TIMMINS - The Timmins Rock netted a pair of goals 24 seconds apart late in the second period to break open a close game and cruise to a 5-1 win over the Hearst Lumberjacks at the McIntyre Arena Sunday night.
It was the second-straight win for the Rock (8-12-0-1) who were able to pull within one point of the Rapids (8-14-2-0) for fifth place in the NOJHL’s East Division standings — thanks in part to the Soo Eagles 5-1 win in French River Sunday afternoon. And the Rock still have three games in hand on their rivals.
And both Sunday night’s victory and Saturday night’s 4-1 win over the Elliot Lake Wildcats were accomplished with an injury-ravaged lineup.
“Being able to bring in Riley Robitaille and Jace Soroko really helped our weekend,” said Rock assistant coach Marc Bisson.
“They are definitely impact guys and it is definitely a good feeling to get four points this weekend.
“We know Jace. We coached him before. He is a local kid and we know the grit he will bring to the team. He is not going to shy away from finishing checks.”
Robitaille and Soroko were signed prior to the weekend, along with goalie Tyler Masternak, who backed up Eric Jackson in both weekend games.
The Rock did not dress defencemen Jared Hester (lower-body injury), James Redmond (upper-body injury and lower-body injury) and Connor Losen (healthy scratch), as well as forwards Derek Seguin (fractured jaw) and Evan Kentish-Stack (upper-body injury).
Timmins Majors (GNML) defenceman Frederic Leclair-Pouw played his third game in a Rock uniform as an affiliate player Sunday night, while teammate Riley Brousseau got into his first regular-season match with the Rock in a similar capacity up front.
“Freddie logged quite a few minutes, especially in the third period,” Bisson said.
“Those two guys have practised with us, so they know a lot of our systems and that makes it easy for them to come in, play games and have an impact.”
For the second-straight game, it was the visitors who struck first Sunday night at the McIntyre Arena.
Shadow Reuben’s power-play marker at the 16:28 mark of the opening period, his fourth goal of the season, gave the Lumberjacks a 1-0 advantage heading into the first intermission.
The Rock got back on even terms 7:22 into the middle frame, however, as Jace Soroko — playing in his second game since signing with the Rock — netted his first goal of the season.
With the game deadlocked at 1-1, Alexandre Brisson scored what would prove to be the game-winning goal — his seventh marker of the season — with 1:37 remaining in the middle frame.
Stewart Parnell then potted his team-leading eighth goal of the season 24 seconds later to send the Rock to the dressing room for the second intermission with a 3-1 lead.
C.J. Bradburn’s third goal of the season at the 4:03 mark of the third period increased the Rock lead to three goals.
Then, with just 38 seconds remaining on the clock, Brisson scored a shorthanded marker, his second goal of the game and eighth of the season to put the icing on the cake and make the final score 5-1.
Bisson was pleased with the effort put forth by a number of other Rock players Sunday night, as well.
“Stewart Parnell was a beast once again out there, logging a lot of minutes,” he said.
“Wayne Mathieu was solid and Alexandre Brisson had two goals. On the back end, (Josh) Anderson logged a ton of minutes because of the injuries on the back end.
“We had to depend on (Grant McClellan), Anderson and Will Caston out there. What can you say about a 16-year-old kid like Will Caston, playing those kind of minutes and killing penalties?
“He has a huge impact again tonight.”
After giving up only one goal in each of the two weekend games, Jackson lowered his goals against average to 2.35 — fifth best in the NOJHL.
“He came up with a couple of great saves again tonight,” said Bisson, who works with the Rock netminders.
“There were a couple of big rebound stops and a couple of breakaways. He has been doing it all year for us. We haven’t always given him the support offensively, but he has been great all year. His numbers show it. He is one of the better goalies in the league.”
If anything could have gone better for the Rock Sunday night, it might have been how they started the contest.
“I don’t think our first period went according to plan,” Bisson said.
“We got off to a slow start, not the way we wanted to start the game, but we were resilient and we found a way to battle back.
“The back half of the second period was key for us, as we were able to get Jace from the back end up to forward and he was able to get away on a breakaway and score a huge goal to tie things up.
“Then, from there, we just got momentum.”
Lumberjacks coach and general manager Marc Lafleur felt his team was playing a near-ideal road game until late in the second period.
“It was a matter of our guys shooting themselves in the foot,” he said.
“We talked about not wanting any cross-ice passes in the neutral zone and on the very next shift, we made a cross-ice pass and turned the puck over right at our blue-line.
“They got that first goal and it gave them the momentum. We just weren’t ready after that.
“There has been an issue with our execution all year, both our defencemen and our forwards. They don’t understand the importance of putting pucks on the tape. A lot of times, they just make a pass to an area. They don’t understand when you put the puck in the skates or on the backhand, it kills your transition.
“Those are the little details we have been focusing on, but some guys just can’t execute right now at all and things have to change.”
The Lumberjacks had a game plan and for the first half of the contest, it appeared to be working well.
“We kept things simple and we tried to play a good road game,” Lafleur said.
“We managed the puck very well and we competed. Then, the second half of the game was something totally different.
“Guys were waiting for their teammates to engage on their man. We want guys who want to be difference makers and not let the other guy be the difference maker.”
Lafleur was able to find a few Lumberjacks worthy of a little praise Sunday night.
“Shadow Reuben is starting to put up some points,” he said.
“His effort is much better now than it was earlier in the year.
“And Colin Boudreau has done whatever we have asked of him. Tonight, he played up front and I thought he was our second most effective forward after playing defence for pretty much the last two years.
“But at the end of the day, you have got to have other guys stepping up. We can’t be saying Colin Boudreau is our second most effective forward.
“We have some guys who think they know what working hard is, but they just don’t see each other on the ice.”
Jackson turned aside 21 of the 22 shots he faced to pick up his sixth win of the season.
Lumberjacks goalie Artem Bortovskiy blocked 30 of the 35 shots the Rock fired his way and was tagged with the loss.