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Masternak back, Rock ink McCarthy

Tyler Masternak’s assault on the NOJHL record book will continue once the 2020-21 campaign gets underway.

Thomas Perry – The Daily Press/Postmedia Network
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At this point, however, records are secondary for the 2000-birth-year goaltender who established single-season marks for shutouts (eight) and goals against average (1.66) during the 2019-20 season and increased his NOJHL career-best shutout total to 16.

The man affectionately known as “Masty” to his teammates and the legion of Rock fans has only three goals this season — helping win an NOJHL championship, bringing a Dudley Hewitt Cup title to Timmins and then following it up with a Centennial Cup crown.

“I don’t even think about records anymore, to be honest with you,” he said.

“None of that stuff really matters at the end of the day. Getting a ring on your finger, that’s the main goal. That’s the goal we all have. I am going to do everything I can to make sure that happens.

“I would give those records up in heartbeat to win a championship.”

In his third NOJHL campaign, Masternak appeared in 32 games for the Rock in 2019-20, carving out a record of 24-6-1-1 in the process and posting a .932 save percentage.

The Oshawa native also made 12 saves while backstopping the Rock to a 5-2 win over the Hearst Lumberjacks in Game 1 of the East Division semi-finals before COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the remainder of the playoffs.

That sudden halt to the post season has left Masternak and his returning teammates chomping at the bit to get the 2020-21 campaign underway.

“All the guys are itching to get back out there,” he said.

“Obviously, it is tough the way everything ended. Nobody expected it to end that way, so it adds more fuel to our fire coming into this season.”

Even though the Rock iced one of the youngest teams in the NOJHL in 2019-20, they finished with the second-best record (42-11-2-1) in the 12-team league during the regular season and they appeared poised for a lengthy playoff run.

“We had a great team last year,” Masternak said.

“There is no secret in that and we had good success during the regular season.

“I think we are returning around 14 guys, something like that, and I think you are just going to see us build off last season.

“The new guys coming in should contribute nicely to our success, as well.”

One of those newcomers will be 2003-birth-year puck stopper Gavin McCarthy, who will take over from Vance Meyer as Masternak’s main creasemate in 2020-21.

Meyer, a 2002-birth-year netminder, produced outstanding results (1,335:00, 16-5-1-0, 4, 1.80, .919) in his rookie campaign, but with the return of Masternak there just were not enough minutes to go around to allow for him to continue his development.

McCarthy, who hails from Athens, Ont., is coming off a pair a pair of strong seasons (2018-19, 2.67, .906; 2019-20, 2.39, .922) with the Brockville Braves, of the HEO U18.

Those numbers were enough to impress the Ontario Hockey League’s Sudbury Wolves, who took him with the 31st overall pick in the second round of the 2020 U18 Priority Selection.

“I like to consider myself a high-speed goalie and I like to think I am pretty good on my edges,” McCarthy said.

“One of my strengths is playing the puck.”

Like many young goalies, growing up McCarthy tried to pattern his game after Montreal Canadiens netminder Carey Price.

“Recently, I have kind of started liking Juuse Saros, the backup for Nashville (Predators) a bit more,” he said.

“I like his style of game and the way he has worked his way up through the ranks. Now he is in a starting position, so I really like what he has done and I try to model my game after him.”

McCarthy is confident his two years with the Braves have prepared him to make the jump to the NOJHL this season.

“It was a pretty diverse league,” he said.

“It is a good stepping stone to Junior ‘A’ hockey because you play against older guys and it was a great place to develop. We played 42 games a year, which is a lot, and we were on the ice for three practices a week.”

McCarthy knows it will be a challenge to earn minutes in the Rock crease this season, but he is looking forward to getting a chance to learn from an established goalie like Masternak.

“I have heard nothing but good things about Ty,” he said.

“I have heard his skill level and work ethic are unlike any other goalie. I think him being as good as he is will push me to be a better goalie.

“I will do what I can to push him and it will be good.”

McCarthy is also looking forward to playing for a coach like Corey Beer, who has a reputation for being a solid defence-first guru.

“Speaking to Corey and (Rock general manager) Kevin (Peever), I heard the team is defence oriented,” he said.

“The average number of shots they allow is lower than most teams I have played on in the past. Facing fewer shots is a good thing, but at the same time you have to work to stay focused the whole game.”

McCarthy has not had a chance to play with any of his new teammates previously, but he has played against a pair of the newer members of the NOJHL squad.

“They are pretty strong players and it is pretty cool to see guys from this area going up north,” he said.

McCarthy knows making the jump to Junior ‘A’ from Midget ‘AAA’ will not be easy.

“I think the biggest adjustment is going to be the speed and the strength of the players,” he said.

“Obviously, they are older and stronger and some of them have played in the league for three or four years.”

Like many of the Rock newcomers this season, McCarthy has never been to Timmins.

“My dad has been there a few times and told me what it is like,” he said.

“I heard it is cold. I enjoy winter and I have a snowmobile of my own.”

Even though Timmins is a fair distance from McCarthy’s hometown, his family did not have too many concerns with him moving so far away to continue his hockey career.

“All along, I have wanted to go out and see the world and play hockey elsewhere,” he said.

“I think Timmins is a great spot. In terms of far away, my parents weren’t too keen about it but they want what is best for me.

“Timmins is a small city and I think it will be a great fit for me.”

At 5-11 and 165 pounds, the left-hand catching goalie is similar in stature to Masternak’s 5-11 and 168-pound frame.

Masternak is not too familiar with McCarthy, but he is confident he will be able to work well with his new creasemate.

“It is nice to see another good young goalie come in looking to make a name for himself,” he said.

