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Rock rally to edge Rapids

Timmins Rock captain Tyler Schwindt fires a shot under the arm of Rapids goalie Cole Sheffield and into the back of the French River net for his seventh goal of the season, a shorthanded marker, during the first period of Sunday afternoon’s NOJHL contest at the McIntyre Arena. Schwindt added his eighth goal of the season with 12.7 seconds remaining in regulation to help the Rock complete an improbable come-from-behind 4-3 victory. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS

The Timmins Rock scored twice in the final 1:18 of regulation to transform a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 win over the French River Rapids at the McIntyre Arena Sunday afternoon.

Thomas Perry – The Daily Press/Postmedia Network
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And with the victory the Rock (6-0-1-0) moved into a first place tie with the Powassan Voodoos (6-1-1-0) atop the NOJHL’s East Division standings.

With Rock goalie Konrad Simard on the bench in favour of an extra attacker and the Rapids nursing a 3-2 lead, Rock forward Christopher Engelbert scored his fifth goal of the season at the 18:42 mark of the third period to tie things up.

Having trailed most of the game, it appeared the Rock would be able to salvage at least a single point and force overtime — avoiding their first regulation loss of the campaign in the process.

Rock captain Tyler Schwindt ensured overtime would not be necessary, however, as he raced down the wing and beat Rapids goalie Cole Sheffield for his eighth goal of the season and second of the game, with just 12.7 seconds remaining on the clock.

“That was a great call by Perrs (Rock coach and general manager Brandon Perry),” Schwindt said.

“We ran one of the set plays we wanted to run. It was an awesome draw win by Engelbert and (Rock blue-liner Tanner) Hamilton did his job and got it out to me.

“So, it was a great call by our coach and a great job by the boys on the ice.”

The Rapids came out flying in Sunday afternoon’s contest, catching the Rock flat-footed and taking a 2-0 lead.

Chase Lefebvre got the puck rolling for French River when he scored his fifth goal of the season at the 8:58 mark of the opening period.

Ryan Goral followed by adding his first NOJHL goal to double the Rapids’ advantage.

Then, with Rock forward Nicolas Pigeon off for interference in the final two minutes of the frame, French River had an excellent opportunity to expand their lead.

Schwindt had other ideas, however, and he broke in all alone on Sheffield to score his seventh goal of the season and first of the afternoon, ensuring the Rock only trailed 2-1 heading into the first intermission.

The Rock captain agreed that tally might have been even more important than his dramatic game-winner.

“Again, it was just a great job by the guys who were on the ice,” Schwindt said.

“Ringer (Rock forward Nolan Ring) and the defenceman, we met him there at the blue-line and caused a turnover for me, just my teammates making my life easier here.

“They deserve to get those points.”

The Rapids were able to restore their two-goal advantage at the 14:21 mark of the second period, as Spencer Hughes netted his fourth goal of the season.

Again, the Rock battled back before the end of the frame, thanks to Liam Wells fourth goal of the season cutting the French River lead to 3-2 heading into the third period.

The Rock continued to press for the equalizer throughout the frame, but Sheffield held them at bay until Engelbert finally got a shot past him, setting the stage for Schwindt’s heroics.

With eight goals in seven games now, the captain may be well on his way to equaling or bettering the 28 goals he scored in his first two seasons in a Rock uniform (77 games), but he has not set any personal goals.

“I have been here three years now and two of them have really been impacted by COVID-19 but we are one unit, a team, and there are no individuals in our room,” Schwindt said.

“It is all about wins for us and it doesn’t matter who scores.”

The combination of Schwindt and Pigeon has worked well for the Rock dating back to last season and the duo continued their strong play Sunday afternoon with Timmins native Justin Charette serving as the third member of their line.

“We played together a little bit last season, but I also played with (Tyler) Gilberds a little bit,” he said.

“Once they put Pige and me together it has kind of been a bromance ever since.

“I really enjoy playing with him.”

Perry felt the game was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster.

“Obviously, we weren’t happy with our first period, but the second and the third we were in their zone the whole time,” he said.

“You just have to keep believing one is going to go in and that you are going to get your bounce. We kept believing and our guys did a hell of a job.”

