By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Soo Thunderbirds flew past the Timmins Rock 5-2 at the McIntyre Arena Sunday afternoon.
The victory wrapped up a three-game road trip for the Thunderbirds that saw the visitors collect four of a possible six points.
Meanwhile, the loss snapped the Rock’s modest two-game winning streak.
To say the Rock came out flat might be a bit of an understatement, as the Thunderbirds out-shot the home side 21-7 in the opening frame, although they were only up 1-0 after 20 minutes of play.
“The first shift, we were dead … flat,” said Rock assistant coach James Daschuk.
“We had no jump, no compete, no nothing.
“Our first period was terrible. We got out-shot 21-7 and I am not even convinced we had seven shots. I don’t know where they got that number from.
“We had no emotions. Nobody was stepping up to be a leader out there today.”
Matt Pinder beat Timmins goalie Logan Ferrington with his ninth goal of the season at the 7:45 mark of the frame.
As bad as the Rock played in the first period, they were only down 1-0 heading into the second period.
“We just wanted to shrug it (the first period) off,” Daschuk said.
“We knew we had 40 minutes left. The important message was that we were only one shot down. As bad as we played in the opening period, one shot, or one lucky bounce is all it would have taken. We weren’t out of the game.”
Things went from bad to worse in the second period for the Rock, as the put three more shots past Ferrington to increase their advantage to 4-0 heading into the final period.
Brett Jeffries second goal of the season, an unassisted effort, at the 15:14 mark of the middle frame extended the Soo lead to 2-0.
It appeared the Rock would get an excellent opportunity to get back into the hockey game 17 seconds later, as the Thunderbirds Drake Pilon was assessed an interference penalty.
Instead of capitalizing on the power play, however, the Rock actually surrendered a shorthanded goal.
Thunderbird forward Joey Miller took a feed from Pinder a the side of the Rock net and took three whacks at the puck with a number of Rock players standing around watching before he finally knocked it out of midair and over Ferrington for his third goal on the season.
That goal, which turned out to be the game-winner, really seemed to what little fight they had been able to muster right out of the Rock.
“We had been hanging around, hanging around just hoping to get a bounce and w just didn’t end up getting it,” Daschuk said.
“Logan had to make about four different saves on that shorthanded goal and we had too many spectators on the ice just watching the play on that one.
“It just goes to show that we didn’t have it this afternoon. The guys weren’t prepared to go that extra mile and work hard.
“That goal there sums up our game, basically.”
Defenceman Jake Behse closed out the second-period outburst for the Thunderbirds when he netted his first goal of the season with less than two minutes remaining in the frame.
Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne opted to pull Ferrington following the second period, with Matthew Nixon coming on in relief to start the third period.
Thunderbirds forward Jaren Belini greeted the new puck stopper by beating him for his fourth goal of the season midway through the final frame.
Just when it seemed like there would be nothing for the 401 Rock fans in attendance to cheer about, forward Devin Panzeca scored his fifth goal of the season to spoil the shutout bid of the Soo’s Nathan Warren at the 12:54 mark of the period.
Just over a minute later Zachary Kercz put his sixth goal of the season past Warren to cut the Thunderbirds lead to 5-2 and close out the scoring.
The Rock outscored the Thunderbirds 2-1 in the third period, but even that small accomplishment wasn’t enough to placate Daschuk.
“I guess it kind of gives us confidence and shows that we can play with them, but we already knew we could play with them,” he said.
“I am glad we won the third period, but we can’t forget about the other 40 minutes. We basically played 10 good minutes of hockey at the end but it is still important for us to realize we had 50 minutes of hockey that weren’t great.”
The Rock were without their leading goal scorer Tristan Salesse for Sunday afternoon’s contest.
“He is not just our leading goal scorer, he is one of our leaders, too,” Daschuk said.
“If he is not in the lineup it definitely weakens our top line and it weakens every line, basically.
“He is a guy we look to an he seems to score big goals for us. Any team that loses its top scorer is starting out behind the eight ball.”
Asked if Salesse is suffering from an upper-body, lower-body or middle-body injury and how long he would be out of the lineup, Daschuk said: “It’s just an injury. We are not sure how long. It is basically day-to-day with him. He shouldn’t be out for too long.”
The Rock will have four days of practice to correct any shortcomings they displayed against the Thunderbirds.
“You don’t want to forget about this loss, it is always going to be in the back of your head a little bit, but we kind of have to shrug it off,” Daschuk said.
“Tomorrow (Monday) we will come to the rink with fresh legs and get right back at it. Hopefully, we will see some smile tomorrow and get right back to work.”
Thunderbirds assistant coach Kyle Brick and everyone on the Soo side of the ice certainly had plenty of reasons to smile Sunday afternoon.
“We are happy with how we have started this year,” he said.
“We only have the one loss, Friday night in Cochrane. We had a little bit of bus legs, but we were happy with that effort Friday night. Then we were able to rebound against Iroquois Falls on Saturday night and we loved out effort with the short turnaround here this afternoon in Timmins.”
The Thunderbirds smothered the Rock Sunday afternoon and did not let them get anything established.
“The message stays the same with our guys throughout the game,” Brick said.
“We don’t want to give other teams a sniff because you get nervous once a team gets a goal they can get moving.
“We were able to stay on the forecheck and get our feet moving below the goal line and generate some chances.”
Brick also though Miller’s shorthanded goal was a key play in Sunday afternoon’s contest.
“It was a great play,” he said.
“We don’t like to give teams a lot of time on the power play. We like to disrupt some things and right from the get go we were able to push the puck up ice and Joey was able to put it in for us. We were really happy with that effort.”
Brick was also pleased with the way the Thunderbirds blue-line corps competed.
“I thought our D, as a whole, played a good game and we were able to keep shots to the outside,” he said.
“We kept there chances to a minimum. We had a little lapse in the third period, but that is going to happen when you are on a three-game road trip.”
Warren made 30 saves to earn the victory for the Thunderbirds, while Ferrington stopped 32 of the 36 shots the Soo fired his was and was tagged with the loss. Nixon turned aside 15 of the 16 shots he faced in the third period.
NOJHL NOTES — Both the Rock and the Thunderbirds went 0-2 on the power play … In addition to Salesse, the Rock were without the services of defenceman Ryan Kerr (upper-body injury), forward Cole Gilligan (upper-body injury), defenceman Tyler Somers (off-season surgery) … The Rock are scheduled to return to action Friday night when they will host the Rayside-Balfour Canadians at the McIntyre Arena.