Timmins Rock captain Tyler Schwindt beats Cochrane Crunch goalie Michael Nickolau for his sixth goal of the season during Tuesday night’s NOJHL contest at the McIntyre Arena. Schwindt’s goal gave the Rock a 5-2 lead in a game they would go on to win 9-2. The Rock will welcome the French River Rapids to the McIntyre Arena on Sunday, at 3 p.m. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS
The Timmins Rock scored early and often en route to a 9-2 win over the Cochrane Crunch at the McIntyre Arena Tuesday night.
In fact, it took the Rock just seven seconds to hit the scoreboard, as Tyler Gilberds notched the first of his two goals on the night and season.
“I had been a little snake bitten recently, so I was just trying to keep doing the right things, maybe get rewarded for it,” he said.
“I kind of got the monkey off my back tonight, but more importantly we got the two points for the boys.”
Playing in his 110th game in a Rock uniform, Gilberds has always been a bit of a streaky scorer since he was acquired from the Powassan Voodoos midway through the 2017-18 campaign.
“It was the first shift of the game and Farrsy (Aiden Farr) was just going down the wall and I was screaming at him to get it on net and thankfully I got a little tip on it and it went in the back of the net,” he said, describing his first goal.
The Crunch were able to get back on even terms exactly one minute later, when Ethan Ingram picked up his second goal of the campaign.
Yan Bessette’s first goal of the season less than a minute and a half later restored the Rock’s one-goal advantage and the home side would not surrender the lead the rest of the way.
Nolan Ring added his second goal of the season and first of two on the night to increase the Rock lead to 3-1 six seconds shy of the midway mark in the opening frame.
Gilberds then added his second goal of the night and season, a power-play marker, less than two minutes later to increase the Rock lead to three goals.
“There was a nice little feed from Broussy (Riley Brousseau) to Dutker (Cameron Dutkiewicz), then back over to me on the other side and I just found the corner, over the blocker,” he said, describing his second goal.
There were plenty of bodies, opponents and teammates, between Gilberds and Crunch goalie Michael Nickolau, but he somehow managed to find a target on the play.
“Shooters shoot and they find a way to score,” he said.
“I just knew my spot, picked it and went there.”
Having played seven games against Michael Nickolau in 2020-21 and one earlier this season, Gilberds knows it can sometimes be challenging to beat the Crunch netminder.
“We know what he is all about and certain ways to beat him, get under his skin,” he said.
Matteo Peca’s first goal of the season, just over a minute later, pulled the Crunch back to within a pair of goals.
The Rock weren’t through, however, as captain Tyler Schwindt chipped in with his sixth goal of the season to make it a 5-2 hockey game prior to the end of the first period.
The only negative for the Rock in the opening 20 minutes was what appeared to be a serious upper-body injury suffered by Farr, a rookie blue-liner who picked up his first two assists of the season earlier in the frame.
The 16-year-old Oshawa native left the contest in considerable pain late in the period.
Things didn’t go much better for the Crunch in the middle frame, as the Rock struck for three unanswered goals to take a commanding 8-2 lead after 40 minutes of play.
Dutkiewicz netted the first of those tallies, his second goal of the season, at the 3:19 mark.
Fellow blue-liner Bode Dunford then added his third goal of the campaign with less than five minutes remaining in the period.
And Ring chipped in with his second goal of the night and third of the season with 50 seconds remaining on the clock.
Crunch coach and general manager Tom Nickolau opted to pull Michael Nickolau, who had faced 38 shots to that point, prior to the start of the third period, with Ben DiGiallonardo coming on in relief.
The new goalie kept the Rock at bay until the 17-minute mark of the frame, when Liam Wells beat him for his third goal of the season to close out the scoring and make the final 9-2 in favour of the home side.
The combination of Gilberds (6-2, 168 pounds), newcomer Dylan McElhinny (6-2, 200 pounds) and Brousseau (6-1, 185 pounds) once more proved to be an effective line for the Rock Tuesday night.
“For us, the key is getting on the forecheck and staying hard on pucks,” Gilberds said.
“I felt like when we were first on pucks we knew where to go and everyone was in the right spot.
“The chemistry has really been building between us these last couple of games.”
The Georgetown native admitted the line’s size has a significant impact on their ability to forecheck effectively.
“You get a little body separation from the puck and it just opens guys up,” Gilberds said.
Rock assistant coach James Daschuk thought his squad got off to a slow start Tuesday night, but he didn’t have any complaints about the rest of the game.
“When you win 9-2, it is pretty convincing,” he said.
“To be honest, we didn’t like our start. Our first period wasn’t great. We got a goal on our first shift, but then we gave one up right away.
“You let a team like that stick around a little bit longer and you never know. If they had gotten the next one and made it 2-1 it might have changed the whole game.
“Our second period produced some big momentum for us. We absolutely dominated that period in my opinion.
“We just wore them down. We were all over, chasing pucks, hunting pucks and we were relentless on the backcheck.”
While they only scored three goals in the frame, the Rock outshot the Crunch 20-6.
The assistant coach agreed another key for the Rock was getting pucks past Michael Nickolau early in the contest.
“He is a big guy and he moves pretty well, too,” Daschuk said.
