Konrad Simard stopped all 17 shots he faced to backstop the Timmins Rock to a 7-0 win over the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners at the McIntyre Arena Sunday afternoon.
It was the final game before the Christmas break for both NOJHL squads.
The victory allowed the Rock (23-5-1-1) to maintain top spot in the NOJHL’s overall and East Division standings, one point up on the Powassan Voodoos (21-6-4-1) and two points ahead of the Hearst Lumberjacks (22-7-2-0).
It was the second-straight shutout for Simard, who blanked the Gold Miners 4-0 in Kirkland Lake on Dec. 4.
“I felt pretty good the whole day,” he said.
“Beating them in their building gave me a pretty good idea what I would be up against this afternoon.”
Simard, an 18-year-old Chibougamou, Que., product, now sports a 1.50 goals against average and a .917 save percentage.
While Simard wasn’t overly busy Sunday afternoon, he was called upon to make a few key stops in the contest.
“I made a few big saves, but I think the last one might have been the toughest,” he said.
With a big lead by that point, Simard wasn’t really thinking about the shutout or any other personal stats.
“I just wanted to stop the puck and help the team win,” he said.
Offensively, the Rock got goals from seven different players Sunday afternoon en route to their victory.
Liam Wells’ 12th tally of the season, at the 5:41 mark of the opening period, stood up to be the game-winning goal.
Five unanswered second-period tallies allow the Rock to break the contest wide open, with special teams playing a key role in the offensive outburst.
Henry Brock’s power-play marker, his sixth goal of the season, got the puck rolling 21 seconds into the frame.
Captain Tyler Schwindt then added a shorthanded marker, his team-leading 21st goal of the season, just under six minutes later to make it a 3-0 hockey game.
A minute and a half later, Riley Brousseau followed with his 13th goal of the season.
And 21 seconds later it was Christopher Engelbert’s turn to find the back of the net as he netted his 12th goal of the season, also a power-play marker.
That goal spelled the end of Kirkland Lake starting goalie Keaton Lyons’ afternoon, as he was lifted with Zachary Reddy coming on in relief for the Gold Miners.
Less than two minutes later Nicolas Pigeon chipped in with his ninth goal of the season to put the Rock in front 6-0 heading into the second intermission.
Blue-liner Cameron Dutkiewicz closed out the scoring with three-and-a-half minutes remaining in the contest when he netted his 12th goal of the season.
It was the sixth goal in the past four games for the offensively talented Dutkiewicz, whose 29 points now lead all NOJHL blue-liners.
Rock coach and general manager Brandon Perry was pleased with what he saw from his squad Sunday afternoon.
“It was a really good game and the perfect way to end the first half of our season, heading into the Christmas break,” he said.
“I thought we played great in the first period, got a lot of chances and their goalie made some saves.
“It was just one of those games, though, and it was just a matter of when the pucks were going to start going in.
“In that second period they came in bunches. Our guys did a good job of sticking with it and pushing the pace and sure enough, they went in.”
The Rock’s special teams were certainly special Sunday afternoon, on both sides of the puck.
“Our penalty kill was fantastic this afternoon,” Perry said.
“All our guys did a great job and Konrad was solid between the pipes.”
Simard, who has seen action in just six of the Rock’s first 30 games, has been sharp when called upon.
“He just looks more comfortable every time he goes in there,” Perry said.
“He played great tonight. Even though he only faced 17 shots the first four or five of them he had to really come up big.
“He really saved some of our D from some costly mistakes.”
Up front, the Rock continued to get scoring for a variety of skaters, making it difficult for opponents to try and focus on shutting down any particular line on any given night.
“We want four lines that can score and I think we showed that again this afternoon,” Perry said.
“When we are healthy and icing our best lineup we have four lines that can score and we get good contributions from our back end, as well.
“We have a really talented group and when we are all working hard and pulling together everybody contributes.”
When the Rock acquired Dutkiewicz from the Soo Thunderbirds in the offseason they knew they were getting an outstanding offensive-minded blue-liner.
“I coached him with the (GNML’s Timmins) Majors for two years and he an offensively gifted defenceman,” Perry said.
“We brought him in to run one of our power-play units and contribute offensively, but it gets overlooked how well he plays defensively, as well.
“He leads our team in plus-minus, he leads out team in hits, he leads our team in shots.
“He is a well-rounded player. He can kill penalties if we need him to, he can do it all.”
In addition to picking up his second-straight shutout of the season, Simard’s 17-save performance earned him his sixth win in as many starts in a Rock uniform.
Lyons, who stopped 19 of the 24 shots the Rock directed his way in his 28:07 in the Kirkland Lake net, was tagged with the loss.
Reddy blocked 15 of the 17 shots he faced in his 31:53 of relief.
NOJHL NOTES — The Daily Press three stars of the game were Simard, Schwindt and Wells … The Rock went 2-9 on the power play, while the Gold Miners were 0-6 with the man advantage and surrendered a shorthanded goal … Official attendance at the McIntyre Arena was 631 … Sunday’s only other action saw the Lumberjacks thump the Cochrane Crunch 9-5 in Hearst … The Rock will return to action on Jan. 7 when they travel to French River for a game against the Rapids. The next home game, on Sunday, Jan. 9, will see the Rock entertain the West Division-leading Soo Thunderbirds at the McIntyre Arena, at 3 p.m.