By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – Stewart Parnell’s second goal of the game 52 seconds into the first overtime period lifted the Timmins Rock to a 4-3 win over the Cochrane Crunch in Game 3 of their East Division semifinal series Wednesday night at the McIntyre Arena.
With the win, the Rock take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series
It was Parnell’s biggest goal since he beat Crunch goalie Leighton Williams with 1:24 remaining in regulation to tie things up and force the extra period.
“We got the puck down low in overtime and we cycled it for a bit, then I cut to the net and Bain Cunningham made a nice play to pass it to me,” Parnell said.
“I was wide open in front of the net and all I had to do was bury it.”
Parnell picked up 42 points in 54 regular-season games, only 10 of which were goals, but he is off to a fast start early in the playoffs, as he now has three goals in three post-season contests.
“I guess you could say I am more offensive minded since the playoffs started,” he said.
“I have been crashing the net a lot more and practising my shot a lot more. I am feeling a bit more confident now that the playoffs have started, as well.”
Even though the Rock trailed by a goal for most of the third period, the players felt they would be able to battle back and earn the win.
“We believed we were going to come out on top,” Parnell said.
“We just had to focus a little bit more. That’s what we did and things worked out OK.”
It was the Crunch who drew first blood Wednesday night, with blue-liner Joseph Thielen beating Rock goalie Albert Rogers for his first goal of the playoffs just 1:10 into the game.
The Rock battled back to tie things up at 1-1 before the end of the period, however, as Tyler Romain scored his second goal of the playoffs with 3:50 to go in the frame.
Nate Viberg’s power-play marker, his first goal of the playoffs, restored the Crunch’s one goal lead at the 7:31 mark of the second period.
Again the Rock rallied to tie things up at 2-2, as Jacob Shankar netted his second goal of the playoffs at the 12:04 mark of the middle frame.
Konnar Dechaine’s third goal of the playoffs at the 4:45 mark of the third period gave the Crunch their third one-goal lead in the contest and that goal help up until near the end of regulation.
With Rogers on the bench in favour of an extra attacker, the Rock won a faceoff in the Crunch zone and everybody charged to the front of the net.
The rebound of a shot bounced out to Parnell who took a half a step to Williams’ left and drilled a wrist shot into the Cochrane cage.
“Bain Cunningham won the draw to get the puck to (Jordan) Rendle and we all crashed the net,” Parnell said.
“That’s what the coaches had told us to do and the puck just bounced out to me in front and I had a wide open net. All I had to do was bury it.
“To that point, it was by far my biggest goal in the NOJHL.”
That marker set the stage for his overtime heroics, although a couple of his teammates almost ended the contest before Parnell got the chance.
Wednesday night’s loss left Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard and his players feeling frustrated, but they know they are only one win away from getting home-ice advantage back and putting themselves back in the driver’s seat.
“We can take some comfort from that fact,” he said.
“That’s what Timmins had to do to get where they are at now, but at the end of the day we should be up 3-0 in this series. We had leads in all three games, but we weren’t able to hold onto them in two of them.
“Tonight, we were down to 1:24 and we had a veteran D-man with a guy right in front of him and he didn’t take the man. They got the rebound and they scored.
“It’s frustrating. I don’t know where (NOJHL regular-season leading scorer Braeden) Cross is, but he hasn’t been here for the playoffs. How does the leading scorer in the league, who had 82 points in the regular season, get shutdown in three playoff games in a row?
“That, to me, is a sign of somebody who is not playoff ready.”
And it isn’t just Cross who is in the coach’s dog house three games into the series.
“It is getting frustrating right now to watch,” Leonard said.
“There are guys on our team who led us all year, but they aren’t ready for the playoffs. It is getting old.”
Leonard wasn’t particularly pleased with the play of some of his blue-liners Wednesday night, either.
“We had some pretty big defensive errors tonight,” he said.
“We had both defencemen off the ice on a change when the other team was up the ice on a four-on-none. How do you do that? You can’t blame our goalie. He was standing on his head back there.
“Literally, we made four or five huge mistakes tonight and they capitalized on four of them. What was (Brandon) McReynolds thinking in overtime doing a spinarama in the corner instead of getting the puck out? It cost us a hockey game.
“Those guys are veterans and we need them to win us games, not lose them.”
There were, of course, a few Crunch players who again impressed their coach Wednesday night.
“(Nicholas) Flanders, (Austin) Stauffer and (Kyle) Herbster, those three guys were good and (Justin) Hess was a little spark plug out there tonight,” Leonard said.
“Lovie again played a solid game back on defence. Thielen was not feeling so well. He was a little down on the weather, but I thought he played an OK game.”
Rock assistant coach James Daschuk was more than pleased with the effort put forth by his squad in Game 3.
“It feels awesome to come out on top in this game and take the lead in the series,” he said.
Daschuk said the coaching staff gave the players a simple message during the intermission between the third period and the first overtime period.
“We just told them to stick to the game plan,” he said.
“As cliché as that might sound, we didn’t want to change anything. In the regular season, your game plan kind of changes when you are playing four-on-four, or three-on-three, so we just wanted to remind them that during the playoffs overtime is five-on-five.
“We told them it doesn’t matter if we have to go until midnight, we are sticking to our game plan. Our set plays are going to be our set plays and our faceoffs are going to remain our faceoffs.
“That’s how we started off the period and we got the puck in deep behind their defencemen and we had basically a three-on-none and I don’t think they were able to gather their bearings.”
Daschuk, who coached Parnell when he played for the Timmins Eagles, wasn’t surprised to see him come up big Wednesday night.
“He has been doing it for us all year,” he said.
“He has basically been a point-a-game guy. You almost forget how young he is because he is pretty much counted on now to do that stuff.”
Parnell is an unselfish player, who usually looks to dish the puck off before taking the shot.
“That’s just the type of guy he is,” Daschuk said.
“I think nine out of 10 times, he would rather pass the puck, but even when I coached him in bantam, he was always that guy who seemed to score the big goals. It was the first time I had coached him and I can remember a couple of guys telling me he had a knack for scoring big goals.”
As one might expect following a big victory, Parnell was not the only Rock player to make a positive impression on the assistant coach in Game 3.
“I thought (Jared) Hester was fantastic with the puck tonight,” Daschuk said.
“Our first line, with Jordan Rendle, Wayne Mathieu and Cory Sprague came up big, as well. They didn’t score our first goal, but we started off a bit slow in the first period and they went out and had a big shift.
“Then Parnell’s line went out right after them, had another great shift and then Romain went out and got the goal.”
Rogers turned aside 23 of the 26 shots he faced to earn the victory for the Rock, while Williams blocked 33 of the 37 shots fired his way by Timmins skaters and was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The Daily Press Three Stars of the Game were Parnell, Romain and Dechaine … The Rock were 0-3 on the power play, while the Crunch were 1-2 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 825 … Wednesday’s other contest saw the Eagles hang on to edge the Soo Thunderbirds in Game 3 of their best-of-seven West Division semifinal, to take a 3-0 lead in that series … Game 4 of the East Division semifinal between the Rock and the Crunch will be played at the McIntyre Arena Saturday night.