GALLERY: Two-time defending-champion Bandits blank Rock 9-0

Timmins Rock blue-liner Kenyon Nyman lays some lumber on Brooks Bandits forward Caelan Fitzpatrick during Monday afternoon’s game at the 2023 Centennial Cup tournament at Stride Place in Portage la Prairie, Man. While Fitzpatrick was stopped on this play, he did have a pair of goals to help lead the AJHL-champion Bandits to a 9-0 win over the NOJHL-champion Rock. ERICA PERREAUX/HOCKEY CANADA IMAGES jpg, TD, apsmc

Photos: Erica Perreaux / Hockey Canada Images

The two-time defending Centennial Cup champion Brooks Bandits schooled the Timmins Rock on the game of hockey during a 9-0 win at Stride Place Monday afternoon.

Thomas Perry
The Daily Press/Postmedia Network

PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE — The two-time defending Centennial Cup champion Brooks Bandits schooled the Timmins Rock on the game of hockey during a 9-0 win at Stride Place Monday afternoon.

In the process, the AJHL-champion Bandits, now 3-0-0, secured a berth into Saturday’s semifinal action, as the top team in Group A.

Meanwhile, the Rock, 1-2-0, will need a regulation win against the Ottawa Jr. Senators (2-1-0) in their final preliminary round contest on Wednesday.

Anything less, will result in the end of what to this point has been a very successful season for the Rock.

Monday afternoon, Rock forward Liam Wells delivered a bone-crunching hit on Bandits blue-liner Hughie Hooker in the game’s first two minutes, but any momentum Timmins may have gained on the play was quickly dissipated when Brooks broke in on Rock goalie Jacob Brown as the play continued, generating a quality scoring opportunity.

Still, the Rock managed to hold the Bandits off the scoreboard for the first 12 minutes of the opening period.

After that, however, the Bandits quickly took command of the game and built a 3-0 lead by the time the final buzzer sounded on the opening period, outshooting the Rock 10-1 in the process.

Jordan Hughesman got the puck rolling when he beat Rock goalie Jacob Brown for what would prove to be the game-winning goal.

Caelan Fitzpatrick followed with the first of two goals he was credited with scoring in the frame just over a minute and a half later.

Fitzpatrick’s second goal of the period then increased the Bandits lead to 3-0.

A Tyler Blocha marker, just shy of the four-minute mark in the middle frame, increased the Bandits’ advantage.

But the real dagger in the heart of the Rock came with 7.9 seconds remaining in the period when Brendan Poshak scored to make it a 5-0 hockey game.

The Rock had plenty of chances to claw their way back into the game between those two goals, as they went to the power play three times, but they couldn’t generate any quality scoring opportunities and were outshot 15-6 in the frame.

Things then went from bad to worse in the third period, as the Bandits scored four more unanswered goals to turn the contest into a blowout.

Hunter Wallace put them in front 6-0 at the 12:41 mark and the Bandits then struck for three more goals in less than two minutes late in the frame.

Aiden Fink notched a power-play marker and Mikhail Simchuk found the back of the net just over a minute later.

Davide Patella the closed out the scoring with 17 seconds remaining on the clock.

Rock coach and general manager Brandon Perry clearly didn’t like what he saw out of his squad Monday afternoon.

“Not a lot,” he said, when asked if there were any positives he could find to build upon as the Rock prepare for their final preliminary round contest against the Jr. Senators.

“They (the Bandits) are the standard for Junior ‘A’ hockey in Canada and I know what it looks like now, up close.

“We didn’t play good and I think part of that was because they are very good and part of it is just that we didn’t play good. We didn’t make good reads and our systems were a mess.

“Part of our structure on the forecheck is if they are quick upping pucks and they are transitioning to attack, it is hard to get set in our structure but the structure still remains, we just had to get there a little quicker.

“We had to think a little quicker and move a little quicker and anticipate a little more but we just didn’t do any of those things. We lost a lot of battles, especially on face-offs. We didn’t win puck battles. We were losing guys off draws and they were getting open.

“We just weren’t great, plain and simple.”

It didn’t help that the Rock were constantly turning pucks over at the offensive blue-line, trying to stickhandle their way through two or three opponents.

“They are just too good and you are not going to get it (through),” Perry said.

“You have got to chip pucks in, make them turn and get after them, but we had no support at the same time.”

The Rock aren’t the only Group A team that has struggled against the Bandits during the preliminary round.

“If we had played our best game, could we have beat this team?” Perry said.

“Maybe, maybe not, but it would have been nice to find out. It is hard to gauge where we are at when we just don’t play good.

“It was just nerve, confidence maybe, but we certainly didn’t play good.”

Early on, before the Bandits kicked their game into high gear, the Rock did have a few offensive opportunities, but they had difficulty hitting the net with their shots.

“They do a really good job of getting in (shooting) lanes and we just had no puck support,” Perry said.

As bleak as things might seem after a 9-0 loss to the powerhouse Bandits, the Rock still have their fate in their own hands heading into their final preliminary round contest on Wednesday.

“We showed up, didn’t put our best effort forward and got beat, got beat bad, but we turn the page and move on to the next one,” Perry said.

“We have a great opportunity in front of us because if we can beat Ottawa we will give ourselves a chance. We will see what happens.”

The coach isn’t taking any consolation from the fact his squad is already more successful than the Soo Thunderbirds who represented the NOJHL in 2022 and lost all four games they played in Estevan, Sask.

“We are not comparing ourselves to last year,” Perry said.

“We play for ourselves, for our group here. I just would have liked to have seen the effort we had Sunday, in the Terrebonne game, the attention to detail and the reads we were making on the forecheck, having numbers back, not turning pucks over.”

Perhaps even worse is the way the Rock finished the third period of Monday afternoon’s contest, standing around and letting the Bandits take potshots at their goalie.

“It just seemed like we quit, which was really surprising to see out of this group,” Perry said.

“We had a 16-year-old (now 17) goalie in net, standing on his head doing everything for us and we just quit with three minutes left in the game.

“The game wasn’t over, we still had to play. I didn’t like that out of our group. It isn’t the character of our group. It is not who we have been all year, or what we represent.”

The Bandits are clearly the last team you want to allow to have a feeding frenzy at the end of a hockey game, padding their stats in the process.

“They have something like 21 or 22 (NCAA) Division I commitments on their roster,” Perry said.

“They have something like eight guys on the NHL draft list.”

Ethan Barwick, who stopped all 13 shots the Rock directed his way, picked up the first shutout at the Centennial Cup tournament and earned the victory.

Brown, who stopped 36 of the 45 shots he faced, was tagged with the loss.

CENTENNIAL CUP NOTES — The Player of the game for the Rock was captain Nicolas Pigeon, while Poshak was selected for the Bandits … The Rock will take on the Ottawa Jr. Senators at Stride Place on Wednesday, at 12:30 p.m. EDT.