TIMMINS – the 3-1 loss to the Powassan Voodoos at the McIntyre Arena Sunday afternoon all but guarantees the Timmins Rock will open the 2019 NOJHL playoffs against their arch rivals — the Cochrane Crunch.
Less than 24 hours after upsetting the Gold Miners 5-3 in Kirkland Lake Saturday night to put themselves in position to lock down third place in the East Division standings, the Rock were once again stymied by 16-year-old goalie Joe Vrbetic who was making his third start in two-and-a-half days.
Vrbetic, who made 36 saves while shutting out the Rock 2-0 in Powassan Feb. 22, was nearly impossible to beat Sunday afternoon, as well, allowing just one goal while turning aside 42 Rock shots as the Voodoos closed out their three-game road trip through the North with four of a possible six points.
After a huge win in Kirkland Lake Saturday night, Rock coach Corey Beer was expecting a little more from his charges Sunday afternoon.
“We went down and played these guys last weekend and we outshot them 42-20 and today it was the same thing,” he said.
“We gave up three goals on 12 shots against and that just can’t happen. It’s not just (Rock goalie Tyler Masternak) Masty.
“They (the Voodoos) have a great goalie but you can’t keep feeding him to get him hot. I am not sure what the final shots were, but we had them at 36 through two periods.
“It is just unacceptable. You can’t go out there and make life easy on a 16-year-old goaltender. You need to find ways to get in front of him, challenge him, drive the net, something different.
“We didn’t do it. We had too many perimeter players. That’s why they outscored us 3-1.”
While the Rock (33-20-3-0) have completed their 56-game 2018-19 NOJHL regular season schedule the Voodoos (32-19-3-1) still have one critical game to play at home Thursday night against the French River Rapids.
If the Voodoos pick up a point in that contest against the East Division’s last place team they will secure third place by virtue of a better record in head-to-head meetings with the Rock (4-2-1-0).
Only a regulation victory by the Rapids will keep the Rock from being relegated to fourth place and best-of-three play-in series against the Crunch.
Despite being outshot 19-5 in the opening period, the Voodoos jumped out to a 1-0 lead thanks to Tomas Yachmenev’s 23rd goal of the season at the 4:01 mark.
The Rock once again outshot the Voodoos, 13-6 in the middle frame, but the visitors expanded their lead to 2-0 on Brett Shawana’s 12th goal of the campaign at the 6:27 mark.
Timmins native Gabinien Kioki’s 24th goal of the season, at the 3:47 mark of the third period then increased the Powassan advantage to 3-0.
The Rock pulled out all the stops in an effort to at least get the game to overtime so they could at least salvage a single point.
When Voodoos forward Seiji Martone was sent off for holding at the 8:21 mark of the third period, the Rock pulled Masternak in favour of an extra attacker to create a six-on-four power play, but they were unable to find the back of the net.
The Rock were finally able to get on the scoreboard at the 12:25 mark of the final frame when captain Derek Seguin’s 34th goal of the season ended Vrbetic’s 135-minute shutout streak against the Rock that dated back to a 4-1 loss to the Voodoos in Powassan on Feb. 5.
Coincidentally, it was Seguin’s 27th goal of the season that started Vrbetic’s streak in that contest.
The Rock once again pulled Masternak in favour of an extra attacker in the game’s dying minutes, but they were forced to return him to his net when blue-liner Josh Anderson took an interference penalty with 1:13 remaining in the contest.
Heading into Sunday afternoon’s contest, the Rock had a simple game plan but Beer was not happy with the way his squad executed it.
“We felt we had to get more pucks to the net and have more bodies there, have a net-front presence,” he said.
“You saw the goal we scored. We had patience from our blue-line. They blocked it and found Segs in the middle.
“If I am being honest, our defencemen were horrendous tonight, absolutely horrendous, and they weren’t much better Saturday night. There is a major problem with that group of late. They don’t want to take ownership right now and it is a terrible time for it to happen.
“We are going into the playoffs and not one of them wants to accept responsibility for mistakes. They think it is OK. They will get back out there, but it’s unacceptable.
