By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – Tyler Romain scored three goals and added an assist to lead the Timmins Rock to a 9-4 win over the Espanola Express Saturday night at the McIntyre Arena.
It was the first hat-trick of Romain’s Junior ‘A’ career and he was quick to share credit for the accomplishment with his linemates, Bain Cunningham and Jacob Shankar.
“I couldn’t have done it without the help of my teammates, especially my linemates,” he said.
“We were clicking tonight and I have to give them all the props for helping me out. We have been playing some good hockey lately and we have been getting a lot of pucks on net, a lot of shot opportunities.
“We have had a lot of scoring chances the last four or five games and we are capitalizing, so it feels good.”
Playing two games in two nights didn’t seem to bother the Rock, who handed the Eskis an 8-1 setback in Iroquois Falls Friday night.
“We were pretty fresh out there tonight,” Romain said.
“Right after that third period last night, we were ready to go today.”
Rock assistant coach James Daschuk admitted his squad was not quite as sharp as it had been 24 hours earlier, but suggested a win is a win.
“We made a couple of more mistakes than we did yesterday,” he said.
“The goals we gave up were a result of our guys missing assignments. Usually you say the goalie wants back a goal after it is scored, but tonight there were some players who might have wanted some of those plays back so they could have been a little tougher on the puck. Maybe they could have backchecked for two extra strides and kept their feet moving, stuff like that, but it was still a good effort.
“I am absolutely proud of those guys.”
With the win, the Rock pulled within two points of the second-place Crunch in the NOJHL East Division standings after Cochrane was stunned 8-2 by the Eskis at the Tim Horton Event Centre.
The offensive outburst also allowed the Rock, with 101, to become the first NOJHL squad to top 100 goals this season.
The Express held the Rock in check during the opening 20 minutes and headed to the dressing room for the first intermission with the contest deadlocked at 1-1.
Cole Gilligan’s seventh goal of the season put the Rock in front 1-0 7:47 into the contest.
Cory Ellerton’s second goal of the season at the 11:39 marked tied things up for the Express.
Things went off the rails for the visitors in the second, period, however, as the Rock scored four times in the first 13 minutes of the middle frame to open up a 5-1 advantage.
Romain’s first goal of the night and 13th of the season, on the power-play, put the home side in front 2-1.
Just over three minutes later, Nicholas Hway scored his first NOJHL goal to increase the advantage to two goals.
“It’s a good feeling to get the first one out of the way,” he said.
“Segs (defenceman Spencer Segui) just came out of the corner with the puck and fed me a pass in the slot. I was all alone and I just let her go.”
It took the Timmins native a few seconds to begin his celebration, but once it started the smile on his face remained in place for the remainder of the game.
“At first, I didn’t know what to do,” he said.
“The boys were on me right away.”
With his first goal in the league out of the way, Hway hopes to be able to contribute in any way he can.
“Right now, scoring isn’t my w role but if I can score one every once in a while that would be nice,” he said.
Romain then added his second of the night and 14th of the season, also on the power play, to put the Rock up by three goals.
Just over two minutes later, he completed his hat-trick by netting his 15th goal of the season, his third power-play marker of the night and what would prove to be the game-winning goal.
The Express got a goal from Hayden Thomas, his second of the season, with under two minutes remaining in the second period to cut the Rock lead to 5-2.
Captain Jordan Rendle restored the Rock’s four-goal advantage 1:32 into the third period when he scored his first of the night and 13th of the season.
The Express answered that goal with a power-play marker off the stick of Jason Bednarski, his second of the season, four-and-a-half minutes later to make it a 6-3 game.
The Rock responded with a pair of goals 45 seconds apart to expand their advantage to 8-3 midway through the frame.
Rendle potted his second of the night and 14th of the season before defenceman Patrick Gazich scored his first goal in a Rock uniform.
That goal spelled the end of Express starting goalie Taylor Unruh’s night, with Mitchell Jacobson coming on in relief.
Colton Sandboe scored his fourth goal of the season just over a minute later to pull the Express back to within four goals.
That would be as close as the visitors would come to getting back on even terms, however, as Shankar netted his ninth goal of the season, a power-play marker, with less than three minutes remaining on the clock to make the final 9-4 in favour of the Rock.
Daschuk was impressed with the play of Romain Saturday night, and not just because of his offensive numbers.
“He was awesome tonight,” he said.
“He was all over the ice. The kid’s a sniper. He had the puck three times in the slot and he is going to score on those almost every time.
“Even without the goals, though, I thought he had a great game. He worked hard o the forecheck and he was moving his feet.
“That whole line on the power play tonight was awesome. They had four power-play goals.”
Gilligan, who found the back of the net for the second-straight game and whose likeness was on the Rock hockey cards handed out prior to the game, also impressed Daschuk.
“Gilly had a bit of a slow start tonight and then right when you want to get upset with him he buries a puck off the faceoff,” he said.
“Right then and there you know he is back. That line may not be the prettiest, but there is not a line in this league that works harder than those guys.”
Daschuk was also happy to see Hway finally net his first NOJHL goal.
“He has had his chances, and his drought wasn’t from a lack of trying,” he said.
“He got the puck right in the slot and it was awesome to see it go in. I am happy for him. He has been working hard in practice. Good things happen to guys who work hard and he is an example.”
With Saturday night’s loss, the Express’ record falls to 5-15-0-1 and they remain in the West Division basement, five points behind the Soo Eagles.
Head coach Jason Rapcewicz is still looking for a more consistent effort from his squad on a nightly basis.
“When you are a slumping hockey team, it doesn’t take much to knock the wind out of your sails,” he said.
“We have really been trying to stay positive and work hard. Our last game against
Cochrane and the one tonight against Timmins, I think we can take some positives out of them.
“We have just got to be able to play for a full 60 minutes and recognize we have the ability to put pucks in the net. It only takes a couple of minutes to turn a game around.
“Consistency has been an issue for us this year, as has goaltending and our play in our defensive end. Our forwards have been pretty steady. We have been averaging four or five goals a game.
“It’s not that we can’t score, we have just got to stop the other teams from scoring.”
Even though Rapcewicz pulled Unruh, he was pleased with his play in the first couple of periods.
“I thought he did well,” he said.
“I didn’t think he was awful.”
The coach was also happy with the play of a number of other Express players, as well.
“MacKenzie Aitken was fairly competitive tonight and Thomas Hayden and Riley Nadeau, a lot of the guys from our bottom six really stepped up and played well tonight,” Rapcewicz said.
“Unfortunately tonight our offensive guys didn’t step up to support them.”
Matthew Nixon blocked 17 of the 21 shots he faced to pick up his sixth victory of the season for the Rock.
Unruh stopped 33 of the 41 shots the Rock fired his way and was tagged with the loss. Jacobson made six saves in his half period of work.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Romain, Rendle and Aiken, who had three assists in the contest … The Rock went 4-10 on the power play, while the Express were 1-4 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 869 … Saturday night’s other NOJHL action saw the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners beat the Rapids 8-3 in French River, the Voodoos shoot down the Soo Eagles 4-1 in Powassan and the Blind River Beavers beat the Canadians 7-3 in Rayside-Balfour … The Rock will return to action on Tuesday night when they host the Gold Miners at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.