Cochrane Crunch goalie Taylor Unruh watches a shot from Timmins Rock forward Jace Soroko sail just wide of the post during the first period of Friday night’s NOJHL game at the Tim Horton Event Centre. Also following the path of the puck are Crunch blue-liner Noah Bennett and Rock forward Stewart Parnell. The Rock went on to score a 2-1 double overtime victory over the Crunch, thanks to Parnell’s team-leading ninth goal of the season. It was the third-straight victory for the Rock, who leapfrogged the French River Rapids for fifth place in the East Division standings. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
COCHRANE – Stewart Parnell’s team-leading ninth goal of the season with 2:09 remaining in the second overtime period lifted the Timmins Rock to a 2-1 win over the Crunch at the Tim Horton Event Centre Friday night.
The victory, the third-straight for the Rock, vaulted the visitors into fifth place in the NOJHL’s East Division standings — one point ahead of the idle French River Rapids.
It was also the first road victory of the season for the Rock and left a big smile on the face of coach Corey Beer.
“To do it in this manner and in this rink, which has been a tough one for our club to play in for a long time, and against such a good offensive team, with a skeleton squad, was great,” he said.
“This is a tremendous team win. I am extremely happy with our performance tonight.”
Parnell’s overtime heroics would not have been possible, of course, without the stellar play of Rock goalie Eric Jackson, especially during the game’s first two periods when they were outshot 33-11 by the Crunch.
“We don’t win this game without Eric Jackson in net,” Beer said.
“It is as simple as that. Some of the saves he made were incredible. He gave us every chance to hang in this game and win. If we had fallen down by a couple of goals, maybe we wouldn’t have gotten back in this game.
“For it to be 1-0 after two periods and knowing we still hadn’t played our best period of hockey yet, Eric deserves all the credit in the world for this win tonight.
“Our guys battled through and gave it their best shot in the third and we got a great goal from C.J. Bradburn, again.
“Then, in the overtime it was back and forth and you live and die with some of the chances, but obviously we got a great goal from Stewart Parnell to end it.”
Neither team was able to find the back of the net during the game’s opening 20 minutes at it took the Crunch until the 13:12 mark of the second period before they were able to net the contest’s first goal.
Mitchell Booth won the face-off and got the puck back to blue-liner Eli Hernandez whose point shot deflected off Rock defender Grant McClellan’s stick and over Jackson’s shoulder for his second goal of the season.
“Unfortunately, it went off Mac’s stick, but he was very apologetic.” Jackson said.
“I just kind of laughed it off, because I knew the team would come back.”
Jackson knew he had to be at the top of his game Friday night given Cochrane’s ability to generate offence.
“Especially on the road, it is important not to allow second and third chances,” he said.
“It is important to limit them to one shot.”
Jackson has given up just one goal in each of his past three starts and has lowered his goals against average to 2.25 — sixth best in the NOJHL.
“It is not just my ability,” he said.
“Our team has been playing really well in front of me this last few games, clearing the bodies away from the front of the net and allowing only minor scoring chances, which makes it easy for me to make the save, control the rebound and get a whistle.
“It has been a really solid team effort.”
Jackson was one of the NOJHL’s Three Stars of the Week, but he is quick to credit his teammates for much of the success he has been able to achieve so far this season.
“Our defence and our forwards have been doing a good job of blocking shots,” he said.
“They have also done a good job of boxing people out from the front of the net so I can see the puck.”
Hernandez’s goal held up until early in the third period when Rock forward C.J. Bradburn beat Crunch goalie Taylor Unruh for his fourth goal of the season and third in the past three games.
That goal provided the Rock with a definite boost and the visitors continued to take the play to the Crunch for most of the third period, outshooting their hosts 14-6.
The Crunch rebounded in the first overtime, with the two sides playing four-on-four, but they were not able to cash in on any of their opportunities.
When play shifted to three-on-three hockey for the second overtime period, the momentum switched back to favour the Rock, with Parnell converting a setup from Jordan Picard and McClellan to end the contest.
The Rock game plan was to try and keep the game close, especially given they were without a number of key offensive weapons Friday night, and Beer was pleased with how his squad executed it.
