By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – Bain Cunningham scored a pair of goals to lead the Timmins Rock to a 7-4 win over the Iroquois Falls Eskis at the McIntyre Arena Wednesday night.
Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne was happy to see his team end its three-game losing streak Wednesday night.
“We got our mojo back the last game against the Soo, even though the outcome wasn’t the greatest,” he said.
“We still had that compete level and we worked really hard. Tonight we did a lot of little things that made us successful. There were a lot of two-on-ones in the defensive zone, a lot of two-on-ones in the neutral zone and obviously in the offensive zone we had our cycling going really well. We were strong on our face offs tonight.
“I have to give a lot of credit to our third line, with (Kyle) Levis, (Cole) Gilligan and (Wayne) Mathieu. They were awesome tonight. They made a difference every time they were on the ice.
“The young Gilligan had six or seven great chances. I believe he hit the post twice.
“When you have a third line like that, playing so well, it makes all the difference in the world. They are not on the ice for goals against and they are contributing on offence.”
The second line, with Mike Norris filling in for the injured Devin Panzeca, alongside Jordan Rendle and Cunningham, was also firing on all cylinders Wednesday night.
“We saw some highlight reel goals from Rendle and Cunningham,” Gagne said.
“The fans really appreciated the skill level they showed, going to the net like that.”
The coach was also pleased to see Mikael Rancourt score his first goal of the season.
“We have him on defence during the week in practice and then we put him up front in the games and he has handled it really well,” Gagne said.
“He has adapted quite well. I told him on the bench his goal (scored from a scramble in front of the Eskis net) was a pretty, end-to-end goal. It was awesome.”
Both teams came out a little flat following a lengthy Remembrance Day ceremony and the Eskis got on the scoreboard first.
Jack Speer raced down the right wing and drilled a shot past Rock goalie Matthew Nixon for his third goal of the season to put the visitors up 1-0 less than five minutes into the opening period.
It took the Rock just over two minutes to get back in even terms, as Tristan Salesse beat Eskis goalie Joe Sheppard for his team-leading 15th goal of the season.
Levis’ second goal of the season, with just over two minutes to play in the first period gave the Rock a 2-1 lead.
It appeared the Eskis would escape the opening frame trailing by just the one goal, but Cunningham scored the first of his two goals and eighth on the season with just 8.78 seconds remaining on the clock to send the teams to their dressing rooms with the Rock up 3-1.
The Eskis were again able to cut the Rock lead to one goal 5:12 into the second period on a Marco Luciani power-play marker, his fourth goal of the season.
That’s the way the score stayed until forward Jordan Rendle cut across the front of the Eskis net and beat Sheppard with his 12th goal of the season to put the Rock in front 4-2.
Just over three minutes later, Cunningham cut across the front of the net from the other side and deposited his second of the game and ninth of the season behind Sheppard.
Then for the second time in the game the Rock struck for a goal in the final minute of a period, as Mathieu scored his third goal of the season with 27.30 seconds remaining in the middle frame to make it a 6-2 hockey game.
The Rock added to their lead five minutes into the final period as Rancourt netted his first goal of the season.
“It feels super good to finally get that first goal,” he said.
“I had been playing defence all year, but moving up front, I feel good. I feel confident.
“I am enjoying playing with my buddy, Tyler Planetta. He made a nice pass to me so that I could score my first goal tonight.”
Despite trailing 7-2, the Eskis would not give up, however, and they scored a pair of quick goals to make the final score 7-4.
Tanner Bowditch scored his third goal of the season on the power play and then David Osborne netted his 13th goal of the season to close out the scoring.
Nixon made 31 saves to earn the win for the Rock, while Sheppard turned aside 30 shot and was tagged with the loss for the Eskis.
Eskis assistant coach Jamey Bernier agreed the goals his squad gave up late in the first and second periods were killers.
“It’s the last two minutes of those periods we would like to eliminate,” he said.
“The first period, we got going and we were competing with them and we were right there in the hockey game. Then in the last two minutes we fell apart.
“In the second period, we put together a great 18 minutes and the last two minutes come around and we let two of them go in again.
“It is just clock management, knowing the end of the period is coming and giving a better effort at the end of the periods.”
Despite those errors, Bernier was pleased to see his team compete and fight right until the final buzzer.
“We have a team that does not want to go away,” he said.
“Sometimes we have trouble piecing together 20 minutes of hockey (per period), but at the end of the hockey game our guys were still showing character and giving us a solid effort.
“We were down 7-2 and we came back and popped two more goals near the end of the game. I think our third periods are our best periods every game we play.”
Bernier was pleased with the play of a number of Eskis Wednesday night.
“Jack Speer potted a goal and he played well tonight,” he said.
“He has been finding the back of the net recently. And Joe Sheppard, in his first game back with the team since the beginning of the season gave us a solid effort and gave us a chance to win when we needed saves early on in the game.
“And I think Josh DeJulio is still making those passes like we need him to back there. He is calm in every situation. He is calm on the ice. He is calm off the ice. He plays a huge leadership role for our team.”
NOJHL NOTES — The Rock went 0-1 on the power play, while the Eskis were 2-6 with the man advantage … The three stars were Cunningham, Levis and Ryan Kerr … Official attendance was 502 … Wednesday night’s other NOJHL games saw the Elliot Lake Wildcats beat the Beavers 8-3 in Blind River and the Powassan Voodoos thump the Rapids 10-3 in French River … The Rock will travel to Powassan for a game with the Voodoos Friday night and to French River for a game with the Rapids Saturday night.