KIRKLAND LAKE — After struggling mightily against the Gold Miners early in the 2018-19 NOJHL season, the Timmins Rock have now taken four of the past five games from the former East Division leaders.
That’s right, former. The Rock’s 4-1 win at the Joe Mavrinac Community Centre Friday night leaves the Gold Miners (28-15-2-2) sitting two points behind the Cochrane Crunch (29-17-1-3) atop the volatile East Division standings.
Meanwhile, with the victory, the Rock (27-17-3-0) remain three points behind the third-place Hearst Lumberjacks (27-15-5-1), who took out the fifth-place Voodoos (26-19-1-1) 5-2 in Powassan Friday night.
Rock coach Corey Beer feels there is a simple reason his squad has fared much better against the Gold Miners in recent action.
“I think we are just playing some of the best hockey we have played all season,” he said.
“Apart from the Powassan game (4-1 road loss Tuesday night), we have been pretty dialed in on a lot of the aspects of our game. We had all of those games early on against these guys and then a light schedule in the middle.
“We are playing good hockey, so it is nice to see.”
At the Joe Mavrinac Community Centre, the Rock jumped out to a 2-0 first-period lead thanks to a pair of goals just over three-and-a-half minutes apart.
Blue-liner Owen Shier, filling in up front, got the first of those two markers when he beat Gold Miners goalie Gregory Brassard for his fourth goal of the season at the 5:06 mark of the opening frame.
Then, Keegan McMullen doubled the Rock advantage when he netted a power-play marker, his 13th goal of the season to make it a 2-0 hockey game.
That goal would stand up to be the game winner.
Beer agreed the Rock’s fast start sort of took the Gold Miners’ crowd out of the game early on.
“We got some big goals there, from Owen Shier, who is a defenceman most days but was playing up front on the (Linden) Spencer-(A.J.) Campbell line,” he said.
“It is why you always have guys out of position in practice, tying them at forward here and there, making sure they are involved in the offensive rushes because when the puck comes to you in different situations than you are used to, you need to be able to capitalize and I thought he did a phenomenal job of that on the three-on-two. That was a goal scorer’s goal on that shot. I thought it was great.”
The Gold Miners finally got on the scoreboard in the middle frame, with Vinny DeSanctis potting his 13th goal of the season at the 2:09 mark.
That second-period tally didn’t really produce the momentum swing the Gold Miners were looking for, however.
“The first five minutes of the second period, they came out with a lot of zip,” Beer said.
“Obviously, they weren’t going to allow themselves to get pushed around like they were in the first period. They had a great bounce back, but I thought for our guys, giving up the one, okay, it is a goal, that’s going to happen, but our leadership on the bench really showed good awareness.
“They handled it like men and it was a great thing to see. It is really something we were working on. You look at the game against them the last time and the game against Cochrane, with the late-game collapses, for us to be able to mentally withstand that tonight, I thought was a big growing point for our team.”
It took the Rock just 58 seconds of the third period to restore their two-goal advantage, however, on a power-play marker officially credited to blue-liner Eric Moreau, but actually tipped into the net by teammate Riley Robitaille.
It would have been Moreau’s first goal of the season, but Beer was confident the official scorer would correct the error to credit Robitaille with his 10th goal of the campaign.
“Obviously, that was a huge goal for us,” Beer said.
“We got two goals on the power play and one shorthanded tonight. I can’t say enough about the attention to detail for our guys. You have a guy like Robi who plays that big-man role in front of the net. For him to get an active stick on it and put that one home was big for us. It gave us that two-goal cushion.”
With just 2:16 remaining in regulation, the Rock added a little more insurance when blue-liner Luka Bolduc scored a shorthanded marker, his seventh goal of the season, to make the final 4-1 in favour of the visitors.
“It followed a great PK face-off win in our own zone,” Beer said.
“It was great to see Boldy get his seventh goal of the season. He is a natural goal scorer back there and obviously somebody we are trusting to put the puck in the net when the time comes.”
The coach was pleased with the workmanlike effort turned in by the entire Rock team Friday night.
“It was a good win for us, top to bottom,” Beer said.
“You would be hard-pressed to find 16 year olds who are playing as good as (Carson) Burlington, McMullen and Shier. We are a very young team and a group that relies on our speed and skill.
“For those three guys to be playing as good as they are, make positive steps and have an impact on the scoresheet is a huge thing for us.
“Most teams have one 16 year old, some have two, but for us to have three and have those guys contribute is great.
“You look at a guy like Keegan McMullen and he gets the whip cracked at him pretty good sometimes, but for him to earn those positive minutes is a real growing point for him. The kid is going to be a phenomenal player moving forward in his hockey career.”
And it wasn’t just the Rock’s youngsters who earned a little extra praise from their coach.
“I thought we got great leadership form (Rock captain Derek) Seguin and Robitaille up front tonight,” Beer said.
“Those guys were monsters and Josh Dickson had a great bounce-back game.
“Also, Josh Anderson and Will Caston are playing some of the best hockey they have played in a long time. It is great to see. They are two of our best defencemen and two of the best in the league.
“When they start playing their best hockey, it is noticeable back there. One is a towering presence. The other one is an elite puck mover.
“For those guys to get their game on track, means a lot for us as a group moving forward.”
Rock goalie Tyler Masternak stopped 18 of the 19 shots he faced to earn his NOJHL-leading 24th win of the season. In the process, he lowered his NOJHL-best goals against average to 2.33 on the season.
Brassard, who stopped 16 of the 20 shots the Rock directed his way, was tagged with the loss for the Gold Miners.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Seguin (two assists), Masternak and DeSanctis … The Rock did not dress forwards Matt Capisciolto (undisclosed) and Benjamin Jossinet (undisclosed) … Official attendance at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex was 638 … Other action Friday night saw the Express roll over the Blind River Beavers 2-1 in overtime in Espanola and the Soo Eagles edge the Thunderbirds 4-3 in Sault Ste. Marie … The Rock will return to action Saturday night when the travel to Cochrane for a game against the Crunch at the Tim Horton Event Centre. Game time is set for 7 p.m.
Game Photos courtesy of CapturingTheMoment.ca