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UPDATE: Rock sweep Rapids

Forward Nicolas Pigeon scored a pair of goals to help lead the Timmins Rock to a 3-2 win over the French River Rapids at the Noelville Community Centre Monday night and a sweep of their best-of-seven NOJHL East Division semifinal series. The Rock will now meet the winner of the other East Division semifinal series, which currently has the Hearst Lumberjacks leading the Powassan Voodoos 3-1. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS

The Timmins Rock held on to edge the Rapids 3-2 at the Noelville Community Centre Monday night to complete a four-game sweep of their East Division semifinal series.

Thomas Perry
The Daily Press/Postmedia Network

Now, the Rock will await the winner of the other East Division semifinal series, between the Hearst Lumberjacks and the Powassan Voodoos.

The Lumberjacks defeated the Voodoos 6-4 in Powassan Monday night to take a 3-1 lead in that best-of-seven series.

“It was just a matter of us getting to it, because it was kind of a slow game to start,” said Rock coach and general manager Brandon Perry.

“Both teams just kept feeling each other out. It just seemed like neither one wanted to take it over.

“We had a ton of chances, a ton of shots but their guy (Rapids goalie Justin Dilauro) played well down there, but we were able to capitalize on a couple.”

Following a scoreless first period, the Rock got on the scoreboard first Monday night with Nicolas Pigeon scoring the first of his two goals on the night and second of the playoffs at the 5:05 mark of the middle frame.

That advantage held up until the 5:49 mark of the third period when Dominik Godin scored his fifth goal of the playoffs to deadlock the score at 1-1.

Similar to Game 3 in the series, the Rock retook the lead almost immediately, as Tyler Gilberds scored his first goal of the playoffs 38 seconds later.

Pigeon then scored his second goal of the night and third of the playoffs to increase the Rock advantage to 3-1 with 4:24 remaining in regulation.

That goal would stand up to be the game-winner, Pigeon’s second in the four contests.

Down two goals, the Rapids pulled Dilauro in favour of an extra attacker in hopes of tying things up and forcing overtime.

The strategy almost paid off, as Chase Lefebvre found the back of the net for his third goal of the playoffs with 2:23 remaining on the clock.

That would be as close as the Rapids would come to getting back on even terms, however, as Rock goalie Gavin McCarthy stood strong.

Perry agreed his team’s quick response after the Rapids tied the contest — similar to Sunday night’s contest — was one of the keys to Monday night’s victory.

“The biggest shifts in a game are the follow-up shifts after you score or you get scored on,” he said.

“You have to be very good in response. Obviously, if you get scored on you want to get out there and get mo (momentum) back. If you score, you want to keep mo.

“It was a great job by those guys and it was the same guys again, Brouss (Riley Brousseau) and Gibby (Gilberds), and Dylan (McElhinny) was playing with them tonight. Last night, it was Brouss, Gibby and Gabi (Gabinien Kioki).

“Those are 20-year-old guys who understand the importance of where we are at and how bad we needed to get that one back.

“Gibby made no mistake on that one.”

The Rock’s No. 1 line, with Pigeon, Tyler Schwindt and Harry Clark, once again came up big Monday night.

“Your best players have to be your best players this time of year and they certainly have been,” Perry said.

“We have gotten contributions from up and down our lineup but those guys are the drivers of this team.

“They did a fantastic job this series.”

McCarthy, who was in net for every second of the series, once again impressed his coach Monday night.

“Gavin was fantastic,” Perry said.

“The second goal was kind of a weird one for him and I am sure he wants it back.

“They just dumped it in, the puck went off the end wall, hit him in the back and went it, so it wasn’t like they were pressing too hard, or we were getting hemmed in our zone and getting a little worried.

“It was just kind of a bad bounce, but man he made some big saves tonight. He was solid.

“Both goalies played great.”

McCarthy, of course, wasn’t the only Rock player to catch his coach’s eye in the contest.

