By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
SAULT STE. MARIE – Matthew Caruso scored twice and set up two more goals to lead the Thunderbirds to a 5-2 win over the Timmins Rock at the Essar Centre Saturday night.
To say the Rock — missing forward Aaron Kerr (unavailable due to education requirements), forward Tristan Salesse (serving the first game of a seven-game suspension picked up Friday night after receiving a gross misconduct for uttering a racial slur), forward Mike Norris (serving one-game suspension picked up Friday night for being involved in a fight during the final 10 minutes of a hockey game), forward Andrew Green (lower-body injury) and back-up goalie Matthew Nixon (lower-body injury) — were short-handed for the contest might be a bit of an understatement.
“That’s unfortunate, and it made a difference, but we tried to play a little bit more defensive minded in the neutral zone,” said Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“Our forecheck was not at 100% because we were playing a little bit more passive. We got some opportunities and we were right in the hunt and a couple of mistakes cost us a couple of goals.
“It’s the same old story, but it happens. Other than that, I thought we competed really well and you have to remember we were playing against a pretty good team. They had four lines flying.
“Logan (Ferrington) held them at bay, for the most part.
“We are not satisfied with the result, but considering the personnel we had, they came in and did their job.”
With 58 points, the Thunderbirds not only lead the West Division standings but they also sit atop the entire NOJHL.
Still, the Rock — playing the second game of a three-game road trip that saw them pick up a 3-0 victory over the Eagles in Sault, Mich., Friday night — actually jumped out to a 1-0 lead, as Zachary Kercz beat Thunderbirds goalie Mario Culina for his 18th goal of the season eight minutes into the opening frame.
Brett Jefferies netted his 11th goal of the season less than four minutes later to geet the home side back on even terms.
Nathan Hebert’s seventh goal of the season then put the Thunderbirds in front 2-1 late in the opening period.
Ryan Kerr tied things up for the Rock 15 minutes into the middle frame when he scored his fifth goal of the season, a short-handed marker.
The Thunderbirds pulled back in front by a goal just over a minute later, however, as Mark Tassone potted his seventh goal of the season on the power play.
Caruso’s first of two goals on the night, a short-handed marker with just eight seconds remaining to play in the second period, increased the Thunderbirds’ advantage to 4-2 heading into the intermission.
Caruso’s second goal of the night and 18th of the season at the 8:47 mark of the third period closed out the scoring and made the final 5-2 in favour of the home side.
Culina made 15 saves while picking up the victory for the Thunderbirds. Ferrington turned aside 40 of the 45 shots he faced and was tagged with the loss for the Rock.
Friday night, Ferrington made 55 saves to backstop the Timmins Rock to a 3-0 win over the Eagles at Pullar Stadium.
The 20-year-old London native was especially sharp during the first period of play, as he turned aside 23 Eagles shots to keep the game scoreless.
“He had three incredible saves that he made and two them were in the first period,” Gagne said.
“We had a really bad first period. I don’t know if it is because of the travel, or what, but we did not play well whatsoever.”
Following the scoreless opening frame, the Rock took a 2-0 lead in the second period, outshooting the home side 18-13 in the process.
Devin Panzeca’s 15th goal of the season put the visitors in front 4:32 into the middle frame.
Ryan Theriault’s 15th goal of the season, a power-play marker, provided the Rock with a little insurance late in the period.
“The second period, we played much better,” Gagne said.
“Logan had less pressure. He took a lot of shots, but he was really happy with where they were shooting from. They were shooting from the outside. They weren’t getting too many shots from inside the house.
“Whether it is one, two, five or 10 (shots from inside the house), it is always too many. He (Ferrington) helped us out there and he made a difference. Then we capitalized on a couple of chances that we had and we got our victory.
“We played great hockey in the second and third period.
Salesse deposited his team-leading 22nd goal of the season into an empty net to seal the deal for the Rock.
Ferrington got the victory for the Rock, while Jack Hickey of the Eagles made 28 saves and was tagged with the loss.
The Rock closed out their three-game road trip with a game against the Beavers in Blind River on Sunday, but details of that game were not available at press time.
Speaking on the bus as the Rock headed for Blind River Sunday afternoon, Gagne said: “We are going to have to play our program. One of the biggest things is going to be that we cannot afford to have any passengers. What I mean by passengers are the players who are making mistakes out there, resulting in goals being scored.
“It doesn’t matter who we have in net. We can’t always depend upon our goalie. In addition, we are going to have to be ready to play right from the start. I know this is going to be four games in five nights, so our strategy at times might be a little bit more passive, less forecheck and wait for our opportunities, then explode and go in with a lot of energy.”
Gagne is also hoping to see more improvement from the Rock’s special teams on Sunday.
“It’s very simple,” he said. “Let’s get more shots on net and more presence in front of the net.”
Despite having a record of 6-26-3-0, the Beavers have been playing much better hockey of late.
They shutout the Thunderbirds 1-0 in Sault Ste. Marie recently, thanks to Matt Blattenberger’s 64-save performance, and also suffered one-goal losses to the Voodoos and Eagles during that stretch.