The coach felt the Rock were their own worst enemies during the first period of Sunday’s contest.

“We were just lazy, throwing pucks carelessly,” Perry said.

“That’s just mental. We were just lazy and not ready to play. The mistakes that were made on our controlled breakouts were not our controlled breakouts. We were literally just throwing pucks away. It is not what we practise and not what we teach.”

The coach realizes just what a key turning point Schwindt’s first goal was in terms of the outcome of Sunday’s contest.

“That kid impresses me every day,” Perry said.

“That’s why he is our leader. He knows the moments when we need one bad and he just seems to come up with them. Even at the end. We drew up a play off the face-off and nine out of 10 times those things don’t work.

“Guys executed things perfectly and he ended up getting one.

“He is a tremendous, tremendous talent and a hell of a kid.”

The coach was also happy to see Engelbert, who scored three goals in his first two games but hadn’t found the back of the net in four games, hit the scoresheet.

“That was huge for us,” Perry said.

“His game hasn’t slowed down. It is just a matter of the puck going in. He had a ton of looks the last game but they weren’t going in for him, so it was certainly nice to see him get that one.”

The coach was also happy to see Simard get his first home-ice win in his first start at the McIntyre Arena.

“I am sure he feels good about it,” Perry said.

“He is a good young goalie. He is a rookie and I think sometimes a lot of guys expect too much out of that position.”

As one might expect, there was no shortage of Rock players impressing their coach Sunday afternoon.

“I think in the second and third periods the whole team, from top to bottom played great,” Perry said.

“Cameron Dutkiewicz was an absolute beast back there in the third period. I think he threw about 10 or 12 hits, hard hits, you could hear them.”

Rapids coach and general manager Paul Frustaglio agreed it would be hard to imagine a more heartbreaking way for a hockey club to lose a game — especially after his club dropped a 5-3 decision to the Crunch in Cochrane Saturday night.

“We have a young team, for the most part, and we have to learn how to close out games,” he said.

“I thought we deserved something today but you can never, and I told the kids between the second and third period, playing in Timmins you have to play until the final buzzer goes.

“You can’t take a shift off because the program here is excellent. They really put together hard-working hockey teams that just want to win.

“So, as a young team we are still learning, going through the mistake process. We have just got to continue to get better.”

Even after the two losses on the weekend, the Rapids (4-4-0-0) are still a .500 hockey club.

Frustaglio was pleased with the way his club started Sunday afternoon’s contest.

“We were looking at what they were doing (on video) and as a coaching staff making adjustments on the fly,” he said.

“For the most part it was working, but then we got a little sloppy and Timmins was all over us several different times.

“Our goalie played quite well, made some excellent saves and essentially gave our team energy.

“Unfortunately, we have got to go home without a point, but that’s hockey.”

In addition to Sheffield, the coach liked what he saw from a number of other Rapids, as well.

“Cooper Bowan worked hard and Levi Siau and Griffin Simpson, (Leo) Chambers, (Brandon) Hass and Ryan Goral, who is a new addition as a 20 year old, did really well,” Frustaglio said.

“Plus some of the young guys, like Dominik Godin, played an excellent game, as well.

Simard stopped 12 of the 15 shots he faced to pick up his second win of the season for the Rock and his first on home ice at the McIntyre Arena.

Sheffield, who turned aside 31 of the 35 shots the Rock directed his way, was tagged with the loss.

NOJHL NOTES — The Daily Press three stars of the game were Schwindt, Sheffield and Engelbert … The Rock went 0-3 on the power play, while the Rapids were 0-2 with the man advantage … Forward Nicholas Frederick, acquired from the MJHL’s Dauphin Kings in exchange for a player development fee on Thursday, made his Rock debut Sunday afternoon … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 521 … Sunday’s other action saw the Gold Miners knock off the Crunch 5-3 in Kirkland Lake, the Beavers edge the Greater Sudbury Cubs 2-1 in Blind River and the Elliot Lake Red Wings fly past the Express 7-3 in Espanola … The Rock will return to action on Thursday night when they travel to Powassan for a game against the Voodoos. The next home game will see the Rock host the Gold Miners at the McIntyre Arena on Sunday, at 3 p.m.