“He has some good numbers, too, so I think he will fit in nicely.”

While Masternak is expected to get the lion’s share of the work, ideally the plan is for the two goalies to push each other.

“It is good to have a good, healthy battle going on,” he said.

“You want to learn off of each other as best you can. I picked up things off guys like Eric Jackson (2017-18 Rock starting goalie) in the past.

“So, I think it is good to light a fire under each other and push each other to be better as the year goes on.”

While he will be entering his final year of Junior ‘A’ eligibility in 2020-21, Masternak is not looking beyond at this point.

“I am just focusing on this season and trying to have as much fun with it as I can,” he said.

“I have been through three years of Junior ‘A’ already and they just flew by. It seems like just yesterday I played my first game with the Rock and now we are already here.

“I am just going to live in the moment and have as much fun as I can, hopefully bring a championship to Timmins.”

Like players at every level across Canada, Masternak’s off-season has been impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is a bit tricky right now, with rinks not open quite yet, gyms aren’t open,” he said.

“You have kind of got to build your own little fire and get yourself doing your own little things at home, doing your own workouts and your own training.

“It is definitely a bit different than any of us have been used to in the past, but you have got to do whatever you have got to do to be ready come September.”

Having played in Timmins for three years, Masternak has no issues being away from home during the pandemic.

“We have never had to deal with this before, so it is tough for everyone, obviously, but I am just so excited to get back to Timmins, get on the ice and start working with the guys again,” he said.

“It is all I can think about every day.”

While social distancing — not to mention the hundreds of kilometres between their hometowns — has limited interaction between Rock players this off-season, they have still managed to stay in touch with Zoom.

“Typically, during a normal summer, the guys would have gotten together a couple of times by now, gone out and done whatever, gone for a round of golf,” Masternak said.

“It is obviously a bit different this summer. So, it is nice to be able to hop on the Zoom with the guys, see everyone’s face, see how everyone is doing, what’s going on in their lives, also, get in touch with the new guys, too. Learn what they are all about, who they are as people.”

With Masternak back and McCarthy eager to develop his game, Beer is confident the Rock will once again be strong in net in 2020-21.

“Masty is back for his fourth year and it is pretty incredible to have that kind of stability in net year after year,” he said.

“His record speaks for itself, in terms of the shutouts and the goals against.

“You see him up the CJHL (Canadian Junior Hockey League) rankings in terms of what he has done and I think Masty’s biggest attribute that came into play this past year was his leadership.

“That is something that is very rarely seen for a goalie. They kind of look after themselves and want to make sure they are good in net, but now we have got a guy who is in leadership meetings, sitting down talking with the defencemen about how we want to have our exits set up, where he is going to be positioned on breakouts, just all small stuff.

“That is something most goalies don’t even want to be part of and here is a guy who knows how important it is for our whole team to work as one unit.

“That was a huge growth period for Masty and that takes his game to the next level because now you have guys who are fully invested in front of him and who want to play for a guy who makes them better.

“The skills, the numbers, that’s all his hard work, stuff he puts in day-in and day-out to make sure he is sharp.

“He knows how to play in our system. He knows there might not be a shot for 10 minutes at a time sometimes, but he is a guy who makes sure his teammates are just as hard working around him.

“We saw a lot of growth with him and Vance last year, in terms of bringing along a young goalie and making him feel like this is how the league works. This is something I learned from my hard work and now I am going to pass it on to you.”

The coach notes that is something his entire team does well.

“When your top players are doing that, acting as assistant coaches, it makes things a lot easier for us, as a staff,” Beer said.

Beer also appreciates Masternak’s focus on team accomplishments, rather than his personal statistics.

“It is something we all talk about, or don’t talk about,” he said.

“We never bring up individual statistics. Hey this guy has 10 goals in his last five games. Nobody cares about that on our team. We know for those 10 goals to go in there were a thousand things that had to be done before that, to make sure a guy gets a backdoor tap-in or whatever.

“Masty understands that, too. When you put a great talent in a certain spot, whether it be a forward or defenceman, or in this case a goaltender, he knows how to utilize his talents in the confines of the system.

“The shots we give up come from certain areas. Masty makes those saves and he is dialed in, ready for that. He knows our team plays good in front of him.”

Beer also appreciates the way Masternak deflects attention, passing on credit for his accomplishments to others.

“Masty refocuses himself and his teammates on the bigger tasks, winning the next game or moving forward,” he said.

“We all know the next game is just as important, or more important, than the one you just played.”

When it comes to backup goalies, Beer sees a lot of similarities between McCarthy and Meyer.

“Thus far, I have been incredibly impressed with Gavin, in terms of the way he speaks on the phone and his maturity level for a 17-year-old kid,” he said.

“His skill set is fantastic. It really is. He is another 17-year-old goalie who is coming in here and we have been pretty good with 17-year-old goalies, Masty, Vance and now we are hoping with Gavin.

“It is one of those things where you come in here and you are going to get to learn from one of the best goalies in the league.

“You are going to get to play in a system, let’s face it, that is a little bit goalie friendly, at times, and he is going to be able to grow his game.

“I think the best part about what Gavin has right now is an unbelievable work ethic.

“Our guys have been sending in videos of their workouts and stuff and his detail and the stuff he is doing right to get himself prepared physically is top notch.

“He is training like a pro player, which is something that is pretty special.

“He is a kid who is level headed and comes from a great family.”

The coach was also impressed by the fact McCarthy caught the eye of the Wolves.

“He is a guy who comes in with a good pedigree, that way, as well,” Beer said.

“Being able to watch a bunch of his games from this past year and seeing how he developed, it is something we are real happy with, obviously.”