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Busy weekend for Rock

Captain Tyler Schwindt and his Timmins Rock teammates will take to the ice of the McIntyre Arena for a trio of games against NOJHL West Division opponents Friday night (Espanola Express), Saturday Night (Soo Thunderbirds) and Sunday afternoon (Blind River Beavers). And following Sunday afternoon’s contest shooting on the movie My Animal will wrap up with, with fans invited to stick around and be part of the action. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS

Lights, camera, action! A trio of home-ice games against West Division opposition this weekend will go a long way toward determining how high up the NOJHL standings the Timmins Rock will finish this season.

Thomas Perry – The Daily Press/Postmedia Network
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Riding a three-game winning streak, the Rock still have their eyes set on top spot in both the NOJHL’s East Division and overall standings.

Wins against the Espanola Express Friday night, the Soo Thunderbirds Saturday night and the Blind River Beavers Sunday afternoon would go a long way toward ensuring they are able achieve that goal.

Heading into the weekend, the Rock (28-7-3-1) trail the Lumberjacks (31-7-2-0) by four points and the Voodoos (28-10-4-1) by a single point in the East Division standings and the West Division-leading Thunderbirds (31-5-2-3) by seven points, but they have a game in hand on Hearst, four on Powassan and two on the Soo.

With COVID-19 restrictions lifted on sporting events, the Rock are hoping to see fans “Pack the Mac” for the trio of weekend games and perhaps become involved in the filming of the final scenes of the movie My Animal, scheduled to wrap up shooting in Timmins following the conclusion on Sunday’s contest.

While their focus is clearly on the first of the weekend’s three games, Rock captain Tyler Schwindt admitted the boys are excited about Sunday’s movie shoot.

“The guys got to act a little bit in the movie, so that was kind of a fun thing, but we really want to stay focused on what we want to do,” he said.

“We all know why we are up here. We are here to win a championship, so right now we are really focused on our next game.”

Schwindt is also looking forward to getting a chance to play in front of what the team is hoping will be a packed house on the weekend.

“The fans here have been phenomenal,” he said.

“My first year (2019-20), we were getting almost 1,000 fans a night.

“They make you feel so special when you come here and play. We owe a lot to our fans, especially during a couple of years that have kind of been ruined by COVID-19.

“There are a lot of young guys in our room who are excited to play in front of large crowds.”

On the ice, Schwindt knows how important it is for the Rock not to get ahead of themselves and take things for granted.

“For us, we are just going to take things one game at a time,” he said.

“We have three strong opponents and these games are really important for us with the playoffs just around the corner.

“We want to try and win them all.”

Following the NOJHL’s COVID-19 lengthened Christmas break, the Rock went through a stretch where they struggled (2-2-2-0), but Schwindt is confident that is all behind them now.

“The guys all know what we want to accomplish here,” he said.

“We just went through a little slump but everything is alright.

“March (3-0-0-0) is a new month.”

The line of Schwindt (5-2-7), Nicolas Pigeon (1-9-10) and Harry Clark (3-4-7) has been on fire in March, combining for 24 points in those three victories.

“Pige is a heck of a player and so is Clarkie,” Schwindt said.

“Clarkie has just stepped in and he has been producing for us right away, which is great.

“Those two guys, playing with them, makes my life easier out there, for sure.”

Fans shouldn’t be too surprised about the magic the trio has found given the success they had together at the end of the 2020-21 campaign.

“That has absolutely helped our chemistry,” Schwindt said.

“Clarkie came in and we knew what he was about. He has rolled up his sleeves and he is getting stuff done for us right now.”

Friday night’s opponent, the Express (9-25-3-0), currently hold down last place in the West Division standings.

The Rock skated to a 4-0 victory over the Express in their first meeting of the season in Espanola back on Feb. 4.

Rock goalie Gavin McCarthy recorded the shutout in that contest, with Tyler Gilberds, Bode Dunford, Henry Brock and Riley Brousseau each finding the back of the net.

Offensively, the Express have scored 109 goals this season — second-fewest in the NOJHL.

Statistically, only three Express skaters — Ty McHutchion (36, 20-17-37, 20), James Eng (26, 11-10-21, 26) and Kobe Braham (33, 11-10-21, 38) — have hit double figures in goals this season and Eng is no longer with the squad.

Two former Rock forwards, Eric Barnard (28, 9-9-18, 4) and Yan Bessette (26, 8-9-17, 14), are closing in on that milestone.

By comparison, the Rock — with 183 goals on the season — are second to only the Lumberjacks (192 goals).

