Lumberjacks goalie Liam Oxner makes a save off a shot from Timmins Rock forward Harry Clark, being checked by Hearst defender Jaden Raad, during the second period of Game 7 of the NOJHL East Division final series at the McIntyre Arena Friday night. The Lumberjacks overcame a two-goal first-period deficit to defeat the Rock 4-3 and advance to meet the West Division’s Soo Thunderbirds in teh NOJHL championship series. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS
The Timmins Rock were determined to finish the fight, but it is the Hearst Lumberjacks who are moving on to represent the East Division in the NOJHL championship series.
A 4-3 setback in Game 7 of the East Division final series at the McIntyre Arena Friday night eliminated the Rock short of their goal.
And as with earlier contests in the series it was the Rock’s inability to hold a lead that proved to be their undoing Friday night.
Meanwhile, for the second-straight series the Lumberjacks won three times in their opponent’s building, to the delight of coach Marc-Alain Begin, a Hearst native and one of the most prolific scorers in the history of the Rock franchise, prior to its move back to Timmins from Iroquois Falls.
“Obviously, we need to be better at home, in front of our fans,” he said.
“They deserve a lot and they are a big part of what we do here, so we are excited to play at least two more games in front of them, give them some good hockey to watch in the finals against the Soo.”
The Lumberjacks made coming from behind an art form throughout the series.
“The guys just battled back when we were down 2-0 in the first period,” Begin said.
“The message (between periods) was just keep chipping away and our guys played desperate hockey in the second and third periods and what can I say about (Lumberjacks goalie) Liam Oxner.
“He came up huge right at the start of the second period and gave us a chance to come back.”
A pair of markers five minutes apart provided the Rock with a 2-0 lead in the contest.
Blue-liner Carson Cox, a former member of the Lumberjacks, got the Rock on the scoreboard just past the midway point in the period when he netted his fourth goal of the playoffs.
Nicholas Frederick followed with a power-play marker, his fifth goal of the season.
The Rock took that two-goal advantage into the first intermission, to the delight of most of the 1,868 fans in attendance.
The wheels fell of the bus in the middle frame, however, as the Lumberjacks scored three unanswered goals to pull in front 3-2 and quiet the crowd.
Tyren Grimsdale got the Lumberjacks on the scoreboard 2:20 into the period when he scored his second goal of the playoffs.
Raphael Lajeunesse then tied things up when he scored his ninth goal of the playoffs 10 minutes later.
Andrew Potyk then added the go-ahead goal, his second tally of the playoffs, just over a minute later.
The Rock were able to tie things up at 3-3 1:12 into the third period, courtesy of a Nicolas Pigeon tally, his seventh goal of the playoffs.
Any momentum gained from that marker was lost just under 12 minute later when Lumberjacks blue-liner Owen Porter ripped a shot past Rock goalie Gavin McCarthy from just inside the blue-line for his third goal of the playoffs.
It was Porter who had ended Game 5 of the series at the McIntyre Arena with an overtime power-play marker Monday night.
With the Lumberjacks holding onto their 4-3 lead, the Rock had difficulty getting McCarthy to the bench in favour of an extra attacker late in the period.
When they finally did, they generated a couple of scoring chances but couldn’t get the puck past Oxner.
The Lumberjacks coach had plenty of good things to say about Porter after his game-winning overtime goal in Game 5 of the series and he was singing a similar tune Friday night.
“What a great pickup at the (CJHL Jan. 10 trade) deadline,” Begin said.
“He brings a lot to our team.”
Forward Ryan Glazer, who assisted on three of the four Lumberjacks goals, also earned a few extra words of praise following the contest.
“Like Owen Porter, he was a great pickup during the season,” Begin said.
“He brings a lot of things to our team that we didn’t have a lot of, a lot of grit, a lot of hard work, a lot of physical play and he can put the puck in the net.
“He had (prior to Friday night’s contest) seven goals and no assists, so he told me it’s nice to get some assists, too.”
It has often been said, in many sports, that defence wins championships and the Lumberjacks coach echoed that sentiment Friday night.
“Jaden Raad and Owen Porter are two of the best Ds in the league,” Begin said.
“They (the Rock) have a couple of good ones in Cameron Dutkiewicz and Bode Dunford and I think it was a battle with all four of them and I am glad we have Raad and Porter on our side.”
Meanwhile, Rock coach and general manager Brandon Perry was clearly disappointed with the outcome of Friday night’s contest.
“You can’t give up that many leads in a series, you just can’t do it and expect to win,” he said.
“We had some really good moments. We played a really good first period and had a really good start to the third period but it just wasn’t enough.”
The fourth Lumberjacks goal in particular seamed to drive a dagger through the heart.
“That was a tough one to see go in,” Perry said.
