By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock completed a two-game exhibition series sweep of the Gold Miners by posting a 4-2 victory at the McIntyre Arena Saturday night.
Cole Gilligan, who had a goal and an assist during the Rock’s 7-5 win in Kirkland Lake Friday night, did it again Saturday night to pace the attack for the home side.
Rock assistant coach James Daschuk was pleased to see his team record its second-straight two-goal victory.
“It’s a good start,” he said.
“You always want to win every game you play. We weren’t really focusing on the score tonight. Obviously, we were trying to win, but we have started to slowly teach the guys some new things such as assignments, face-off setups, stuff like that.
“Things seemed to go fairly well again tonight. Naturally, we are happy with these two wins, but we are even more excited about the potential of this team moving forward.”
After giving up five goals Friday night, the Rock were more focused on limiting the Gold Miners’ opportunities Saturday night.
“I think that’s the game-plan for every team,” Daschuk said.
“We had (Matthew) Nixon in net and that was a good start right there. The five goals we game up last night we thought were a few too many. They got a few on the power-play last night and I think that was a factor, too.
“Tonight, we were able to stay out of the box a little bit more. That resulted in fewer penalties to kill, fewer shots against and fewer goals.”
Nixon, who backed up Logan Ferrington last season and his looking to put his stamp on the No. 1 job, came up with a number of key saves when the Rock were down 1-0 and then tied 1-1 to give his team a chance to earn the victory.
“He was pretty steady tonight,” Daschuk said.
“He didn’t make anything look too complicated. He mentioned to our goalie coach (Marc Bisson) that he kind of wanted that first goal he allowed back. After that, he made the saves he had to make.”
The Gold Miners actually found the back of the net first Friday night, with Ashton Amaya beating Nixon with 3:37 remaining to play in the first period.
That lead held up until Rock defenceman Grant McClellan’s seeing-eye shot eluded Gold Miners starting netminder Tanner Emmerson at the 11:49 mark of the second period.
That spelled the end of Emmerson’s night, with Victor-Olivier Courchesne taking over in net for the visitors.
The Rock took a 2-1 lead just under four minutes later when Marcus Blackned stole the puck in the Gold Miners’ end and walked out to the front of the Kirkland Lake net to beat Courchesne for a shorthanded goal.
The Rock took that 2-1 lead into the second intermission and then built upon it early in the third period when Tyler Romain converted a nice cross-crease pass from Jacob Shankar for what would prove to be the game-winning goal.
Gilligan use his long reach to muscle his way to the front of the Gold Miners’ net seven-and-a-half minutes later and roofed a backhand shot past Courchesne with authority to make it a 4-1 hockey game.
“He scored a beauty tonight,” Daschuk said, describing Gilligan’s fourth point of the exhibition season.
“It was a really nice shot and the guys were kind of giving it to him a bit. I am happy for him because last year he seemed to be snake-bit a little bit. If he can continue to contribute at that pace it is going to be scary.
“The chances always seem to be there for him and it has just been a matter of putting the puck in the net.”
Gilligan’s contributions to the Rock go well beyond any offensive prowess.
“He works really, really hard and he has that big , long reach,” Daschuk said.
“He is one of our most consistent players when it comes to our program. He knows what is going on and he has really picked things up from last year when it comes to the simple things we teach every day.”
Gilligan was still sporting a big smile on his face following the conclusion of Saturday night’s contest.
“I am in my second year with the Rock now and my confidence is a lot higher,” he said.
“I really worked hard on my skating over the summer and I also worked on my hands a bit.”
Rock fans shouldn’t be too surprised if they see Gilligan use the move that got him his goal Saturday night again in the future.
“I really like the backhand,” he said.
“I just pulled the puck forehand and then backhand.”
Gilligan is willing to play whatever role the coaching staff wants him to this season.
“We have a lot of really good guys on this team and I am not really sure what role they are going to want me to fill,” he said.
“I like to go out there and get in hard on the forecheck, get the puck deep and try to create some chaos out there.”
While the past two games have only been preseason contests, Gilligan realizes it is important for the Rock to prove they can beat the Gold Miners.
“We are going to play out regular-season home opener against them, so it is good that we know now that we can beat them,” he said.
Daschuk was pleased with the play of his entire team, but he singled out a few players for a little extra praise.
“McClellan on the back end was very steady for us tonight,” he said.
“He doesn’t do anything pretty. He scored a goal for us tonight on a basic hockey shot. We emphasize to our defence that they don’t need a big windup. He took four, or five strides, walked the line and put a puck on net not trying to score a goal, but it ended up going into the net.
“Wayne Mathieu was just relentless on the puck again tonight. That’s what you get from him every game.
“And Nick Hautanen is slowly developing into one of the leaders of the team. He logged a lot of ice for us again tonight.
“Our first line, with (Jordan) Rendle, (Bain) Cunningham and (Corey) Sprague was good, too. They didn’t get on the scoreboard, but after the first period they kind of settled down.
“With them, I think the key is going to be not trying to do too much. The skill is there and it’s going to come.
“Sprague had about five or six chances. I was kind of bugging him a little bit yesterday because he couldn’t bury the puck and then it happened again tonight. When those guys really get going it is going to be scary for the other teams, I think.”
It appeared that’s the way the score would remain, but Kevin Ford potted a power-play goal for the Gold Miners with just 56 seconds remaining on the clock to make the final score 4-2.
Nixon went the distance in goal for the Rock and picked up the victory, stopping 35 of the 37 shots he faced.
Courchesne stopped 17 of the 20 shots the Rock fired his way and was tagged with the loss for the Gold Miners. Emmerson turned aside 15 of the 16 shots directed his way.
ROCK NOTES — Forward Brandon Major was struck in the face in the second period and did not return to action, while Stewart Parnell suffered a lower-body injury and also did not return …The three stars of the contest were Gilligan, Nixon and Blackned … Official attendance at Saturday night’s game was 330 … With their exhibition schedule now completed, the Rock will continue to work toward their home opener on Saturday, Sept. 10, against the Gold Miners.