By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock tripled French River 9-3 in the Rapids first ever visit to the McIntyre Arena Friday night.
Fresh off an emotional 4-3 win over the Crunch in Cochrane Friday night, the Rock jumped out to a 5-0 lead and then weathered a mini-comeback by the visitors before pulling away from the Rapids in the third period.
Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne was pleased to see his team earn its third-straight victory and fourth in their past five games, although he wasn’t totally happy with the way things went during the second period.
“We had a couple of missed assignments and the players know they screwed up big time,” he said.
“There was no reason for it. Other than that, though, I thought we played 100% better than we played against them in French River (a 3-0 Rock victory).
“I was pleased with the way we played tonight. I really was. We put in a great effort and we had the cycling going. We worked the puck in deep and there weren’t too many turnovers.
“After last night, you could tell we were on a roll.”
The coach had a little extra praise for a number of Rock players Friday night.
“We have a new kid (Andrew Green) on the third line (with Devin Panzeca and Cole Gilligan) and he impressed me tonight,” Gagne said.
“We put him out there penalty killing and that third line scored two goals tonight. That helped out quite a bit.”
Green played with the Abitibi Eskimos (49, 12-20-32, 31) during the 2013-14 NOJHL season. He earned an assist on Panzeca’s first goal.
“He is feisty,” Gagne said.
“He is not very big (5-8, 170 pounds), but he has got a good shot and he is good on the penalty kill. He plays well at both ends of the ice. He is a 200-foot player, I guess you could call him.
“He is not afraid to get in there and one of the things I really like is his stick work. He is really strong on his stick and he really reminds me of (Jordan) Rendle.”
Speaking of Rendle, the coach was also impressed with his work again Friday night.
“Rendle’s line, with Zachary Kercz and Bain Cunningham, was clicking. Even five-on-five, they were incredible down low,” Gagne said.
“(Wayne) Mathieu was put in there with (Ryan) Theriault and (Tristan) Salesse and he just does his job. He will score a goal here and there and he is very good defensively. He is a smart hockey player.
It wasn’t just the forwards who impressed Gagne, either.
“I would say defenceman Ryan Kerr kept things simple tonight,” he said.
“He used the Plexiglas five or six times, just to get the puck out of our zone. I was impressed with his play tonight.”
The Rapids held the Rock off the scoresheet for the first half of the opening period, but the home side exploded for four unanswered goals in the second half of the frame to take a 4-0 advantage into the first intermission.
Panzeca, playing his second game since returning from a lower-body injury, opened the scoring with his 12th goal of the season.
Less than three minutes later Salesse added his 18th goal of the season to increase the lead to 2-0.
Panzeca’s second goal of the game and 13th on the season just over two minutes later made it a 3-0 hockey game.
Then Cunningham netted his 12th goal of the season with less than two-and-a-half minutes remaining in the period to put the home side up by four goals heading into the break.
The Rock picked up right where they left off in the previous frame, as Salesse scored his second of the game and 19th of the season at the 6:45 mark of the second period to put the Rock in front 5-0.
That seemed to wake up the Rapids, however, and they struck for three-straight goals to cut the Rock lead to 5-3 heading into the second intermission.
Brennan Kelly keyed the momentum switch when he scored his ninth goal of the season less than two minutes after Salesse had extended the Rock advantage to five goals.
Caleb Rich added his seventh goal of the season with just over three minutes remaining on the clock.
Then Ian Robbie put a shorthanded marker past Rock goalie Logan Ferrington with 29 seconds remaining on the clock for his fourth goal on the season.
The Rock grabbed the momentum back early in the third period when defenceman Andrew Castagna netted his third goal of the season to put the home side in front 6-3.
Kercz’s 16th goal of the season midway through the final frame upped the Rock advantage to four goals.
Cunningham’s second goal of the season and 13th on the season increased the Rock lead to 8-3 and Wayne Mathieu struck for his sixth goal of the season 14 seconds later to close out the scoring.
Panzeca was happy be able to contribute the to the Rock attack Friday night.
“I felt better tonight after working off some of the rust in last night’s game,” he said.
“Tonight, I was starting to feel like my old self again. I was playing with Gilligan and Green tonight. Green is brand new to the team. I didn’t even get a chance to practise with him, but we seemed to click pretty well. We are both from the (United) States, so maybe that’s why. I played with Gilligan yesterday and he is a really hard worker, so that helps out a lot.”
Panzeca realizes how important it was for the Rock to take the momentum back from the Rapids early in the third period Friday night.
“We got off to a good start in the third period and put them away pretty quick,” he said.
“We were working hard as a team tonight and everybody was kind of feeling it. We had a little bit of a let up in the second period, but other than that we were really pretty consistent.”
Ferrington made 23 saves to record his eight win on the season for the Rock, while Rapids goalie Zach Mills, a former Blind River Beaver, made 32 saves and was tagged with his seventh loss on the season.
NOJHL NOTES —The Rock went 0-3 on the power play, while the Rapids were 0-8 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 480 … Goalie Matthew Nixon, who has been out with a lower-body injury, is expcted to resume practising with the Rock on Monday … Friday night’s other NOJHL contests saw the Iroquois Falls Eskis double the Wildcats 6-3 in Elliot Lake and the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners blank the Express 3-0 in Espanola … The Rock will return to action on Friday night when they travel to Iroquois Falls for a game with the Eskis at the Jus Jordan Arena. The next home game for the Rock will be on Sunday, Dec. 6, when they host the Soo Eagles at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is set for 2 p.m.