Defenceman Jun-Yi “Frank” Zhong made his debut in a Timmins Rock uniform during Saturday night’s 5-1 win over the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners at the McIntyre Arena. With two NOJHL games under his belt, Zhong is looking forward to trying to help the Rock make in two wins in a row against the Gold Miners when Kirkland Lake invades the McIntyre Arena Wednesday night. Game time is set for 7 p.m. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock will be looking to close the gap separating them and the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners to four points when they host their NOJHL rivals Wednesday night at the McIntyre Arena.
Currently, the Gold Miners (12-12-3-1) sit in third place in the East Division standings, while the Rock (10-15-1-1) hold down fifth spot — one point behind the Lumberjacks (11-12-1-0), who they will face Friday night at the Claude Larose Arena in Hearst.
Heading into Wednesday night’s contest, the Rock have one game in hand on the Gold Miners, but they have played three more than the Lumberjacks.
Both the Rock and the Gold Miners were banged up when Timmins scored a 5-1 win over Kirkland Lake Saturday night at the McIntyre Arena and things have gotten worse since then for the home side.
Already missing defencemen Jared Hester (lower-body injury), James Redmond (upper-body injury) and Eric Paquette (lower-body injury), as well as forwards Derek Seguin (fractured jaw) and Stewart Parnell (upper-body injury), and goalie Tyler Masternak (upper-body injury), the rock lost starting goalie Eric Jackson (lower-body injury) late in the third period of Sunday afternoon’s 5-2 loss to the Powassan Voodoos.
In addition, forward Jace Soroko will not be available on Wednesday as he serves the first game of a three-game suspension he picked up for his action in Sunday afternoon’s loss.
And coach Corey Beer won’t be behind the bench either, as he serves the first game of his three-game suspension for being ejected from the contest.
To recap, that’s both of the team’s goalies, three defencemen and three forwards — or roughly half the team, if you prefer to round things off.
The Gold Miners had five players out of their lineup Saturday night, including top snipers Marshal Nikitin and Kevin Ford, but Rock captain Wayne Mathieu doesn’t think his team needs to prepare any differently for Wednesday night’s contest.
“We just have to come out the same way we did on Saturday night,” he said.
“They might be hurting, but we are hurting, too. We just stuck to our system Saturday night. We got pucks in deep and we played well defensively.”
That approach worked well during the first period of Sunday afternoon’s contest, as well, as the Rock were able to build up a 2-0 lead against the No. 5 ranked Junior ‘A’ club in Canada.
“As long as we keep playing our system, we can play with anyone in the league,” Mathieu said.
“I think we have a good chance to keep winning if we keep playing like we have been.”
Indeed, it almost seems like the Rock — who have gone 4-5-0-1 in their past 10 games — play better the more guys they have out of the lineup.
“As soon as one guy goes down, you need another guy to step up and fill his shoes and everyone has been playing pretty good hockey since we began having so many injuries.”
Mathieu admits having almost half of the team out at the same time is a pretty unique situation.
“I have never seen anything like this,” he said.
“This is just crazy. We have lost so many guys and I just can’t wait for them to come back.”
Even with five players out of the lineup on Saturday night, the Gold Miners still had plenty of fire power on the ice.
“They do have a lot of skill guys and we have to watch for that, but all we have to do is stick to our game,” Mathieu said.
“We don’t worry about who we are playing against. We have just got to go out and play hard.”
Mathieu had been playing on a line with Seth Reuben and Soroko, but with Soroko suspended, they will have to audition a new member for their trio.
“I have no idea who we will be playing with now,” he said.
“We will just call him Mr. X for now. We will figure out who it is going to be eventually.”
After playing games on both Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, the Rock players had Monday off before returning to practice at the McIntyre Arena Tuesday afternoon to get ready for Wednesday night’s meeting with the Gold Miners.
Left-hand shooting defenceman Jun-Yi “Frank” Zhong made his debut against the Gold Miners Saturday night and now has two games under his belt.
“Coming from the MJHL (Manitoba Junior Hockey League), I think the pace here is equivalent,” he said.
“It might be a little rougher and a little dirtier.”
That is not the type of game Zhong, who stands 6-2 and weighs in at 189 pounds, is about to shy away from.
“I will always stand up for my teammates, if it is needed,” he said.
“I am the kind of guy who likes to go out there and give a spark to my team. I am not worried about dropping my gloves. I like to play a physical, hard-nosed, gritty game.”
It didn’t take Zhong long to get a read on the style of play the Gold Miners like to employ.
“They are a fast moving team and you have to play the body,” he said.
“I think shutting them down is going to be my main goal. Points are kind of thing for me, too, but personally I don’t think stats are as important as our team winning.”
Tyler Fyfe (28, 19-18-37, 12), who is second among all Gold Miners in terms of scoring, is one of the visitors Zhong will be keeping a close eye on Wednesday night.
“I know him from where I grew up (Surrey, B.C.) and played minor hockey,” he said.
“He is a guy you have to play the body against a lot.”
Zhong is familiar with a number of former Rock players, including Brendan Campbell, Halen Cordoni and Jordan Rendle.
“They have all given me very positive feedback about playing for the Rock and that’s part of the reason why I chose to come here instead of going to any of the other NOJHL teams I had offers to play for,” he said.
The large, rabid fan base that packs the McIntyre Arena for home games was another big factor in his decision.
“It is first time I have had a chance to play in front of 800-plus fans,” Zhong said.
“In Waywayseecapo, we would get crowds ranging from 30 to maybe 150. This has definitely been an eye-opener. I really love the atmosphere here.”
With the Rock, Zhong has been mainly paired with veteran right-hand shooting defenceman Grant McClellan.
“He is a great guy, but for me I could care less if I play the left side or the right side. Honestly, I like to play with everybody and get to know them personally because when the playoffs start, you never know who is going to be hurt. You have just got to be ready to play.”
Growing up, Zhong tried to pattern his gave after the play of Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Victor Hedman.
Wednesday’s game against the Gold Miners at the McIntyre Arena is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.