VIDEO / GALLERY: GAME 6 – Rock capture NOJHL championship

Members of the Timmins Rock pose with the Copeland Cup – McNamara Trophy after defeating the Soo Thunderbirds 4-2 at the John Rhodes Community Centre Sunday night to capture the best-of-seven NOJHL final 4-2. The Rock will now move on to represent the NOJHL at the 2023 Centennial Cup tournament in Portage la Prairie, Man., from May 11-21. BOB DAVIES/FOR NOJHL NETWORK jpg, TD

The Rock doubled up the Thunderbirds 4-2 at the John Rhodes Community Centre Sunday night to win their first NOJHL championship and hoist the Copeland Cup – McNamara Trophy for the first time since the franchise relocated back to Timmins.

Thomas Perry
The Daily Press/Postmedia Network

SAULT STE. MARIE — The Rock doubled up the Thunderbirds 4-2 at the John Rhodes Community Centre Sunday night to win their first NOJHL championship and hoist the Copeland Cup – McNamara Trophy for the first time since the franchise relocated back to Timmins.

And in the process, the Rock earned the right to represent the NOJHL at the 2023 Centennial Cup tournament in Portage la Prairie, Man., from May 11-21, after securing their series-clinching win in Game 6.

Like their previous three victories in the best-of-seven final, the Rock got off to a quick start and forced the defending NOJHL champions to play catch-up hockey.

“I wasn’t happy with the way we had played in the first three games of this series (including a 4-0 victory in Game 1), but those games were important because we could use the video to find out where they were causing us fits,” said Rock coach and general manager Brandon Perry.

“Why couldn’t we be clean and efficient, because we are a really efficient team?

“We found that and then we used it. In Games 4, 5 and 6, we found our game really quickly.

“Whatever team finds its game the quickest, at the start (of the game), is probably the team that is going to have the success.

“You couldn’t be chasing a good hockey team and they didn’t want to be chasing us.”

Even though the shots were even, at 10-10, during the opening period two of the Rock’s found the back of the net to give them the lead heading into the first intermission.

Harry Clark’s fourth goal of the playoffs, 12:54 into the frame, got the Rock on the scoreboard.

And Brady Harroun followed with his ninth goal of the playoffs three-and-a-half minutes later.

Captain Nicolas Pigeon’s fifth goal of the playoffs increased the Rock advantage to 3-0 with less than five minutes remaining in the middle frame.

But a late power-play marker, Michael Chaffay’s third goal of the playoffs less than two minutes later gave the Thunderbirds’ fans a little hope heading into the second intermission.

The Thunderbirds continued to press the attack in the third period and they were finally rewarded when Jackson Truchan netted his ninth goal of the playoffs with just over four minutes remaining in regulation.

Now trailing just 3-2, the Thunderbirds pulled goalie Landon Miller in favour of an extra attacker late in the frame in hopes of netting the equalizer.

The move backfired, however, when Rock forward Nicholas Frederick deposited his fifth goal of the playoffs into the empty Thunderbirds’ net to make the final score 4-2 in favour of the visitors.

Perry was pleased with the way his Rock weathered the storm after the Thunderbirds cut their lead to 3-1 and then 3-2.

“We just had to stick to it,” he said.

“Obviously, there is a tendency to squeeze your stick a little harder during those high-pressure moments, but our goaltending (Patrick Boivin) was fantastic.

“We have such great character in our room that it just felt like it was our time and the boys were going to get the job done.”

In the final three games of the series, the Rock held one-goal leads heading into the final few minutes of regulation and they were able to hold off the Thunderbirds to secure victories in each of them.

“Any and all experience (gained in the series) is welcome,” Perry said, commenting on the benefits of winning those contests.

“The good, the bad, it is how you learn and grow as a team and as individuals.

“Those experiences are certainly going to help us moving forward, not only at the national tournament but also next season for the guys who will be returning.

“These little moments are all part of the process, part of the journey and we are certainly going to use that going forward.”

It is fitting Pigeon, the NOJHL’s regular-season MVP and scoring champion, had the game-winning goal Sunday night.

“He is an incredible person, first and foremost,” Perry said.

“That’s why our team had the success it did. He made sure, from Day 1, the culture is the way it is supposed to be, so I couldn’t be more happy for that kid and more proud of his accomplishments.

“He has a long future in this sport if he chooses to pursue it. Obviously his skill set is second to none, but his character, his heart, those are the things that matter most.

“The season he has was incredible and I think he set the Rock record for playoff scoring, just passing Derek Seguin.

“Whenever we needed him, he was our guy. He was like, ‘I got you boys and I am never going to let you down,’ and he didn’t.”

Goaltending was once again a source of strength for the Rock Sunday night, with Boivin again standing tall.

“They (Boivin) and (Jacob Brown) are such a good duo and the turning point in this series was Brownie coming in and winning Game 4, getting us back to 2-2,” Perry said.

“You think a 19-year-old goalie like Patty would be pouty or mad. He didn’t play bad (in Game 3), but we needed that spark.

“I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. I told him Brownie was going to go in Game 4 and he said, ‘I’ll be ready for Game 5’ and he was.

“It is just a special bond those two have and it is a sign of a good team when guys can put their egos aside and focus on what’s best for the team.”

Perry acknowledged the defending-champion Thunderbirds gave the Rock everything they could handle and made them work for every victory they earned in the series.

“They are unbelievable and they have a great organization,” he said.

“They do a really good job and they are really hard to game plan against. They have skill, they are tough and they do everything right.

“It was just a really hard, tough series, emotionally, mentally and physically.

“We have nothing but respect for that crew.”

For six members of the Rock — forwards Harroun, Lucas Piekarczyk and Ethan Pool, as well as blue-liners Kenyon Nyman, Brandon Rossetti and Kyle Trottier — this year’s trip to the Centennial Cup will be their second-straight journey to the national championship tournament, the first five with the SIJHL’s Red Lake Miners and the later with the Thundebirds.

“That experience they gained last year will be invaluable,” Perry said.

“It is no wonder a guy like Trottier has won this league two years in a row now.

“The character he has is second to none. I have never seen anything like it. He is a guy who deserves to win.

“And obviously those Red Lake guys have championship pedigrees, as well. Those guys come through. They know how to play in those (big) moments.”

While the Rock coach was appreciative of the efforts turned in by all of his players Sunday night, he had a little extra praise one individual in particular.

“I would like to thank my wife, Allyson, for the sacrifice she makes, staying home with our four kids when I am on the road,” Perry said.

“She sacrifices a lot so I can do something I love and I want to tell her I love her.”

Boivin stopped 26 of the 28 shots he faced to earn his seventh win of the playoffs.

Miller, who turned aside 25 of the 28 shots the Rock directed his way, was tagged with the loss.

NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Boivin, Pigeon and Chaffay … Rock forward Nolan Ring and Thunderbirds blue-liner Ranon Joseph returned to the lineup after serving the four-game suspensions they picked up for an incident near the end of Game 1 of the series … The Rock went 0-2 on the power play, while the Thunderbirds were 1-3 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the John Rhodes Community Centre was 374 … The Rock will open play at the Centennial Cup against Maritime Hockey League champion Yarmouth Junior ‘A’ Mariners on Friday, May 12, at 4:30 p.m.

“Highlight of the Night” – NOJHL YouTube Channel