THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS Timmins Rock forward Linden Spencer battles to gain control of the puck while being checked by Cochrane blue-liner Taylor Redmond as Crunch goalie Bradley Dobson looks during the first period of Friday night’s NOJHL game at the McIntyre Arena. The Rock cruise to a 6-2 win over their East Division rivals, strengthening their grip on third place to four points in the process. The Rock will host the Elliot Lake Wildcats at the McIntyre Arena on Saturday, at 2 p.m.
Eamon Bollinger scored a pair of goals to help lead the Timmins Rock to a 6-2 win over the Cochrane Crunch in a key NOJHL East Division showdown at the McIntyre Arena Friday night.
Friday night’s victory allowed the Rock (15-9-1-0), to increase their lead over the Crunch (13-12-0-1) to four points in the battle for third place — and Timmins still has a game in hand on Cochrane.
Rock coach Corey Beer was a lot happier with his team’s effort Friday night than he had been during the squad’s two losses on the road last weekend.
“I loved our compete level and execution tonight,” he said.
“There weren’t any passengers tonight. That was a key detail for us, to have everyone going.
“When you lose a defenceman early like we did tonight with Eric Moreau (ejected from the game after picking up a two-minute minor and a game misconduct for checking from behind midway through the first period), it is tough.
“We had (Carson) Burlington playing forward, so he had to slide back and we had a little shorter bench, but we managed to get through it.
“I thought it was a great win for our guys. We were very dominant at times.”
Despite spending much of the opening 20 minutes killing off penalties, it was the Rock who emerged with a 2-0 lead thanks to a pair of goals scored 21 seconds apart just past the midway point of the frame.
Defenceman Josh Anderson scored the first of those two goals, his third marker of the season, and Darcy Haupt followed with his third goal of the season to send the Rock to the dressing room with a two-goal advantage.
Bollinger’s first of two goals on the night, his fourth of the season, increased the home side’s lead to 3-0 just shy of the six-minute mark in the second period.
Captain Derek Seguin’s NOJHL-leading 17th goal of the season, a power-play marker, pushed the Rock lead to four goals with five-and-a-half minutes to play in the frame.
Then linemate Keegan McMullen added his seventh goal of the season with less than a minute remaining in the second period to send the Rock to the dressing room boasting a 5-0 lead.
Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard opted to lift goalie Bradely Dobson — making his first start in the Cochrane net since being acquired from the Smith Falls Bears, of the CCHL, earlier in the day — in favour of Zach Wickson to start the third period.
The move appeared to provide a shift in momentum, as Seiji Mortone potted a power-play marker, his fourth goal of the season, to get the Crunch on the board and spoil Rock goalie Tyler Masternak’s bid for a fifth shutout.
Then, just under five minutes later, the Crunch pulled to within three goals when Nicholas Flanders picked up his ninth tally of the season.
That would be as close as the Crunch would come to getting back on even terms, however, as Bollinger’s second goal of the night and fifth of the season, a power-play marker, closed out the scoring and made the final 6-2 in favour of the home side.
Beer agreed one of the keys to Friday night’s victory was the Rock’s ability to kill of four-straight penalties in the first period.
“Our PK has been a bit of an up and down thing this year,” he said.
“Our discipline, at times, has not been great. You never want to give a team that many power plays in the first period. It kind of kills momentum, but we did a good job of killing them off. We have been putting in a lot of work trying to get guys in better spots, better areas to front pucks.
“The best, of course, is when you have a good goalie in there. That makes everything easier.”
The Rock coach was impressed with Bollinger’s game in all three zones Friday night.
“He is steadily becoming, in my opinion, one of the best two-way forwards in our league,” Beer said.
“He is so good. He does everything well. He kills penalties, he plays on the power play and he is tough to match up against. He is able to shut down the other team’s top line.
“I absolutely love the way that kid is playing right now. He is such a low maintenance player, too. You ask him to do something and he does it. He really is a dream to coach.”
Beer admits there likely isn’t a bigger Anderson fan in Timmins than he is and the rangy blue-liner was at his best Friday night and not just offensively.