“Just the usual suspects,” Perry said.

“Everybody contributed in a way. Our D corps was solid and (Felix Cadieux-)Fredette and (Eric) Moreau led the way again. They were really good defensively.

“Up and down our lineup, our forwards were good tonight.”

The first three games of the series had been physical, with a steady parade of players to the penalty box on both sides but Monday night’s contest was relatively tame by comparison — with only five minor penalties being called.

“It wasn’t a war, like the games before it, just two tired teams out there for the majority of the game,” Perry said.

“We capitalized when we had to and that was the end of it.”

Rapids coach and general manager Paul Frustaglio was naturally disappointed to see his squad eliminated on home ice, but proud of how well they played against one of the NOJHL’s top squads — especially in the final three games of the series.

“We gave Timmins everything we could, but Timmins has that (second-best in the NOJHL) record and it’s not a fluke,” he said.

“Timmins has that record for several different reasons. A, they are run well. Ted Gooch has done a great job. Their coaching staff has done a great job and the kids follow all of their systems and work hard.

“They deserved to win. As much as we would have liked to have won, I can’t take anything away from that hockey club.

“We scored, they scored. We scored, they scored. There is a team that has a goal in mind to win it all and we felt the brunt of their conviction to win.”

The Rapids can take pride in the fact they won a playoff series, sweeping the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners 2-0 in the best-of-three play-in round.

“This organization has been starved to make the playoffs and we finally did,” Frustaglio said.

“We did a very good job in pushing Timmins as far as we could. The last three games were essentially decided by one goal. That first game, where we had travelled all day, I know that’s not an excuse, we were just flat.

“I think Timmins is going to benefit from this series, for their next series, because they didn’t run all over us. They earned every victory and it is only going to make them better.”

A number of Rapids players made a favourable impression during Monday night’s contest.

“Our veterans, who are leaving, Cooper Bowman, Levi Siau and Griffin Simpson, I have had those kids for five years and that doesn’t happen much where kids stay with a program in the North, so I am very grateful for those kids, they gave it their all until the very last second,” Frustaglio said.

“Those three kids were the heart and soul of our hockey team.

“Godin had another good game, he got a goal, Lefebvre had a good game, so the usual suspects.”

The Rapids have a solid core of players eligible to return in 2022-23 and the experience they gained during the 2022 playoffs should prove quite beneficial.

“We are going to lose four kids to the OHL and five kids who have aged out,” Frustaglio said.

“So, we have about eight or nine kids who are gone but we expect to get 10 to 12 back, so we will have a strong core moving forward, we believe.

“It’s not going to be a complete rebuild. These young boys, who came up as rookies, 16 and 17 year olds, have got a wealth of experience now.

“Now they know what it feels like to be in the playoffs, so it is only going to help them.

“Now they know what it takes to be like Timmins. They know how hard you have to work and how committed you need to be to your program to achieve those heights.

“So, I am excited for next year. We have several good prospects coming in, plus with this core, we should be in good shape.”

McCarthy blocked 40 of the 42 shots he faced in the contest to earn his fourth victory of the series.

Dilauro, who turned aside 35 of the 38 shots the Rock directed his way, was tagged with the loss.

NOJHL NOTES — The three stars of the game were Rapids captain Bowman (two assists), Siau (one assist) and Simpson … The Rock went 0-3 on the power play, while the Rapids were 0-2 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the Noelville Community Centre was 300 … The Eastlink TV 3 Stars of the Week for the period ending April 10 are Soo Thunderbirds forward Michael Chaffay, Rock forward Harry Clark and Soo Eagles forward Alex Freund … Monday’s other action saw the Cubs double up the Soo Eagles 4-2 in Greater Sudbury leaving the visitors leading that West Division semifinal series 4-2 and the Soo Thunderbirds fly past the Beavers 4-1 in Blind River to sweep their West Division semifinal series 4-0.