ELLIOT LAKE – C.J. Bradburn’s goal 35 seconds into overtime lifted the Timmins Rock to a 3-2 win over the Wildcats Saturday night at the Centennial Arena.
It was the second goal of the game and ninth of the season for the Ann Arbour, Mich., native.
And it ensured the Rock will finish their gruelling four-game road trip with no worse than a .500 record after a 5-3 win against the Express in Elliot Lake on Friday night and a 5-0 loss to the Thunderbirds in Sault Ste. Marie on Thursday night.
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
The Rock will conclude the trip with a game against the Canadians in Rayside-Balfour Sunday night.
“We did a real good job, especially during the first two periods, of puck management,” said Rock coach Corey Beer.
“We made sure the Wildcats didn’t get many high-quality scoring chances. We kept the puck to the outside.
“Overall, we kept the shots against to a minimum.
“They made a final push in the third period and got a goal to tie things up late in regulation.”
Another key for the Rock is they were able to score the game’s first two goals and build some momentum.
“It was very nice to be able to jump out and take the lead since we were playing our third game in three nights,” Beer said.
“It was very important for us to get out in front and play the kind of game we wanted to play.”
It was Bradburn who opened the scoring in Saturday night’s contest, as he beat Wildcats goalie Logan Sawka for his eighth goal of the season with 4:28 remaining in the opening 20 minutes of play.
That marker set off a flurry of three goals in less than four minutes late in the frame.
Tyler Gilberds gave the Rock a 2-0 lead when he scored his ninth goal of the season and third in a Rock uniform with 1:46 remaining on the clock.
The Wildcats got on the scoreboard with 37 seconds remaining on the period when defenceman Mark Perone scored his first goal of the season.
Neither team was able to find the back of the net during the middle frame and the score remaining 2-1 in favour of the visitors until late in the third period.
William Bucsis scored his 12th goal of the season with 3:51 remaining in regulation to force overtime.
That set the stage for Bradburn’s game-winning heroics with the two sides playing four-on-four hockey.
Beer agreed it was important for the Rock to pick up the victory to ensure they will finish the four-game trip with no worse than a .500 record.
“After carrying the lead for most of the game and then having it slip away on a goal late in the third period, it was huge for us to be able to come away with the two points,” he said.
“We are real happy with how the first three games of this trip have gone, but we have one more big game before we are finished.”
As one might expect, Beer was pleased with the play of Bradburn in Saturday night’s contest.
“He was absolutely tremendous for us tonight and I thought all of our lines played really well,” he said.
“We were able to roll four lines for most of the night, although we lost Paul Spadafora to a fight early on. Everybody contributed tonight and we definitely got a lot of mileage out of our offensive guys.
“(Rock goalie) Eric Jackson was real good for us tonight, as well. I am sure he would like to have the second goal back, but he gave us every chance to win tonight.”
Even though the Rock did not score with the man advantage Saturday night, Beer felt his squad showed some improvement.
“I thought it look the best it has so far on this road trip,” he said.
“We were a little bit more dangerous and put ourselves in better situations. Their goalie made some key saves, but I thought we were a lot more lethal on the power play in terms of scoring chances.
“Our guys were really good on the penalty kill again tonight, as well. Our guys did a good job of blocking shots and sacrificing their bodies. They do that night-in and night-out. We feel we have some of the best penalty killers in the league.”
With the victory, the Rock improved to 15-21-1-2 on the season and maintained their one-point lead over the Hearst Lumberjacks for fourth place in the NOJHL’s East Division standings.
The Lumberjacks, who defeated the Rapids 8-3 in French River Saturday night, have four games in hand on the Rock.
After winning just two games on the road in the first half of their season, the Rock have been able to double that total during this road trip.
“Overall, I think we are going to be a better team at home, or away during the second half of our schedule,” Beer said.
“So much of that is going to be because of the way our guys have grown throughout the year to this point. They have become more mature individuals both on the ice and off the ice. We are putting a lot more responsibility on their plates and they are handling it like men.
“We are going to scratch and claw our way down the stretch and I am confident we are going to be one of the hardest working teams in this league and a team that is tough to play against night-in and night-out.
“Our staff is really proud of the way our guys are competing, especially during the first three games of this road trip.
“We are extremely impressed with the way our guys keep battling. We might not be the most offensively gifted team, but man do we ever play hard.”
Meanwhile, the loss drops the Wildcats record to 18-22-2-0 and they remain in fifth place in the West Division standings — five points behind the Soo Eagles, who have six games in hand.
Jackson turned aside 27 of the 29 shots he faced to pick up his 10th victory in a Rock uniform.
Sawka blocked 35 of the 38 shots the Rock fired his way and he was tagged with the loss for the Wildcats.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Sawka, Bradburn and Wildcats defenceman Clark Allair (one assist) … The Rock did not dress forward Stewart Parnell (upper-body injury) and defencemen Eric Paquette (lower-body injury) and James Redmond (upper-body injury) … The Rock went 0-5 on the power play, while the Wildcats were 0-4 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the Centennial Arena was 200 … Saturday night’s other action saw the Lumberjacks thump the Rapids 8-3 in French River, the Gold Miners edge the Powassan Voodoos 3-2 in Kirkland Lake, the Eagles get past the Canadians 3-1 in Sault, Mich., and the Beavers blast the Express 9-2 in Blind River … The Rock will wrap up their four-game road trip with a game against the Canadians Sunday night in Rayside-Balfour. The next home game for the Rock will be on Sunday, Jan. 21, when they host the Voodoos at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is set for 3 p.m.