It’s Crunch time for Rock

Tim­mins must learn to be pa­tient against likely open­ing-round play­off op­po­nent

The Daily Press (Timmins) - - SPORTS - Thomas pery

It’s Crunch time for the Rock as they set their sights on clos­ing ground on Cochrane in the NOJHL’S East Di­vi­sion stand­ings.

The Rock (22-9-3-0) will host the sec­ond-place Crunch (2410-4-1) Thurs­day night at the Mcin­tyre Arena be­fore trav­el­ling to Cochrane for the sec­ond half of their home-and-home se­ries Satur­day night at the Tim Hor­ton Event Cen­tre.

Head­ing into the two-game se­ries, the Crunch lead the Rock by six points, but Tim­mins has five games in hand.

Best-case sce­nario will find the Rock walk­ing up Sun­day morn­ing with that gap nar­rowed to two points, with five games in hand. Worst-case sce­nario and they will find them­selves trail­ing by 10 points, but still with five games in hand.

To say the Rock have had their strug­gles with the Crunch this sea­son might be a bit of an un­der­state­ment.

Both the Rock and the Crunch made a cou­ple of moves in the days lead­ing up to Tues­day’s ros­ter freeze.

On Tues­day, the Rock ac­quired 20-year-old for­ward Dean Kiri­a­cou (9, 2-1-3, 6) from the Brockville Braves, of the CCHL.

The 6-1, 203-pound New­mark­ert na­tive has also spent time this sea­son with the Cum­ber­land Grads (15, 1-3-4, 2), of the CCHL, and the Welling­ton Dukes (11, 0-1-1, 2), of the OJHL.

“He has got some size and he has put up some great num­bers in the past,” said Rock coach and gen­eral man­ager Paul Gagne.

“He is the type of player we should be able to use on any line. As a 20 year old, he is go­ing to come in with some ex­pe­ri­ence and pro­vide some lead­er­ship, which we al­ready have, but he is go­ing to add to our pro­gram.”

The Rock, of course, have had pretty good luck with an­other for­mer Brave, Jacob Shankar (29, 14-18-32, 19), this sea­son.

“It would be nice to get the same kind of im­pact from Kiri­a­cou, but I think he might have even more im­pact given that he is a 20 year old,” Gagne said.

“He is the type of player who is go­ing to do ev­ery­thing he can to win games. He is go­ing to go into the corners and work hard. Hope­fully, he is go­ing to be able to score some goals for us.”

Kiri­a­cou was sched­uled to ar­rive in Tim­mins Wed­nes­day, but his ar­rival might be de­layed by the win­ter weather.

“He is driv­ing up and due to the storm, I am not sure if he is go­ing to be able to make it to­day,” Gagne said.

It re­mains to be seen if he will be in the lineup for Thurs­day night’s game at the Mcin­tyre Arena, or if he will make his de­but in a Rock uni­form Satur­day night in Cochrane.

There has been a de­lay, as well, with the ar­rival of the other player ac­quired by the Rock.

The Rock ac­quired Maxime Laguë (4, 0-0-0, 4) from the La Ronge Ice Wolves, of the SJHL, on Jan. 5.

“Max had some fam­ily is­sues,” Gagne said.

“His fa­ther was in the hospi­tal, so he had to stick around home a lit­tle bit. We are hop­ing he will be here by the end of the week.”

Laguë, a 19-year-old St-jeansur-riche­lieu, Que., na­tive also spent time this sea­son with the Alexan­dria Glens (3, 0-0-0, 0), of the CCHL.

At 6-3 and 201 pounds, he should pro­vide an in­jec­tion of size and strength into the lineup, as well.

“When it comes to play­ing against some of the big­ger teams in the league, we have our speed and we have our skills, but some­times it wears you down,” Gagne said.

“Our style of play, a lot of it is in the of­fen­sive zone. It will be­come re­ally strate­gic who we have in the lineup for these games. Maxime and Dean will add that el­e­ment to our lineup.”

The Rock have also parted ways with goalie Matthew Nixon, who was un­happy with his play­ing time, will go with the tan­dem of Al­bert Rogers (614:00, 5-3-2-0, 0, 3.13, .912, with Rock; 1,159:00, 6-103-1, 0, 3.99, .906 over­all) and Jeff Veitch (129:00, 1-0-1-0, 4.18, .870, with Rock; 599:00, 4-2-1-1, 0 3.40, .885) in net.