Despite the loss, there were a number of Rock players who impressed their coach Friday night.
“Just the regular guys, you know, Pigeon, (Harry) Clark, (Nolan) Ring, (Christopher) Engelbert, Frederick, (Felix) Cadieux-Fredette, (Eric) Moreau,” Perry said.
“It’s the same guys, over and over again. Everybody else was just okay.”
After being robbed of an opportunity to compete in the playoffs in 2020 and 2021 by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rock adopted the motto “finish the fight” in 2022, but that mission will go unfinished for the team’s graduating players.
Up front, Captain Tyler Schwindt, Riley Brousseau, Gabinien Kioki and Tyler Gilberds, as well as blue-liners Dutkiewicz, Moreau, Cox and Tanner Hamilton will be too old to return in 2022-23.
“You start with the local guys, like Brousseau and Dutkiewicz,” Perry said.
“I watched those guys grow up and I had them when they were 14- and 15-year-old kids, with the (GNU18L Timmins) Majors program. To see how far they have come, as players and people, and I think that is the biggest thing.
“I am super proud of them. They have a future in hockey, if they choose to pursue it.
“You can put Gabi Kioki in that category, too. He is a guy who came back, had shoulder problems but he battled every single night for us.
“His shoulder popped out four or five times and I will never forget that Game 6 in Hearst when Kioki scored.
“I coached that kid in Midget ‘A’ hockey and we won a championship and I will never forget him.
“He came with me to the Majors and he was my only OHL draft pick in four years.
“To get back together this year really meant a lot to me.
“Then you have Tyler Gilberds, a kid who has been with the organization for a long time, got to know him this year. They are all good kids.
“He played some of his best hockey this season during this playoff run, scored some really big goals for us.
“Then you go to Tanner Hamilton and Eric Moreau. Those two guys are the most mature 20 year olds I have ever met.
“How they approach every game, every practice, every workout … those are the guys who set the best example.
“They are guys for our young guys to learn from inside and outside of our dressing room, every day.
“Then you have got Carson Cox who came to us late (at the CJHL Jan. 10 trade deadline) and we got to know a little bit.
“He is just a great young man and an incredibly skilled player. I really enjoyed my time with him. I wish I had more time with him.
“Last but not least, is Tyler Schwindt. I can’t say enough about him and his leadership, what he meant to our team and the season he had.
“People sometimes think it is an easy job to be a captain in this organization, but with the pressure on these guys to win, he shouldered a lot of that pressure.
“I am going to miss him. I am going to miss all of them.”
Another player Perry will miss is forward Tyler Patterson, traded to the Lumberjacks in exchange for Cox at the CJHL deadline Jan. 10.
“He is just a great young player who has a bright future,” he said.
“Obviously, that’s the tough part of the business but it has worked out for him.
“I just told him I was proud of him (as the two teams shook hands following Friday night’s contest).”
Friday night’s loss was especially frustrating for Schwindt, who was forced to watch the action from the stands while serving the second game of a two-game suspension he picked up for a suposed hit to the head late in regulation during Game 5 of the series.
“Watching the guys play, this is an unbelievable group,” he said.
“The guys worked hard all year but unfortunately it didn’t go our way.
“All of these guys are my brothers. The past three years here this team has been like a second family.
“I am definitely going to miss seeing these guys at the rink, for sure.”
Even though Schwindt wasn’t on the ice Friday night, we was appreciative of the 1,868 fans who were in the stands to support the Rock.
“Seeing how much the fans support us is a great feeling,” he said.
“Hopefully, in the years to come the boys can get it done (win a championship) for them.
“I am pretty confident in the younger guys who are stepping in here, as leaders.”
The New Hamburg, Ont., product admits he didn’t really know what to expect when he left home for the first time three seasons ago.
“Timmins has been my second home, for sure,” Schwindt said.
“So, I really want to say thank you to everyone who has helped me become the hockey player I am today, everyone involved in our organization, the fans, my teammates, coaches, Beezer (Marc Bisson), Dazzer (James Daschuk), Perrs (Perry), Sean (Lee), Beersy (former Rock coach Corey Beer) and (former Rock GM) Peever, as well as all the training staff, Chris (Lefebvre), Mel (Brousseau Camirand), they have been great, Rick (Plourde) helped us out, Lacey (Rigg), as well.
“They have made this place a second home for me.”
Oxner blocked 22 of the 25 shots the Rock directed his way to earn his seventh win of the playoffs.
McCarthy, who turned aside 24 of the 28 shots he faced, was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The Daily Press three stars of the game were Porter (one goal, one assist), Lumberjacks forward Ryan Glazer (three assists) and Frederick (one goal) … The Rock went 1-5 on the power play, while the Lumberjacks were 0-2 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 1,868.