HEARST, Ont. – Starting his third consecutive game, in less than a 72-hour span, Cochrane Crunch goaltender Zach Wickson finished with 23 saves Sunday afternoon to backstop his club to a 4-3 overtime victory over the Hearst Lumberjacks in a Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League matinee in front of 734 fans at Claude Larose Arena.
Action in the opening frame saw Cochrane collect the lone tally of the period as Austin Whelan notched his team-leading 28th tally of 2018-19 and move to within three points of the century mark in his NOJHL career.
Picking up an early power play in the middle stanza, Crunch went up by a pair as Jonas Leas neatly deflected an Eli Hernandez effort from the left point to put the visitors up by two.
Going to the power play themselves, Hearst got on the board as Bradley Golant snagged the rebound off a Max Griffioen shot and stuffed one past the Cochrane netminder for his 16th of the season at 8:59.
Coming right back, the Crunch were quick to regain their two-cushion cushion as they worked the puck free behind the net and fed an open Baldino Aiello in the slot, who snapped a shot past Lumberjacks starter Nicholas Tallarico.
Then with time winding down in the middle session, the home team retrieved a dump in that resulted in a J.J. Berdal attempt from the left faceoff dot bouncing off the stick of a Cochrane defender then clipping off Daniel Fisher in front and in at 19:51 to make 3-2 after 40 minutes.
Forcing a turnover along the boards in the third, Hearst picked up the equalizer at 14:02 as a pass in front found Golant who chipped one over the glove of Wickson from in close to knot the affair at 3-3 and force OT.
After the Lumberjacks were denied early in the extra session on a couple of quality saves by Wickson, Cochrane broke out on a two-on-one where Hunter Buzzi set-up Trent Grimshaw, who in turn snapped the game-winner past Tallarico, to cap off a three-win weekend for the Crunch.
Buzzi finished with two assists in the triumph as did Griffioen for Hearst.
In winning his third straight decision, Wickson completed his efforts with 87 saves over three days while Tallarico handled 21 of 25 in the setback.
With the result, 28-17-1-3 Cochrane moves into a first-place tie with the idle 28-13-2-2 Kirkland Lake Gold Miners for top spot in the NOJHL East with 60 points apiece.
As for Hearst, their record goes to 26-15-5-1 as they sit just two points back in tightly-contested race for top spot in the division.
Game Photos courtesy of Highway Eleven &Co.