By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – Bain Cunningham scored two goals and set up two others to help lead the Timmins Rock to a 7-1 win over the Rayside-Balfour Canadians Saturday night at the McIntyre Arena.
The victory helped the Rock (20-8-2-0) keep pace with the second-place Crunch (20-8-4-1) in the NOJHL East Division standings after Cochrane scored a 4-1 win in French River Saturday night to complete a two-game weekend sweep of the Rapids.
The Rock, winners of two-straight games, have three games in hand on the Crunch.
Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne was pleased with his team’s attention to detail Saturday night.
“I know we scored seven goals tonight, but the thing I really enjoyed is that defensively we were quite sound,” he said.
“Down low, we didn’t give them too much. We were putting pressure on them. They had some good cycling, but we were still in good position.
“I also enjoyed the way we moved the puck tonight from our defensive zone. Our transition game was great. Our defence moved the puck really well. They weren’t trying to hold onto the puck.
“That is something we had been working on in practice. We wanted our defencemen to move the puck quickly.”
It was the Canadians who got on the scoreboard first Saturday night, as Ian Robbie beat Rock goalie Albert Rogers for his eighth goal of the season 2:35 into the first period of play.
“We were a little rattled, but then Mr. Rogers back there just did his thing,” Gagne said.
“He made a couple of big saves that kept us in there.”
Despite being outshot 17-13 in the opening 20 minutes, the Rock stormed back with three goals of their own to build up a 3-1 lead heading into the first intermission.
Tyler Romain scored his 22nd goal of the season at the 8:24 mark to deadlock the game at 1-1.
Cole Gilligan’s 15th goal of the season, with just under four minutes remaining in the opening period, put the home side in front by a goal.
Then linemate Alexandre Brisson netted his 12th goal of the season a minute later to put the Rock up by a pair of goals.
Cunningham’s first goal of the night and 10th on the season, a power-play marker, early in the second period increased the Rock lead to 4-1.
In the latter half of the second period, the Rock ran into some penalty trouble, giving the Canadians an excellent opportunity to claw their way back into the contest.
It was the Rock, however, that took advantage of the situation, as Cunningham broke in all alone while killing a penalty to beat Canadians goalie Owen Johansson for his second goal of the night and 11th on the season.
“I was just going out to hopefully block the shot from the point, but I happened to get a stick on the puck,” Cunningham said.
“Going in, I thought the backhand would work and it did. The boys really got some momentum after that goal, so it really helped our team.”
Playing on a line with Romain and Jacob Shankar, the puck seemed to follow Cunningham around all night.
“We were just sticking to our game plan tonight,” he said.
“We were getting pucks deep and moving the puck, cycling and things worked out tonight. Our line played a great game.
That goal put the Rock up 5-1, but the Canadians continued press the attack well into the third period.
Despite being outshot 17-11 in the final 20 minutes, it was the Rock who found the back of the net twice in the third period to make the final score 7-1.
Defenceman Patrick Gazich scored his third goal of the season, a power-play marker, at the 6:24 mark to put the Rock up by five goals.
Then Jacob Shankar added his 12th goal of the season with 45 seconds remaining in the third period to close out the scoring.
Even though the Rock were outshot Saturday night, Gagne felt his team was in control of the game — especially after Cunningham’s back-breaking shorthanded goal.
“We gave up a lot of shots, but we will give them all of those shots,” he said.
“There were only a few from inside the house and Rogers took care of those.”
Gagne was pleased with the play of all of his Rock players, but singled out a few for a little extra praise.
“Young Stewart Parnell had been sick and he didn’t come to practice yesterday (Friday),” he said.
“He woke up at 5 p.m. today and he was going to be a scratch, but he called and he wanted to play and he played an incredible game again tonight.
“Kudos to the young Gazich, as well. He played extremely well. And Bain, obviously, played well. This is three or four games in a row now where he has been the best player on both teams.”
Canadians coach and general manager Dave Clancy thought his team got off to a good start Saturday night, but just couldn’t regain the momentum once they lost it.
“The first 10 minutes of the game, we were moving our feet and we were all over them,” he said.
“We were getting good opportunities at the net, then once they got their second goal for some reason the wind seemed to come out of us. It was all downhill from there.”
The Canadians inability to convert a number of power-play opportunities, including a five-on-three shortly before Cunningham’s second goal, also proved costly for the visitors.
“Our team has had trouble scoring goals all year,” Clancy said.
“If you look at our season, we have been outscored (104-110 following Saturday night’s loss) even though we have a pretty good record (19-11-2-1, second in the West Division).
“We struggle with that aspect of the game, so we really have to bear down and try to get some bounces when we have opportunities like that five-on-three.”
Despite the loss, Clancy was pleased with the play of a number of Canadians Saturday night.
“I thought Kyle Liinamma came to play tonight and Cayse Ton was a force for us out there,” he said.
“I wasn’t really overly disappointed with anybody’s effort tonight. I just think sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot by going to the wrong spots on the ice.
“We will regroup and move forward from here.”
The Canadians defeated the Express 5-3 in Espanola Friday night and then had a long bus ride to Timmins for Saturday night’s contest, but Clancy was not about to use that as an excuse.
“All of the teams have to do it,” he said.
“These boys are young and they have to learn to get off of a bus and be ready to go. I thought we were ready to go tonight. Like I said, it looked like it in the first 10 minutes, but for whatever reason the game got away from us.
“You have to give Timmins full credit. They buried their chances. Their power play paid off for them and we were oh for on the power play.”
Rogers turned aside 47 of the 48 shots he faced to pick up the victory for the Rock.
Johansson stopped 27 of the 34 shots the Rock fired his was and was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Cunningham, Rogers and Romain … The Rock were 2-8 on the power play, while the Canadians were 0-8 with the man advantage … The Rock did not dress defenceman Jared Hester (upper-body injury) and goalie Jeff Veitch (healthy scratch) … Saturday night’s other NOJHL action saw the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners come from behind to defeat the Eskis 5-3 in Iroquois Falls and the Blind River Beavers beat the Eagles 3-1 in Sault, Mich. … The Rock will return to action on Saturday night when they will host the Gold Miners at the McIntyre Arena.