Timmins Rock forward Riley Brousseau’s first goal of the playoffs, with 1:09 remaining in regulation, lifted the Timmins Rock to a 5-4 win over the French River Rapids at the Noelville Community Centre Sunday night. The victory gave the Rock a 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven East Division semifinal series. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS
The Timmins Rock are one win away from advancing the NOJHL East Division final following 5-4 victory over the Rapids at the Noelville Community Centre Sunday night.
It was the third-straight victory for the Rock who opened the series at home with a 6-2 victory Thursday night and followed it up with a 2-0 decision Friday night.
Riley Brousseau’s first goal of the playoffs, with 1:09 remaining in regulation, proved to be the difference Sunday night.
“We definitely had a good team effort tonight, but we didn’t want to go to overtime,” Brousseau said.
“Tyler Gilberds intercepted a pass, got the puck to (Gabinien) Kioki who made a phenomenal pass to me backdoor and I just had to tap it in.”
The Rock lost a faceoff in the offensive zone, to the right of Rapids goalie Cole Sheffield with 1:19 remaining on the clock, but Gilberds intercepted French River’s attempt to clear the puck up the boards to set the play in motion.
Brousseau was united with Gilberds and Kioki to start the contest and the unit certainly proved effective.
“(Rock coach and general manager Brandon Perry) Perrs made an adjustment and we talked before the game and told each other we had to step it up, as veteran linemates,” he said.
“I think we did a pretty good job of that. We just kept things simple and stuck to our systems.
“We have our own little plays, too, that kind of helped out but we stuck to Perrs’ plays.”
The Rapids had tied the score at 4-4 just 55 seconds before Brousseau netted what would prove to be the game-winning goal, with Dominik Godin finding the back of the net for his fourth goal of the playoffs.
It had been the Rapids who opened the scoring in the rollercoaster contest 3:27 into the first period when Chase Thompson found the back of the net for his second goal of the playoffs.
Three-straight tallies allowed the Rock to establish a two-goal advantage.
Blue-liner Carson Cox netted the first of those markers, his second goal of the playoffs.
Captain Tyler Schwindt followed with his second goal of the playoffs and less than two minute later Liam Wells added his first goal of the playoffs.
The Rapids were able to close the gap before the end of the period, however, when Levi Siau netted a power-play marker, his second goal of the playoffs, with two-and-a-half minutes remaining on the clock.
Spencer Hughes added a second-straight power-power play marker, his second goal of the playoffs to deadlock the contest at 3-3 at the 3:32 mark of the middle frame.
The Rock managed to regain the lead before the end of the period, however, with Harry Clark netting a power-play marker, his first goal of the playoffs, one second shy of the midway mark in the frame.
That set the stage for the third period’s emotional rollercoaster.
Brousseau noted the Rapids gave the Rock everything they could handle and then some Sunday night.
“They actually have a really good team,” he said.
“Obviously, they were fighting for their playoff lives, just like we were, because they want to keep going in the playoffs.
“Today’s game was played in a smaller rink, so we had to adjust a bit, but things went our way.”
Sunday’s contest was a little closer than Perry would have liked, but he was happy with the outcome.
“It was an emotional rollercoaster, that’s for sure,” he said.
“I am exhausted and I didn’t even play, but the guys showed a lot of resolve and got it done.”
After falling behind early, the Rock demonstrated a lot of character by battling back in a hostile environment to earn the victory.
“They got an early weird one, but they played hard,” Perry said.
“You have to give them a lot of credit. They played hard and that’s what desperate teams do, so we just kind of had to weather the storm at times, figure out what we wanted our intensity level to get to and when we did that good things happened.”
While the Rock did notch a power-play marker in the contest, their coach sees a lot of room for improvement on special teams.
“We were on the ice yesterday (Saturday) and worked on the power play because we weren’t happy with it the game before but we weren’t happy with it again today, to be honest,” Perry said.
“We had a lot of chances on the power play when it was 3-2 and 4-3 to put the game away, but we were just fighting the puck, for whatever reason.
“We finally ended up getting one during a four-minute power play, with Harry (Clark) coming off the bench and getting a breakaway to score, but it wasn’t like our power play had good setup, good movement and got one in.”
There was no shortage of Rock players who caught their coach’s eye with strong play Sunday night.
“I thought (Rock goalie) Gavin McCarthy did a really good job tonight, keeping us in this one,” Perry said.
“He made a lot of breakaway saves. We were a little sloppy with the puck and gave up a lot of odd-man rushes, so he came up big.
“Everybody really played well in terms of effort even though it wasn’t as clean as we wanted it to be tonight.
“Felix Cadieux-Fredette and Eric Moreau were kind of our shutdown pair on defence. They logged a lot of minutes and boy did they battle tonight.
“Up front, we had a lot of guys. It was nice to see Brouss (Brousseau) get one after assisting on the first one.
“(Christopher) Engelbert and (Nicholas) Frederick were great again.”
While on one hand the thought of winning the series on home ice is appealing, the Rock don’t want to allow the Rapids to gain any momentum by winning Game 4 and staying alive.
“It is super important, one for the rest, while hopefully the other two teams (Hearst Lumberjacks and Powassan Voodoos) have to play a long series, but the fourth one is the hardest one,” Perry said.
