NOJHL honours Mathieu, Hester

Timmins Rock forward Wayne Mathieu, centre, shown here leading a rush up ice with Derek Seguin, left, and Frederic Leclair-Pouw during Game 2 of the NOJHL quarterfinal series against the Hearst Lumberjacks at the McIntyre Arena on March 12, has been named one of Eastlink TV’s Playoffs 3 Stars of the Week for the period ending March 18, along with teammate Jared Hester. Mathieu leads in the NOJHL in playoff goals, with three, and sits second in points, with six, to Blind River Beavers sniper Owen Robinson’s seven. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS

By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)

TIMMINS – It took a complete team effort for the Timmins Rock to get past the Hearst Lumberjacks in their NOJHL East Division quarterfinal series and to earn a split of the first two games of their semi-final series with the Voodoos in Powassan.

One of the keys for the Rock during that five-game span, of course, has been the stellar offensive play of 20-year-old Timmins native Wayne Mathieu.

Mathieu’s three playoff goals lead all NOJHL snipers and his six points ranks second to Blind River Beavers forward Owen Robinson’s seven.

That offensive production has helped earn Mathieu top spot in Eastlink TV’s Playoffs 3 Stars of the Week for the period ending March 18.

In fact, the Rock took two of the week’s three stars, with blue-liner Jared Hester earning third star honours behind Beavers goalie Garret Boyonoski.

After finishing third on the Rock in scoring during the 2016-17 NOJHL season, Mathieu (54, 29-32-61, 22) appeared poised to end his Junior ‘A’ career on a high note.

Instead, his offensive production (48, 9-19-28, 30) slipped considerably, thanks in part to a number of nagging injuries.

“I can’t really make excuses,” he said.

Mathieu had perhaps the best game of his Rock career when his team needed him most — a two-goal, one assist effort to lead Timmins to a 5-0 victory over the Lumberjacks in Game 3 of their quarterfinal series in Hearst.

That three-point effort was one of the things noted by the NOJHL in its press release announcing the Eastlink TV’s Playoffs 3 Stars of the Week.

Mathieu’s improved play has certainly had a positive impact on the Rock’s special teams, especially the power play.

With an efficiency rating of 16.7% in the post season, the Rock rank fifth in the NOJHL — certainly an improvment on the team’s 11th-place ranking (13.9%) during the regular season.

The Rock have converted on five of their 30 power-play opportunities during the playoffs, with Mathieu netting one of those markers.

On the penalty kill, the Rock have the fourth-best efficiency rating (90.5%) in the playoffs, after finishing sixth (83.5%) during the regular season.

While the individual recognition is nice, Mathieu is more concerned with helping his team earn wins in the playoffs.

“When it comes to playoffs, wins are definitely more important that points,” he said.

One of the secrets to the Rock’s playoff success is that they have been able to mix and match their lines throughout the five games they have played to date.

For example, in Game 2 of the East Division semi-final series, Mathieu played on a line with Jordan Picard and affiliate player Riley Brousseau.

“The game before that, I played on a line with Evan Kentish-Stack and Tyler Gilberds,” he said.

Mathieu doesn’t feel there is any great secret to the success he has enjoyed so far in the playoffs.

“It is just a matter of sticking to the game plan,” he said.

“We are doing the same things we had been doing during the regular season, but I have been getting some lucky bounces.”

The Voodoos suffered just seven regulation losses during the regular season and only three on home ice, so Mathieu knows the Rock will have their work cut out for them Tuesday night and Wednesday night at the McIntyre Arena.

“It shows in the standings that these guys don’t lose very much, so we are going to have to keep playing the way we have been so far in the playoffs,” he said.

“We just have to make sure we stay nice and calm and don’t get into stuff after the whistle.”

Mathieu hopes that the Rock’s 5-2 victory in Game 2 of the series Saturday night might have sown a little bit of doubt in the back of the minds of the Voodoos.

“I really hope so because we have one of the hardest-working teams in the league,” he said.

Mathieu gives a lot of credit for the Rock’s improved special teams play in the playoffs to Hester.

“Jared Hester is unbelievable,” he said.

“He is really a great player.”

Hester (5, 1-4-5, 4) a soft-spoken, 20-year-old blue-liner who hails from Waskaganich, Que., is currently tied for third in the NOJHL’ playoff scoring race — trailing only Robinson and Mathieu.

The quarterback on the Rock power play, his four man-advantage points lead all NOJHL skaters in the playoffs.

Like Mathieu, Hester’s offensive production during the 2017-18 regular season (40, 5-14-19, 22) was down from the previous year (52, 10-19-29, 56) but a lot of that can be attributed to the 12 fewer games he played.

From an offensive standpoint, Hester has been one of the Rock’s most consistent players during the 2018 playoffs — collecting at least one point in four of the team’s five post-season games to date.

In the first two games on the series, especially in Game 2 Saturday night, the Rock have been able to put a blanket over the Voodoos’ normally high powered offence.

Only Shane Beaulieu (2, 1-2-3, 0), Kobe Desmond (2, 1-2-3, 0), Cade Herd(2, 1-2-3, 2) and Quintin Loon-Stewardson (2, 1-1-2, 6) have more than one point so far in the playoffs.

The Rock, meanwhile, have 10 players — Mathieu (5, 3-3-6, 0), Hester (5, 1-4-5, 4), Brousseau (5, 2-2-4, 0), Derek Seguin (5, 3-1-4, 4), Jace Soroko (5, 1-2-3, 0), Stewart Parnell (5, 0-3-3, 2), Picard (5, 0-3-3, 2), Gilberds (4, 2-0-2, 4), Kentish-Stack (5, 2-0-2, 0) and Shawn Sloan (4, 0-2-2, 4) — who have hit that level, although admittedly in three more games.

The Rock have also gotten stellar goaltending from Tyler Masternak (286:00, 3-2-0, 1, 2.52, .933) and Eric Jackson (20:00, 0-0-0, 0, 0.00, 1.000) to this point in the playoffs.

Meanwhile, Julian Galloway (120:00, 1-1-0, 0, 3.50, .873) looked solid in goal for the Voodoos in Game 1, but not so much in Game 2 — even though he was named the contest’s third star for stopping 29 of the 34 shots he faced.

Both Game 3 of the series, Tuesday, and Game 4, on Wednesday, at the McIntyre Arena will start at 7 p.m.