By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
KAPUSKASING – The Timmins Rock rolled over the Cochrane Crunch 7-4 at the Sports Palace Thursday night to take the first half of their home-and-home exhibition series.
“We picked up right where we left off in Sudbury,” said Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne, comparing his squad’s compete level to its 5-4 loss to the Rayside-Balfour Canadians in the second half of that home-and-home exhibition series.
“It was nice because we had our forecheck going and we were able to minimize our individual mistakes.
“The goals were gave up were scored from about three feet in front of the net, but that is being addressed. We are working on it.”
The game was actually much closer than the final score would indicate, as the Rock netted a pair of empty-net tallies with the Crunch pressing for the equalizer late in the contest.
The Rock jumped out to a 2-0 first period lead on goals by Mike Norris and Ravinder Shokar, but the Crunch got a goal from Jeran Knorr late in the period to cut the Timmins advantage to 2-1 heading into the second period.
Cochrane got the equalizer five minutes into the middle frame when Seamus Maguire beat Rock starting goalie Logan Ferrington.
And Alex Goulet goal less than five minutes later gave the Crunch their only lead of the game, a 3-2 advantage.
Cochrane was unable to carry that lead into the dressing room for the second intermission, however, as Devin Panzeca beat Crunch goalie Kurtis David — a Kapuskasing Flyers grad — two minutes later with a power-play marker to tie things up at 3-3.
The Rock reclaimed the lead 2:34 into the final frame when Tristan Salesse scored the first of his two goals on the night.
Salesse followed that up with what would prove to be the game-winning goal less than five minutes later to put the visitors in front 5-3.
“Tristan had a couple of great opportunities and he capitalized on them right away,” Gagne said.
“He was calm and cool in front of the net. He didn’t have very much room, but he buried both of them.”
The Rock coach was also impressed with the play of a number of his other forwards, as well.
“We had a good performance from the young Norris,” he said.
“Mike was in a situation where he started out playing on the fourth line, but we moved him up based on his play. He had a goal and as a result of the fight 56 seconds into the game, he got more ice time. He came up big. He really played well last night.”
That fight between Rock pivot Zachary Kercz and Crunch forward Zac Stepaniuk —the only players on either team whose first names start with the letter Z — saw the two players ejected as they received five-minute majors for fighting and game misconducts.
“It is not going to happen any more,” Gagne said.
“It was a situation where he (Stepaniuk) had elbowed one of our players and there was no penalty call on the play. He (Kercz) just wanted to go in there and prove a point.
“We want our better players on the ice, not in the dressing room or in the penalty box. I think he realizes that we have a lot of games against them and you don’t have to retaliate right away. There is no need for it and he understands that.
“But on the positive side, he showed a lot of character by backing up his linemate.”
Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard was not pleased with the physicality of the game or the smallness of the Sports Palace’s ice surface.
“It was a close hockey game, but it was a totally scrappy game,” he said.
“Both teams would probably agree it wasn’t your typical Junior ‘A’ hockey game. Less than a minute into the game there were fights and every time there was a whistle it was a rough game.
“I hadn’t really realized how small the ice surface is in Kapuskasing and there were lots of big thundering hits. I don’t think either team could have been happy with the way the game was being played.”
Leonard was pleased with some aspects of the hockey game.
“Being down 2-0 and then coming back to get three goals and getting the lead was a positive,” he said.
“But it is a matter of maintaining your composure, emotions and all that fun stuff.”
The Rock had balanced scoring in the game, with the team’s Top 2 lines — Salesse, Kercz and Shokar; and Bain Cunningham, Jordan Rendle and Panzeca — again looking solid.
Gagne said: “We got three goals from the first line, our second line scored again and Norris had one on the fourth line.
“Our second line was again dominant last night. They had three or four great opportunities that didn’t go in but they were dominating the play and it was good to see. They were great.”
John Stevenson provided the Crunch with a ray of hope with just under five minutes to play when he beat Mathieu Nixon — who came on in relief of Ferrington midway through the second period — with an unassisted effort to make it a 5-4 hockey game.
Any momentum that goal might have provided was quickly halted, however.
Leonard said: “Just after we scored the goal to make it a 5-4 hockey game, we (Stevenson) took a stupid tripping penalty with two minutes left.
“We tried to pull the goalie to try and get the equalizer since we could ice the puck because we were shorthanded and could try to chase it but they scored a couple of empty net goals.”
Rock defenceman Andrew Castagna made them pay, as he deposited the puck into the empty net with 47 seconds remaining on the clock for the visitors’ second power-play goal of the night.
Cole Gilligan then added a second empty-net goal for the Rock with 21 seconds remaining to close out the scoring and make the final 7-4.
Nixon’s strong play in the second half of the game impressed his coach and earned him the start in the second half of the home-and-home series Friday night at the McIntyre Arena.
Gagne said. “He arrived in Timmins from Toronto at 1:30 p.m., got on the bus and played half the game.
“We will have to make a decision on signing him after Friday night’s game because he is going back to Toronto on Saturday, either to pick up his vehicle and join us for the rest of the year or to stay.
“The kids like him and they like his play. Some of them have played with him before and his references have just been incredible.”
The 18-year-old Nixon played high school hockey last season and he got hurt at the end of last season and he didn’t attend any tryout camps this season because he did not have time to prepare.
“It is only in the last month that he has gotten himself into shape and he thought this would be a great opportunity,” Gagne said.
Defenceman Ryan Kerr, who earned two more assists Thursday night, suffered an upper body injury and he did not play Friday night, although it was not deemed to be serious.
“He has been playing great hockey and showing leadership,” Gagne said.
Leonard was not happy with an injury his squad sustained in the contest, either, especially given that Parker Moskal had just arrived and was making his Crunch debut.
“He took a pretty good two-handed slash last night after we scored our fourth goal,” he said.
“It looks like he might have broken ribs. It looks like he will be out for a little bit. At this point, we are just hoping it is just badly bruised ribs but it is hard to tell right now because it is swollen.”
The Crunch were without veteran Zak Renfrew, who had an upper-body injury, for Thursday’s contest.
NOJHL NOTES — Kerr and Salesse have been chosen to serve as assistants to Rock captain Kealey Cummings. A third A will be handed out at some point during the season, as well … The Rock will host the Crunch in the second half of the home-and-home series Friday night at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is 7:30 p.m. … The Iroquois Falls Eskimos have officially acquired goalie Dan Davies (18, 2.51, .927) from Dundas Blues, of the NDJCHL … The Rayside-Balfour Canadians have traded forward Ryan Theriault (30, 15-9-24, 26) to the Whitby Fury, of the OJHL. The Canadians have also acquired forward Tristan Simm (48, 5-6-11, 44) from the Revelstoke Grizzlies, of the KIJHL.