The Crunch also made a move with their goal­tend­ing, ac­quir­ing Tay­lor Un­ruh from the Es­panola Ex­press on Jan. 5 to back up work­horse Leighton Wil­liams (1,327:00, 15-6-1-0, 2.71, .915 ), while say­ing goodbye to Jacob Burhans, who had beaten the Rock three times this sea­son.

Un­ruh (60:00, 0-1-0-0, 0, 4.00, .889, with Crunch; 563:00, 1-9-00, 0, 5.01, .864, over­all), a 20-yearold Regina na­tive, has made one start so far with his new team.

Also on Jan. 5, the Crunch shipped big blue- liner Lu­cas Robin­son (36, 2-10-12, 22) to the Dry­den Ice Dogs, of the SIJHL, in ex­change for 19-year- old de­fence­man Quinn Ro­belle (7, 0-5-5, 4).

Ro­belle is no stranger to the NOJHL, hav­ing started the sea­son with the El­liot Lake Wild­cats (30, 4-12-16, 16).

He also spent the 2015-16 sea­son with the French River Rapids (53, 5-14-19, 41).

At 6-2 and 216 pounds, Ro­belle is a lit­tle smaller than the 6-5, 194pound Robin­son, but he also has more of­fen­sive up­side.

On Tues­day, the Crunch dealt the rights to for­ward Sean Em­mer­son to the Soo Thun­der­birds.

Cochrane has won four of the five games they have played against the Rock so far this sea­son.

The two teams have split the first two games at the Mcin­tyre Arena, with the Crunch tak­ing an 8-3 de­ci­sion back on Sept. 28 and the Rock pre­vail­ing 5-2 on Nov. 23.

Both games played at the Tim Hor­ton Event Cen­tre to date have re­sulted in two-goal vic­to­ries for the home side — 6-4 on Dec. 21 and 7-5 on Dec. 2.

In ad­di­tion, the Crunch dou­bled the Rock 4-2 in a game played in Sud­bury as part of the NOJHL Show­case on Oct. 11, that tech­ni­cally counted as a home game for the Crunch.

Given that it is look­ing more and more like the Rock and the Crunch will face each other in the first round of the NOJHL play­offs, the Rock need to find a way to beat their ri­vals on a more con­sis­tent ba­sis.

“For some rea­son, we never play our best against them,” Gagne said.

“It’s not that they make us play bad, but it seems we want to play a more of­fen­sive game against them.

“I think play­ing great de­fence would win games for us against them. By play­ing great de­fence, we would still get some great chances. If we can have a frame of mind where we con­cen­trate on play­ing great de­fence, I think that is go­ing to be the key to play­ing well against them.”

In­stead of hav­ing his play­ers try to do too much, Gagne wants them to em­brace the phi­los­o­phy that less is more.

“You are try­ing to score goals, you are try­ing to do too much of­fen­sively, but that’s not the key,” he said.

“The key is to be pa­tient and play well de­fen­sively. We have the of­fence and the skills. We just have to be pa­tient.”

Gagne is con­fi­dent if his play­ers stay pa­tient and wait for their breaks, they can have bet­ter luck against the Crunch.

“We would like to get ahead of them in the stand­ings,” he said.

“Right now, that’s our ob­jec­tive.”

Head­ing into Thurs­day night’s game, the only in­jury con­cern for the Rock is for­ward Cory Sprague (33, 16-13-29, 46), who missed Mon­day’s 8-3 vic­tory over the French River Rapids.

“He is day-to-day right now,” Gagne said.

“He was on the ice for prac­tice on Tues­day, but he was wear­ing a red sweater so that no­body would hit him.”

THOMAS PERRY/ THE DAILY PRESS

The last time the Cochrane Crunch vis­ited the Mcin­tyre Arena, back on Nov. 23, Tim­mins Rock goalie Al­bert Rogers stood his ground to make a save as Crunch blue-liner Lu­cas Robin­son tried to stuff the puck past him. Robin­son has been traded the the Dry­den Ice Dogs, how­ever, and he will not be in the lineup when the Rock host the Crunch Thurs­day night in the first half of a home-and-home se­ries that will also see the two NOJHL ri­vals face off at the Tim Hor­ton Event Cen­tre Satur­day night.

Gagne

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