By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – Forget about the streak. Forget about the circus-like atmosphere associated with the arrival of Rogers Hometown Hockey in Timmins.
The outcome of Saturday night’s clash at the McIntyre Arena between the red-hot Powassan Voodoos and the simmering Timmins Rock will be determined by which team is best able to maintain its focus and play its game.
With a record of 21-3-1-0 prior to Friday night’s game against the Crunch in Cochrane, the Voodoos sat atop the overall NOJHL standings with 43 points. Winners of 14-straight games prior to Friday night, the Voodoos moved up one spot to No. 7 on the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s weekly Top 20 rankings.
It would be hard to imagine things going any better for coach Scott Wray’s Voodoos heading into Saturday night’s clash with the Rock.
“We are definitely rolling and playing pretty good hockey,” he said.
“Last weekend, we had French River back-to-back and I wouldn’t say it was our best hockey, but we found ways to find wins in the third periods.”
One of the secrets to the Voodoos’ recent success has been that they have had different players rise up each night to provide the spark needed to win hockey games.
“If one night it’s not Gary Mantz (24, 19-18-37, 14), it’s Andy Baker (24, 22-12-34, 2) or Tyson Gilmour (23, 8-16-24, 6), or Tyler Gervais-Rolfe (25, 6-22-28, 18), or maybe even secondary scoring from players like (Parker) Bowman (20, 6-4-10, 40), (Kyle) Challis (24, 5-12-17, 12), (Dylan) D’Agostino (25, 5-5-10, 10), or (Cade) Herd (18, 1-10-11, 14),” Wray said.
“Everybody is clicking and everybody is going. It’s kind of funny because when things are not going well on the ice, the guys are holding each other quite accountable right now. As a coach, that gives you a good feeling on the bench.”
When a winning streak reaches 14 or 15 games, most fans might imagine a team would be almost obsessed with keeping it going, but that is not the focus of the Voodoos heading into their three-game weekend road trip that started in Cochrane Saturday night and after Saturday night’s skirmish with the Rock will conclude with a game against the Eskis in Iroquois Falls on Sunday.
“We are going to be playing three tough hockey clubs in three tough barns and we are going up there to get a split, we are not worried about getting 15 or 20 wins in a row,” Wray said.
“As a coaching staff, we don’t even talk about it (the winning streak). It is almost like saying the shutout word or the hat-trick word out loud. We don’t even talk about it in the room.
“We are just going about our business day-to-day. Maybe later we will have time to reflect on it, but right now we are just taking things shift by shift, period by period and game by game.”
Wray figures any distractions associated with this weekend’s Rogers Hometown Hockey visit to Timmins will likely affect the Rock more than his squad.
“We just have to go in there and play a simple road game,” he said.
“If we play within ourselves, I am sure we will be OK. We are pretty structured in our routine for our road games. We are at the hotel and we don’t have any family, friends or billets there. We wake up, go have breakfast, do video, go to lunch, have a nap and then go to the rink.
“We are not going to have the cameras in our faces, so hopefully it will be to our advantage. We just have to go play our game.”
The Rock won their first two encounters with the Voodoos — 9-1 on home ice Sept. 22 and 7-6 in double overtime in Powassan on Sept. 25 — but the visitors blanked Timmins 5-0 in their most recent meeting in Powassan on Oct. 28.
“We are going to have to keep their top guns off the board,” Wray said.
“Guys like (Jordan) Rendle (24, 17-17-34, 42) and (Tyler) Romain (24, 19-14-33, 13) are skilled guys and we are going to have to keep them off the board.”
The player who has done the most damage for the Rock against the Voodoos so far this season in Wayne Mathieu (22, 11-14-25, 4), who has four goals and two assists in the three contests.
“We are going to play against them the same way we have played against them all year,” Mathieu said prior to Thursday afternoon’s practice.
“We are going to stick to our program and I am sure all the boys are going to be fired up.”
Even though the Voodoos shut down the Rock attack in their last meeting, Mathieu is not worried about his team’s ability to put the puck in the net against Powassan.
“We just need to play our game and I think we can overcome their defence,” he said.
“We have been looking forward to this game for a long time. We want to gain some revenge for that 5-0 loss.”
The majority of Mathieu’s points against the Voodoos came while playing on a line with Romain and Jacob Shankar (19, 9-11-20, 17), but since those games he has been playing with Rendle and Cory Sprague (24, 15-9-24, 32).
“All of our lines are clicking really well right now, so it doesn’t matter who I am playing with,” he said.
“We have four lines that can score and we have four lines that can roll.”
Mathieu is not worried about any distractions that might be associated with the arrival of Rogers Hometown Hockey in Timmins.
“The boys are enjoying the fact that it’s here, but as soon as we step on the ice we are going to be focused on the game,” he said.
“We are just going to go out there, play our game and maintain our focus.”
Rock assistant coach Marc Bisson is not worried about the carnival-like atmospher associated with Rogers Hometown Hockey, either.
“I think we just have to embrace it,” he said.
“It’s here, so we just make a point of enjoying it and embracing the moment. I think we are going to have a huge crowd, maybe the biggest crowd in franchise history.
“On the ice, our game plan won’t change. There is no reason for our players to be nervous. This is going to be a clash of, what I feel are, the two top teams in our league right now. Hopefully, we can get a big win for the fans.”
Bisson says the approach for the Rock will be the same as if the Voodoos were riding a 14- or 15-game losing streak, as opposed to a winning streak.
“It’s going to be just another game for us, our 25th game of the season,” he said.
The assistant coach feels the 5-0 loss the Rock suffered at the hands of the Voodoos on Oct. 28 was more a matter of what his team didn’t do right than anything Powassan did to shut down their attack.
“I really feel we went into that game flat and they jumped out to a two-goal lead,” Bisson said.
“We were just never able to recover. We had a few good chances, but in the third period their goalie was really the difference.”
Nate McDonald (851:00, 12-2-1-0, 3, 1.90, .929) got the shutout in that 5-0 victory for the Voodoos. He has teamed with Nicholas Campbell (581:00, 8-0-0-0, 1, 2.17, .917) to give Powassan excellent goaltending so far this season.
The Rock, meanwhile, are riding the hot hand of Albert Rogers (120:00, 2-0-0-0, 0, 1.50, .964), who has quickly become a fan favourite after being acquired in a trade with the French River Rapids earlier this month.
NOJHL NOTES — Rock defenceman Spencer Segui (upper-body injury) will likely return to the lineup Saturday night … The Voodoos were completely healthy at the start of their three-game weekend road trip … The proceeds from Saturday night’s 50/50 draw will be going to Timmins and District Hospital Foundation’s Face Off For Funds … Fans attending Saturday night’s Rock game are being encouraged to take public transit to the contest.