Rock strengthen grip on top spot

Timmins Rock forward Tyler Patterson watches as teammate Cameron Dutkiewicz’s point shot finds the back of the net behind Kirkland Lake goalie Glen Crandall during the first period of Sunday afternoon’s NOJHL contest at the McIntyre Arena. Dutkiewicz’s third goal of the season, a power-play marker, stood up to be the game-winner as the Rock went on to dump the Gold Miners 4-1. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS

The Timmins Rock maintained their perch atop the NOJHL overall standings by knocking off the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners 4-1 at the McIntyre Arena Sunday afternoon.

Thomas Perry – The Daily Press/Postmedia Network
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With the victory, the Rock (8-0-1-0), who have yet to lose in regulation, have a two point lead on East Division rival Hearst Lumberjacks (7-2-1-0) and a pair of West Division squads, the Soo Eagles (7-2-1-0) and the Soo Thunderbirds (7-2-0-1).

And the Rock still have a game in hand on each of those opponents.

Rock assistant coach Marc Bisson was pleased with what he saw from the home side Sunday afternoon.

“We were very structured and we played our game,” he said.

“We were opportunistic early when we had a few chances to score and (Rock goalie) Gavin (McCarthy) was solid back there.

“It was really just a good team effort.”

Captain Tyler Schwindt got the puck rolling for the Rock Sunday afternoon when he scored his team-leading ninth goal of the season, to stake his squad to a 1-0 lead at the 5:39 mark of the opening period.

The Gold Miners were able to get that one back, courtesy of an Andronique Stepanian tally, his third goal of the campaign just over three minutes later.

Blue-liner Cameron Dutkiewicz’s power-play marker, his third goal of the season, put the Rock back in front 2-1 at the 11:28 mark of the opening period.

Timmins native Justin Charette’s second goal in as many games then provided the Rock with a little insurance heading into the first intermission.

It took Tyler Gilberds just 20 seconds of the middle frame to increase the Rock advantage to 4-1 as he netted his third goal of the season.

Even though the Rock scored just one goal in the frame they had a distinct territorial advantage, outshooting the visitors 14-7 in the second period.

“All our lines were going out and winning their shifts,” Bisson said.

“They were winning their one-on-one battles and it translated really nicely.”

Neither team was able to find the back of the net in the third period although both squads had a number of excellent scoring opportunities.

“In the third period we got away from what we were doing so well in the first two periods,” Bisson said.

“The third period, in my opinion, was a little bit boring. We weren’t able to sustain any pressure and they had a little bit of pushback.

“We had a few penalty kills and that threw our lines off.

“Overall, our first two periods were really good and in the third we kind of got away from things and weren’t as aggressive, or as hungry as we needed to be to finish out the game.”

Bisson agreed one Rock player who actually elevated his game in the third period was McCarthy.

“We got away from the game plan and Gavin had to bail us out a little bit,” he said.

“There were a couple of penalty kills where they got a few shots on him, but Gavin has been solid all year for us and that is what we expect from him.”

McCarthy lowered his goals against average to 2.26, third best in the NOJHL, while improving his save percentage to .902.

Forward Eric Barnard, who had been out with an upper-body injury, played his first game in a Rock uniform Sunday afternoon.

“We really liked his patience,” Bisson said.

“He is a smart hockey player and he played for (former Rock coach) Corey Beer last year.

“He is a demanding coach and Eric came in here and for a guy who has not been in the lineup and getting actual minutes I thought he was really good this afternoon.

“I don’t think we asked too much of him, but I thought he was really solid and did a good job for his first Junior ‘A’ game.”

Barnard played on a line with Nicholas Frederick and Daniel Beaupre.

“Frederick had a great game today, as well,” Bisson said.

“I didn’t line the penalty he took in the first period, but other than that he brought a compete level that we really didn’t have before he got here.

“He is aggressive and he wins a lot of battles, wins a lot of face-offs.”

The assistant coach was also happy to see Charette find the back of the net for the second-straight game.

“That’s confidence,” Bisson said.

“He played a great game in Powassan and he is starting to know he belongs here.

“I thought Riley Brousseau (two assists) had some good chances tonight, as well.

“He was pretty explosive and he probably should have buried one in that second period.

“He got a great pass from (Christopher) Engelbert and he had a few other good chances he just couldn’t bury. I think he hit him (Gold Miners goalie Glen Crandall) in the breadbasket a few times.”

Charette (9, 2-6-8, 2), who is averaging nearly a point a game, was all smiles after Sunday afternoon’s confidence.

“It was a great (face-off) win by Nicolas Pigeon and he got the puck back to the D, the D got off a good shot and I got a lucky bounce on my stick,” he said, describing his goal.

“I caught the goalie sliding one way and I had a chunk of net to shoot at and it went in.”

Charette knew that if he kept working hard the puck would start going in for him.

“The guys really helped me keep a positive attitude (during the first seven games when the puck wasn’t going in,” he said.

“They are really great teammates.”

Charette has been playing on a line with Schwindt and Pigeon.

“They played here last year and they know our systems really well,” he said.

“They both have a lot of speed and they are a dynamic duo to play with.”

As pleased as he is with his own statistics, Charette is even happier he has been able to help the Rock get off to such a good start this season.

“It is really fun to play here,” he said.

“We go to the rink every day and we have smiles on our faces. We are always ready to work hard and looking for that next win.”

Efforts to get comments from Gold Miners coach and general manager Kyle Smart following the contest proved to be unsuccessful.

McCarthy stopped 23 of the 24 shots he faced to earn his sixth victory of the season.

Crandall, who turned aside 30 of the 34 shots the Rock directed his way, was tagged with the loss.

NOJHL NOTES — The Daily Press three stars of the game were Charette, Gilberds and McCarthy … The Rock went 2-4 on the power play, while the Gold Miners were 0-3 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 542 … Sunday’s other action saw the Soo Eagles blank the Thunderbirds 3-0 in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and the Espanola Express roll over the Red Wings 6-1 in Elliot Lake … The Rock will return to action on Wednesday when they travel to Kirkland Lake for a game against the Gold Miners at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex, at 7 p.m. The next home game will be on Sunday when the Rock welcome the Voodoos to the McIntyre Arena, at 3 p.m.