Less than 24 hours after securing a share of the top spot in the NOJHL’s overall standings, the Timmins Rock surrendered their hold on the lofty position Sunday afternoon. The Rock’s 2-1 loss to the Thunderbirds at the John Rhodes Community Centre, combined with the Voodoos 3-2 win over the Rapids in French River leaves Timmins two points behind Powassan following weekend action.
Prior to the start of play on Sunday, there had been a three-way tie atop the NOJHL’s overall standings between the Rock (27-6-1-1), the Voodoos (29-6-0-0) and the West Division-leading Blind River Beavers (26-9-1-3).
Thanks the the Beavers 8-3 home-ice loss to the Rayside-Balfour Canadiens, the Rock remain tied with Blind River and they have four games in hand.
While Rock coach Corey Beer had been pleased with his team’s effort during a 3-1 win over the Eagles in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., Saturday night, he was less than thrilled with what he saw on Sunday.
“We played a pretty good third period, but we were sloppy at times,” he said.
“We only gave up 17 shots and two soft goals snuck in there, so I would say this was a very preventable loss.”
Even though the Rock outshot the Thunderbirds 44-17 in Sunday afternoon’s contest, they still came out on the short end of the final score.
“We still did a pretty good job of managing the puck at times, but I think a couple of dumb penalties were ultimately our demise,” Beer said.
“Overall, when you have the puck for three-quarters of the game, it is just one of those things.
“This afternoon, we ran into a hot goalie, while we didn’t have that secondary layer of protection in our own end.”
Thunderbirds netminder Sam Evola turned aside 43 of the 44 shots the Rock directed his way, with 20 of those saves coming in the third period.
Following a scoreless first period, the Thunderbirds got on the scoreboard at the 8:10 mark of the middle frame when Jacob Kovacs potted his 19th goal of the season.
Just over six minutes later, the Rock were able to get back on even terms when Stewart Parnell notched his 13th goal of the season and third on the two-game road trip.
It took just over a minute-and-a-half for the Thunderbirds to regain their one-goal advantage, however, as Kurtis Rogers found the back of the net for his seventh goal of the season.
Neither team was able to add to their goal totals during the third period of play.
Despite the loss, the Rock coach was impressed with the effort turned in by a number of his players.
“Once the game got going, Josh Anderson and Owen Shier were incredible on the back end,” Beer said.
“They probably played three quarters of the third period and their transitional effort was really good.
“Cameron Kosurko had a great game, as well. He played in all different facets. He, Josh Dickson and Stewart Parnell really had good games, but we were scrambling.
“We put the lines in a blender four or five times tonight just because we didn’t have enough guys pulling their weight.
“You go up and down the lineup and most of the time there were three or four guys mailing in shifts. So, unfortunately, we had to cut down to two lines at some points.
“Some guys were wondering why they weren’t playing, but they have to look themselves in the mirror.”
With three games in two road games, Parnell is one of the hottest Rock players at the moment.
“He is playing really well right now and he is really good down low,” Beer said.
“He creates a lot of mismatch opportunities with the way he drives the net. He is strong physically and the way he shoots the puck, he has a deceptively quick release. It is a heavy shot and it is great to see him getting rewarded for it right now.”
During Saturday night’s win in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., the Rock showed no rust despite the lengthy NOJHL Christmas break layoff.
“Our first period Saturday night was just incredible,” Beer said.
“I think the officials gave the Eagles credit for six shots, but we had the shots listed at 18-2.”
Given the strength of that effort, Beer was disappointed to see the momentum not carry through to Sunday afternoon’s contest.
“You have to look at the team we were playing, as well,” he said.
“They were making some plays, so why couldn’t we?”
The Rock coach knows how important home-ice advantage can be in the playoffs, which makes Sunday’s lack of effort all the more disappointing.
“We know what’s at stake,” Beer said.
“If you are in that Second vs. Third series, you are going to play a good team, not matter what. You are going to get one of ourselves, Hearst or Powassan.
“So, for our players to come out today and not give the effort that was required, at least the majority of them, is a very disappointing thing.
“Unfortunately, it is going to cost some guys minutes, or time in the lineup.
“It’s not crunch time yet, but it is getting pretty close.”
It certainly didn’t help that the Rock were without captain Derek Seguin for both games on the weekend.
“He is still out with the flu,” Beer said.
“He came back from Europe and he has been sick. He missed practices this week and obviously the games this weekend.”
With the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s Jan. 10 trade deadline only a few days away, some Rock players certainly picked a poor time to “mail one in.”
“There is nothing to date to report on record, but if you are putting up a trade tracker, keep your phone close,” Beer said.
“You never know.”
Evola picked up his third win in four starts since being acquired by the Thunderbirds, while Rock goalie Vance Meyer, who blocked 15 of the 17 shots he faced, was tagged with the loss.
ROCK 3 EAGLES 1
Parnell netted a pair of goals at Pullar Stadium Saturday night to help the Rock begin the second half of their NOJHL season the same way they ended the first — on a winning note.
Parnell’s 11th goal of the season, late in the first period, got the Rock on the scoreboard first Saturday night.
Then, just shy of the midway point of the second period, Parnell added his second goal of the night and 12th of the campaign.
That marker would stand up to be the game-winning goal.
The Eagles were finally able to get on the scoreboard just over a minute later when Caleb Wood struck for his 18th goal of the season to cut the home side’s deficit to a single goal.
The Rock took their 2-1 advantage into the third period and got a little insurance when blue-liner Owen Shier potted his fifth goal of the season to close out the scoring and make the final 3-1.
Rock goalie Tyler Masternak, who stopped a penalty shot off the stick of Eagles forward Dominic Skrelja early in the third period, turned aside 26 of the 27 shots directed his way to pick up his 16th win of the season.
Eagles goalie Shane Brancato, who blocked 37 of the 40 shots the Rock directed his way, was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars Sunday afternoon were Evola, Rogers and Parnell, while Parnell, Brancato and Masternak were honoured Saturday night … The Rock were without the services of forward David Laroche for Sunday’s contest as he served a one-game suspension he picked up for instigating a fight during Saturday night’s contest … The next home game for the Rock will be on Thursday night when they entertain the Cochrane Crunch at the McIntyre Arena, at 7:30 p.m.
Game Photos: Bob Davies