“The first time we played them in Cochrane (a 3-2 Rock victory) we didn’t have any traffic and we weren’t really testing him.
“A lot of shots were right at his chest and he is going to smother those up.
“Tonight was more east-west, moving the puck side to side. That was our game plan, keep him moving, keep him on his toes, just kind of wear him down.
“We didn’t waste many shots, either. I thought a lot of our shots were good, quality shots.”
The assistant coach was happy to see Gilberds rewarded for his hard work Tuesday night.
“We saw today why he is one of the best players in the league,” Daschuk said.
“He has been in this league a long time and he is certainly one of our leaders.
“He was just flying around tonight and that’s what we expect from him. He has been with this organization a long time and he knows what we expect out of him.”
There was no shortage of other Rock players who caught the assistant coach’s eye Tuesday night, including Ring.
“Ringer is phenomenal,” Daschuk said.
“He is one of those guys you appreciate more and more every time you watch him play.
“He might not stand out the first game you see him, but he is virtually impossible to hit. He is so smart with the puck. He has got his head up all the time and he is playing phenomenal hockey for us.
“He is sneaky skilled. He is not pulling off the toe-drags, or anything, but he is very slippery and tough to stop.”
It seems like every game a different Rock blue-liner steps up to contribute offensively and Tuesday night Dutkiewicz scored a goal and added three assists.
“If you are a defenceman who wants to score goals and get points, the Timmins Rock is a great team to play for,” Daschuk said.
“We like to incorporate those guys into our offence all the time. We don’t have any guys who are known as stay-at-home defencemen. We like to activate our D.
“Dutker, that’s his strong suite. He gets a lot of time on the power play and he has a great shot. He made that one pass to Schwinny (Schwindt). It was a great, heads-up play.”
Under different circumstances, the injury suffered by Farr might have been a rallying point for the Rock, but given they had a comfortable lead at the time, that was not necessarily the case Tuesday night.
“When something happens like that, you have to regain your focus,” Daschuk said.
“Our guys did a really good job of staying focused. Nobody wants to see anybody get hurt and Farrsy had been playing better hockey, of late.
“He is just a young guy and you hate to see that. It is extremely unfortunate.”
Farr was transported to Timmins and District Hospital after leaving the ice, but there was no word on the extent of his injury.
The Crunch were only able to dress 14 skaters for Tuesday night’s contest and Tom Nickolau admitted some of his players might not have been prepared for the atmosphere in the McIntyre Arena.
“Some of the newer guys, and even some who were here last year without any fans, were a little up tight and that happens, but we have been playing with a short bench all year,” he said.
“It has finally caught up to us. We played Powassan tough, lost 2-1, and French River, lost 4-3 (in overtime), but here we just couldn’t handle it.
“After the second period, I said, ‘Guys, we have a short bench. Let’s win the third period.’ We played a better third period and I thought we skated well, but it just wasn’t happening.
“We just have to forget about it and hopefully get some reinforcements in here.
“It is tough playing with four D and three D in the third period.”
Even though the Rock outscored his squad 9-2 Tuesday night, the coach felt Timmins played a better game against the Crunch in Cochrane on Sept. 25.
“They outshot us 60-18, but we got great goaltending and played good defensively,” Tom Nickolau said.
“Sometimes the puck finds the net. For example, in the second period (Tuesday night) one of their shots was going way wide, went off their guys shield and into the net.
“You get those bounces, but that is a great team. We are just focused on day-to-day right now, getting healthy and getting more bodies on the team.”
The coach sees a definite divide in the East Division, which is reflected in the standings.
“Aside from Powassan, Hearst and Timmins, the four-five spots are us, French River and Kirkland Lake,” Tom Nickolau said.
“It is up for grabs. We just have to get in the dance and I like our chances with our goaltending in a two-out-of-three first round series.
“The schedule right now doesn’t favour us. We play Friday, Saturday and Sunday and then the following Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
“It is tough sledding, but I told the guys to keep working hard.”
With Tuesday’s victory, the Rock improved to 5-0-1-0 on the season, good for second place in the NOJHL’s East Division standings behind only the Voodoos (6-0-1-0).
Meanwhile, the Crunch (0-5-1-0), who are tied with the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (0-5-0-1) for fifth place in the division, are still looking for their first win of the season.
Rock goalie Gavin McCarthy stopped 18 of the 20 shots he faced to pick up his fourth win of the season.
Nickolau, who turned aside 30 of the 38 shots the Rock directed his way, was tagged with the loss.
DiGiallonardo blocked 12 of the 13 shots fired his way in his one period of relief.
NOJHL NOTES — The Daily Press three stars of the game were Gilberds, Ring and Dutkiewicz … The Rock did not dress forwards Henry Brock and Eric Barnard, blue-liner Chase Longhurst and goalie Joshua Briand … The Rock went 1-5 on the power play, while the Crunch were 0-2 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 486 … This week’s Canadian Junior Hockey League Top 20 Rankings have the Voodoos at No. 7 and the Rock at No. 15. The MJHL’s Winnipeg Blues hold down top spot … The Rock will return to action on Sunday when they host the French River Rapids at the McIntyre Arena, at 3 p.m.