THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS Forward Stewart Parnell, shown here getting off a shot over the stick of Kirkland Lake defender Félix-Antoine Lévesque on Gold Miners goalie Gregory Brassard during the first period of an NOJHL game at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex on Sept. 13, went down with an upper-body injury in the second period of the contest. Given the severity of the injury, the Rock do not expect to see Parnell back in the lineup any time soon.
The Timmins Rock will attempt to snap a two-game losing streak and claw their way out of last place in the NOJHL’s East Division standings when they host the Rayside-Balfour Canadians at the McIntyre Arena Saturday night.
It will be one of two games the Rock play on the weekend, as they will also entertain the East Division-leading Powassan Voodoos at the McIntyre Arena on Sunday afternoon.
After blanking the French River Rapids in the home opener, the Rock dropped back-to-back decisions to the Gold Miners in a home-and-home series by scores of 5-3, on home ice, and 5-1 in Kirkland Lake.
Rock coach Corey Beer was not happy with his squad’s performance in either contest and he has been working his players hard in the days that followed the most recent setback on Sept. 13.
“We have been trying to address our defensive miscues,” he said.
“We haven’t been very good on the back side of the puck. We have had too many turnovers and too many guys not being able to pick up their guy on coverage.
“Attention to detail on shot blocking and boxing out, all of that stuff, has not been good.
“We have been putting in some good work on the video this week, getting guys up to speed and maybe trying to simplify a bit of our defensive systems.
“We have been working hard. We have to clean up our end of the ice before we can even begin to think about addressing our offensive game.”
The Rock currently have nine blue-liners — Josh Anderson (3, 0-1-1, 6), Will Caston (2, 0-0-0, 0), Alexis Quane-Arsenault (3, 1-0-1, 2), Luka Bolduc (2, 0-0-0, 2), Owen Shire (2, 0-0-0, 0), Carson Burlington (2, 0-0-0, 2), Connor Mullins (1, 0-0-0, 0), Ian Elkins (2, 0-1-1, 0) and Eric Moreau (1, 0-0-0, 0) — on the roster and D-men have been shuffled in and out of the lineup, but Beer does not feel a lack of consistent pairings is to blame for the squad’s defensive woes.
“It is certainly a challenge to find the right mix,” Beer said.
“We certainly feel our guys have a high enough puck IQ and skill level that they should be able to complement each other.
“I think more than anything, it is just learning the systems and trying to get everything in place that way. We have guys from a wide range programs, Junior ‘C’, Junior ‘B’ and Midget ‘AAA’ or wherever and we put a great emphasis on their play away from the puck.
“We have to make sure they understand it and they are not trying to play their own way but rather the team’s way.
“It has been a bit of a struggle trying to find the guys ice time. Guys have to try to find their niche here and carve out their path.
“It is back to the drawing board in terms of hard work and winning battles. If we can do that, we will give ourselves a good chance for success.”
Saturday night’s opponents, the Canadians (2-2-0-0), were one of the top teams in the West Division last season, but they got off to a bit of a slow start.
Still, they are currently tied for third place.
“Rayside-Balfour has always been a real physical team to play against,” Beer said.
“They do a good job of puck management and they like to get pucks in behind our defence.
“They make you pay out there and it is going to be a tough battle on Saturday night. They are going to be hungry to get their game going and we are going to be hungry to get our game going.
“It should be quite the grudge match in terms of physical play and forechecking.”
So far this season, the Canadians have featured a balanced attack — with only Giordano Biondi (4, 3-1-4, 2) and Brodie Willard (4, 0-4-4, 2) topping four points on the campaign.
They have been solid on the defensive side of the puck, however, with goalie Jean-Marc Brisson (120:00, 1-1-0-0, 0, 2.00, .951) at the top of this game.
Meanwhile Sunday’s opponents, the Voodoos (5-0-0-0), currently hold down top spot in the East Division.
They will likely be looking for a little revenge after the Rock knocked them out of the playoffs in the East Division semi-final, 4-2, even though they were the No. 5-ranked team in Canada.
“Obviously, Powassan does a good job every year of bringing players in,” Beer said.
“They have such a good connection with North Bay (Battalion, of the OHL). They have picked up right where they left off in terms of having high-end, quality skilled players.
“(Coach) Max (Gavin) has done a great job of getting them going. It is going to be no easy weekend for us. Really, there aren’t too many easy games in this league.”
The Voodoos have plenty of firepower with the likes of Cade Herd (5, 5-4-9, 4), David Campbell (5, 4-5-9, 2), Timmins native Gabienen Kioki (5, 3-5-8, 4), Henry Scott (5, 2-5-7, 2) and Tomas Yachmenev (5, 3-3-6, 0) in the lineup.
And goalie Christian Cicigoi (184:00, 3-0-0-0, 0, 2.28, .941) is back stopping pucks for Powassan.
Beer doesn’t think there is any great secret to what his team is going to have to do on the weekend to be successful.
“We have to get back to being better with puck management,” he said.
“We have made too many needless turnovers that have ended up in odd-man rushes against.
“We just can’t afford that when we play against good teams. They will make you pay. It is only a matter of time before those mistakes end up in the back of your net.”
Forward Stewart Parnell left the game in Kirkland Lake midway through the second period with an upper-body injury and the news does not appear to be good.
“It is a long-term injury and I don’t think we will be seeing him for quite some time,” Beer said.
“It is extremely unfortunate given where Stewart got himself in the off season in terms of getting into game shape and it looked like he was ready to explode this year.
“He was one of our leaders and an assistant captain, arguably one of our best players, a 200-foot guy.”
Parnell (3, 0-2-2, 2) missed significant time during the 2017-18 season, as well, after suffering a similar injury.
The Rock are working to add another forward to the roster, but in the interim the team will look to somebody currently in camp to hopefully pick up some of the slack.
“It is going to be the next guy up and hopefully that player will be able to help fill Stewie’s role,” Beer said.
The Rock will also be without forward Maxime Charbonneau (3, 1-2-3, 9) for Saturday night’s contest, as he picked up a one-game suspension for his role in a third-period tussle behind the Rock net during the loss in Kirkland Lake.
Gold Miners forward Max Newnam also picked up a one-game suspension from that incident.
Tyler Masternak (140:00, 1-2-0-0, 1, 3.85, .866) has started all three games in goal for the Rock this season, but Nicholas Dicks (40:00, 0-0-0-0, 0, 1.52, .917) has seen action in two of them, as well.
“We are going to split them on the weekend,” Beer said.
“We are still working on which one of them will get the start on Saturday and which one of them will be in net Sunday, but we have to get Nick into a game as a starter.
“He has been good in relief and we have to give him the opportunity to start a game. He is a good young goalie and we have to get him going.
“In terms of Masty, there are probably a couple of goals he would like to have back from the last two games, but he was lights out in the opener.
“It is just a matter of getting our defensive systems sorted out and playing better in front of those guys.”