“The types of long-term injuries we have right now to some of our key impact players, means our offensive punch isn’t what it normally might be,” he said.
“I thought our APs (affiliate players), Riley Brousseau and Frederic Leclair-Pouw, were incredible tonight and Connor Hoffmann played on the back end tonight and it was the first time he has ever played defence.
“I thought it was a great job from our guys. We just tried to weather things as best we could.
“We did a good job of blocking shots tonight and keeping their chances to the outside. They are a team that shoots a lot of pucks at the net and looks for rebounds.”
Friday night was a complete team effort, but Beer opted to give a little extra praise to a few more Rock players.
“Up front, I thought Seth Reuben played his best game in a long time,” he said.
“Alexandre Brisson was tremendous and Riley Robitaille was solid. Wayne Mathieu was great and Jace Soroko again did all the small things.
“We got so much from so many guys. On the back end, I think all six guys contributed to the win by just keeping things simple and not trying to expand their games. Will Caston, a 16 year old, played 30 minutes tonight. I don’t know of too many guys at that age, in his position, could handle that and be as effective as he was.
“(Caston and Will Anderson) do such a great job of having active sticks and taking away high-risk chances against. They are so good in containment.
“Anderson is a different kind of beast, with unbelievable footwork. He closes his gaps off so tight. Will is a little bit more gritty in the corners. And they both make such great first passes.”
Despite the loss, Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard was — for the most part — pleased with his team’s effort Friday night.
“It was a really fast and exciting hockey game,” he said.
“We played pretty much mistake-free hockey for the first 41 minutes of the game and then all of a sudden one of our wingers had a brain fart and put the puck on their stick and it was in our net instead of sticking to the game plan.
“That cost us the hockey game. He had just one assignment and he didn’t get it done. That gave them the momentum. Things settled down and we started coming back at them again, but that’s the way it goes.
“You have to bear down and score on your chances. The shots at one time were 33-11 and Jackson did his job holding them in there and they got the break. He made some pretty big saves. He made two toe saves he had no business making in the second period where he got across the crease just in time.
“I thought we deserved the two points tonight.”
Leonard was pleased with the job done by referees Dan Ouellet and Steven Swain Friday night.
“It was probably one of the best refereed hockey games I have seen in this building in a long time,” he said.
“They let the kids play and it was a good, hard-hitting game. There wasn’t any crap after the whistle because the guys let them play all night.
“It was a nice game all the way around and the kind of exciting hockey fans want to come and see.”
Leonard was again pleased with the effort put forth by Crunch captain Connor Lovie.
“He was an animal out there again tonight,” he said.
“Eli Hernandez, our new defenceman, was really good and so was (Austin) Whelan.
“Unruh did his job when he was called upon and I thought all of our forwards played well until we started taking a couple of shifts off at the start of the third period.
“Some guys weren’t mentally prepared to start the third period.”
Leonard can take some consolation out of the fact the Crunch were able to pick up a single point in Friday night’s defeat.
Jackson blocked 42 of the 43 shots he faced to pick up seventh win of the season for the Rock.
Unruh turned aside 27 of the 29 shots the Rock fired his way and was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Parnell, Hernandez and Jackson … The Rock did not dress forwards Derek Seguin (fractured jaw) and Evan Kentish-Stack (upper-body injury), or defencemen Jared Hester (lower-body injury), James Redmond (upper-body injury, lower-body injury) or Connor Losen (healthy scratch) … Both the Rock and the Crunch went 0-3 on the power play … Official attendance at the Tim Horton Event Centre was 372 … Friday’s other action saw the Lumberjacks edge the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners 5-4 in double overtime in Hearst, the Voodoos fly past the Rayside-Balfour Canadians 5-4 in Powassan, the Blind River Beavers dump the Wildcats 7-2 in Elliot Lake and Soo Thunderbirds squeak past the Eagles 2-1 in Sault, Mich. … The Rock will return to action on Thursday night when they take on the Rapids in French River. The next home game for the Rock will be on Saturday, Nov. 25, when they host the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners at the McIntyre Arena.
Photos courtesy of Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)