminder Matthew Nixon (680:00, 6-5-0-0 , 0, 3.88, .898) was in net for the Rock’s 9-4 loss to the Gold Miners on Nov. 5.
Then, on Nov. 20, with Ferrington playing his first game back from that injury, he was only able to play the first two periods of an 8-1 loss in Kirkland Lake. Mike Gresko (20:00, 0-0-0-0, 0, 3.00, .909) came on to finish up that contest.
Gagne has not yet announced it, but fans can expect to see Logan Ferrington get his ninth-straight start in goal after returning from a lower-body injury.
“We like the way he has played the last couple of games,” he said.
“He was challenging the shooters and his rebound control was great. I can only recall one rebound that got away from him and our defence took care of it.
“He has played great hockey and, knock on wood, he is injury free.”
Timmins native Devon Debastos (0:00, 0-0-0-0, 0, 0.00, .000), who played in the NOJHL with the Gold Miners last season, has yet to see any action since he signed with the Rock but that situation will likely change shortly.
“He will be in the (starting) lineup at some point this weekend, for sure,” Gagne said.
Marc Audet (487:00, 4-4-0-0, 2, 2.47, .915), now with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, of the QMJHL, was in goal for the Gold Miners in both their losses to the Rock, as well as their first victory.
Tyler Mazzocato (750:00, 10-1-1-0, 1, 2.32, .911) was in net for the other two victories, while the Rock have yet to face Victor-Olivier Courchesne (582:00, 10-6-4-0, 1, 2.47, .912).
What will be the key to the Rock continuing their home-ice dominance of the Gold Miners Wednesday night?
“It comes down to assignments,” Gagne said.
“We have to have accountability from everybody on the ice. Our last game, at home against Cochrane, we played a great game but one player wasn’t accountable and it cost us three goals.
“We need to have everybody on board. Playing against good teams, you know if you make mistakes the odds of getting scored against are higher.”
To be successful, the Rock will have to play Rock hockey.
“When we play our down-low game in the offensive zone, and we don’t make too many turnovers, I think it makes a big difference,” Gagne said.
“Another big difference will be discipline. We have been a little bit undisciplined in the last few games. We have taken too many penalties and there is no reason for that.”
The Rock will also have to capitalize on their chances when the Gold Miners take penalties.
“Going 0-8 or 1-8 in the last couple of games is not up to par for us,” Gagne said.
During Saturday night’s loss to the Crunch in particular, it looked like the Rock were trying to be too cute with the puck and making too many passes instead of firing it on net and then either getting a deflection or pouncing on a rebound.
“If you look at Cochrane, they scored two power-play goals and they were scored from two feet in front of our net,” Gagne said.
“It doesn’t always have to be tick-tack-toe. We have got set plays, but if they are not there we have to drive to the net and create havoc in front of the net. If we can do that, it doesn’t really matter. The goal is still going to have PP there beside it on the scoresheet.”
Heading into Wednesday night’s game, the Rock (30, 17-12-0-1, 35) trail the Gold Miners (30, 20-7-2-1, 43) by eight points in the NOJHL East Division standings.
A victory could see them close that gap to just six points, while a loss would allow it to widen to 10 points.
“All games are really important,” Gagne said.
“Every game we play, we want to win. There are not too many games this season that we have not been in the games. Our compete level to win has always been high.
“It will be emotional. We want to climb up in the standings.”
During their past 10 games, the Rock have a record of 6-4-0-0, while the Gold Miners have gone 8-1-1-0 during that same span.
The Rock have a pair of players — Zachary Kercz (30, 16-35-51, 54) and Tristan Salesse (26, 21-25-46, 12) — in the NOJHL’s Top 10 scorers, while the Gold Miners have one player — Brayden Stortz (30, 23-31-54, 20) — in that group.
Following Wednesday night’s home game, the Rock will embark on a three-game weekend road trip that will see them make stops in Sault, Mich., Friday night to take on the Eagles, in Sault Ste. Marie Saturday night to take on the Thunderbirds and in Blind River Sunday afternoon, to take on the Beavers.
“The frame of mind with our hockey team has been incredible,” Gagne said.
“Our players get along really well. We have a great dressing room. The players are motivated. They are having fun. It is interesting to see them competing like that.
“This road trip is going to be nice, to just be able to concentrate on hockey, eat, sleep. That’s all we are going to do for three days.
“After this road trip, the next time we are going to be together, is Jan. 4.”
Forwards Andrew Green and Wayne Mathieu have missed the past two games with minor injuries and their status for Wednesday’s contest is not yet known. Nixon, meanwhile, remains out for at least a couple of weeks with a lower-body injury.
“We will have to see what happens in practice today,” Gagne said Tuesday morning.
“If they are not 100% we will just have to give them some time off because we have got three games this weekend. If you are not 100%, sometimes it is best — depending on the schedule — to rest it.”