Timmins Rock forward C.J. Bradburn beats Hearst Lumberjacks goalie Nicholas Dube for a goal during the third period of Thursday night’s NOJHL exhibition game at the McIntyre Arena. Bradburn’s goal put the Rock in front 6-1 and chased Dube from the Hearst net. The Rock went on to defeat the Lumberjacks 6-2 in the first half of a home-and-home exhibition series. The teams will play the second half of the series Sunday night at the Claude Larose Arena in Hearst. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – Goalie Brendan Bishop turned aside 25 shots in his first start in a Rock uniform to help lead Timmins to a 6-2 win over the Hearst Lumberjacks in an NOJHL exhibition contest at the McIntyre Arena Thursday night.
After watching most of training camp and both of the Rock’s first two exhibition contests against the Cochrane Crunch from the stands because of off-season surgery to correct an upper-body injury, the 20-year-old Charlotte, N.C., native was solid between the pipes — giving his teammates a chance to settle down after a shaky start.
“It felt amazing,” Bishop said.
“I have never played in front of that many people in my entire life and it was just a preseason game.
“It really felt great to get out there with the boys. There is nothing like it.”
Bishop was impressed with the quality of the squad at the other end of the ice.
“They have a pretty skilled team,” he said.
“I don’t think the final score was necessarily a reflection of their skill level. They are a great team and we are going to have some big battles this year.”
The Rock defence did a solid job of letting Bishop see the puck Thursday night.
“I am so lucky to have the D we have playing in front of me and when you have forwards who are defensive minded, as well, who want to backcheck and get back and help out, it makes life a lot easier,” he said.
Rock coach Corey Beer was all smiles after getting his second-straight exhibition victory and first at the McIntyre Arena.
“It is certainly a good feeling,” he said.
“I thought we were a little shaky the first five minutes, but we certainly settled down and played our brand of hockey. We played a real good team and we expect a better match from them on Sunday.”
After surrendering six goals in an overtime loss to the Crunch and three goals in a victory over Cochrane, the Rock’s improved defensive play was quite evident Thursday night.
“The guys have been buying into our system and the film studies have been real good,” Beer said.
“We have been sharp in practice and we have thrown a couple of new things at them, some set plays and different strategic options. They have absorbed it and put it into their game pretty well.
“We are pretty pleased with tonight’s outcome.”
Six different Rock players found the scoresheet Thursday night, giving the team the kind of balanced attack every coach dreams of getting from his troops.
“I don’t think we are going to be a team that is going to have one line that is going to dominate games,” Beer said.
“I think it is going to have to be a team contribution, with 12 forwards and six defencemen contributing.”
The coach was certainly pleased with the play of Bishop in his first game action with the Rock.
“He has a very calm demeanor and certainly made the game easy on himself,” Beer said.
“Sometimes big goalies get scrambling around a lot and they get themselves in trouble, but he was certainly composed tonight. He bounced back really well after he let in a couple of goals, as well, and I think that is a big thing.”
Beer was really pleased with the play of his D corps — Grant McClellan, Jared Hester, James Watier, James Redmond, Will Caston and Shawn Sloan — Thursday night.
“I would be hard pressed to find a better group of six defencemen than the guys who played the game for us tonight,” he said.
“They were tremendous throughout the game, even the two young lads playing together, Will Caston and Shawn Sloan. I thought they did a tremendous job.
“Up front, we got contributions from lots of guys. Donny Schultz again was real good. Seth Reuben continues to surprise day-in and day-out and it was nice to get Stewart Parnell back (from an OHL camp). It is never a bad thing when you get a 6-2 horse back in the middle.
With a number of veterans out of the lineup, the Rock used two affiliate players — Austin Holmes and Riley Brousseau — in Thursday night’s contest.
“Our depth is certainly something we are going to be using this year,” Beer said.
“We are not a team that is going to cut back to two-and-a-half lines and four defencemen. The more we can pound four lines and six D at teams, the better it will be both in the short term and the long term, too.”
The visitors drew first blood when Bradley Golant beat Bishop at the 5:36 mark of the first period.
That 1-0 lead held up until there was just over six minutes remaining in the frame when Reuben broke in all alone and muscled a shot past Lumberjacks goalie Nicholas Dube for a shorthanded goal.
A minute-and-a-half later, Brousseau beat Dube to give the Rock a 2-1 lead.
Newly appointed captain Wayne Mathieu gave the Rock a two-goal lead midway through the second period when he scored a power-play marker.
The Rock exploded for three goals in stretch of three-and-a-half minutes five minutes into the third period to pretty well put the game out of reach and chase Dube from the Hearst net.
Veteran forward Alexandre Brisson netted the first of those three tallies, with A.J. Campbell scoring the second and C.J. Bradburn the third.
Artem Bortovskiy came on in relief of Dube following Bradburn’s goal and shut the Rock down the rest of the way.
The goalie switch provided a slight change in momentum, as Lumberjacks sniper Shadow Reuben beat Bishop 44 seconds later to cut the Rock advantage to 6-2.
That would be as close as the visitors would come to getting back on even terms, however.
Lumberjacks coach and general manager Marc Lafleur was pleased with how his team started Thursday night’s contest.
“I thought we had a great first 10 minutes,” he said.
“We took the play to them and then we started getting fancy with the puck. We have a lot of new guys and they have to understand to play here in this rink, you have got play vertical.
“We started getting fancy and because of it our shifts started being long and they took advantage.”
When the Lumberjacks fell behind, they did get some power-play opportunities, but they were unable to cash in on them.
“You have to remember, this is just our sixth day on the ice,” Lafleur said.
“We haven’t practised any special teams, other than drawing things up on the board. That is obviously going to change. We will be ready before the season starts.
“You could tell these guys (Rock) have been on the ice for about two weeks now and we haven’t.”
Despite the loss, a number of Lumberjacks impressed their coach Thursday night.
“Sam Bourdages, a local boy out of Hearst, I thought was our best offensive forward tonight,” Lafleur said.
“He made things happen out there and he kept things simple. We have to make sure our older guys with more experience start showing us what they can do.”
A number of Hearst blue-liners had sold nights, as well, especially when it came to physicality.
“Alec Johnson is a defenceman who brings it absolutely every single night,” Lafleur said.
“He is the type of defenceman forwards don’t like to play against. We expect to get a lot of minutes from him this year.
“Max Lacroix is coming into his own, as well. He is another 18 year old and this was only his second Junior ‘A’ game.”
Lafleur is confident the Lumberjacks have the makings of a quality hockey team.
“I said at this point last year when I was with the Gold Miners, it is not where we are right now that matters, it is where we are going to be in a month or so. This is only our sixth day together as a team.
“We have to take the positives out of a game like tonight, but some players have to understand average is not acceptable on this hockey team. The mind set has to change immediately for certain players.”
Bishop blocked 25 of the 27 shots he faced to pick up the win for Timmins.
Dube, who turned aside 16 of the 22 shots the Rock fired his way, was tagged with the loss. Bortovskiy stopped all eight shots he faced in the game’s final 8:12.
NOJHL NOTES — The Daily Press three stars of the game were Bishop, Bradburn and Mathieu … Both teams were assessed five minor penalties in the contest … The Rock did not dress forwards Halen Cordoni, Derek Seguin (attending training camp with the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs) and Connor Losen, as well as defenceman Lucas Dolanjski … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 455 … The Rock will travel to Hearst on Sunday for an exhibition game against the Lumberjacks at the Claude Larose Arena. Game time is set for 7 p.m.