“I think the world of the kid,” he said.
“I am sure Dazzer (assistant coach James Daschuk) does, too. It is easy to tap No. 77 on the shoulder and tell him to go out there and put his shifts in.
“What a phenomenal hockey player. His hockey IQ is off the charts. To be able to play 26 to 30 minutes a night and be that efficient is a big thing.
“There are guys who are point guys and guys who can play shut-down minutes, but to be able to do both and always have a positive rating, what else can you ask for?
“In my opinion, he is the best defenceman in this league.”
The Rock got goals from five different players Friday night.
“I really thought our depth came through tonight,” Beer said.
“It is something we have been missing at times, but at other times it comes out in spurts.
“We had a lot of polish tonight and it was great to see. We had a good game plan and we stuck to it.”
Rock fans got their first look at forward Brendan Burns Friday night and while the San Carlos, Calif., native was held off the scoresheet he didn’t look out of place.
“He is an incredibly hard worker,” Beer said, describing the 5-10, 170-pound 1999-birth-year forward.
“He is trying to get up to speed on systems and the pace of play, but his skating is something he can really utilize. I love his tenacity. He makes some smart little plays.”
As one might expect, Leonard was not too happy with his team’s performance Friday night.
“We have got a team that has a bunch of veterans who think they can just come here and win,” he said.
“We traded away a goalie (Shayne Battler) who helped us win the league last year and other guys think they are untouchable.
“There are some guys who think they are just here for a free trip to the Dudley Hewitt Cup, but we have three weeks left and nine cards left. At the end of the day, I have seven games left to make up my mind what my roster is going to look like. There are definitely going to be some big changes here.
“That’s not a threat. It is going to happen.”
Leonard felt the Crunch started the contest on the right foot.
“We were flying in the first period and we had four power plays in a row, but we didn’t score any goals,” he said.
“Their goalie made the saves. We didn’t get any traffic in front of him.
“Then, we gave them opportunities on the power play (in the second period) and they buried us.
“We played very undisciplined hockey. We got a couple of goals to make it 5-2 and then our assistant captain decides to take a cheap shot on a player and back to the penalty box we go.
“That’s what I mean about guys not buying into what the team means here.”
Despite the loss, there were a number of Crunch players who emerged from the contest in their coach’s good books.
“The line of (Austin) Whelan, Flanders and Baldino Aiello were great tonight,” Leonard said.
“Caleb Dolman’s line with (Tristan) Taillefer and (Justin) Bofshever, those guys were great, but three of my most veteran guys up front didn’t show up to play.
“They are supposed to be our first line and that’s embarrassing. Those are the kind of guys who need to be replaced right now.”
Even though Dobson gave up five goals in two periods, Leonard felt he didn’t get much help from his new teammates.
“He really didn’t have a chance on any of those goals he let in tonight,” he said.
“We left him out to dry. He actually made a couple of big saves when the score was still 0-0 to keep us in there.”
Masternak turned aside 21 of the 23 shots he faced to pick up his 13th win of the season for the Rock.
Dobson, a Moose Factory native who played his midget hockey with the Timmins Majors and got into two games with the Rock during the 2015-16 NOJHL season, stopped 12 of the 17 shots directed his way in the first two periods and way tagged with the loss.
Wickson blocked 17 of the 18 shots he faced in relief.
NOJHL NOTES — The Daily Press three stars of the game were Bollinger, Anderson and Seguin … Rock forward Riley Robitaille served the fourth game of the seven-game suspension he picked up after being assessed a checking to the head major penalty and game misconduct at the end of the Nov. 3 loss to the visiting Blind River Beavers … The Rock went 3-7 on the power play, while the Crunch were 1-8 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 735 … Friday’s other action saw the Lumberjacks dump the Elliot Lake Wildcats 7-2 in Hearst, the Gold Miner thump the Soo Eagles 7-2 in Kirkland Lake and the French River Rapids triple the Express 3-1 in Espanola … The Rock will return to action on Saturday when they host the Wildcats at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is 2 p.m.