By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock will be looking for a little redemption Wednesday night when they host the Iroquois Falls Eskimos at the McIntyre Arena.
Even though the Rock played three solid games during last weekend’s road trip through Sault Ste. Marie, Sault, Mich., and Espanola, their 8-6 loss to the Eskimos in Iroquois Falls last Wednesday still stings.
Were it not for that setback, the Rock would find themselves in third place in the NOJHL East Division standings trailing just the undefeated Powassan Voodoos and Cochrane Crunch.
Instead, the Rock currently sit in fourth place — one point behind the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners.
Coach and general manager Paul Gagne has had the squad working hard in practice this week in preparation for Wednesday’s visit by the Eskimos.
“The kids didn’t like the feeling of losing that way,” he said.
“You never like the feeling of losing but the way we lost (blowing four two-goal leads) and the way we played made it worse.
“We came back and we played three great games on the road with the energy we had and we have had two practices to get ready for this game.
“The buildup is going to be there and we are going to stress that we can’t underestimate any teams in the league.”
That being said, the Rock will be focusing more on playing their game than trying to shut down anything the Eskimos did particularly well last Wednesday night.
“We are going to have to come out and do our job, do our assignments to keep our compete level high,” Gagne said.
The coach doesn’t feel the players will be under any extra pressure to try and redeem themselves against the Eskimos.
“They have been playing great hockey, so the idea is to maintain our level of play,” Gagne said.
“The kind of pressure our players have right now is to try and continue to be successful. That is a great kind of pressure and I am hoping that kind of pressure is still there. It will give us that edge to compete and stay on top of our game.”
While Gagne does not want to take anything away from what the Eskimos accomplished — and he gave them full credit for the victory following the contest — he thinks the loss was more a matter of what the Rock didn’t do, as opposed to what Iroquois Falls did well.
“We didn’t bring our game at all,” he said.
“We were sluggish. It was our doing, more than anything else. Like I said, you have to give them credit. We gave them life and motivation through our sluggish play and our stupid penalties. Overall, it was just a bad game.”
Having played five of their first six regular season games on the road, the Rock have won their only home game and will be looking to build upon that success at the McIntyre Arena Wednesday night.
“It is not a good thing to be called homers, but why not?” Gagne said.
“There are 27 games to be won at home, so why not try to win them all? That’s a lot of points. In all fairness, though, we do play pretty well on the road, also.
“We are going to have to make a statement here and work hard and do all of our assignments.
“The kids are confident and I have confidence in them, too.”
Zachary Kercz scored three goals during last week’s 8-6 loss to the Eskimos and he has had a great deal of success centring a line with Tristan Salesse and Mike Norris.
“Our power play was clicking last game,” he said.
“I scored two goals on the power play. We were getting a good net-front presence and we were shooting pucks. My linemates were working hard and we were getting pucks through. I just happened to be in the right spot at the right time.”
The goals were the first three in the NOJHL for Kercz and he was happy to finally find the back of the net.
“It was nice to get the monkey off my back, obviously,” he said.
“I just like to chip in wherever I can, regardless of whether it is goals or assists.”
All three members of the line — Kercz (6, 3-6-9, 8), Salesse (6, 6-4-10, 2) and Norris (6, 5-4-9, 8) — are in the Top 10 in scoring.
“Our line is doing well and that’s a good start for us,” Kercz said.
The key for the Rock Wednesday will be continued solid offensive play combined with an improved defensive effort.
“We are going to have to get on them early,” Kercz said.
“If we can get on them early, I feel we can really suffocate them. We played a lot better team defence on the weekend and that is what we are striving to do.
“I would rather win games 2-0 or stuff like that than have these shootouts like 8-6. Obviously, an 8-6 loss left a bitter taste in our mouths. Nobody likes that.
“Hopefully, tomorrow (Wednesday) night we can bear down and play Paul’s system, shut them down and get another two points.”
The focus, of course, for improved team defence does not just rest on the goalies and the blue-line corps.
“Giving up eight goals has nothing to do with the goalies, the D or the forwards,” Kercz said.
“It is all of us together as one unit.
“We have started to play more of the system and it showed throughout the weekend. We were giving up fewer goals against good teams.”
Gagne was not about to announce who would be starting in goal Wednesday night, but he has been happy with the play of both of his puck stoppers — Logan Ferrington (250:00, 0, 2.88, 0.914) and Matthew Nixon (120:00, 0, 3.00, 0.935).
