SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. — The Timmins Rock doubled up the Eagles 4-2 at Pullar Stadium Saturday night to move into sole possession of first place in the NOJHL’s overall standings.
It was the third-straight victory and the ninth in the past 10 games for the Rock (13-5-1-0), who hold a one-point advantage on the Gold Miners (13-4-0-0) — although Kirkland Lake has a pair of games in hand on their East Division rivals.
The Rock, who started off their current three-game road swing through the West Division with a 4-3 win over the Beavers in Blind River Friday night, will wrap up the trip with a game against the Thunderbirds in Sault Ste. Marie on Sunday.
Rock coach Corey Beer was naturally pleased to see his squad once again turn in a solid effort on the road.
“Tonight and Friday night our resiliency really stood out,” he said.
“Both games were a bit sloppy in our end and we ran into some penalty trouble. Despite all of that, there was still fight left in us and we kept coming. There was no fall off and the push back was great.
“In both, we had the ability to defend well late in the games, holding the other teams to perimeter shots. Our defencemen did a great job of boxing out and our forwards were blocking shots.
“It was a gutsy effort, for sure.”
Saturday night, it was the Rock who struck first, as their red-hot captain, Derek Seguin scored his 14th goal of the season late in the first period.
It was the fourth goal of the trip for Seguin, who had a hat-trick and a helper in Blind River Friday night.
The Rock expanded their lead to 2-0 just past the five minute mark of the second period when Josh Dickson netted his fifth goal of the campaign.
A pair of power-play goals 43 seconds apart later in the frame got the Eagles back on even terms, however.
Caleb Wood’s 10th goal of the season was the first of those tallies, while Dominic Skrelja had the other when he scored his first goal of the season.
Rock 16-year-old forward Keegan McMullen scored what would prove to be the game-winning goal just shy of the five-minute mark in the third period. It was the rookie’s sixth goal of the season.
The Rock gained a measure of insurance when Riley Robitaille added his fifth goal of the season into an empty Eagles’ net with goalie Joseph Benedetto on the bench in favour of an extra attacker and just one second left on the clock.
Seguin assisted on the final two Rock goals to give him seven points in the first two games of the trip.
As one might expect, Seguin’s coach was more than pleased with the leadership demonstrated by his captain Saturday night.
“He is playing at another level right now,” Beer said.
“His work ethic is second to none. He is, in my opinion, one of the most complete players in the league. He plays in every situation, power play, penalty kill, defensive zone face-offs, he blocks shots, scores key goals. There is nothing he can’t do. It’s a real pleasure to coach him.”
The Rock did a solid job limiting the number of quality offensive looks the Eagles got Saturday night, similar to what they did against the Beavers Friday night.
“Blind River and the Soo both have very good offensive teams,” Beer said.
“As tonight’s game wore on, I think our play away from the puck improved. The Soo has a very hard forechecking team and early on we had some difficulties with that.
“They were getting some penetration on us, but as the game wore on our defence really tightened up and we did a better job of keeping them to the outside. Even the shots they got late in the third period, we didn’t too many of them were red-zone priorities.
“(Rock goalie Tyler) Masternak made some key saves in both games to preserve the wins for us.”
Rock 16-year-old blue-liner Owen Shier, who struggled a bit Friday night with his normal D partner Josh Anderson serving a one-game suspension, picked up a pair of assists Saturday night and turned in a much better defensive effort according to his coach.
“He played a much better game tonight,” Beer said.
“Without Josh back there, he was pressed into more minutes and he maybe didn’t have his best game, but tonight he got his feet moving and his puck movement was a lot crisper.
“Defensively, he was very good, too.”
McMullen also earned a little extra praise from his coach for his play Saturday night.
“What a shot on his game-winning goal,” Beer said.
“Hard look off from the half-wall on a rush play. He looked off Seguin and everyone kind of bit, including the goalie, and he put it short side off the inside of the bar. It was a heck of a shot.
“The play started with a tremendous forecheck from Riley Robitaille to cause that pressure. When you have a player on your line who is as hot as Derek Seguin is right now, everyone has to take notice.
“Keegs really took advantage of that with a great, well-placed shot. That line was really dominant throughout the entire night.”
Dickson is one player who has been almost as hot as Seguin over the last handful of games.
“He played very well tonight and he was on the ice late in the game, too, to play some key shutdown minutes,” Beer said.
“That is the biggest indication of a player who is earning the trust of his coach. It means not only are you a good offensive player, you are going to make the right plays defensively.”
Four other Rock forwards caught their coach’s eye Saturday night, as well.
“A.J. Campbell had a great game for us today and Tyler Hutchinson, in his second game with us, had a great game despite some calls for being a bigger and stronger human being than his opponent,” Beer said.
“He did a really good job in the defensive zone and made some good plays.
“A guy like Darcy Haupt blocked some shots and made some key plays.
“Those guys were fantastic, but I think quite honestly the best player on the ice other than Segs was Eamon Bollinger.
“He probably played about 26 minutes as a forward tonight. He was incredible. He did everything. He was just a workhorse of a player.
“We are getting some tremendous performances from a lot of guys here and Bolly certainly was one of them.”
Masternak, who turned aside 30 of the 32 shots he faced, picked up his 11th win of the season.
Benedettom, who stopped 27 of the 30 shots the Rock fired his way, was tagged with the loss for the Eagles.