For the second-straight game, the Timmins Rock had to shake off a sluggish start before posting a 5-2 win over the Espanola Express at the McIntyre Arena Friday night.
Given that the Rock had thumped the French River Rapids 8-1 once they got untracked Thursday night, while the Express were derailed 9-2 by the Lumberjacks in Hearst, many fans might have expected Friday night’s affair to be a cake walk.
That certainly wasn’t the case, especially early on.
Like Thursday night, it was the visitors who got on the scoreboard first, as Cochrane native Nick Belisle potted his third goal of the season at the 6:18 mark of the opening period.
The Rock were able to get back on even terms before the end of the frame, however.
With 19.47 seconds remaining on the clock, Josh Dickson scored his ninth goal of the season to send the two sides to the dressing room deadlocked at 1-1.
The Rock then took their first lead of the contest at the 2:09 mark of the second period, as Darcy Haupt netted a shorthanded marker, his fourth goal of the season.
With less than two minutes remaining in the frame, the Rock increased their advantage to 3-1 on a Linden Spencer tally, his fourth goal of the season.
The Express battled back to cut the home side’s advantage to a single goal early in the third period on Diego Pasula’s sixth marker of the season.
The Rock regained their two-goal advantage three-and-a-half minutes later as blue-liner Josh Anderson netted his sixth goal of the season to make it a 5-2 hockey game.
Then, with Express goalie Joel Rainville on the bench in favour of an extra attacker, Rock forward Riley Robitaille deposited his sixth goal of the season into an empty Espanola net to make the final score 5-2 in favour of the home side.
Rock assistant coach Marc Bisson, once again filling in with James Daschuk while coach Corey Beer is away at the World Junior ‘A’ Challenge, agreed Friday night’s first period felt eerily similar to Thursday night’s opening 20 minutes.
“During the first period, the guys weren’t … I don’t know … mentally prepared,” he said.
“Maybe they were looking past Espanola a little bit, but our message before the game was that we couldn’t afford to do that. They were not about to roll over and give us the two points.
“We knew that we were going to have to work for it, but just like Thursday night, the other team got on the scoreboard first. Then, Josh Dickson put in a goal with 19.47 seconds left in the first period.
“After that, I thought we had a better second period. We actually had quite a few scoring chances, but we weren’t able to capitalize on them.
“Derek Seguin hit a post and Gage Tremblay got a couple of breakaways. You have to give credit to their goalie. He played pretty well tonight.”
Bisson and his fellow coaches had a clear message for their Rock players during the first intermission.
“We just told them we had to wake up,” he said.
“Some of the guys might have been looking ahead to having a day off on Saturday, but there are no easy two points in our league this year.
“They had a bad game in Hearst Thursday night and we knew they were going to want to bounce back and try to get into the win column.”
The assistant coach acknowledged it was the Rock checking line — Haupt, A.J. Campbell and Spencer — that got the group going in the second period by turning up the intensity.
“Darcy Haupt has been phenomenal the last two games,” Bisson said.
“Our players gave him the hardest-working player award after the game. He was definitely buzzing out there tonight and it was noticeable.”
The 2000-birth-year forward who hails from Markham might not be the flashiest of the Rock forwards, but there is one area where he can match any of his teammates.
“I just like to go out there and work hard for the boys,” Haupt said.
“I just try to go out there and do my best. Coming back from an (upper-body) injury has been pretty hard, but tonight I just tried to go out there and get a spark going for the boys on the penalty kill and I ended up potting one.
“After the first period we came back to the room and everyone was pretty disappointed.
“Our captain and some of the older guys fired us up for the second period and I just tried to go out there and throw some hits, work hard in the corners, take some shots and get some pucks on the net.”
Haupt’s shorthanded marker certainly gave the Rock a little swagger to their steps and provided the team’s anxious fans with something to cheer about.
“I just kind of battled hard on the wall and then Deco (Rock forward Mahingan Decontie) came in for support, grabbed the puck, passed it to me in the middle, I faked a shot and got the D to bite a little bit and then I just threw one by the goalies pads that he couldn’t see,” he said.
Bisson was also impressed by the play of Decontie, who had a pair of assists in Thursday night’s contest.
“Deco had a really good game for us,” he said.
“We played him at centre a little bit tonight. He is so elusive with the puck. You kind of worry a little bit because he has such a small frame (5-10 and 170 pounds), but he just seems to avoid hits out there. When he gets the puck, he seems to carry it fairly well.”
Dickson and Tremblay were two other Rock forwards who caught their assistant coachֹ’s eye Friday night.
“Josh and Gage both had plenty of scoring chances,” Bisson said.
“I also thought the (captain Derek) Seguin, Robitaille and (Riley) Brousseau line was solid again tonight.
“On the back end, Josh Anderson was steady and kept things simple.
“(Rock goalie Tyler) Masternak made a few key saves for us tonight, as well.”
With Friday night’s win, the Rock (21-11-1-0) were able to remain two points back of the NOJHL East Division-leading Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (22-10-1-0), while increasing their margin to four points over the third-place Powassan Voodoos (19-11-1-0).
Meanwhile the Express (6-27-0-0), last in the West Division standings remain 11 points back of the Elliot Lake Wildcats (10-18-1-2).
Masternak stopped 20 of the 22 shots he faced to register his NOJHL-leading 18th win over of the season for the Rock.
Rainville, who turned aside 26 of the 30 shots the Rock directed his way, was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The Daily Press three stars of the game were Haupt, Decontie (two assists) and Dickson … The Rock did not dress defenceman James Redmond (upper-body injury), forward Eamon Bollinger (upper-body injury), forward Benjamin Jossinet (upper-body injury) and forward Keegan McMullen (lower-body injury) … The Rock went 0-1 on the power play, while the Express were 0-7 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 801 … Friday night’s other action saw the French River Rapids edge the Lumberjacks 4-3 in overtime in Hearst, the Gold Miners dump the Elliot Lake Wildcats 4-1 in Kirkland Lake and the Eagles hang on to get past the Soo Thunderbirds 3-2 in the Sault, Mich. … The Rock will return to action on Tuesday night when they host the Cochrane Crunch at the McIntyre Arena. The contest will feature the Rock’s annual Teddy Bear Toss. Game time is set for 7 p.m.