GALLERY: Thunderbirds blank Rock

SAULT STE. MARIE – The Timmins Rock finally kicked off the second half of their 2017-18 NOJHL schedule with a 5-0 loss to the Thunderbirds Thursday night at the John Rhodes Community Centre.

Nearly a month after the first half of their schedule ended with a 3-2 home-ice loss to the Powassan Voodoos at the McIntyre Arena on Dec. 17, the Rock were more than a little rusty as they played the first of four road games in three-and-a-half days.

The fact they spent more than a third of game killing off penalties likely didn’t help the situation.

By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)

“I thought our first period was great, but we spent too much time on the penalty kill tonight,” said Rock coach Corey Beer.

“I thought we played well all night, but we had to play up hill all night because of the penalties.”

Both the Rock (33 minutes) and the Thunderbirds (24 minutes) made frequent trips to the sin bin throughout the contest.

“There was a lot of special teams play tonight, for sure,” Beer said.

Asked what the Thunderbirds were doing well Thursday night that gave the Rock problems, Beer said: “They had five guys on the ice for most of the night, while we had four for the most part. We were in the box a lot and it is hard to play that way.

“They are a fast team and they have some skill, but I certainly thought our guys were right there with them for most of the night. I would love to have the opportunity to play them again, but I know that can’t happen until the finals.”

The first meeting of the two teams, at the McIntyre Arena on Sept. 10, saw the Thunderbirds skate off with a 1-0 victory.

The Thunderbirds jumped out to a 1-0 first-period lead thanks to a Noah Solinger power-play marker midway through the opening frame.

That goal, the first of two power-play markers on the night for the Thunderbirds, would prove to be the game-winner.

Three unanswered second-period goals allowed the home side to blow the game wide open.

Lucas Theriault got the puck rolling when he scored his seventh goal of the season at the 4:11 mark.

Nick Smith then struck of his team-leading 27th goal of the season nine minutes later to increase the Thunderbirds lead to three goals.

Less than three minutes later, the Thunderbirds lost starting goalie Eric Schuch after a scramble in front of the Soo net, with Brandon Gordon coming on in relief.

Rock forward Derek Seguin was ejected from the game after he was assessed a five-minute major penalty for roughing and a game misconduct, while Thunderbirds forward Tanner Mayne was given a two-minute minor for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Tristan Cicchello added his fourth goal of the season, with the Thunderbirds on the power-play and 39 seconds remaining in the frame, to make it a 4-0 hockey game.

Beer opted to pull starting goalie Eric Jackson after the second period, with Tyler Masternak coming on in relief to start the third period, but the move failed to provide any swing in momentum.

In fact, Smith greeted the new Rock goalie with his second goal of the night and 28th of the season — a shorthanded marker — just under six minutes into the third period.

Despite the 5-0 loss, Beer was pleased with the effort put forth by a number of Rock players Thursday night.

“I thought the line of Linden Spencer, Evan Kentish-Stack and Riley Robitaille was awesome tonight,” he said.

“They did so many things well for us tonight. Wayne Mathieu played a pretty good game and Jordan Picard played pretty well.

“I thought those guys were great and the new guy, Wesley Weir, looks like he is going to be a really good player for us. I definitely liked his game tonight.

“Will Caston and Jared Hester both played really well on the back end for us in this game. This was just one of those nights.”

Given the number of injuries the Rock had to endure in the first half of their season, perhaps the best news from Thursday night’s contest is that there were no new injuries to report.

Beer is confident the Rock can rebound from Thursday night and produce better results in the remainder of the road trip.

“If we can play the way we played in the first period tonight and manage to play five-on-five hockey, we should be in great shape,” he said.

“It is just a matter of regrouping and getting back at it.”

With Thursday night’s win, the West Division-leading Thunderbirds improve to 26-8-2-1 on the season, while the Rock, who hold down fifth place in the East Division standings, fall to 13-21-1-2 on the year.

Despite being injured and having to leave the game, Schuch stopped all 13 shots he faced to pick up the win for the Thunderbirds. He and Gordon, who stopped all nine shots he faced in relief, shared the shutout.

Jackson turned aside 14 of the 18 shots he faced in the first two periods and was tagged with the loss, while Masternak blocked 10 of the 11 shots fired his way.

NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Smith, Solinger and Thunderbirds forward Camaryn Baber (two assists) … The Rock did not dress forward Stewart Parnell (upper-body injury), or defencemen James Redmond (upper-body injury) and Eric Paquette (lower-body injury) … The Rock went 0-7 on the power play, while the Thunderbirds were 2-11 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the John Rhodes Community Centre was 100 … Thursday night’s only other contest saw the Canadians hold off the Soo Eagles 5-3 in Rayside-Balfour … The Rock will continue their four-game road trip with a contest against the Express in Espanola Friday night. They will not return to home ice until Sunday, Jan. 21, when they host the Voodoos at the McIntyre Arena.

Photos courtesy of  James Egan’s Sports Photography