By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock scored three unanswered third-period goals to rally for a 3-1 win over the Iroquois Falls Eskis Sunday night at the McIntyre Arena.
It was the third win in the past four games for the Rock (24-10-3-0) who pulled back within six points of the Cochrane Crunch (26-11-4-1) for second place in the NOJHL’s East Division standings.
And the Rock still have five games in hand on Crunch as they seek to secure home-ice advantage for a likely divisional semi-final series match-up.
It took the Rock, who lead the NOJHL with 192 goals this season, more than two periods to finally get their offence in gear Sunday night.
“They played us pretty tight, like they usually do,” said Rock assistant coach James Daschuk.
“It was our third game in four nights, so we might have been a little worn down. I thought we worked hard tonight. It wasn’t pretty by any means, nothing flashy, nothing to brag about. We just found a way to get ’er done. We scratched and clawed and used the last bit of energy we had left.”
That extra burst of energy saw the Rock turn up the intensity of their forecheck.
“We are a high-scoring team and we knew that once we got one there was a bit of a load off our back,” Daschuk said.
“Before the third period, we were a bit tight tonight. Things weren’t coming easy for us. We made things a little bit difficult on ourselves, trying to make an extra pass when we should have been shooting, or trying to make an extra little move at the blue-line when we should have just been getting it in deep.
Neither team was able to find the back of the net during the opening 20 minutes of action. Rock goalie Albert Rogers and the Eskis’ Artem Bortovskiy each turned aside 14 shots.
The Eskis finally broke the ice late in the second period, as Wade Auger took a drop pass from Jay Sidhu and snapped a wrist shot past Rogers for his eighth goal of the season.
That goal allowed the Eskis to take a 1-0 lead into the second intermission.
The Rock were finally able to break through for a goal 5:43 into the third period, as Tyler Romain stole the puck and broke in all alone to beat Bortovskiy for his 24th goal of the season.
In a strange twist of fate, Romain’s game-tying goal was scored seconds after it was announced that his father had won the 50-50 draw.
“I don’t know if he heard his dad’s name on the loud speaker, but the kid had a game today,” Daschuk said.
“He scored our first goal and drew an assist on the second one. He really worked hard today. The first shift the game, the puck was dumped into the D-man’s corner and he went in and finished a check on one of their big defencemen. From that point on, we kind of knew he was here to play today. We need him scoring. He has the most goals on the team.
Romain came close to scoring his 25th goal of the season late in the third period with the Rock on the power play.
He danced in front of the net and attempted to get off a shot, but fanned on the attempt and the puck rolled across the crease to linemate Bain Cunningham who was able to bury the puck into a wide-open net for what would prove to be the game-winning goal, his 13th of the season.
“I just drove the net and the puck was there,” Cunningham said.
“It felt good to get the game-winner.”
It was Cunningham’s first game-winning goal this season after he scored eight to tie for the NOJHL lead last year as a rookie.
“Everyone wants to score the game-winning goal, but I just go out there and play my game, try to do the little things,” he said.
“My game doesn’t change that much towards the end of the game. I always have in the back of my mind to try to score a goal when we need one and tonight it worked out.”
There was just 1:38 remaining in regulation when Cunningham notched the power-play marker.
The Eskis pulled Bortovvskiy in favour of an extra attacker in an attempt to net the equalizer and force overtime, but the move backfired when Cory Sprague was able to break through the Eskis defence and bury his 17th goal of the season into the empty net with just 27 seconds remaining on the clock.
Daschuk was pleased with the play of all of his Rock players, but singled out a few more for a little extra praise, as well.
“(Rock captain Jorday) Rendle really played well tonight,” he said.
“His name didn’t appear on the scoresheet, but sometimes it’s just a matter of the guys inside the dressing room knowing what he did well tonight. He worked hard and he was pretty solid defensively. He had the puck on his stick a lot tonight, trying to set up plays and stuff.
“Bain had the game-winning goal tonight and I think he finished with 10 shots on net.
“Rogers was really key, killing off a few penalties for us and he made a few saves look pretty easy. His glove hand was working really well tonight. He made some really big saves and he made some others look routine.”
For Eskis coach Jamy Bernier, Sunday’s loss was a particularly frustrating setback.
“The boys battled hard and they gave us 60 minutes,” he said.
“When they tied it up, we were hoping to be able to get at least a point out of tonight’s game, but maybe that was the mentality of the guys, ‘let’s just get out of this and get a point.’
“I kind of wish we would have started the third period a little stronger. They gave us a lot of chances on the power play to bury, but we couldn’t bury them. I have to give credit to their goaltender. Rogers was standing on his head there at the end of the game. Any time you fire 40-plus shots on a guy and he only allows one goal, you know he is playing well.
“He came up with some big saves. We just didn’t have any answers for him. I thought we had answers for everything else tonight.”
The Eskis’ Bortovskiy, of course, matched Rogers almost save for save throughout the contest.
“Artem played well tonight,” Bernier said.
“I thought he was our best player on the ice. Often this season, we have had to look back at our goalies to be our best players. Tonight, I really thought he had his stuff. He came in prepared and gave us 60 strong minutes.
“Their game-winning goal was scored on a broken play. It was kind of a fanned pass that made it across and ended up on the wrong stick.
“Other than that, I thought our guys played a phenomenal game in the D zone. Our defensive structure was good. We have been playing a lot better defensively since the New Year. We kept Powassan at bay in our first game back from the break, which was pretty big for us.
“We have been finding ourselves on the wrong side of one-goal games every night and we just have to find that extra little kick to get on the upside of it and I think we are very close to doing that.”
In addition to his goaltender, Bernier had little extra praise for a few other Eskis, as well.
“I thought it was a great effort by all 20 of our guys tonight and Josh DeJulio gave us some big, big minutes on back end tonight,” he said.
“Riley Wagner had a very strong game on the back end, as well. Offensively, I thought all of our forwards were going tonight. We broke up some lines to try and find some spark and we got offence from our Sidhu, Auger and (Ryan) Forsyth combination.”
Rogers stopped 43 of the 44 shots he faced to earn the victory for the Rock.
Bortovskiy turned aside 39 of the 41 shots the Rock fired his way and was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — Rock defenceman James Watier missed Sunday night’s contest as he served the one-game suspension he picked up for being involved in a fight in the final 10 minutes of a game Saturday night in Cochrane … The three stars of the game were Romain, Cunningham and Sprague … The Rock went 1-6 on the power play, while the Eskis were 0-8 with the man advantage … Jeff Lefevre, of the Timmins Custom Concrete North Stars, won the Goldcorp Shoot To Win competition, defeating David Etheridge, of the Timmins Holy Cow North Stars 9-7 in Sunday’s final that saw the two shooters using a goalie stick to fire pucks at an empty net from centre ice … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 701 … Sunday’s other NOJHL action saw the Beavers knocked off the Powassan Voodoos 3-1 in Blind River, the Soo Eagles blank the Canadians 7-0 in Rayside-Balfour and the Soo Thunderbirds double the Express 4-2 in Espanola … The Rock will return to action Friday night when they take on the Rapids in French River before travelling to Powassan for a game against the Voodoos Saturday night. The next home game for the Rock will be on Friday, Nov. 27, when they will host the Beavers at the McIntyre Arena.