TIMMINS – We are still not sure who let the dogs out, but we can say with great certainty it was Kyle Levis who scored the goal that set the teddy bears to flying at the McIntyre Arena Wednesday night.
With the Rock trailing 1-0 — thanks to an Adam Desgagnes goal early in the opening period — Levis deflected a Brennen McGuire point shot past Kirkland Lake Gold Miners goalie Victor-Oliver Courchesne with just 1:34 remaining in the frame to signal the beginning the teddy bear toss.
By the time the aerial display was complete more than 600 teddy bears and other stuffed animals were on the ice — with one lone bear clinging to the netting, perhaps preferring hibernation to being delivered to help bright the Christmas of a local younger.
Shortly after the last furry friend had been scooped off the ice by members of the home team, the Rock struck for a second goal with just 5.68 seconds remaining on the clock to take a 2-1 lead into the dressing room en route to a 5-3 victory over the Gold Miners.
Jordan Rendle, who had earned the other assist on Levis’ goal, netted his 19th goal of the season to stake the Rock to a lead they would not surrender.
Rock assistant coach Marc Bisson was pleased to see his squad come up with a big victory over a division rival Wednesday night.
“The boys showed up tonight and played really well,” he said.
“So far, we have had a good series against K.L. with the home team winning all three games in their building. It was a big home win for us today.”
With Wednesday’s win, the Rock (18-12-0-1) pulled within six points of the third-place Gold Miners (20-8-2-1) in the NOJHL’s East Division standings.
Bisson admitted the Rock may have been slightly distracted by the teddy bear toss at the start of Wednesday’s game.
“Maybe a little bit,” he said.
“I think the boys were all focused though. Everybody wanted to get that first goal and after we did we just kept putting it to them. We had a great first period. We were all over them.
“The second period, we maybe got away from the program and got into a little bit of penalty problems, which hurt us. Then, in the third, we came out and had a good period.”
Throughout much of the game, the Rock were winning the races to the puck and forechecking well.
“That’s our game,” Bisson said.
“When we are cycling and pounding their defence, really getting pucks deep and working it down low, we are effective.
Bisson, who works with the Rock goaltenders, was again impressed with the play of Logan Ferrington.
“He is literally our rock back there,” he said.
“He is probably one of the best goalies in the league, so we expect that from him and he continues to deliver.”
Ferrington wasn’t the only Rock player to catch the assistant coach’s eye Wednesday night, either.
“Aaron Kerr had a good game out there today and I think Joe Olson and (Andrew) Castagna back on defence did a really good job, especially killing a few penalties,” Bisson said.
“We took a few undisciplined penalties in the third period, which could have cost us, but we managed to kill them.”
Zachary Kercz potted his 17th goal of the season, an unassisted marker, to increase the Rock advantage to 3-1 early in the second period.
Alexander Hester scored his second goal since joining the Gold Miners, a power-play effort, to pull the visitors to within one goal late in the frame.
The Rock were able to restore their two goal lead midway through the third period when Bain Cunningham struck for his 16th goal of the season to make it a 4-2 hockey game.
Cunningham stepped out of the penalty box and took a pass from Joe Olson before breaking in all alone to beat Courchesne.
Again the Gold Miners battled back to make it a one-goal hockey game, as former Iroquois Falls Eskis forward Brett Ouderkirk scored his 15th goal of the season.
That would be as close as the Rock would come to getting back on even terms, however, as Aaron Kerr scored his third goal of the season — a power-play marker — to make the final 5-3 for the Rock.
Levis’ goal was not the game-winner or a milestone for the Timmins forward, but does he consider it to be the goalie of his Junior ‘A’ hockey career?
“Honestly, I would have liked it to be if it wasn’t for it being a tip,” he said, with a smile.
“I don’t think anyone knew I had scored it (until it was announced), so I didn’t want to go off too much.
“It was a great shot by McGuire and I just got a luck stick on it.
“Everyone was talking about it (the teddy bear toss) before the game, saying ‘I am going to get it,’ We knew it was going to come, obviously, but I was pretty happy when I ended up being the guy who got a stick on it.”
Levis realizes the festivities of the teddy bear toss would not have seemed so important if the team was not able to pull out a big victory Wednesday night.
“The two points are definitely awesome to go along with the teddy bear toss,” he said.
Like everybody else in the arena, Levis was impressed with just how many teddy bears and stuffed animals rained down upon the ice surface.
“They originally told us only the five guys on the ice (plus the goalie) were going to have to gather up the bears,” he said.
“Our whole team had to end up clearing the bench because there were so may bears. It was definitely awesome to see that many.”
Teddy bears aside, the action on the ice was pretty intense — something you would expect from two teams facing off for the sixth time in the regular season.
“I can remember last year, my first year in the league, and before that I can remember watching K.L. and Iroquois Falls go at it,” Levis said.
“It was always a big rivalry between these two teams. Nothing is going to change, especially when we get the playoffs. Things are going to get even more intense.”
Coming in the wake of 8-1 and 9-4 losses during the previous two meetings of the two teams in Kirkland Lake, Wednesday night’s victory was all the sweeter for the Rock players.
“This was a big victory and hopefully the next time we are in their barn we can do the same thing,” Levis said.
Ferrington made 24 saves, some of the game-saving variety, to earn the victory for the Rock, while Courchesne turned aside 27 shots and was tagged with the loss for the Gold Miners.
NOJHL NOTES — Injured forwards Wayne Mathieu and Andrew Green, as well as goalie Matthew Nixon did not dress for the Rock … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 470 … The Rock went 1-7 on the power play, while the Gold Miners were 1-4 with the man advantage … Wednesday’s other NOJHL action saw the Express run over the French River Rapids 7-2 in Espanola and the Thunderbirds turn back the Blind River Beavers 5-3 in Sault Ste. Marie … The Rock will embark on a three-game road trip to close the pre-Christmas portion of their schedule, with stops in Sault, Mich., to play the Eagles Friday night, Sault Ste. Marie to play the Thunderbirds Saturday night and Blind River to play the Beavers Sunday afternoon.