“Nixon played the first and the third games on the road trip and played really well and Logan played really well in the second game,” he said.
“It is nice to be in this position. Both goalies understand we are giving them games right now to keep them sharp.”
The Rock have a few injury concerns heading into Wednesday night’s game.
“I am hoping the young (Ryan) Kerr and the young (Cole) Gilligan might be in the lineup by the weekend,” Gagne said.
Both Kerr, a defenceman, and Gilligan, a forward, are nursing upper-body injuries that have kept them out of the lineup the past four games.
In addition, defenceman Tyler Somers, who is continuing to recuperate from off-season surgery, has not yet seen any game action.
“He has to go see his orthopaedic surgeon in six or seven days, so he is at least a week or so away,” Gagne said.
The Rock were also without the services of veteran defenceman Michael Rancourt on the weekend due to an illness in the family and his status for Wednesday night is unclear.
Rock fans will likely get their first look at newly acquired forward Ryan Theriault Wednesday night.
“We would like to put him in the lineup,” Gagne said.
“We have the paperwork on the way now and we will try to put him on the HCR (Hockey Canada registry) and get him into the game.”
Theriault, nicknamed Clark Kent by the team’s training staff because of the dark-framed glasses he wears off the ice, is happy to get to continue his junior career in the NOJHL after being traded to the Whitby Fury, of the OJHL, by the Rayside-Balfour Canadians back on Sept. 2.
“It is exciting coming to a new town, with a good fan base,” he said.
“I am really excited to get things started.
“It is nice to play in a local league, so I can go back home and get to see my family. It is really good to be up in the North again.”
The 6-2, 192-pound Hanmer native split the 2014-15 season between the Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves (16, 8-13-21, 28), of the GNML, and the Sudbury Nickel Barons (30, 15-9-24, 26), of the NOJHL.
Theriault also played in the NOJHL as a 16-year-old with the Espanola Rivermen (44, 5-3-8, 14).
He had been in training camp with the Rayside-Balfour Canadians (formerly known as the Nickel Barons) and played in an exhibition game against the Rock at the McIntyre Arena on Aug. 28, although he was held off the scoresheet.
“I am hoping to be able to put up some points and bang some bodies,” Theriault said.
“I have been playing in the NOJHL since I was 16 and it has been a learning process. It takes a bit of time to adapt to a league and I feel a lot more confident now than when I was a 16 year old.
“Hopefully, the season will take off really well for me and our team.”
Theriault was not too familiar with the Rock before he was acquired by the Timmins squad.
“We played the one exhibition game against them when I was with the Rayside-Balfour Canadians,” he said.
“I played hockey with Kerr (on Team NOJHL) last year when he was playing for the Eskimos in Iroquois Falls. He is a pretty good player and I am excited to play with him.”
If Theriault gets into the lineup against the Eskimos Wednesday night, he anticipates he might be just a tad nervous — especially if the crowd is anywhere near the 1,046 that packed the McIntyre Arena on opening night.
“I am not used to that kind of fan support, so it should be exciting,” he said.
The Rock reacquired veteran defenceman Joe Olson from the Steinbach Pistons, of the MJHL, late Monday night.
The 20-year-old Vancouver native split the 2014-15 season between the Ridge Meadows Flames (31, 3-11-14, 69), of the PIJHL, and the Abitibi Eskimos (14, 4-8-12, 6).
He had been scheduled to attend training camp with the Rock, but was traded to the Pistons on Aug. 13.
Gagne was all smiles as he confirmed the trade for Olson prior to Tuesday’s practice.
“It will help our Top 4 defensive corps and will in turn help the bottom of our depth chart, as well,” he said.
“He brings so much to the team. I think last year, the entire time he was with us, he only made three mistakes, which is incredible.
“He just does his job out there. He moves the puck well and he is also great in the dressing room.”
In addition to being a teammate of the Eskimos who are back with this year’s Rock squad, the 6-2, 190-pounder also played with fellow blue-liner Andrew Castagna and centre Jordan Rendle when the trio were with the Flames last season.
“I was disappointed when he left, but that’s hockey,” Gagne said.
A stay-at-home defender who has some offensive upside, Olson has the ability to clear the front of his net without taking unnecessary penalties.
“He is very disciplined,” Gagne said.
“He knows our program and he completes his assignments. He is an all around great hockey player.”
Olson was scheduled to fly into Timmins Tuesday night and he may or may not see action Wednesday night, depending on how long it takes to get the paperwork approved.