HEARST — After blowing a two-goal lead in the final 1:08 of regulation, the Timmins Rock secured a 5-4 overtime victory over the Lumberjacks in the second half of their home-and-home weekend series at the Claude Larose Arena on Sunday.
It followed a 3-1 setback against the Lumberjacks at the McIntyre Arena Friday night.
On Sunday, the Rock appeared to be in control of the contest, leading 4-2 in the dying minutes.
The Lumberjacks were not going to go down without a fight, however, and with goalie Nicholas Tallarico on the bench in favour of an extra attacker, Blaise Arkle beat Rock goalie Jean-Marc Brisson for his ninth goal of the season with 1:08 remaining on the clock.
Then, with Tallarico once again on the bench, blue-liner Alec Johnson netted his second goal of the game and fourth of the season with just 1.90 seconds remaining in regulation.
With the crowd of 661 whipped into a frenzy, it appeared the Lumberjacks had the momentum firmly on their side.
Rock captain Derek Seguin had other ideas, however, and he scored his team-leading 19th goal of the season at the 1:03 mark of overtime to send the Lumberjacks fans home disappointed.
Rock assistant coach James Daschuk, who was running the team’s bench with fellow assistant Marc Bisson while coach Corey Beer is away serving as an assistant coach with Canada East as it prepares for the 2018 World Junior ‘A’ Challenge in Bonnyville, Alta., wasn’t happy to see his squad surrender a two-goal lead.
“It wasn’t really a collapse,” he said.
“We just panicked for a little bit and had a stretch where things weren’t going well.
“I don’t think we were great from the get-go in our own zone tonight. It wasn’t our best defensive game, by any means.
“We kind of chased the puck in our own end and ran around a little bit. At the end, we had a good chance to clear the puck, but our guy just fanned on the shot and it went right on their guy’s stick.
“It wasn’t even a brain fart. It was just a mistake. That’s all it was.”
While he would have preferred to see his squad hold on to win in regulation, Daschuk was happy they were able to bounce back in overtime.
“It is an extremely tough building to play in,” he said.
“They scored their third goal and the place was buzzing and then they scored their fourth goal and it was buzzing even louder, but you live and die with your horses.
“That is kind of what we did tonight. Our horses got scored on in the last second, but we threw them back out for overtime and sure enough Seguin was able to bury it.
“The last two games, he has probably had 15 shots on net, which is quite a bit and he was just not able to find the back of the net. Today, he just picked the corner.”
Even though the Rock were outshot 11-9 in the opening 20 minutes of play, they emerged from the first period with a 2-0 lead.
Keegan McMullen got the visitors on the board just 1:54 into the contest when he struck for his 11th goal of the season.
Timmins native Gage Tremblay then followed with his first goal in a Rock uniform 14 minutes later to make it a 2-0 hockey game.
After a scoreless middle frame, Matt Capisciolto’s ninth tally of the season 27 seconds into the third period extended the Rock advantage to three goals.
The Lumberjacks got that one back two minutes later, as Johnson scored his first goal of the game and third on the season to get the home side on the board.
Just over a minute later, Jake Desando struck for a power-play marker, his 14th goal of the season, to make it a one-goal hockey game.
The Rock got a little bit of insurance at the 7:54 mark of the period when Linden Spencer notched an unassisted tally, his second goal of the season.
That set the stage for the Lumberjacks late rally and Seguin’s overtime heroics.
Once again, the line of Seguin, McMullen and Riley Robitaille topped the list of Rock players who impressed their assistant coach.
“They are arguably the best line in the league right now,” Daschuk said.
“They lead our team in all aspects of the game. They even kill penalties. They play on the power play and they play lots of minutes five-on-five.”
Tremblay, a 2001-birth-year Timmins native the Rock acquired from the CCHL’s Kanata Lasers on Nov. 23, also caught his assistant coach’s eye.
“I thought he played a pretty good game tonight,” Daschuk said.
“It was probably the best game I have seen him play for us. He was flying out there tonight. He had the puck on his stick a lot more than he had in the last couple of games.”
Daschuk was also happy to see Spencer, one of the Rock’s hardest-working forecheckers, find the back of the net.
“That two-goal lead Linden’s tally provided us was important,” he said.
“In a building like this, no lead is safe. They (the Lumberjacks) have two big lines that can score a lot of goals.
“It was kind of a huge goal for us because it came not long after they had scored to make it a 3-2 hockey game.”
Capisciolto also played a solid game for the Rock and not just in the offensive end of the ice.
“Capy played pretty well for us tonight,” Daschuk said.
“He logged a lot of puck possession and even defensively he was great. He was strong on the backcheck and it was the best game I have seen him play in a long time.
“He definitely looked like a guy we could trust in all areas of the game tonight.”
Brisson made his second-straight start in the Rock net, although that was not the game plan when the team boarded the bus in Timmins for the trek to Hearst.
“The plan had been to go with Tyler Masternak, but when we pulled up to the rink he just didn’t look good,” Daschuk said.
“He has been battling a little bit of a cold or flu bug and he did not have much energy during the warm-ups.
“So, we kind of had to throw Breezer to the wolves in a tough building. He played a hell of a game. He made a lot of big saves, especially during the first period. We were not all that great in the first period and we kind of weathered the storm.
“If he (Brisson) did not have the game he did, the outcome would probably have been different.”
Brisson made his first start in a Rock uniform during Friday night’s 3-1 home-ice loss to the Lumberjacks.
“He woke up today not expecting to play today and then found out at the last minute that he was going to be playing,” Daschuk said.
“He is a guy with a very particular game-day routine, but he didn’t have the chance today to get that routine going.”
While Brisson gave up fewer goals during Friday night’s loss than Sunday’s victory, there is really only one stat that matters when it comes to back-up goalies.
“In our division, two points are really a lot more important than an personal statistics,” Daschuk said.
“I haven’t had the chance to speak with him, but I am sure if you asked him he would say he is happy with the win.
“The group of guys we have in our room are all like that. They are not too worried about their personal stats.”
With Sunday’s victory, the Rock (19-11-1-0) moved into sole possession of second place in the NOJHL’s East Division standings — four points behind the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (21-8-1-0) and two points ahead of the Powassan Voodoos (18-11-1-0).
With the overtime loss, the fifth-place Lumberjacks (12-12-3-1) closed the gap on the fourth-place Cochrane Crunch (18-14-0-1) to nine points, but saw their lead on the last-place French River Rapids (11-17-2-1) slip to three points.
Brisson, who stopped 28 of the 32 shots he faced, picked up his fourth win of the season and first in a Rock uniform.
Tallarico, who blocked 24 of the 29 shots the Rock directed his way, was tagged with the overtime loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Seguin, Rock defenceman Will Caston (one assist) and Johnson … The Rock did not dress forward Eamon Bollinger (upper-body injury), forward Darcy Haupt (upper-body injury), forward Benjamin Jossinet (upper-body injury) and forward Brendan Burns (healthy scratch) … Official attendance at the Claude Larose Arena was 661 … The Rock went 0-5 on the power play, while the Lumberjacks were 1-5 with the man advantage … Sunday’s other action saw the Rapids double up the Cochrane Crunch 6-3 in French River and the Soo Thunderbirds dump the Express 7-5 in Espanola … The Rock will return to action on Thursday night when they host the Rapids at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is set for 7 p.m.
Photos courtesy of Highway Eleven &Co.