Timmins Rock forward Cameron Kosurko fights to maintain control of the puck during Sunday night’s NOJHL game at the Chelmsford Arena, while being checked by Ethan Marois, left, and Michael Campbell, of the Rayside-Balfour Canadians. The Rock skated to a 4-1 victory over the Canadians in the regular-season opener for both squads. BEN LEESON/POSTMEDIA NETWORK
SUDBURY — The Timmins Rock kicked off their 2020-21 NOJHL regular season at the Chelmsford Arena Sunday night the same way they ended the 2020 abbreviated playoffs — with a victory.
“You have got to love the way our guys played in the third period tonight,” said Rock coach Corey Beer.
“It was a bit of the mentality of we have waited eight months to play hockey here, so let’s play it the right way. Let’s block shots, let’s kill penalties the right way. Let’s keep the game in front of us.
“It was a good third period against a really good team we were playing against.”
Indeed, the Canadians (40-11-3-2) were the top team in the NOJHL’s West Division in 2019-20, although the Rock (42-11-2-1) — who finished second in the East Division — were actually a point better than their hosts in the overall standings.
Captain Derek Seguin scored once and added a helper to lead the Rock to a 4-1 win over the Rayside-Balfour Canadians.
Seguin’s power-play marker with 2:32 remaining in the opening period gave the Rock a 1-0 lead.
“We got that first goal and it came off a good opportunity,” Beer said.
“In the first, we were trading chances a little bit too much, but then in the second period we settled that down a bit.
Seguin added an assist on blue-liner Eric Moreau’s even-strength goal midway through the frame to increase the visitor’s advantage to 2-0.
“We got a great activation goal there, with Ricky (Moreau) jumping into the play,” Beer said.
“It is those little small things that factor into a win.
“You want to play a track-meet style of game? That Rayside-Balfour team has way too much speed and skill for us to compete with that shift-in and shift-out.
“It was just a matter of our guys understanding we needed to play a simpler game. Sometimes it is not the most attractive, but hey it does the trick.
“I thought our guys were fantastic in terms of playing disciplined, sound hockey.
The Rock’s two-goal advantage did not last long, however, as the Canadians finally got on the scoreboard just 29 seconds later when Nicholas DeGrazia struck for a shorthanded marker.
Timmins was able to restore the two-goal lead less than two minutes later when Tyler Schwindt notched the visitors’ second power-play marker of the contest.
Solid penalty killing allowed the Rock to withstand a Rayside-Balfour two-man advantage for more than a minute in the third period, with both Seguin and Tyler Gilberds both in the sinbin.
“All of our defenders did a really good job, including the forwards, keeping everything to the outside, limiting their chances and collapsing the house,” Beer said.
“That is the game now, without contact, gap control and active sticks. I thought our guys did a great job. It had to be an entertaining hockey game, a little sloppy at times, game rust from both teams.
“That was fun to be part of on the bench and I am sure for the people watching it was great to see two really good teams going at it.”
Then, Brendan Boyce pounced on a juicy rebound before ripping a slap shot past Canadians goalie David Bowen to ice the victory.
The Rock was clearly pleased with his team’s effort on both sides of the special team’s equation, even though the only goal they surrendered came when the visitors were on the power play.
“Early in the year, penalty killers definitely have an advantage,” Beer said.
“Guys aren’t as in sync with their offensive chances and that is something where we can turn the pressure up and I thought we did that at times.
“They had a couple of good chances but your penalty kill always looks better when you have a top-notch goalie (Tyler Masternak) between the pipes to settle everything down.
“Masty certainly did that at numerous times. Both goalies were fantastic but it just goes to show how lucky we are to have Ty in net.
“He is a terrific young man and a terrific player.”
The coach was quick to take all of the blame for the shorthanded goal the Rock surrendered Sunday night.
“That shorthanded chance, that goal against is completely my fault,” Beer said.
“That was a botched adjustment from me in terms of the setup. I put those guys in a pretty tough situation.
“They get a pass on that one. That was on me, as a coach.
“I thought the rest of the power plays, that is something we have been working on the last couple of days trying to make sure guys are aware of what we are doing and stuff, get that urgency level up.
“When you win the special teams battle, it goes a lot way toward being successful on a nightly basis.”
The coach was once again impressed by the play of his team’s veterans, especially Seguin and linemate Josh Dickson.
“They were simply outstanding,” Beer said.
“The composure on the bench from those guys, gearing guys up for big shifts and knowing when to push on their teammates and then the execution on the ice, there are no better lead-by-example guys than those two.
“You can go right down the list. I thought Riley Robitaille had a great game and in the third period I really liked the way our defence played.
“Eric Moreau, for me, might have been the first star of the game. He is a physical, hard-nosed defenceman who isn’t allowed to play that way, yet he was outstanding against the rush all night long.”
Half of the Rock’s four goals Sunday night came off the sticks of blue-liners, a fact that didn’t escape the coach’s keen eye.
“It is no secret, we are a pretty active group back there, with our defencemen jumping into the play and stuff,” Beer said.
“It is nice and reassuring for them, too, to get that pay off. You want them to be able to jump into the play and create but when you never get that reward sometimes you wonder what it is for and for us to get that kind of production from them is huge.
“Our forward know we have defencemen who can make plays and score goals.”
Beer was also pleased to see forwards Brendan Bauer, Henry Brock and Nicolas Pigeon, as well as blue-liner Bode Dunford get their first taste of NOJHL action and come away with a victory.
“One of the biggest factors, too, is knowing they were in a tough, emotional game,” Beer said.
“Rayside-Balfour with their pushback and us trying to settle things down was huge for young players to be a part of and you look at it from the forward side of things, we had the one line of Pigeon, Bauer and (Harry) Clark together and for a period or a period-and-a-half they were making young guy mistakes.
“All of a sudden, in the third period, it was puck management 101. It was down low cycle, keep bodies in front of you on the neutral zone forecheck.
“Those are the small things if young players learn early in the year will going to get them more minutes.
“It is a great starting point for our squad. Certainly the video sessions off this are going to be outstanding.”
The coach felt Brock did not look out of place patrolling the left side on a line with Seguin and Dickson.
“He had a phenomenal game,” Beer said.
“He has high-end skill and I think he complements those two pretty well.
“We had the luxury of having a guy like (Keegan) McMullen (now with the OHL’s Peterborough Petes) a couple of years ago to play on that first line and now we have another kid in Hank whose hockey IQ is off the charts. So is his speed and his skill.”
Masternak turned aside 30 of the 31 shots he faced in the contest to pick up the victory for Timmins, while Bowen was tagged with the loss after blocking 27 of the 31 shots the Rock fired his way.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Boyce, Masternak and Bowen … The Rock went 2-5 on the power play, while the Canadians were 0-7 with the man advantage … The Rock did not dress forward Tyler Patterson, or blue-liners Lucas Branch and Felix Cadieux-Fredette … Sunday’s only other contest saw the Lumberjacks thump the Cochrane Crunch 8-3 in Hearst … The Rock will return to action on Thursday when they will once again travel to Rayside-Balfour to take on the Canadians. The Rock will play their home opener on Saturday when they host the Canadians in a contest at the McIntyre Arena, scheduled to start at 8:30 p.m.