The Timmins Rock’s five-game winning streak will be put to the test when they host the NOJHL-leading Kirkland Lake Gold Miners at the McIntyre Arena Wednesday night.
Heading into the contest, the Gold Miners (12-2-0-0) — who have won all four encounters with the Rock (9-4-1-0) this season — are riding a seven-game winning streak of their own.
They hold a three-point lead over the Powassan Voodoos (10-3-1-0) and a five-point advantage on the Rock atop the East Division standings.
And their 24 points are four more than the 20 accumulated by the West Division co-leaders, the Soo Thunderbirds (10-3-0-0) and the Rayside-Balfour Canadians (9-6-1-1).
The Rock’s only four regulation losses so far this season have come at the hands of the Gold Miners — twice at the McIntyre Arena and twice at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex.
Those four setbacks have left coach Corey Beer and his staff pouring over video in an attempt to put together a game plan that will finally allow them to find the win column against their East Division rivals.
“We are probably playing some of our best hockey of the year,” he said.
“You look over at that team, though, and they really are on another level. They are pretty dominant and they have been rolling pretty good.
“It is going to be a tough test, especially when you look at where they are ranked in Canada (No. 5). We know it is going to be a pretty steep hill to climb.”
Offensively, the Gold Miners have scored 62 goals to this point in the season — tops in the NOJHL.
They have five players — Gregory Trudeau-Paquet (14, 8-10-18, 10), Max Newnam (11, 9-6-15, 34), Alex Elie (14, 4-10-14, 2), Christian Snyder (14, 5-8-13, 2) and Noah Cauchi (13, 3-10-13, 2) — among the NOJHL’s Top 20 scorers.
The Rock, meanwhile, have just one player — captain Derek Seguin (13, 7-7-14, 6) — on that list.
And as a team, the Rock have scored 22 fewer goals in the same number of games as Wednesday’s opponent.
Defensively, the Gold Miners have allowed just 27 goals so far this season — also tops in the NOJHL.
The goaltending of Gregory Brassard (534:00, 8-0-0-0, 1, 1.57, .941) and Dawson Rodin (246:00, 4-1-0-0, 2, 1.71, .949), of course, has been a big reason for that stellar defensive mark.
Defence has been a big part of the Rock’s success this season, as well, as they have allowed just 37 goals — fifth fewest in the NOJHL.
Still, neither Tyler Masternak (665:00, 7-3-1-0, 3, 2.44, .903) — who has played more minutes than any other goalie in the NOJHL and has posted a league-leading three shutouts — nor his understudy Nicholas Dicks (190:00, 2-1-0-0, 2.85, .885) have found a way to beat the Gold Miners this season.
Masternak on Monday was named one of the NOJHL’s Three Stars of the Week, along with Rayside-Balfour Canadians forward Benjamin Hatanaka and Gold Miners blue-liner Gabriel LeBlanc.
“It’s an honour to be named as one of the top players in the league for the week,” he said prior to practice at the McIntyre Arena on Monday.
“I can’t say enough about the guys in our room for doing everything they can to make my job easy for me.”
No Rock goalie has earned three shutouts in an entire NOJHL season since the franchise moved back to Timmins prior to the 2015-16 season — let alone in the first 14 games of a season.
It is one short of the franchise record four shutouts (2003-04) in a single season recorded by Ryan Scott when the team was known as the Abitibi Eskimos and played out of the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls.
With two shutouts last season and three so far this year, Masternak has also established a new franchise career record for regular-season shutouts with five — eclipsing Scott’s four.
Counting the one shutout he recorded during the 2018 playoffs, his six shutouts also surpass the five of J.P. Fecteau (two regular season, three playoff).
“That is huge because there have obviously been a lot of great goalies who have played here,” Masternak said.
“To be able to record so many shutouts is a great accomplishment.”
The 2000-birth-year Oshawa native feels being busiest goalie in the NOJHL has helped keep him sharp.
“It lets you get into a groove,” Masternak said.
“You know what you want to do each and every night you get out there.”
He knows extending the Rock’s current five-game winning streak and ending the Gold Miners seven-game mark won’t come easy.
“It is not going to be an easy game,” Masternak said.
“I am honestly not too sure why we haven’t been able to beat them in the first four games. We are just going to have to go out there and do what we have been doing against other teams, stick to our game plan and keep things simple.”
The Rock’s record of futility against the Gold Miners started with a 6-3 setback at the McIntyre Arena on Sept. 9.
Things actually started out well for the Rock in that contest, as they enjoyed a 1-0 lead after one period of play thanks to a Josh Dickson goal.
The Gold Miners scored four-straight goals, however, to quickly assume control of the contest.
Four days later, the two sides squared off a the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex in Kirkland Lake with the Gold Miners posting a 5-1 victory.
The Rock were only down 1-0 after 20 minutes, but the wheels quickly fell off the bus in the second period as they surrendered three-straight goals.
To make matters worse, the Rock also lost forward Stewart Parnell to a serious upper-body injury in that contest.
A second trip to the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex on Sept. 26 proved to be just as futile for the Rock, as they dropped a 6-1 decision.
Unlike their first two meetings, the Rock were never really in this contest as they trailed 3-0 after the opening period.
Back at the McIntyre Arena on Oct. 3, the Rock were shut out 5-0 by the Gold Miners, with Rodin stopping all 32 shots he faced.
Interestingly enough, those four losses to the Gold Miners are the only regulation setbacks the Rock have suffered so far this season.
There have been stretches during those four losses when the Rock were able to hang with the Gold Miners, which should offer Rock fans a glimmer of hope.
“We are going to have to generate a full 60 minutes of effort against these guys,” Beer said.
“They are extremely deep in terms of their forward matchups and how they play on the back end. They have added some great guys on the back end and their goalies are a phenomenal one-two punch.
“We certainly know what they can do. We have seen it first hand four times now and come up short every time.
“To use a bit of a David and Goliath mantra, we know we are going to be the underdogs and we are going to have to play our best game. The way they are playing right now is very special and a credit to their coach Ryan Wood and his staff.”
Rock fans might get a look at the team’s newest addition, 1998-birth-year forward Tyler Hutchinson, Wednesday night.
The 6-4, 215 pound left-hand shooting right winger, who was acquired from the Pictou County Crushers, of the MJAHL, in exchange for blue-liner Alexis Quane-Arsenault arrived in Timmins Monday morning and was on the ice at the McIntyre Arena for practice in the afternoon.
“I think it is more likely than not that he will play,” Beer said.
“We will have to see how he is over the next two days. We don’t want to throw him into a spot where he is not ready to play our system. It will really depend on the injury status of a couple of our players (forward Derek Seguin and blue-liners Carson Burlington and Owen Shier). If they are good to go, maybe we will allow Hutch to have another day’s rest.
“We will see how our injured players are moving around today. Then when we ramp things up a little bit more physically Tuesday, we will get a better feel for whether they will be ready to go on Wednesday.”
NOJHL NOTES — In addition to the Gold Miners being ranked No. 5 (up from No. 15) in this week’s Canadian Junior Hockey League Top 20, the Thunderbirds are ranked No. 7 (down from No. 1) and the Voodoos received honourable mention. The AJHL’s Brooks Bandits are ranked No. 1 (up from No. 3), the CCHL’s Brockville Braves No. 2 (up from No. 9) and the SIJHL’s Thunder Bay North Stars No. 3 (up from No. 8).