Rock blue-liner Chase Longhurst battles Cobras de Terrebonne forward Genaro Fronduto in front of Timmins goalie Patrick Boivin during Sunday afternoon’s Centennial Cup game at Stride Place in Portage la Prairie, Man. The Rock were unable to hold onto a one-goal lead and gave up a late power-play marker to drop a 2-1 decision to the Cobras. Heading into their third game of the tournament, the Rock now sport a record of 1-1-0. ERICA PERREAUX/HOCKEY CANADA IMAGES
Photos: Erica Perreaux / Hockey Canada Images
Anthony Di Cesare’s power-play marker with 24.8 seconds remaining in regulation lifted the LHJQ-champion Cobras de Terrebonne to a 2-1 win over the NOJHL-champion Timmins Rock at Stride Place Sunday afternoon.
The Daily Press/Postmedia Network
PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE, MAN. — Anthony Di Cesare’s power-play marker with 24.8 seconds remaining in regulation lifted the LHJQ-champion Cobras de Terrebonne to a 2-1 win over the NOJHL-champion Timmins Rock at Stride Place Sunday afternoon.
It dropped the Rock’s record at the 2023 Centennial Cup to 1-1-0, while the Cobras improved to 1-0-1.
More importantly, it left the Rock with two points — following their 4-3 overtime win over the Yarmouth Mariners in their first game of the tournament, while the Cobras earned three points for Sunday’s regulation victory, to go along with the one they picked up during a 2-1 overtime loss to the CCHL’s Ottawa Jr. Senators, also on Friday.
Rock coach and general manager Brandon Perry agreed it was a heartbreaking loss.
“It was a tough way to go down, that’s for sure,” he said.
“I don’t want to think about that (not getting the game to overtime). We are trying to win hockey games and we just came up short.”
Perhaps most frustrating for the Rock in Sunday afternoon’s loss was the fact they led the game 1-0 with just over five minutes remaining in the third period — thanks to the goaltending exploits of Patrick Boivin who made numerous big stops to keep his squad in front.
“He (Boivin) was unbelievable,” Perry said.
“We expect it from him and he has played that way all year for us.”
The Rock’s advantage was the result of Harry Clark’s second goal of the tournament, with 1:39 remaining in the opening period, on a nice setup from Ethan Pool, whose overtime goal gave the Rock their 4-3 tournament opening win over the Mariners on Friday afternoon.
Neither team was able to find the back of the net during the middle frame, while the Cobras outshot the Rock 7-4.
The Cobras, who averaged close to six goals a game in the LHJQ this season, continued to press the attack in the third period, but Boivin stymied them time and time again.
That ended, however, when Di Cesare was able to convert on a three-on-one opportunity with 5:03 remaining in the third period for his first of two goals on the afternoon.
Boivin made a stick save on a shot off the stick of Cobras forward Loic Gibeault, but the puck bounced to Di Cesare who managed to get it past the goalie despite appearing to be tied up by Rock captain Nicolas Pigeon and blue-liner Kenyon Nyman on the play.
Despite giving up that late goal, it appeared the Rock would at least be able to get the game to overtime.
Unfortunately for Rock fans, Pigeon got his stick up while fighting for a loose puck inside the Timmins blue-line and clipped Cobras forward Justin Veilleux in the side of the head with 44.6 seconds remaining in regulation.
While the Rock, like all NOJHL teams, wear the full plastic facemask, LHJQ teams, like the Cobras, wear a half plastic facemask, which could be a potential disadvantage.
“Who knows, it might have been called if he had a full cage on, it might not have been, I don’t know, but like you said, a high stick is a high stick,” Perry said.
“It’s a penalty and we couldn’t get the job done.”
After Timmins was initially able to clear the puck, the Cobras regained the zone and Di Cesare executed a give-and-go with blue-liner Zachary Cardinal before taking the return pass, walking into the slot and snapping a shot through a screen and past Boivin for the game-winning marker.
It was the first power-play goal the Rock have given up in seven shorthanded situations (87.5 per cent) at the Centennial Cup.
“Our penalty kill has been fantastic all year,” Perry said.
“They gave us a chance to win this game, but guys got tired and that’s the way it goes. We took two back-to-back and you give a team like them that many chances and they will make you pay.”
As good as the Rock penalty kill has been, their power play has yet to find its mojo at the Centennial Cup, going a combined 1-7 (14.28 per cent) in the first two games.
“We had a couple of good looks but we were a little lazy, I thought, on our backcheck on the power play,” Perry said.
“They brought a ton of pressure and we weren’t ready for it even though we watched a ton of video.
“We refused to move the puck as quickly as it needed to be moved but then there were some times when we had some really good looks and we missed the net or fanned on shots.
“It’s just the way it goes. We had our chances to win this hockey game and we couldn’t get it done.
“We did a good job all game of keeping things outside the dots and not giving them too many dangerous scoring opportunities, but they are a good hockey team.
“Everybody here is good. They are going to get their chances, but that’s why we have good goaltending.”
For the second-straight game, a member of the Rock blue-line made save almost as impressive as those their goalie.
This time around, it was Kyle Trottier who dove and knocked a shot wide of the wide-open Timmins net to keep the Cobras off the scoreboard.
“Our D does a fantastic job,” Perry said.
“They compete and they work hard. They are not afraid to jump in front of pucks, so it’s no surprise our guys are making those kinds of plays.”
The high-scoring Cobras averaged just-under six goals a game during the regular season, but for the second-straight game they had trouble putting the puck in the net.
“That’s the game plan, you always want to limit the other team’s chances,” Perry said.
“They are a really good team, they are really fast and really skilled, but so are we. It was a really good game, back and forth, the shots were close.
“We had our chances, we had our power plays but we couldn’t get it done. They got it done on the power play, at the end.
“It was a really good hockey game, it really was, and I am super proud of our guys, but nobody is feeling sorry for us.
“We have to get rested, get refueled and get ready for Brooks.”
The Rock’s next opponents, the AJHL-champion Brooks bandits (2-0-0), are the defending Centennial Cup champions.
Cobras goalie Alexandre Marchand, the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s top netminder, did a solid job of keeping the game close until his teammates could find their scoring touch.
“He was the CJHL’s top goalie this year and their other guy (Nikolas Hurtubise), won a Memorial Cup with Saint John (of the QMJHL) last year, so pick your poison,” Perry said.
Boivin matched him save-for-save, however, as he did in the Rock’s first game of the tournament.
“Patrick Boivin is a heck of a goalie,” Perry said.
“He is really, really good and I think people are starting to find that out. We are really lucky to have him and he is one of the biggest strengths of our team.
“He was fantastic again today.”
The Rock dodged a couple of bullets when Pool and forward Liam Wells both left the ice with apparent injuries, although they were each able to eventually return to action.
“I think they were just both winded,” Perry said.
Marchand, who stopped 25 of the 26 shots the Rock directed his way earned the win.
Boivin, turned aside 31 of the 33 shots he faced, was tagged with the loss.
CENTENNIAL CUP NOTES — The Player of the Game for the Rock was Clark, while Cardinal was honoured for the Cobras … The Rock went 0-5 on the power play, while the Cobras were 1-4 with the man advantage … The Rock will return to action on Monday, when they take on the AJHL-champion Brooks Bandits, at 4:30 p.m.
“Highlights” – NOJHL YouTube Channel