By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock overcame a two-goal deficit and went on to defeat the Cochrane Crunch 5-3 at the McIntyre Arena Thursday night.
With the win, the Rock (23-9-3-0) pulled within four points of the second-place Crunch (24-11-4-1) in the NOJHL’s East Division standings.
And the Rock, who have five games in hand on their rivals, will be looking to close the gap even further when they visit the Tim Horton Event Centre in Cochrane Saturday night for the second half of the home-and-home series.
Prior to the start of Thursday night’s contest — in front of more than half-a-dozen witness — Rock head trainer Roger Gagne predicted his team would win the game by a 5-3 score.
Following the contest, his brother, Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne, was all smiles — in part because of his sibling’s psychic abilities and his team’s come-from-behind victory.
“The first period, we came out flat,” he said.
“We were watching them. There was one goal I think our goalie would have liked to have had back. We didn’t have any mojo whatsoever in the first period.
“In the second period, we showed the fans the way the Timmins Rock are capable of playing. Obviously, that carried on into the third period.
“I am happy with the way we played. We played a good hockey team tonight. We know that, but they played against a good hockey team, too.”
Things got off to a rocky start for the home team Thursday night at the McIntyre Arena, as the Crunch came out of the gate flying and built up a 2-0 advantage during the first 20 minutes of action.
Nate Viberg beat Rock goalie Albert Rogers for his 17th goal of the season at the 2:51 mark to give the Crunch the lead.
Konnar Duchaine then added his 27th goal of the season midway through the first period to increase the visitors’ advantage to two goals.
The Rock were able to get back on even terms before the seven-minute mark of the second period, however.
Jacob Shankar scored his 15th goal of the season, a power-play marker, to cut the home side’s deficit to a single goal.
Then Cole Gilligan put his 19th of the season past Crunch goalie Leighton Williams to deadlock the score at 2-2.
Bailey Shaver scored his eighth goal of the season to put the Crunch back in front, 3-2, less than three minutes later.
The Rock responded with a pair of goals in the final two minutes of the middle frame to tie things up and take their first lead of the contest.
Wayne Mathieu scored his 16th goal of the season with 1:42 remaining in the period to tie things up at 3-3.
Then, with 30 seconds remaining on the clock, Stewart Parnell scored what would prove to be the game-winning goal, his sixth of the season.
That goal was originally credited to Rock blue-liner Brendan Campbell, but both Campbell and Parnell confirmed after the game that it was Parnell who fired the game-winning shot past Williams.
“Cole Gilligan gave me a nice pass in the slot and I was just able to tuck it in five-hole,” Parnell said.
“I wasn’t really aiming the shot. I was just trying to get it on net and it went in five-hole.”
While the goal was just the sixth of the season for Parnell, the rookie has 28 assists on the season — second among all Rock skaters.
“It feels good to be able to get another goal,” he said, with a smile.
“It had been a while. I had lost count of how many games.”
It is the first time Parnell has found the back of the net since Dec. 3 when he had a pair of markers during a 6-5 double-overtime loss to the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake.
Parnell has found a great deal of chemistry this season playing on a line with Gilligan and Alexandre Brisson.
“We all play well defensively and we work hard in all three zones,” he said.
“We try to stick to the program, keep the puck down low and work hard together. We have kind of clicked this season.”
The Rock were able to add a little insurance at the 6:51 mark of the third period when Mathieu netted his second goal of the night and 17th of the season, with the Rock enjoying a five-on-three advantage.
The Crunch had taken four of the first five games between the two teams this season and Gagne felt the Rock abandoned their defence-first approach in the majority of those encounters.
“Down low, we were much better tonight,” he said.
“In the first period, we gave them eight opportunities in front of the net. In the second period, we turned things around. I was happy with the way we played down low.”
The coach was pleased with his entire team Thursday night, but he opted to single out Mathieu for a little extra praise.
“He has shown a lot of spunk the last couple of games,” Gagne said.
“He really came through for us tonight.”
With coach and general manager Ryan Leonard watching the game from the stands Thursday night, assistant coach Jim Newell was running the bench for the Crunch.
He acknowledged that once Timmins got the momentum, it was tough for his team to try and regain it.
“Once Timmins got those first two goals, it gave them the momentum,” Newell said.
“Then, we kind of got into some penalties that got us on our heels. We had a little bit of a problem trying to get things turned back around.
“We got that next goal, but then of course the penalties rolled in again, so we were always trying to get the mojo back. Then, we started trying to do too much. Once you start trying to do too much at this level that can be exploited and really that’s kind of what happened to us.
“We never really got back on track.”
Clearly the first period was the best frame for the Crunch Thursday night.
“We were moving the puck much quicker off the back end, which allowed us to really utilize our speed on the front end,” Newell said.
“We have some pretty fast guys up front. We didn’t really use our speed the way we could have in the second period. It’s one of those things where it is a work in progress.
“You put together a really good period like we did in the first and you know that you can do that.”
Forward Shane Woolsey, back from an injury he sustained prior to a trade with the Elliot Lake Wildcats, and defenceman Quinn Robelle, picked up in a deal with the Dryden Ice Dogs, got their first taste of the Rock-Crunch rivalry Thursday night.
“Shane is coming off an injury and we are trying to bring him back in easy,” Newell said.
“He is going to be a big horse for us down the stretch, so we don’t want to rush him too much. We were able to fit him in a bit tonight.
“Robelle is a very skilled offensive defenceman. He is still trying to get his bearings out there, but his skill kind of helps make up for that. We are a team that likes to be on the move and he is a great first-pass defenceman. He will do very well.”
Despite the loss, the assistant coach was pleased with the play of a number of Crunch players Thursday night.
“I thought that Viberg had a pretty strong game and (Connor) Lovie on the back end is our captain and he logs a lot of ice time,” Newell said.
“He is out there blocking shots and doing all kinds of stuff for us.
“And that Flanders line, with (Nicolas) Flanders, (Austin) Stauffer and (Kyle) Herbster creates a lot of energy. They go out there and they just buzz.”
Rogers, who started and finished the contest in the Rock net, turned aside 32 of the 35 shots he faced to earn the victory. Back-up goalie Jeff Veitch was not called upon to stop any pucks during his 1:12 of action in the second period.
Williams blocked 17 of the 22 shots the Rock fired his way and was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — Forward Dean Kiriacou picked up a pair of assists in his first game in a Rock uniform … The Rock’s other newly acquired forward, Maxime Lague has yet to join the team as he deals with a family illness back home in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. … The three stars of the game were Mathieu, Viberg and Kiriacou … The Rock went 2-7 on the power play, while the crunch were 0-4 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 627 … The next home game for the Rock, who travel to Cochrane Saturday night, will be Sunday night when they host the Iroquois Falls Eskis at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.