GM1: Rock host Lumberjacks Wednesday

The Timmins Rock worked hard all season to earn home-ice advantage in the playoffs and they will be looking to take advantage of it when they welcome the Hearst Lumberjacks to the McIntyre Arena for Game 1 of their East Division semi-final series Wednesday night.

Thomas Perry
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The Timmins Rock worked hard all season to earn home-ice advantage in the playoffs and they will be looking to take advantage of it when they welcome the Hearst Lumberjacks to the McIntyre Arena for Game 1 of their East Division semi-final series Wednesday night.

Timmins (42-11-2-1) accumulated the second-best record in the entire NOJHL during the 2019-20 regular season, while the third-place Lumberjacks (31-18-4-3) finished 18 points back of their rivals.

After a lengthy layoff following the conclusion of the 2019-20 regular season, the Rock are anxious for  the 2020 playoffs to get under way.

“It is going to be nice to get going,” coach Corey Beer said, following practice Monday evening.

Beer’s Rock were dealing with a string of injuries — some more serious than others — late in the regular season and the 11-day break did give most of them time to heal.

“Relatively healthy is a good way to describe it,” he said.

“Masty (starting goalie Tyler Masternak) has had a bit of a setback. We are hopeful he will play in Game 1, but we will have to kind of wait and see.

“There are three guys in the mix for Game 1 and there is the potential all three could be in the mix again for Game 2.

“The good thing is we are well insulated from a depth position, with Masty, Vany (Vance Meyer) and (Justin) Vertesi. So, whichever way you look at it we are going to have a solid goalie in the net.”

Vertesi, a 20-year-old affiliate goalie who has previoius experience in the league with both Cochrane and Elliot Lake, was in net for the Rock’s final two regular season games.

Up front, both David Laroche (upper-body injury) and Gabinien Kioki (upper-body injury) are officially listed as “game-time decisions.”

“Gabby has surprised us in terms of his rehab,” Beer said.

“With him and Laroche being game-time decisions, that is a good thing from our perspective.”

Indeed, when Kioki left the ice midway through the third period of the Rock’s final regular season game in Cochrane, it appeared he would be out for some time.

“Laroche is doing everything he can to get back in here and it looks like (blue-liner Aidan) Milne will be healthy, too, which is huge for us,” Beer said.

“We are getting closer and closer to being back at full health. This little bit of a rest period has been real good for us.”

One player who will likely be out a little while longer is former Kirkland Lake Gold Miners blue-liner Quinn Schneidmiller.

“He is still a ways away,” Beer confirmed.

“We have to be very careful with him because he is pushing and doing everything he can in his rehab to get himself back, but coming back from surgery, you have got to take the necessary steps and not overdue it. You might think the body is ready to go, but one bad movement or whatever could undo a lot of good.”

While the record of the two teams would suggest the Rock should be heavy favourites heading into the series that will continue with Game 2 at the McIntyre Arena Friday night, it should be noted the Lumberjacks took five of eight regular-season meetings.

In fact, almost half of the Rock’s 11 regulation losses came at the hands of the Lumberjacks this season — including three in four games at the Claude Larose Arena in Hearst.

Head-to-head, the two teams split the four games played at the McIntyre Arena, with the Rock winning 3-0 on Oct. 5 and 9-4 on Dec. 15 and the Lumberjacks coming out on top 4-2 on Sept. 25 and 3-2 on Dec. 1.

At the Claude Larose Arena, the Lumberjacks took three of the four regular-season meetings, winning 5-1 on Nov. 14, 5-2 on Nov. 29 and 6-3 on Feb. 22. The Rock’s lone victory in Hearst was 4-0 decision on Oct. 22.

“I think we have a pretty good idea (of what the Lumberjacks did to give the Rock so much trouble in the regular season),” Beer said.

“We have been going through our prep here, looking at their tendencies and our game plan and stuff.

“It is kind of the same thing we looked at from last year’s perspective, too, in terms of some games that got away from us. How do we respond to that?

“I think once you get into the playoffs, everything changes. A team can have great success against you and focus in on different things, but a lot of this year we were playing our system, not really adjusting to the opposition.

“We were more focused on the things that are going to make us a good team, trying to get our transition game going, our breakouts, whatever.

“We didn’t put too much emphasis on the opposition because it changed night-in and night-out.

“The amount of full game planning we have done has not been a lot for any team we have played.

“Now, for our guys to be able to sit in there and start going through it, seeing the tendencies, seeing the way they attack, all that stuff, it just gives you a better sense of where we need to defend from, our key points and our guys are really up to speed on that stuff.

“It gives our guys a better sense of what to expect shift-in and shift-out.”

With 100 goals allowed on the season, the Rock had the best defensive record in the NOJHL, while the Lumberjacks, with 177 goals allowed ranked No. 7 in the 12-team league.

Goaltending, of course, is a big part of defence and the Rock have two of the best in the game in Masternak (1,882:00, 24-6-1-1, 8, 1.66, .932) and Meyer (1,335:00, 16-5-1-0, 4, 1.80, .919).

Both were banged up with upper-body injuries near the end of the regular season, but they should be ready to go when the puck drops Wednesday night.

Waiting in the wings is affiliate goalie Vertesi (120:00, 2-0-0-0, 0, 2.00, .897), who filled in while Masternak and Meyer were on the sidelines.

