By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock scored a pair of goals in the first 36 seconds of Wednesday night’s NOJHL contest at the McIntyre Arena and never looked back en route to a 5-2 win over the Iroquois Falls Eskis.
Tyler Romain beat Eskis starting goalie Artem Bortovskiy for his ninth goal of the season 11 seconds into the contest and Bain Cunningham added his fifth of the season 25 seconds later.
Cunningham, who drew an assist on Romain’s goal, then completed his Gordie Howe hat-trick at the 4:28 mark of the opening period when he dropped the gloves and exchanged punches with Eskis forward Jack Speer.
Both players received five-minute majors for fighting and game misconducts, ending their nights less than five minutes after it had started.
Defenceman Brendan Campbell added his first goal of the season, the marker that would prove to be the game-winner, at the 13:19 mark of the opening period.
“It was a really nice pass from Marcus (Blackned),” Campbell said.
“He set me up with a good one and he set up Tyler with a good one tonight, as well. He really made some nice plays tonight.”
Campbell was not aiming for any spot in particular when he released the shot for his game-winning goal.
“I was just trying to get off as fast as I could,” he said.
With the goal, Campbell now has six points in his first 10 games in a Rock uniform, but he considers himself more of a defensive defenceman.
“Things were going pretty good out there for the most part,” he said.
“We had a pretty good PK (penalty kill), but we do have to stay out of the penalty box a little bit more.”
Campbell’s goal spelled the end of Bortovskiy’s night, as Eskis coach and general manager Jamy Bernier opted to replace him with Trevor Hawkes.
The Eskis were able to get on the board with less than two minutes remaining in the frame when captain David Osborne potted his 10th goal of the season, an unassisted marker.
Neither team could find the back of the net during the second period of play.
The Rock pushed their lead to 4-1 as Romain beat Hawkes for his second goal of the night and 10th of the season 42 seconds into the third period.
A power-play goal off the stick of Dillan Bruce, his 11th marker on the season, cut the Rock lead to 4-2 at the 6:59 mark of the frame.
The Rock responded less than five minutes later, as Wayne Mathieu netted his 10th goal of the season, a power-play marker to close out the scoring and make the final 5-2 in favour of the home side.
Assistant coach Marc Bisson agreed the Rock’s fast start was the key to Wednesday night’s victory.
“The line we started, with Cunningham, Romain and (Jacob) Shankar got two goals on their very first shift,” he said.
“They had a few more chances during their second shift and then obviously Cunningham left the game about five minutes into it. It (his Gordie Howe hat-trick) was just mentioned in the dressing room.
“Just the same, we would probably rather have him stick around and finish the game, or at least play a little bit more of it since his line was playing so well, but that happens in hockey.”
The other key for the Rock Wednesday night was the team’s relentless forecheck that limited time and space for the Eskis, especially during the first period.
“Putting pressure on the other team’s D is definitely one of the keys to our game,” Bisson said.
“The idea is to force them into giving the puck away and when we can take advantage of it with a couple of goals right off the bat it’s nice, especially at home.”
One of the few negative’s from a Rock perspective was the number of trips they made to the penalty box — especially in the second half of the second period and in the third period.
“It has been an issue with us for quite a few games this year,” Bisson said.
“We have got to bear down and be more disciplined. There are times where we should just take a number and not try to even up the score right away. We have been preaching to the guys that we need to be more disciplined in our game.”
If nothing else, the plethora of penalties has allowed the Rock to hone their penalty kill. Wednesday night the Rock were able to successfully kill off six of the seven power-play opportunities they gave the Eskis.
“Our PK has been good all year and it was great tonight,” Bisson said.
One of the Rock’s key penalty killers is Stewart Parnell, who logged a lot of minutes with his team shorthanded Wednesday night.
“He is just Mr. Consistency out there,” Bisson said.
“He works hard shift in and shift out.”
Matthew Nixon turned aside 37 of the 39 shots he faced to pick up the victory for the Rock, who pushed their current winning streak to four games.
“Being a veteran goalie, Nixon is important to our team,” Bisson said.
“Having played the position myself, I know confidence is a big factor and I think he is building his confidence now.”
Eskis coach and assistant general manager Jamy Bernier admitted his team came out a little bit flat Wednesday night.
“Timmins came out hard today and they had a little bit extra jump in the first five or 10 minutes of the game,” he said.
“They pushed us hard. Once they got that third goal, we kind of found our way, but it was a too little, too late kind of story today. If you look at the rest of the game, it was a tie game.
“I thought our second period was our best period tonight. We battled hard, but we just didn’t get the kind of start we were look for tonight. You have to give Timmins credit. They came out with a little something extra and it looked good on them.”
Bortovskiy was not as sharp as he had been during some of his recent started, but Bernier was not about to heap all the blame on his goalie.
“You can’t expect him to make saves on two of their first three goals that were cross-ice plays,” he said.
“They were both just beautiful feeds from their winger through the slot. We have got to be able to pick off those passes, whether it is our centre or our defence, we have got to be able to read those plays.
“You can’t blame Artem for those goals. I am not concerned about our goaltending whatsoever.”
Bernier was again pleased with the effort put forth by the Eskis captain Wednesday night.
“David Osborne had a great game for us,” he said.
“He brings it every night, but tonight I think he put our team on his shoulders and got us going.”
A couple of other Eskis caught their coach’s eye, as well.
“Jay Sidhu played some key minutes for us in roles he hadn’t been asked to play before this year and Jordan Picard played a big game in front of his hometown. He is a little kid with a great big heart.”
Picard was held off the scoresheet Wednesday night, but he had a couple of excellent scoring opportunities.
“His speed and his hands make him dangerous when he gets going,” Bernier said.
Bortovskiy, who stopped two of the five shots he faced for the Eskis, was tagged with the loss. Hawkes blocked 28 of the 30 shots the Rock fired his way in relief of the starter.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Romain, Shankar, who had a pair of assists, and Cunningham … Defenceman James Watier made his debut in a Rock uniform Wednesday night and wore No. 6 … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 620 … Wednesday night’s other NOJHL contest saw the Beavers edge the visiting Espanola Express 3-2 in Blind River. Yianni Liarakos netted the game-winner with 10 seconds remaining in regulation … The Rock will return to action on Friday night when they travel to Powassan for a game with the Voodoos. They will then continue on to French River where they will take on the Rapids Saturday night. The next home game for the Rock will be on Saturday, Nov. 5, when the Espanola Express roll into town.