By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
COCHRANE – Crunch fans will get their first look at the Rock when the Timmins franchise makes its inaugural visit of the 2015-16 NOJHL regular season to the Tim Horton Event Centre Thursday night.
It will also be an opportunity for Cochrane residents to show their support for long-time Crunch supporter Andre Numainville as he continues his battle with colon cancer.
As part of the evening’s festivities, the Crunch will be wearing special blue uniforms which will be auctioned off after Thursdays contest to raise funds for the Numainville family.
“We will be presenting him with a jersey and all of the proceeds from our jersey auction will be going to the family to help with travel costs,” said Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard.
“He has been a season-ticket holder since we got here last year and he and his family don’t miss a game. They are all die-hard Crunch fans.”
On the ice, Thursday’s encounter will be the fourth meeting of the Rock and the Crunch. The Timmins franchise won the only regular-season encounter 6-5 at the McIntyre Arena and also swept a pair of exhibition contests including one in Kapuskasing.
During the Oct. 18 regular-season victory, the Rock did a solid job of shutting down the NOJHL’s leading scorer, Hunter Atchison (25, 28-33-61-18), and Dustin Cordeiro (26, 26-18-44, 27), who is tops in goals. Atchison only managed a pair of assists in that contest, while Cordeiro netted one goal.
Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne feels his squad played the way it needs to play to be successful in that contest.
“Our compete level was excellent,” he said.
“Thursday night, if we can jump on that puck, fight for that puck, we are going to be successful. If we can do that, we are not going to be there for hooking, we are not going to be there for slashing, because we will have puck possession.
“The outcome will be that they are going to be taking penalties because we have puck possession.
“If we can do that and play less in our defensive zone, that is going to be the whole key. Playing in the neutral zone and the offensive zone makes a big difference.”
Another key to the Rock being successful will be ensure that all Timmins players on the ice are conscious of when Atchison and Cordeiro are out there.
“You want to know who is on the ice at all times and if those guys are on the ice, we have to be paying attention,” Gagne said.
“A lot of times, when you say pay attention you are talking about finishing your check, taking the body, little stuff like that. You want to try to frustrate them and a lot of times it works.”
Gagne realizes the importance of not letting the Crunch build any momentum, especially in their building.
“If we give them any time and space they will be able to build momentum,” he said.
“We can’t do that and if we play our program, we will eliminate those opportunities.”
Leonard feels his squad has plenty of offence, however, even if Timmins is able to again shut down the dynamic duo.
“If you look at our stats the last three weeks, (Tyler) Minoletti (25, 10-12-22, 31) got four goals in one game last week, (John) Stevenson (23, 15-13-28, 6) got a hat-trick,” he said.
“All three of our lines score goals regularly, two to three goals every night and our fourth line even chips in with a goal here and there. We have goal scoring coming from everywhere, so that’s not a big deal.
“I would expect more guys to rise to the occasion tomorrow night now that Maguire is out.
“We just have to find a way to beat Timmins in general. During our two exhibition games and the regular-season game at the McIntyre Arena they beat us. This is going to be our first time to see them at home, on our bigger ice surface. We will get to actually see where we are with these guys tomorrow night.”
Has Leonard been able to identify anything in particular the Rock have been able to do while winning those three hockey games?
“No, not really,” he said.
“They just play in-your-face hockey and whichever team plays in-your-face hockey more tomorrow night is the team that is going to be in the penalty box. We have to watch our level because we are the highest penalized team in the NOJHL right now and they are not too far behind us. It will come down to which team is going to play more disciplined hockey.
Gagne acknowledged the Rock will miss the presence of Andrew Castagna on the blue-line. Castagna picked up a one-game suspension for his involvement in a fight against Joey Biers, of the Eskis, during the Rock’s 7-2 win in Iroquois Falls Saturday night.
“He has been playing great as of late,” Gagne said.
“Him scoring a goal the other night made a big difference confidence wise and we have been really happy with the way he has been playing.
“Right now, with have moved (Mikael) Rancourt (18, 1-2-3, 4) on defence and (Jared) Hester (24, 2-6-8, 8) has been playing pretty good hockey. He has been playing a lot on the power play.
While Castagna will not be in the lineup Thursday night, the Rock will get a boost from the return of winger Devin Panzeca (17, 11-9-20, 2) from an upper-body injury.
“He has practised hard all week,” Gagne said.
The Crunch will also have a number of lineup changes heading into Thursday night’s game.
“We will be down a couple of key players tomorrow night,” Leonard said.
“(Seamus) Maguire (24, 17-29-46, 30) won’t be dressing tomorrow night and Lucas Robinson (22, 3-1-4, 27) on defence will still be out.
“Maguire (lower-body injury) is a key piece to our team and he will be out until next week for sure.”
The Crunch have also completed three or four trades in the past couple of days, although the coach was only able to talk about one of them late Wednesday afternoon, as the paperwork on the others had yet to clear.
“We are going to have two band-new faces in the lineup for sure tomorrow (Thursday) night,” Leonard said.
“It is just that I can’t announce them until game time since they won’t be approved until about 4 p.m. tomorrow. The players are here. We are just waiting for the approvals to get finished.”
The one transaction Leonard was able to speak about involved the trade of forward Braeden Pearce (20, 1-7-8, 15) and defenceman Kyle Sanford (14, 1-3-4, 27) to the English River Miners, of the SIJHL.
“We traded them to make room for some older players who are coming in,” he said.
“It is getting close to the Dec. 1 cut-down date and we are trying to clear up some spots and finalize what we want our roster to look like going into January.
“All of the players we are moving out are players who have been in and out of the lineup. They haven’t been regulars. We are moving three or four excess players out and bringing in two or three solid veteran players.”
Following Thursday night’s game, the Rock will return to Timmins to host the French River Rapids at the McIntyre Arena Friday night.
The Rapids, with a record of 1-22-0-0, have the worst record in the NOJHL but Gagne knows the Rock cannot take them too lightly.
“Obviously, they don’t have a whole lot of skill, we know that, but they are coached by (former NHL defenceman) Moe Mantha and this is a guy who knows his game,” he said.
“I played against him (in the NHL) way back and he has been around the game for a long time.
“Even though we beat them the last time we played them, they really played great. They have structure and they work hard. They have a great forecheck and they play well in their defensive zone. It is just skill-wise, they don’t have very much skill.
“He has them going and you can’t count them out. They have been losing a lot, but they are always in games.”
The Rock defeated the Rapids 3-0 earlier this month in French River, with affiliate goalie Bradley Dobson earning the shutout.
Fans shouldn’t expect to see the Timmins Majors puck stopper between the pipes Friday night, however.
“Right now, (Matthew) Nixon is not in the lineup and he hasn’t been practising,” Gagne said.
“We have the young (Mike) Gresko who we signed last week, so right now we are just taking things one day at a time for our goaltending.”
The game time for both Thursday and Friday contests is 7:30 p.m.