The Lumberjacks, meanwhile, counter with Liam Oxner (2,188:00, 21-13-3-1, 1, 3.02, .902) and either Noah Zeppa (219:00, 1-1-1-0, 1, 3.29, .876) or Caleb VanHeest (177:00, 1-1-0-1, 0, 4.75, 8:49).

Advantage: Rock.

Offensively, the Rock — with 231 goals to their credit — were the NOJHL’s third-most explosive team, while the Lumberjacks ranked No. 6 with 202 goals.

Up front, the Rock have nine players — Josh Dickson (55, 26-31-57, 64), Derek Seguin (45, 26-28-56, 22), Stewart Parnell (47, 21-25-46, 32), Phil Caron (39, 21-20-41, 14), Karter Renouf (46, 18-19-37, 38), Tyler Gilberds (55, 18-18-36, 58), Riley Robitaille (50, 6-29-35, 48), Riley Brousseau (44, 9-22-31, 12) and Tyler Schwindt (55, 15-15-30, 22) — who produced at least 30 points on the season.

In addition, Rock D-man Josh Anderson (55, 11-38-49, 56) was third among all NOJHL blue-liners in offence and tied for 22nd in the overall scoring race.

While the Lumberjacks scored fewer goals than the Rock this season, they have three players among the NOJHL’s Top 20 scorers compared to the Rock’s two — Dickson and Seguin.

Max Griffioen (53, 26-31-57, 14), Dominic Dumos (56, 21-35-56, 26) and Jake Desando (50, 21-31-52, 39) each cracked the 50-point barrier in 2019-20.

Four other Lumberjacks forwards — Olivier Cloutier-Faucher (55, 21-27-48, 12), David Gobeil (52, 14-34-48, 26), Spencer Silver (33, 22-18-40, 19) and Alex Cannon (50, 20-16-36, 61) also finished with 30 or more points.

Blue-liner Justin Miron (49, 6-24-30, 57) also hit that mark.

Advantage: Rock, slightly, if for no other reason than it is tougher to shut down an attack that is as spread out as the one Timmins features this season.

The Lumberjacks (528 minutes) and the Rock (629 minutes) were the NOJHL’s two least-penalized squads in 2019-20.

That could be an important factor in a seven-game series, with the Lumberjacks (second, at 22.4%) holding an advantage on the Rock (fifth, at 18.8%) in terms of power-play success.

The Rock, at 88.7%, tops in the NOJHL, of course, have a distinct advantage on the penalty kill, but he Lumberjacks are not too far behind, at 84.2% — good for fourth place.

“You always look at things like where is your power play ranked and stuff like that, but it has nothing to do with that,” Beer said.

“You can have your power play get hot for a game or two in a series and those are the games you need it to be hot.

“That can be a huge factor and it is the same with the penalty kill.

“Discipline is obviously a big factor. We want to make sure we are not giving them power-play chances. We need to limit the retaliatory penalties, stuff in the offensive zone.

“If we can keep the game five-on-five, we feel good about our chances, but we know we are going to have to kill penalties and try to score on the power play.”

Advantage: Rock, again slightly. Whichever team stays out of the penalty box and maximizes its opportunities with the man advantage will likely emerge victorious from this series.

The Rock and the Lumberjacks finished one-two in attendance in the NOJHL this season and crowd noise can be a big factor — especially in a seven-game series.

“We have two really good fan bases going at it,” Beer said.

“I love our fans here. When The Mac (McIntyre Arena) gets rocking, it really is something we can feed off of as a team. It can in turn make it a pressure-packed building for the opposition.

“We have earned the right to have four home dates during this series and we want to take advantage of home ice.

“We start the series at home and we want to make sure we get things off on the right foot.

“When we go down there, it is the same old story. You are never in trouble until you lose on home ice. If we can steal one or two in their rink, that would be huge.

“We are not looking to win the series in Game 1 here. We are just looking at getting ourselves off on the right foot.”

By the time the puck drops Wednesday night, both the Rock and the Lumberjacks will have had at least 10 days to prepare for the start of the series.

That likely means Rock bench boss Corey Beer and his counterpart, Lumberjacks coach and general manager Marc Lafleur, have viewed, reviewed and viewed again the hours of tape from the eight head-to-head encounters of their teams in 2019-20 — as well as most, if not all, of their opponents other on-ice action.

Practice after practice, they have been offering refreshers on their team’s systems, while making tweaks to improve their squad’s chances in a seven-game series.

Advantage: Draw. Both Beer and Lafleur are excellent tacticians who know how to motivate their teams.

If the Rock need any extra incentive in their East Division semi-final series they need look no further than the 2019 playoffs.

After sweeping the Cochrane Crunch 2-0 in the best-of-three play-in series, the Rock were eliminated by the Lumberjacks 4-3 in a series they at one point led 3-1.

They say revenge is a dish best served cold and from a Rock perspective things will likely get downright chilly.

“I don’t see this being a short series,” Beer said.

“Both teams are going to find different ways to get wins and they are also going to find ways to battle back from certain aspects.

“We are excited for the task at hand and I am sure they are, as well.”

Regardless of who wins, it should be an entertaining series for fans of both squads