And eight Rock players — Schwindt (39, 28-24-52, 28), Riley Brousseau (39, 14-26-40, 10), blue-liner Cameron Dutkiewicz (36, 14-21-35, 33), Christopher Engelbert (35, 13-17-30, 13), Liam Wells (37, 13-10-23, 41), Pigeon (32, 11-32-43, 23), Tyler Gilberds (34, 10-15-25, 40), Henry Brock (34, 10-14-24, 26) — have already hit double figures on the season, with Justin Charette (38, 9-13-22, 2), Nolan Ring (30, 9-9-18, 14), blue-liner Bode Dunford (36, 8-23-31, 18) and Nicholas Frederick (28, 8-13-21, 16) not far off the pace.

No doubt Clark (5, 4-4-8, 2), who is averaging close to a goal a game and two points a contest since returning from the University of Ottawa, would have been comfortably in the former group had he been with the squad all season.

Defensively, the Express have been slightly better this season, allowing 175 — third-worst in the NOJHL.

After shipping Patrick Boivin to Blind River prior to the Jan. 10 CJHL trade deadline, the Express have relied on a trio of goaltenders in the second half of the season.

So far, the results turned in by Matthew Loney (359:00, 0-4-1-0, 0, 4.01, .882), Vaughn LeDrew (264:00, 1-2-0-0, 1, 4.76, .873) and Dylan Kosik (128:00, 0-4-0-0, 0, 13.09, .725) have been less than impressive.

To this point in the season, the Rock have allowed 97 goals — second-fewest in the NOJHL.

Gavin McCarthy (1,870:00, 20-7-3-1, 3, 2.50, .898) has seen the lion’s share of the work, but the team has not missed a beat with Konrad Simard (480:00, 8-0-0-0, 3, 2.00, .905) between the pipes.

Saturday night’s opponent, the Thunderbirds edged the Rock 3-2 in overtime at the John Rhodes Community Centre back on Feb. 19, with Colby Arbour netting the game-winning goal.

The Thunderbirds feature the fourth best offence in the NOJHL, with 168 goals on the season.

Like the Rock, they have a relatively balanced attack, with eight snipers — Michael Chaffay (36, 20-13-33, 23), blue-liner Andrew Gibson (33, 18-26-44, 24), Cooper Foster (33, 15-37-52, 28, Tyson Doucette (23, 15-12-27, 12), Kelsey Ouellet (41, 14-23-37, 54), Brock Santa Maria (36, 11-26-37, 43), Samuel Lake (36, 10-10-20, 26), Kenny Belanger Jr. (37, 10-10-20, 13) — already in double figures for goalsu this season, although Doucette is no longer with the team.

And the Thunderbirds are even better defensively, having allowed the fewest goals (92) in the NOJHL this season.

Noah Metivier (1,354:00, 16-3-2-2, 3, 2.13, .912) and Noah Zeppa (887:00, 12-1-0-1, 1, 2.03, .909) have both been solid in net for the Thunderbirds this season.

While the Thunderbirds feature the best record among the weekend’s three opponents, it is the Beavers (21-14-4-0) who are likely the most motivated to knock off the Rock after suffering a 10-0 setback at the Blind River Community Centre on March 4.

Offensively, the Beavers have scored the ninth-most goals (126) in the NOJHL this season.

To this point in the campaign, six Blind River skaters — Caleb Minns (39, 18-25-43, 12), Meguire Naughton (31, 13-8-21, 36), Iroquois Falls product Jesse Dupuis (33, 12-14-26, 27, Kyle Caron (38, 11-10-21, 16), Ethan Pegg (35, 10-23-33, 34) and Evan Fraccaro (38, 10-16-26, 10) — have scored in double figures.

Fans may recall Caron — cousin of former blue-liner/forward Phil Caron — was briefly in camp with the Rock prior to the 2020-21 campaign, but never suited up for any games.

Defensively, the Beavers have fared slightly better, allowing the seventh-most goals (136) in the NOJHL this season.

Boivin’s overall statistics (1,733:00, 12-15-3-0, 3.57, .898) have improved since his arrival in Blind River (449:00, 4-2-1-0, 1, 3.74, .853).

He has joined a goalie rotation that also includes Jeremi Delaquis (599:00, 6-4-0-0, 0, 2.90, .911) and Gavin Disano (1,128:00, 9-7-3-0, 0, 3.56, .892).

With nine games, including the three this weekend, remaining in the abbreviated 2021-22 NOJHL regular-season schedule, every game is important.