As the NOJHL regular season enters its final few weeks, the battle for fourth place in the East Division standings is starting to heat up. The Hearst Lumberjacks hold a two point lead on the Timmins Rock entering play this week. The two sides have concluded their eight-game head-to-head schedule — including this contest on Nov. 5 at the McIntyre Arena where Timmins defenceman Grant McClellan kept close watch on Hearst forward Max Griffioen — with the Lumberjacks winning five of those contests. The Rock have eight games remaining, including two at the McIntyre Arena, while the Lumberjacks have nine left, including two on home ice. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – It will be interesting to see if the Timmins Rock can chase down the Hearst Lumberjacks for fourth place in the NOJHL’s East Division standings in the final few weeks of the 2017-18 regular season.
There is still a mathematical chance, of course, the French River Rapids could catch and pass the Lumberjacks and/or the Rock but given they trail the former by 14 points and the latter by 12 points, fans should not hold their breath waiting for that to happen.
Nor technically is it impossible for the Lumberjacks, or even the Rock, to make a move and track down the third-place Kirkland Lake Gold Miners — who lead the former by 12 points and the latter by 14 points.
Mathematics aside, however, the only real mystery when it comes to playoff positioning in the East Division is where the Lumberjacks (19-25-2-1) and Rock (17-26-2-3) will finish in relation to each other.
Given the two sides will almost assuredly meet in a best-of-three series when the playoffs get underway, home ice could be a critical factor.
The Rock, who will embark on a two-game road trip this weekend with stops in Powassan Friday night and French River Saturday night, have eight games remaining on the regular-season schedule.
Meanwhile, the Lumberjacks — who suffered a stunning 5-4 setback against the Canadians in Rayside-Balfour Sunday night — have nine games remaining.
So, who has the tougher schedule the rest of the way?
If you break it down to home and away games, it appears to be almost dead even.
The Rock’s eight remaining games include six on the road and two in the friendly confines of the McIntyre Arena.
The Lumberjacks, meanwhile, will play seven of their remaining nine games on the road and two at the Claude Larose Arena.
Both the Rock (five wins) and the Lumberjacks (six wins) have struggled on the road this season, although both have been a bit better since the NOJHL’s Christmas break.
The Rock’s remaining eight games include a pair of visits to the Powassan Sportsplex to take on the NOJHL-leading Voodoos, while the Lumberjacks have one game remaining against the Voodoos — also on the road.
Both the Rock and the Lumberjacks still have a pair of games left against the Cochrane Crunch, second in the East and second in the NOJHL’s overall standings, one on home ice and one at the Tim Horton Event Centre.
And both the Rock and the Lumberjacks will tangle with the third-place Gold Miners twice, once at home and once at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex.
It’s a pity, but the Rock and the Lumberjacks do not have any games remaining against each other in the regular season.
The Rock will travel twice to French River for games against the Rapids, who are last in the East Division standings, in their final eight games, while the Lumberjacks have one game left against the Rapids — in French River — and one game against the Express, the NOJHL’s worst team, in Espanola.
While the Rock are finished with the West Division, the Lumberjacks still have to travel to Blind River to take on the West Division-leading Beavers and to Elliot Lake to take on the Wildcats.
Despite being winless in their past four starts, the Rock have gone 3-5-1-1 in their past 10 games, while the Lumberjacks have compiled a record of 2-7-1-0 during that same stretch.
The week ahead will see the Rock travel to Powassan for a game against the Voodoos Friday night, then on to French River for a game against the Rapids Saturday night, before coming home to host the Crunch at the McIntyre Arena on Monday (afternoon) afternoon.
Meanwhile, the Lumberjacks will take on the Crunch in Cochrane Tuesday night, the Beavers in Blind River Friday night, the Wildcats in Elliot Lake Saturday night and the Express in Espanola Sunday afternoon.
The Canadians scored twice in the final minute of the third period to turn a one-goal deficit into a one-goal victory over the Lumberjacks.
Evan Krassey’s 24th goal of the season tied things up at 4-4 with 34 seconds remaining in regulation and Noah Serre’s second goal of the night and 10th of the season 11 seconds later lifted the Canadians to victory.
The Canadians actually jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the contest on a pair of Kyle Liinamaa goals, his 22nd and 23rd of the season, with the first being a shorthanded marker.
The Lumberjacks stormed back to score four-straight second-period goals, however, and turn a 2-0 deficit into a 4-2 advantage.
Spencer Silver and Max Johnson each scored their 17th goal of the season a minute-and-a-half apart.
Silver then added his second of the night and 18th of the season midway through the frame, with Samuel Bourdages potting his 19th of the campaign with just over three minutes remaining in the frame.
Serre’s first of the night and ninth of the season pulled the Canadians to within a single goal at the 8:39 mark of the third period.
Brayden Lachance stopped 44 of the 48 shots he faced to pick up his 10th win of the season for the Canadians.
Lumberjacks goalie Matt Kustra made 23 saves while being tagged with the loss.