By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
ELLIOT LAKE – The Timmins Rock wrapped up their two-game road trip with a 5-2 win over the Wildcats Sunday night.
It was the third-straight win for the Rock who started the trip with a 6-3 win over the Rayside-Balfour Canadians Saturday night and the fifth win in their past six games for the NOJHL squad.
“It was almost like a playoff game,” said Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“The tempo and the intensity was so high, it was incredible. Right from the first shift, both teams were on cue.
“There weren’t too many turnovers and the forechecking was relentless by both teams. Both teams like to work the puck down low.
“We battled and they battled, but we persevered.”
The Rock jumped out to a 1-0 first-period lead on Jordan Rendle’s 22nd goal of the season in the first meeting between Timmins and Elliot Lake this season.
“It was a nice slap shot from right in the slot area and he beat the goalie top glove side,” Gagne said.
“As soon as we got that first goal, you could just see the elevation in the concentration of our players. They were more focused.”
A pair of second-period goals increased the visitors’ lead to 3-0.
Devin Panzeca scored his 17th goal of the season, an unassisted effort, at the 6:18 mark.
“He made a great effort on the half wall in the offensive zone, picked up the puck, drove to the net and took a shot and then got his own rebound,” Gagne said.
“That second effort made it 2-0, but even with a two-goal lead we knew it was not the end of the game. We still had to play with high intensity.”
Then defenceman Andrew Castagna capitalized on a Rock power play to net his fourth goal of the campaign.
“It was a beautiful play from Rendle’s line again, with (Zachary) Kercz and (Bain) Cunningham,” Gagne said.
“Mr. Castagna was there at the back door and it was a picture-perfect play. That goal made it 3-0 and we thought that goal might take the wind out of their sails, but it never happened.
“They (the Wildcats) played with the same intensity. The Tempo remained high.”
Wayne Mathieu extended the Timmins lead to 4-0 early in the third period when he netted his eighth goal of the season.
The Wildcats finally got on the scoresheet just over four minutes later when Chad Lopez scored his ninth goal of the season, ending Rock goalie Matthew Nixon’s bid for a shutout.
Cole Hepler netted his 20th goal of the season for the Wildcats at the 13:49 mark to cut the Rock lead to 4-2 and give the 242 fans in attendance at the Centennial Arena a little bit of hope.
That hope was quickly quashed, however, as Aaron Kerr scored his seventh goal of the season just over a minute later to restore the visitors’ three goal lead and close out the scoring.
“They scored a couple of goals to make it 4-2 and you know what they say about two-goal leads: The next goal is going to provide one team momentum,” Gagne said.
“Aaron Kerr had a great opportunity and he scored a goal right from the corner, from the right-hand side of the Wildcats goalie. He was behind the goal line and he just shot the puck at the goalie’s feet and the puck went in the net.
“It was sort of planned. Good for him.”
“That goal gave us a little breathing room. It took the momentum right back from them, but it did not take the wind out of their sails. We never took the wind out of their sails, but that fifth goal certainly put a little icing on the cake.”
It was the fourth goal of the two-game road trip for Kerr, who netted a hat-trick during Saturday night’s 6-3 victory over the Canadians.
Even though the Rock jumped out to a four-goal lead, Gagne did not feel his squad dominated play in the contest, a point back up by the fact the shots on goal were 35-35.
“I thought their second line was very aggressive and anytime they were on the ice, they were basically a threat, but Mr. Nixon in net — for a player who hasn’t played since Nov. 13 — stood on his head,” he said.
“He really did. He made the big saves when he had to and he covered his rebounds. He was really in control and really focused.
Nixon, making his first start since returning from a lower-body injury, made 33 saves to earn the win for the Rock.
Al Rogers, of the Wildcats, turned aside 30 of the 35 shots the Rock fired his way and he was tagged with the loss.
With goals from five different players Sunday night, it is safe to say the Rock had a balanced attack.
“Our third line, with Mathieu, (Cole) Gilligan and (Andrew) Green was relentless and played great hockey,” Gagne said.
“If you can get a goal or two a game from your third line, that’s always a bonus. They certainly made a big difference, absolutely.”
Gilligan, who will turn 18 on Jan. 11, at 6-4 and 182 pounds seems to be all arms and legs and has one of the largest wing spans in the NOJHL.
“Not too many people are big fans of Gilligan, with the way he skates and such,” Gagne said.
“He is a little unorthodox on the ice, but he put on some moves last night that were incredible. He doesn’t make any mistakes, either. He just does his job and that’s what you are looking for.
“This weekend, he was hitting a little bit more and using his size. Elliot Lake has some good size, holly man, but young Gilligan really did play big.”
And it wasn’t just the guys who managed to get their names on the scoresheet who impressed Gagne, either.
“We had some unsung heroes,” he said.
“Our defence, guys like (Nick) Hautanen and (Brennan) McGuire, they just do their jobs. You don’t see them out there but they are doing their jobs 100%. They never make mistakes, they just do their jobs.”
Rock starting goalie Logan Ferrington, who was injured during Saturday night’s victory, was feeling a little better Sunday, but he did not dress.
“He was moving better but he was still a little stiff yesterday (Sunday),” Gagne said.
“We don’t think it will be anything long term.”
Devon Debastos, who finished up Saturday night’s contest, backed up Nixon Sunday night.
The Rock, who returned to Timmins at 3 a.m. Monday will return to the ice at the McIntyre Arena Tuesday to begin getting ready for Thursday night’s game against the Blind River Beavers.
The Beavers — who the Rock beat 5-1 in Blind River on Dec. 20 — will likely still be smarting from the 17-3 home-ice loss they suffered at the hands of the Soo Eagles Sunday afternoon.
That could make them a very dangerous opponent.
“Over the years, we have preached to the players to never take anything for granted,” Gagne said.
“It doesn’t matter who you play against, you still have to bring your A game. It will be the same thing Thursday night. We are going to have to be ready.
It will begin a series of contests that will see the Rock play three games in four nights, as after hosting the Beavers Thursday night, they will travel to Cochrane for a game with the Crunch Saturday night and then return home to host the Iroquois Falls Eskis at the McIntyre Arena Sunday afternoon.
NOJHL NOTES — The Rock were without forward Tristan Salesse (serving the fourth game of a seven-game suspension), forward Kyle Levis (attending a family function) and Ferrington (upper-body injury) … The Rock went 1-2 on the power play, while the Wildcats were 0-1 with the man advantage … Sunday’s other NOJHL action saw the Soo Eagles crush the Beavers 17-3 in Blind River and the Rayside-Balfour Canadians get past the visiting Espanola Express 4-1.