“It is something I hope, as a staff, we can tidy up because they were out downfall this afternoon. I don’t usually blame certain groups of players, but our defenceman were the reason we lost this afternoon.”
Up front, affiliate player Rhys Chiddenton continued to impress in his fourth game as an affiliate player with the Rock.
“He has good awareness and good sense for the play,” Beer said.
“He got another assist last night and he is a very talented hockey player. We like having him the lineup and right now he is playing better than some of our veterans.
“We have guys out there buzzing around thinking they are doing stuff, but they are not. Wait until the video comes out on Monday. It’s not going to be a pleasant one.”
The coach felt many of his players were just not willing to pay the price by getting to the dirty areas of the ice Sunday afternoon.
“We deserved the loss,” Beer said.
“It doesn’t matter what the shots were, if you don’t want to play hard and gritty, battle for ice time, easy games don’t exist.”
Despite the loss, there were a few Rock players who caught their coach’s eye during Sunday afternoon’s contest.
“I really liked the Seguin, (Riley) Robitaille, (Keegan) McMullen line, although Mully’s game was off a bit,” Beer said.
“Segs and Robi were unbelievable. They kept pushing the pace on the forecheck.
“Josh Dickson and Riley Brousseau really kicked their games into gear, too.
“I thought Linden Spencer and Darcy Haupt were awesome again.
“There it is. Two guys on one line, two guys on another line, not the full line and that was a major problem.
“Credit to those six, they were outstanding, but the rest were all passengers for the most part.”
While the Rock would like to finish third in the East, Beer feels it doesn’t really matter if his squad faces the Crunch in a best-of-three series or the Gold Miners in a best-of-seven series.
“The top five teams on this side are all so good, it really doesn’t matter,” he said.
“Whoever you draw, you are going to have to beat them and get through the other guys anyways.
“We held our own fate in our hands tonight and we let it slip out of our grasp. We have no one to blame but ourselves.”
Voodoos coach Max Gavin was happy to see his squad end a tough three-game weekend road trip on a positive note.
“That was our goal this weekend,” he said.
“This road trip was not kind to us earlier in the season. You look at it and if we could have gotten two or three points in three of the other road trips we had and we might not have been in this position, but we were and we fought through a lot of adversity.
“Our goaltender was incredible today and he gave us a chance to win. Joe has been a young, 16-year-old goalie learning and he had back-to-back games where he let in a lot of goals, but he stood up and stopped 41 shots tonight.
“In his third game in three days, as a 16-year-old goalie in a hostile environment, that was pretty impressive.”
Even though the Voodoos suffered overtime defeats to the Crunch in Cochrane and the Lumberjacks in Hearst, the single points they earned in those contest were just as important as the two they secure for Sunday afternoon’s victory.
“The way we looked at it, we had to win three out of our last four games,” Gavin said.
“I told the boys going into the third period against Cochrane and Hearst that we had to get points. That kept us in line for today. The boys did what they had to do and that gave us a chance.”
Gavin is taking nothing for granted when it comes to the Voodoos last regular season game on home ice against the Rapids on Thursday night.
“There are no freebees,” he said.
“It gives them something to play for, too. They can be spoilers and that can be dangerous, as well, but I trust our group. Our group will be ready to play. They know what’s on the line.”
There was no shortage of players who impressed their coach in Sunday afternoon’s victory.
“All of our penalty kill guys and our D corps were unbelievable, both the Allairs (Eric and Clark), (Dakota) Woods, (Cameron) Moore, (Jacob Peterson-)Galema and (Matthew) MacDougall were incredible.
“Up front, Shawama, Kioki, Martone, Yachmenev, (Joe) Whittet, all of our guys really, I know it is cliché, but our PK guys were really dynamite.”
Vrbetic’s 41-save performance earned him his 15th victory of the season.
Masternak, who stopped 12 of the 15 shots he faced, was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The Daily Press three stars of the game were Vrbetic, Shawana and Seguin … The Rock did not dress forward Gage Tremblay (upper-body injury) and defenceman Gregory Arnburg … The Rock went 0-3 with the man advantage, while the Voodoos were 0-5 on the power play … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 868.