“If we thought they were desperate tonight, they are going to have nothing to lose on Monday. They are just going to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.”
While the Rock had not played a playoff game before the start of this series since March 11, 2020, memories of the team’s collapse after taking a 3-1 lead on the Lumberjacks during the 2019 playoffs are still fresh in everyone’s mind.
“We let one get away in Game 5 and we all know what happened in that series (Lumberjacks won 4-3),” Perry said.
“So, it is super important not to give them (Rapids) any life.”
Meanwhile, Rapids coach and general manager Paul Frustaglio has seen his squad get better in each of the three games in the series.
“We were feeling a lot better, having a full day’s rest and sleeping in our own beds,” he said.
“I thought we had the energy tonight, but we made three key errors when led to three goals.
“They were really unfortunate mistakes in our own end and against this Rock team you cannot make mistakes.
“They are too strong, they are too good, and unfortunately the mistakes we made cost us.”
None of those mistakes, of course, was bigger than the one that led to Brousseau’s game-winning goal after the Rapids had worked so hard to tie things up.
“That was the result of us making a really bad decision, which led to the goal,” Frustaglio said.
“A poor decision led to a mistake, which led to their goal.
“It was the worst time we could ever do it. We came back and we were feeling good, with less than two minutes left.
“It was unfortunate, but they are only kids, they are only human. They make mistakes.”
Despite the loss, Frustaglio was pleased with the effort he saw from a number of his Rapids players Sunday night.
“Our forwards did a really good job,” he said.
“Once again, Levi Siau was strong, Chase Lefebvre was strong, Dom Godin was strong, Spencer Borg, Cooper Bowman, our captain, Griffin Simpson, Own Ethier and our goalie (Cole Sheffield) was again really good.
“On a few of the goals, he was hung out to dry.
“All those kids worked really hard. So did the others but those in particular had pretty strong efforts.”
The Rapids received a strong goaltending performance from Justin Dilauro in Game 2 of the series in Timmins Friday night, as well.
“Justin was outstanding,” Frustaglio said.
“I spoke to our goalies before the playoffs and they are like No. 1A and No. 1B. They have to work off each other.
“In the playoffs, going back-to-back, you get pretty tired. That’s why we have chosen the rotation, just to help them out.”
Down 3-0 in the series, Frustaglio knows coming back to win the series will not be easy.
“The odds are one million per cent stacked against us for any kind of a comeback but I don’t quit, my coaching staff doesn’t quit, our team will not quit and we are going to give it our best on Monday.
“After Monday, we will see what happens.”
McCarthy stopped 39 of the 43 shots he faced to pick up his third win of the playoffs.
Cole Sheffield, who turned aside 31 of the 36 shots the Rock directed his way, was tagged with the loss for the Rapids.
ROCK 2 RAPIDS 0
McCarthy stopped all 30 shots he faced to backstop the Rock to a 2-0 win over the Rapids in Game 2 of the series at the McIntyre Arena Friday night.
“It took us a while to get going, but once we got going there was nothing they could do to hold us back,” McCarthy said.
“We were buzzing around the O Zone and my job was pretty easy tonight.
“We kept everything to the outside and I couldn’t ask for much more from the boys.”
McCarthy wasn’t surprised to see the Rapids display an increased compete level after the Rock beat them 6-2 Thursday night.
“After a game like Thursday night, we knew they were going to have a good push back,” he said.
“No one wants to go on a road trip and come home empty handed.
“They put up a good fight, but we were better.”
Even though the Rock outshot the Rapids 12-10 in the first period and 16-10 in the middle stanza, the contest remained scoreless heading into the third period.
The Rock were finally able to snap the scoreless duel at the 1:12 into the frame with blue-liner Cameron Dutkiewicz netting his first goal of the playoffs.
Twelve minutes later, Cox provided the Rock with a little insurance when he netted a power-play marker, his first goal of the playoffs.
The Rapids continued to press until the end of the contest, pulling Dilauro with just under two minutes remaining in regulation in favour of an extra attacker.
Even though that strategy generated a number of opportunities, the Rapids were unable to get the puck past McCarthy.
After getting his first NOJHL playoff win in his first playoff game Thursday night, the Rock goalie got his first shutout and second playoff win in his second playoff game Friday night.
What’s next, scoring his first playoff empty net goal?
“That would be nice, wouldn’t it,” McCarthy said.
Dilauro, who turned aside 42 of the 44 shots the Rock directed his way, was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game Sunday night were Brousseau, Godin and McCarthy, while McCarthy (30 saves, win, shutout), Dilauro (42 saves) and Dutkiewicz (game-winning goal) were selected Friday night … The Rock went 1-7 on the power play, while the Rapids were 2-6 with the man advantage Sunday night. Friday night, the Rock went 1-5 on the power play, while the Rapids were 0-2 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the Noelville Community Centre Sunday night was 350, while 962 fans attended Game 2 of the series at the McIntyre Arena Friday night … Sunday’s other action saw the Hearst Lumberjacks blank the Voodoos 3-0 in Powassan to take a 2-1 lead in the other East Division semifinal series and the Soo Thunderbirds double up the Beavers 4-2 in Blind River to take a 3-0 lead in their West Division semifinal series … The Rock will look to close out their best-of-seven series with the Rapids at the Noelville Community Centre on Monday, at 7 p.m.