By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
ESPANOLA – Mike Norris scored a pair of goals and set up another to lead the Timmins Rock to a 6-2 win over the Express Sunday.
Tristan Salesse also had a pair of goals for the Rock, who ended their three-game weekend road trip with a record of 1-1-0-1.
“The way we played the last three games, we played excellent, but this game was really difficult,” said Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“Everywhere we went, we were being hit and I don’t think they even had puck possession all game.
“It was just ugly hockey. It really was. It was very difficult for our players to keep their composure. They got frazzled a bit because there were a couple of calls that should have been and they weren’t.
“They were looking just to main us, basically. It was awful, so kudos to our players. They withstood the stupidity, I guess you could call it. I am very proud of them.
“We played some great hockey. We had a great weekend.”
Indeed, the Rock could well have come home with at least four of a possible six points instead of the three they managed were it not for the power-play goal they surrendered with 15 seconds remaining in Friday night’s contest that allow the host Thunderbirds to earn a 4-3 win.
“We played well enough that we could have come home with six of the six points,” Gagne said.
“We only ended up with three, but we played great hockey.”
The Rock jumped out to a 3-0 first period lead, as Norris netted his fourth goal on the season, Salesse followed with his fifth and Devin Panzeca with his third.
Norris, who had been playing centre on the third line moved up to win on the first line with Salesse and Zachary Kercz — who picked up three assists — and did not look out of place.
“Mike was with them all weekend and he did a great job,” Gagne said.
“I din’t want to touch the (Jordan) Rendle line (with Panzeca and Bain Cunningham), and then we took (Tyler) Romain and put him on the third line with (Wayne) Mathieu and (Kyle) Levis. (Ravinder) Shokar and Planetta were on the fourth line and we played them here and there.
“We mainly rolled four lines all weekend, as we were playing four games in five nights.
“All weekend, everybody pretty much knew their roles. Our penalty killers, the third and fourth lines, they did their jobs. They forechecked and they played lots whenever we were shorthanded.
“Our first two lines, they produced. They played a lot of power play. They played some big minutes and when it was crunch time, in the last minute or two of games or periods, we had our third and fourth lines ready to do their assignments.
“It takes a lot of pressure off the first two lines, so they don’t think they have to do it all. They were able to conserve their energy for playing offence and creating some opportunities.”
Norris was happy to have the opportunity to play with Kercz and Salesse.
“They are an awesome group of guys to play with,” he said.
“I really enjoyed playing with them. They play good positional hockey, which leads to good opportunities.”
The role Norris played was a perfect complement to his offensively gifted linemates.
“I bring a lot of net-front presence and I am able to work the puck out of the corners and up to the D,” he said.
The Rock have eight or nine guys capable of playing on the Top 2 lines and Norris has shown the ability to work well with his linemates, regardless of the role Gagne has asked him to play in the early part of the season.
The secret to his success so far?
“Hard work,” Norris said.
The Rock were able to rebound from a tough loss to the Eskimos in Iroquois Falls Wednesday night and play solid hockey during the three-game weekend road trip.
“You can’t dwell on the past,” Norris said.
“You just have to pretty much look to the future and know you have to work hard in the next game.”
Sunday’s game was the second game of the season for Levis, who missed the first four contests due to suspension he was assessed for a butt-ending penalty he took in the final exhibition contest against the Cochrane Crunch on Sept. 4.
Meanwhile, it appears it was the final game as a member of the Rock for Shokar, who is being shopped by the team after picking up a single assist and 12 minutes in penalties in six regular-season contests.
Gagne confirmed following the team’s practice at the McInyre Arena Monday afternoon: “We are putting Ravinder Shokar on the market.”
Timmins was able to build its three-goal first period lead despite not having a significant advantage in shots on goal, at 15-12, although the team’s shots differed significantly from the official totals.
Rendle scored his third goal of the season early in the second period to increase the Rock lead to 4-0.
Jason Bednarski got that one back for the home side late in the middle frame, however, as he beat Timmins goalie Matthew Nixon with a power-play marker.
The official stats showed the home side enjoyed a 17-8 advantage in shots on goal in the period and they managed to cut the Rock lead to 4-2 as the final frame got underway.
Riley Nadeau scored 4:35 into the period to pull the Express within two goals, but that would be as close as the Espanola would come to getting back on even terms.
Salesse scored his sixth goal of the season just over three minutes later to put the Rock in front 5-2 and Norris added a power-play marker, his second of the game and fifth on the season at the 13:13 mark to close out the scoring.
Nixon turned aside 45 of the 47 shots the Express fired his way to earn the victory.
J.P. Sabourin started in net for Espanola and blocked seven of the 10 Rock shots he faced before getting the hook at the 11:35 mark of the first period, following the third Timmins goal.
Aaron Callan came on in relief and stopped 20 of the 23 shots he faced.
The Rock have acquired 18-year-old right winger Ryan Theriault (1, 0-0-0, 0) from the Whitby Fury, of the OJHL.
The 6-2, 192-pound Hanmer native split the 2014-15 season between the Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves (16, 8-13-21, 28), of the GNML, and the Sudbury Nickel Barons (30, 15-9-24, 26), of the NOJHL.
Theriault had been in training camp with the Rayside-Balfour Canadians (formerly known as the Nickel Barons) and played in an exhibition game against the Rock at the McIntyre Arena on Aug. 28, although he was held off the scoresheet.
“He can score goals and he is a really, really explosive player,” Gagne said.
“He is the type of player who might be able to play in our Top 6.”
Theriault practised with the Rock on Monday and is expected to see his first action with the team Wednesday night when they host the Iroquois Falls Eskimos at the McIntyre Arena.
NOJHL Notes — The Rock went 1-4 on the power play, while the Express went 1-5 with the man advantage … Cole Braney, of the Express, was ejected from the game after receiving a five-minute major penalty for boarding, a two-minute minor penalty for cross checking and a game misconduct … The Rock were without the services of defenceman Ryan Kerr, forward Cole Gilligan, defenceman Tyler Somers and defenceman Michael Rancourt … Sunday’s only other action saw the Soo Thunderbirds edge the Beavers 4-3 in overtime in Blind River … The Rock will return to action Wednesday night when they host the Iroquois Falls Eskimos at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is 7:30 p.m.