The Timmins Rock held on for a 4-3 win over the Cochrane Crunch Sunday night at the McIntyre Arena and a sweep of their home-and-home series.
The Rock opened the series with a 4-2 victory at the Tim Horton Event Centre in Cochrane Friday night and then enjoyed a night off while the Crunch were knocking off the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners 7-4 on home ice.
As a result of the weekend action, the Rock (25-15-3-0) trail the third-place Crunch (25-17-1-3) by a single point and they now have three games in hand on their rivals.
The Gold Miners (28-13-2-1), with 59 points, continue to lead the East Division standings, while the Hearst Lumberjacks (26-14-4-1) are two points back, but three points ahead of the Crunch and four points in front of the Rock.
Rock coach Corey Beer was naturally happy to see his team earn four points, while also preventing the Crunch from picking up a single point in the series.
“You almost can’t watch the standings because they are going to change so many times in the next month and a half,” he said.
“This was a massive weekend for us against a very tough opponent. For our boys to come out on the positive side both on the road and at home was huge for us, for sure.”
The Rock never let the Crunch gain any momentum in the hockey game.
“It was very important for us to stick to our game plan and stick to our style of play,” Beer said.
“We are not a physical team, we were not going to get into a tough match-up with them, trying to trade hits here and there. That style is just not going to work for us in the long run.
“I really liked our second half of the game tonight. I thought it was really crisp, from a transitional stand point.”
Following a scoreless first period Sunday night, the Rock built up a 2-0 lead in the first half of the middle frame.
Checking forward A.J. Campbell got the puck rolling when he netted his seventh goal of the season at the 5:30 mark.
Then, 13 seconds later, goal scoring took a backseat to the sweet science, as Rock tough guy Tyler Hutchinson and Crunch heavyweight Nicholas Blachman went toe-to-toe at centre ice — bringing the crowd of 687 to their feet.
Each player received a five-minute major for fighting and a game misconduct for the bout that saw each player claiming victory.
Less than a minute later, Josh Dickson gave the Rock a two goal lead when he netting his 11th tally of the campaign.
The Crunch finally got on the scoreboard at the 11:57 mark when Nicolas Flanders notched a power-play marker, his 16th goal of the season.
Linden Spencer’s sixth goal of the season restored the Rock’s two-goal advantage before the end of the middle frame.
Then, just shy of the midway mark of the third period, the Crunch again pulled to within a single goal when blue-liner Liam Anderson notched his second tally of the season to make it a 3-2 hockey game.
Just under three minutes later, Rock forward Keegan McMullen broke down the left wing and snuck a shot over the shoulder of Crunch goalie Zach Wickson for his 12th goal of the season to put the Rock up by a pair of goals.
That marker would prove to be the game-winner, as Trent Grimshaw notched a power-play tally with Wickson on the bench in favour of an extra attacker to once again make it a one-goal game.
That would be as close as the Crunch would come to getting back on even terms, however.
Beer was once again pleased with the all-around effort the Rock got from two of their best checking forwards — Spencer and Campbell.
“They were making all the smart plays out there tonight, as well, make smart chips when necessary and clean offensive plays when they were presented to them,” he said.
“It didn’t matter who was on their wing, Gage Tremblay started there, (Benjamin) Jossinet got some reps there, (Matt) Capisciolto, but it didn’t really matter who it was, they were lights-out.
“They are heart-and-soul guys for us, so it was great to see them get rewarded.”
The coach really liked what he saw from McMullen Sunday night, as well.
“He had been a little snake-bitten around the net,” Beer said.
“That goal had been a long time coming for him. He had kind of been shuffled around on the lines as we were trying to get another guy going on the (captain Derek) Seguin line.
“He has been great and he has turned himself into an elite penalty killer, as well. Having more guys who can kill penalties is such a value for us. For him to be a power-play guy and still be able to do it on the penalty kill, I think, is huge.”
Coaches don’t normally like to see their players get involved in fights, but Beer acknowledged Hutchison’s battle with Blachman got his teammates and the crowd going.
“Hutch has been playing such good hockey for us, too,” he said.
“He provides that spark for us in that drop-the-mitts type of mentality. The rest of our guys can’t do that. They are not built for that. They are young and they are not going to go out there and drop the mitts with a 19- or 20-year-old guy.
“Hutch fills that role for us, but the key was getting his game up to speed to become a good five-on-five player and he has done that. He has put the work in and you can give him the tap and he will answer the bell.”
The coach was pleased with the effort put forth by his blue-liners in Sunday’s contest, as well.
“The key to our game is our transition,” Beer said.
“It starts on the back end, with those guys being clean on their exits. When they are on their game, our forwards are able to make plays.
“Eric Moreau is playing unbelievable hockey for us right now. It doesn’t matter where you slot him in, he does exactly what you ask. He is undersized, but he does the job so well. I thought he game was incredible tonight.
“Luka Bolduc and Will Caston are two big lefties and their play in the third period was very good, very steady. They can really slow the game down from a physical standpoint. I thought they were great tonight.”
Rock goalie Tyler Masternak turned aside 24 of the 26 shots he faced to earn his NOJHL-leading 22nd win of the season, while lowering his NOJHL-best goalies against average to 2.28.
Wickson, who stopped 22 of the 26 shots the Rock directed his way was tagged with the loss.
ROCK 4 CRUNCH 2
Friday night in Cochrane, Seguin scored his team-leading 26th goal of the season and added an assist as the Rock doubled up the Crunch 4-2 at the Tim Horton Event Centre.
Josh Anderson’s power-play marker late in the first period allowed the Rock to jump out to a 1-0 lead in the contest. It was the blue-liner’s ninth goal of the season.
The Rock were able to double their lead to 2-0 midway through the middle frame when Gage Tremblay netted his ninth goal of the campaign.
It was the fourth goal in the past four games for the suddenly red-hot Timmins native.
The Crunch were finally able to get on the scoreboard with less than a minute-and-a-half remaining in the period when Hunter Buzzi netted his 13th goal of the season.
Then, at the 8:48 mark of the third period, the Crunch tied up the contest at 2-2 thanks to Justin Bofshever’s 13th goal of the season.
The Rock regained the lead six minutes later when Benjamin Jossinet tallied his second goal of the season, a marker that stood up to be the game-winner.
In a bid to net the equalizer, the Crunch pulled goalie Bradley Dobson in favour of an extra attacker in the dying minutes of the contest, but the move backfired when Seguin deposited his 26th goal of the season into the empty Cochrane net with just 39 seconds remaining in regulation.
Tyler Masternak, who stopped 31 of the 33 shots he faced, earned his NOJHL-leading 21st win of the season.
Dobson, who blocked 21 of the 23 shots the Rock directed his way, was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The Daily Press three stars of the game in Sunday night’s contest were Spencer, Campbell and Flanders … The Rock did not dress forwards Darcy Haupt (undisclosed) and Mahingan Decontie (undisclosed) … In addition to Hutchinson and Blachman, Buzzi was also ejected from Sunday night’s contest after he picked up a two-minute minor penalty for checking from behind and a game misconduct late in the first period … The Rock went 0-4 on the power play, while the Crunch were 2-5 with the man advantage … Sunday’s other action saw the Hearst Lumberjacks triple the Gold Miners 6-2 in Kirkland Lake, the Espanola Express edge the Canadians 5-4 in overtime in Rayside-Balfour and the Soo Thunderbirds thump the Wildcats 6-1 in Elliot Lake … The Rock will return to action on Friday when they host the Gold Miners at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is set for 7 p.m.