By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock scored six unanswered third-period goals to break open a close game and thrash the Soo Thunderbirds 8-1 at the McIntyre Arena Sunday afternoon.
It was the third-straight victory for the Rock and the seventh win in their past eight games for the surging squad that has pulled to within two points of the second-place Powassan Voodoos in the NOJHL’s East Division standings.
Rock assist coach James Daschuk was understandably all smiles after Sunday afternoon’s contest.
“It is hard to look around our room and find somebody who is not playing well right now,” he said.
“Everyone is contributing in their own little way right now. We have four lines that are playing great, great hockey. Everyone is onboard and completing their assignments exactly the way they are supposed to be doing them.
“We have a good bunch of guys who are really working hard and want to win. They have got a taste of what it’s like and they realize winning is fun.”
For the suddenly reeling Thunderbirds, Sunday afternoon’s loss was their third-straight setback on their three-game weekend road trip.
The Rock jumped out to a 1-0 first-period lead on Jordan Rendle’s fourth goal of the season, a power-play marker, just 2:33 into the contest.
The Thunderbirds battled back to tie things up just over two minutes later, however, as Keenan Eddy beat Rock goalie Caleb Barris for his sixth goal of the season.
That’s the way the score remained until late in the opening frame when forward Marcus Blackned broke in all alone and beat Thunderbirds netminder Brandon Gordon five-hole for his fifth goal of the season, also a power-play marker.
Neither team could find the back of the net in the second period, with the Thunderbirds outshooting the Rock 11-8 in the frame.
The Rock took command of the contest with a pair of goals in the first two-and-a-half minutes of the third period.
Blackned beat Gordon for his second of the night and sixth of the season at the 1:19 mark and then Cole Gilligan added his fourth goal of the season less than a minute later.
Rendle’s second goal of the game and fifth on the season, also a power-play marker with the Rock enjoying a two-man advantage, midway through the period started a feeding frenzy for Rock snipers.
Tyler Romain followed with a power-play marker of his own, his sixth goal on the season, less than a minute later.
With the teams back at even strength Stewart Parnell scored his second goal of the season less than a minute later.
Defenceman Nick Hautanen closed out the scoring when his seeing-eye wrist shot from the point eluded Gordon to make the final 8-1.
The two most recent Rock victories — against the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake Friday night and against the Thunderbirds on home ice Sunday afternoon — have been the most impressive.
“We are not just getting scoring from our first line,” Daschuk said.
“I think our second line had three goals today and our third line had three goals today.
“It was the same thing in K.L. Our depth is showing that any guy, in any situation, is capable of scoring.”
The Rock forwards are playing a 200-foot game, as well, which is helping to minimize the quality scoring opportunities for their opponents.
“I think every forward we have was out there on the penalty kill today,” Daschuk said.
“They are making our coaching job very easy right now.”
Daschuk realizes the Rock did not see the Thunderbirds at their best Sunday afternoon.
“They were playing their third game in two-and-a-half days,” he said.
“That’s a long road trip for them. They must have been exhausted, so we knew if we took it to them they would be a little bit vulnerable. We smelled blood.”
In a one-sided victory, like Sunday’s contest, there was no shortage of players Daschuk could have called upon for a little extra praise.
“Our first line is really the unit we look to for scoring and to set the tempo,” he said.
“They are obviously our leaders out there, but the key to our success right now has been the play of our second line and our third line.
“They have been playing fantastic hockey. Our third line, with Parnell, Gilligan and (Alexandre) Brisson, has just been hitting everything they see out there. If have a few bad shifts in a row, we know can throw that line out there and we can count on them to hit anything that moves.
“When your third line is scoring, that is obviously one of the big keys.
“Blackned had two goals today on our second line and they were the two most effortless goals you are going to see out there. His skill is just tremendous.”
The speedy first-year winger seems to have an extra gear when a scoring opportunity presents itself.
“All he needs is a little hole out there on the ice, with some guy missing an assignment, and boom, he is in the right spot,” Daschuk said.
“He has a great hockey IQ.”
Barris in net and the Rock blue-line corps in front of him were stellar in the first two periods to give the home side an opportunity to blow the game wide open.
“Our D has been phenomenal,” Daschuk said.
“We have been short on the back end, playing with just five D right now. They have been keeping the game so simple and not getting into any situations where they have been giving up odd-man rushes.
“Barris has been making the saves for us back there. He has not been standing on his head by any means, but he has been making a lot of saves look easy and he is playing with a lot of confidence right now.”
Parnell, who was playing his seventh game in the NOJHL Sunday afternoon after making the jump from the GNML’s Timmins Majors, picked up a goal and a pair of assists to give him eight points on the season.
“It feels great to be able to get a big victory today and I was glad I could help out,” he said.
“We like to get the team going by just crashing and banging and trying to get pucks deep. We like to tire out the other team’s defencemen and get the flow of the game going our way.”
After back-to-back wins over the Gold Miners and the Thunderbirds, Parnell feels the Rock are at the top of their game.
“We are riding a three-game winning streak right now and that’s always good,” he said.
“We just have to keep going out there and play our game, keep things simple and stay out of the box, which we did in this game.”
Seven games into his Junior ‘A’ hockey career, Parnell is starting to feel comfortable.
“The speed of the game has been the biggest adjustment,” he said.
“Players at this level are a lot quicker and a lot faster. They are also a lot stronger.”
Barris turned aside 34 of the 35 shots he faced to pick up the victory for the Rock, while Gordon stopped 22 of the 30 shots fired his way and was tagged with the loss for the Thunderbirds.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of Sunday afternoon’s contest were Barris, Blackned and Rendle … The Rock went 4-7 on the power play, while the Thunderbirds were 0-4 with the man advantage … Rock defenceman Brendan Campbell and Thunderbirds blue-liner Jake Behse were ejected from the game after getting five-minute majors and game misconducts for their second-period fight … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 579 … The Rock will return to action on Tuesday night when they take on the Cochrane Crunch at the NOJHL Showcase Tournament in Sudbury.