By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – Tristan Salesse’s power-play goal midway through the third period lifted the Timmins Rock to a 3-2 win over the Cochrane Crunch at the McIntyre Arena Friday night.
The victory gave the Rock — who posted a 7-4 win over the Crunch in Kapuskasing Thursday night — a sweep of their home-and-home exhibition series.
“Everybody really stepped up their game tonight,” said Rock goaltending coach Marc Bisson.
“It was a very intense game and it was evident right from the get go that we were going to control the game and not be controlled.
“It was critical having our third and fourth lines play the way they did today. Our third line and our fourth line really jumped up and everybody really stepped up their game.”
After Thursday’s game, Bisson was not surprised to see things get physical Friday night.
“We have two pretty big teams and they were going at it fairly hard,” he said.
Like Thursday night, the Rock jumped out to a 2-0 first-period lead.
Jordan Rendle beat Crunch goalie Brett Young with a power-play marker eight minutes into the opening frame to put the home side in front 1-0.
Rendle’s linemate Devin Panzeca lit the lamp behind Young just over two minutes later to double the Timmins advantage.
Kyle Smith got the Crunch on the board before the end of the period, however, as he slipped a shot past Rock goalie Matthew Nixon.
Bisson was impressed with the play of Nixon, who was appearing in his second game and making his first start in a Timmins uniform.
“He really held down the fort for us and made a lot of key saves,” he said.
“He controlled his rebounds and really did what we expected him to do.
“Matt is a technically sound goalie. We have only seen him in two games and haven’t had a chance to see him in practice yet, but you can really tell that he is technically sound.”
Nixon was pleased to get his second wins in as many nights and the first of what he hopes will be many on home ice.
“We had a lot of intensity from last night that carried over to tonight and it definitely paid off for us in our home barn, with so many fans out there,” he said.
“I am new to this team, but I can see it already in my first two games that it (the rivalry with the Crunch) is going to be a battle the whole year.
“I felt really good out there with a strong team in front of me. I had faith in the boys and I was pretty confident.
“Our defence was clearing pucks and getting them out high off the glass whenever they got in trouble. That’s all a goalie can ask for out there.”
Nixon, an 18-year-old Barrie native, played for Blyth Academy in Toronto last season.
Nixon hopes he and his teammates can carry the momentum from the back-to-back exhibition wins over the Crunch into the regular season.
“We all have some confidence now and hopefully we are going to have a good season,” he said.
Nixon describes himself as a buttefly goalie.
“I like to think of myself as a third defenceman out there,” he said.
“I like to talk to the boys and play the puck a lot to make sure everyone knows what is going on and what is behind them.”
The Crunch — who looked a little sluggish in the opening period — netted the lone goal of the second.
Hunter Atchison beat Nixon to get the Crunch back on even terms.
Bisson said: “I think in the second period we got away from the strong forecheck that allowed us to control most of the first period. I think we took a few undisciplined penalties which killed our momentum.
The Crunch had an excellent opportunity to take the lead early in the third period, as Rock forward Kyle Levis was assessed a five-minute major penalty for but ending just 2:25 into the frame.
The Rock were able to kill off the penalty, however, and even generated a few chances of their own as they were playing shorthanded.
After Salesse put the Rock in front 3-2 the Crunch had a number of excellent opportunities to get the equalizer but they could not get the puck past Nixon.
Rock captain Kealey Cummings was assessed a double-minor for high sticking with 2:29 remaining in regulation.
Crunch forward Seamus Maguire was cut in the face on the play and had to leave the contest for repairs.
The Crunch pulled Young with less than a minute to play to create a two-man advantage but they were still not able to generate the tying goal and came close to surrendering an empty netter in the process.
Wins and losses do not mean much in the preseason, but winning their final two exhibition games and evening their record at 3-3-0-0 was still important.
“I think it was huge for our confidence,” Bisson said.
“We have a lot of guys who weren’t here last year and a lot of new faces, so it should give them a little bit of swagger and a little bit of confidence going into our season opener.
Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard was a lot happier with Friday night’s contest than he had been with the 7-4 defeat his team suffered in Kapuskasing the night before.
“I think it was a good hockey game,” he said.
“If we weren’t playing like individuals and taking stupid spearing penalties at the start of the game to put us down 2-0, you can’t win hockey games that way.
“We made some selfish plays, but five-on-five I thought we might have been the better team.
“We outshot them 46-40 on the game sheet and that was pretty close to the same stats we had, but we didn’t capitalize on a lot of the chances we had.
“They got one solid chance in the third, off the back boards and they put it home. That was the only real scoring chance they got. The last 10 minutes of the third period there were not even a lot of scoring chances for us, just a lot of sloppy play inside the blue-line in their end.
“But it’s exhibition hockey and both teams still have to tweak their lineups. We just have to find out who is still going to be here next Friday night.”
With their exhibition season now complete, the Crunch will focus on a little team bonding this weekend.
“We are going to do a team fishing trip for the next three days,” Leonard said.
“We are going to go deep in the woods and let the kids experience Northern Ontario. We are going to go up in the bush, take some boats and have some fun. We will do some portaging up rivers and find an island on a lake and put up a prospector’s tent.
“All the boys will stay in one big, huge tent and learn to be a team over the next three days.”
Nixon made 44 saves to earn the victory for the Rock, while Young turned aside 37 shots and was tagged with the loss for the Crunch.
NOJHL NOTES — The official attendance for Friday night’s game was 471 … The Rock will open the regular season with a game against the Gold Miners at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex on Friday night, while the Crunch will host the Iroquois Falls Eskimos at the Tim Horton Event Centre. The first home game for the Rock will be on Saturday night when they host the Gold Miners at the McIntyre Arena … Friday night’s other NOJHL exhibition contest saw the Espanola Express edge the Blind River Beavers 3-2 in double overtime on a Riley Tilot goal.