By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – Jordan Rendle’s goal 1:46 into the first overtime period lifted the Timmins Rock to a 4-3 win over the Elliot Lake Wildcats Sunday afternoon at the McIntyre Arena.
Rendle picked up the puck behind his own net, carried it from end to end, found a lane and drilled a wrist shot past Wildcats goalie Aaron Mackay for his 30th goal of the season.
“After I picked it up behind the net, I saw some ice, made their forechecker chase behind me, saw some room and Kerczie (Zachary Kercz) and Bain (Cunningham) were up there and the D kind of stayed with them,” Rendle said.
“I saw a little opening and I just hoped for the best and it seemed to work out. I got lucky.
“I was able to get the puck on my forehand. It was rolling a little bit but I was able to get the shot off and luckily it went post and in.”
The Rock jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the see-saw contest, as Landen Matechuk netted his third goal of the season from in close.
The Wildcats responded at the 12:09 mark of the opening frame, however, as Elliot Lake sniper Cole Hepler struck for his 33rd goal of the season.
Elliot Lake took its lone lead of the game midway through the second period, as Ty Hannaford beat Rock goalie Logan Ferrington for his 11th goal of the season to put the visitors in front 2-1.
The Rock tied things up at 2-2 just over three minutes later, as defenceman Andrew Castagna potted his 10th goal of the season, a power-play marker, on a nice set up from Rendle and Kercz.
That’s the way the score stayed until midway through the third period when Matechuk scored his second goal of the game and fourth on the season to put the home side in front 3-2.
Any hope the Rock had of winning the game in regulation was dashed less than five minutes later, as Alec Mackenzie scored his 17th goal of the season to tie things up at 3-3 and force overtime.
“We were just staying positive on the bench, we didn’t get down on each other, or anything like that,” Rendle said, describing the feeling the team had after the Wildcats fought back to tie things up.
“They are a good team and they are kind of like us, so we knew we were going to be in for a tough battle tonight.”
The Wildcats — like the Rock — have a fast-skating team, but while the visitors have a definite advantage in size, that didn’t intimidate the home side in the least.
“They finish their checks and we do the same thing back,” Rendle said.
“Size doesn’t really matter. We have players like Wayne Mathieu (5-10, 190) going out there and finishing every check they possibly can, so their size didn’t really bother us.”
Rock assistant coach James Daschuk was happy to see his squad earn its third-straight victory Sunday afternoon.
“It’s obviously a little easier to smile when you win a game like this,” he said.
“It was a great game. We knew what to expect from those guys and they brought exactly what we figured they were going to bring.
“It was their third game in three nights and you have got to respect a team like that. They worked hard and they made an excellent game out of it.”
The Wildcats started their three-game weekend road trip with a 5-1 win over the Eskis in Iroquois Falls Friday night and then doubled the Crunch 6-3 in Cochrane Saturday night.
The Rock’s compete level was more consistent than it had been during Friday night’s 8-6 win over the Soo Eagles, but Daschuk felt there was still room for improvement.
“We weren’t happy with the first period,” he said.
“I am not sure what happened. We just had too many turnovers. That doesn’t mean we weren’t competing, but we were making small mistakes that we shouldn’t have been making.
“Our second and third periods were much better. Our guys were finishing their checks and doing all the little things we talk about.”
Daschuk was impressed with the size and the skill level of the Wildcats.
“I think it has been three games in a row now, where the teams we have played against have all been big and like to finish their checks,” he said.
“They are not the fanciest team. They are not the prettiest team. Teams like this grind you down. That’s their game plan. They are big, they are physical and they can skate.”
The assistant coach was also impressed with the play of Rendle Sunday afternoon, and not just because he netted the game-winning goal.
“He was playing a shut-down role and when you are playing in a shut-down role and you can still find the back of the net, it’s great,” Daschuk said.
“His line, with Cunningham and Kercz, they all love having the puck. They are going to do whatever they can to have the puck and if they have the puck then the other team’s top scorers don’t have it.
“Their top three scorers play together on the same line, so if you shut that line down, it takes away from their game plan, obviously.”
Daschuk also liked the play of Matechuk against the Wildcats.
“Chucky had a good game,” he said.
“He is a grinder and he works hard, too. I am not convinced his goal-scoring abilities are all natural. He has got to work for it.”
Wildcats coach Nathan Hewitt would naturally have preferred to see his team secure the victory Sunday afternoon, but he can take some comfort from the fact they were able to secure a point and finish their three-game trek with five of a possible six points.
“We kept battling and we just kept working, but I don’t think the game should ever have gone to overtime,” he said.
“We took a stupid retaliation penalty and they capitalized on it. We talked about discipline before the game and it cost us. That one penalty cost us.”
Hewitt was especially pleased with the play of some of his role players Sunday afternoon.
“I thought our fourth line — Spencer Allen, Hannaford and Curtis Rawn — had a great afternoon,” he said.
“They were great for the kind of ice time they are use to. They got a lot more today and they did very well with it.”
It is no coincidence that the Wildcats have a big, strong, physical hockey team this season.
“We picked a bigger team on purpose,” Hewitt said.
“Last year, we were a little undersized. It gives us a different look and we like the way it is going so far.”
With the point the Wildcats were able to secure Sunday afternoon, they have now pulled to within 16 points of the Soo Thunderbirds, who sit atop the NOJHL’s West Division standings, and — more importantly — extended their lead over the third-place Rayside-Balfour Canadians to 10 points.
The Rock, meanwhile, trail the third-place Kirkland Lake Gold Miners by 12 points in the East Division standings, but are 29 points up on the fifth-place Iroquois Falls Eskis, following Sunday afternoon’s victory.
Ferrington turned aside 32 of the 35 shots he faced to earn the victory for the Rock, while Mackay blocked 26 of the 30 shots fired his way and was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — Fans at Sunday afternoon’s game were treated to an exhibition of Tim Bits action between the first and second period and youngsters had an opportunity to skate with the Rock following the contest … The three stars of Sunday afternoon’s game were Rendle, Matechuk and Ferrington, who drew an assist on Rendle’s game-winning goal … The Rock went 1-3 on the power play, while the Wildcats were 0-1 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena Sunday afternoon was 624 … Sunday’s only other NOJHL contest saw the Gold Miners triple the Soo Eagles 6-2 in Kirkland Lake … The Rock will travel to Cochrane for a game against the Crunch at the Tim Horton Event Centre Tuesday night. The next home game for the Rock will be on Saturday night when they host the Eskis at the McIntyre Arena.