By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock scored a decisive 9-2 victory over the Iroquois Falls Eskis in the first half of a home-and-home series at the McIntyre Arena Saturday night.
Special teams played a big part in the NOJHL contest, as the Rock netted a pair of power-play goals and struck for a pair of shorthanded markers, as well.
Aaron Kerr, Landen Matechuk and Ryan Theriault each scored twice to pace the attack for the home side, as the Rock won their seventh time in nine starts against the Eskis.
Kerr scored his 14th goal of the season 12:22 into the opening frame and Matechuk potted his fifth of the season, on the power play, less than four minutes later as the Rock carried a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.
“I got some speed through the neutral zone and I saw Sally (Tristan Salesse) there up at the blue-line, so I was going to try to skate in and maybe feed it to him under the guy’s stick,” said Kerr, describing how he scored the game’s first goal.
“Then the guy kind of committed toward Sally and I just went one-on-one with the other guy and managed to put it through his stick and then get it high glove side.”
Marco Luciani got the Eskis on the board when he beat Rock goalie Logan Ferrington for his fifth goal of the season 38 seconds into the second period.
Any momentum the Eskis may have gained from that early marker was quickly erased, however, as Kerr stole the puck and broke in on a two-on-one before sliding his 15th goal of the season under Eskis goalie Joe Sheppard while the Rock were killing a penalty just over two minutes later.
“There was kind of a little scramble there at the top of the circle and the D-man committed to try and poke the puck back in, but I saw him coming and he might have thought I was going to chip it off the wall or ice it or something, but I just brought it back inside,” Kerr said.
“The last few games, I have been having a few chances two-on-one and I have been trying to make the pass, so I figured I would shoot it this time. He (Sheppard) left the blocker open pretty wide on that two-on-one.”
Then, midway through the second period, Bain Cunningham walked through the entire Eskis team to net his 24th goal of the season, a power-player maker, and put the Rock up 4-1.
The Rock scored three goals in a span of less than four minutes late in the second period to pretty well put the game out of reach.
Matechuk netted his sixth goal of the season to get the puck rolling a then Zachary Kercz added his 22nd goal of the season to put the Rock up 6-1.
That goal spelled an end to Sheppard’s night, but his replacement Matthew Camilleri didn’t fare much better.
Rock defenceman Nick Hautanen scored his third goal of the season with 29 seconds remaining in the period to give the home side a commanding 7-1 advantage heading into the final 20 minutes.
Theriault scored his 19th goal of the season at the 6:48 mark of the final frame to increase the Rock lead to 8-1
The Eskis were able get that one back with 1:38 remaining on the clock, as Jacob Erwin scored his 24th goal of the season.
The Rock got in the final word, however, as Theriault netted his second goal of the night and 20th of the season 23 seconds later.
Rock assistant coach Eric Paquette felt his team played a pretty complete hockey game Saturday night.
“It is always nice to get a victory, but this was even more important given our last game against them (a 6-3 loss on Jan. 10) and our last game (an 8-2 loss to the Crunch in Cochrane Tuesday night),” he said.
“We went back to some of the basics in practice this week. We reviewed some stuff in our defensive zone coverage and it paid off today.”
The Eskis didn’t seem to have an answer for the Rock’s speed Saturday night.
“We were getting the puck deep and cycling the puck,” Paquette said.
“Our guys kept their feet moving, so they didn’t get a chance to get the body on us too much.
“When we have the puck in their zone and we are playing behind their D, that’s when we are successful.”
Paquette felt the Rock played a solid 200-foot game for the full 60 minutes Saturday night, with everybody contributing to the victory.
“Obviously, our first line played well, but Ryan Theriault has really been playing well lately, as well,” he said.
“He is playing a little bit different role and he is really thriving in it. He has been working hard and he is seeing the benefits now.”
The Rock were without one of their top defencemen, Andrew Castagna, Saturday night due to a lower-body injury suffered in Cochrane Tuesday night, but the rest of the blue-line corps picked up the slack.
“The guys just played a simple hockey game tonight,” Paquette said.
“We reviewed a few things from the Cochrane game and boys came back and played a really strong game.”
What will the Rock have to do Monday night in Iroquois Falls to complete the sweep of the home-and-home series?
“We just have to play the same way we did tonight,” Paquette said.
“We just have to get pucks deep and have our D keep things simple. If we can do that, we are going to be successful.”
Ferrington, who briefly left the game with an injury, turned aside 32 of the 34 shots he faced to earn the victory. Devon Debastos stopped the only shot he faced during the 2:12 of the third period Ferrington was on the bench.
Sheppard, who was injured during the first period but stayed in the game, blocked 27 of the 33 shots the Rock fired his way and was tagged with the loss. Camilleri made 15 saves in relief of the Eskis starter.
NOJHL NOTES — Rock forward Wayne Mathieu and Eskis forward Dante Juris were ejected from the game late in the second period following an altercation that saw both players receive five-minute majors for fighting, misconduct penalties for failing to go to their benches or a neutral area and game misconducts … The three stars of the game were Matechuk, Kerr and Theriault … The Rock went 2-7 on the power play, while the Eskis were 0-5 and surrendered a pair of shorthanded goals with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 713 … Saturday’s other NOJHL action saw the Powassan Voodoos blank the Canadians 9-0 in Rayside-Balfour, the Espanola Express roll over the Eagles 5-3 in Sault, Mich., and the Thunderbirds blank the Elliot Lake Wildcats 2-0 in Sault Ste. Marie … The Rock and the Eskis will play the second half of their home-and-home series Monday night at the Jus Jordan Arena. Game time is 7:30 p.m.