Rock host Wildcats, Lumberjacks

The Timmins Rock have signed forward Riley Robitaille, who started the season with the GNML’s Timmins Majors, to a Junior ‘A’ contract. Robitaille, shown here attempting to get a backhand shot off against Hearst Lumberjacks goalie Artem Bortovskiy during an NOJHL game at the McIntyre Arena on Oct. 20, played in four games as an affiliate with the Rock this season and also appeared in seven games with the Abitibi Eskis (now the Lumberjacks) during the 2016-17 NOJHL campaign. The Rock hope to have him the lineup Saturday night when they host the Elliot Lake Wildcats at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is set for 7 p.m. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS

By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)

TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock will be looking to take two more steps down the path toward respectability this weekend when they host the Elliot Lake Wildcats and the Hearst Lumberjacks at the McIntyre Arena.

And the team should have three new recruits — goalie Tyler Mastermak, as well as forwards Jace Soroko and Riley Robitaille — on hand to assist with that trek.

Goalie Eric Jackson (800:00, 4-7-0-1, 0, 2.55, .900) has been outstanding so far this season and it is difficult to envision what the Rock’s record would be without his steady play between the pipes.

At the start of the season, Jackson was supposed to be the Rock’s No. 1B netminder, behind No. 1A Brendan Bishop (319:00, 2-5-0-0, 0, 4.13, .842).

Bishop, who came into camp recovering from off-season surgery for an upper-body injury was never able to find his groove, however, and he has left the team to return to the Atlanta Knights, of the USPHL.

Affiliate goalie Jordan Yaremchuk (20:00, 0-0-0-0, 0, 2.27, .857), who plays for the GNML’s Timmins Majors, backed up Jackson during last weekend’s abbreviated two-game road trip, but he is not available this weekend, as the Majors are in Timmins for the Big Nickel Tournament.

Now, the Rock have signed Mastermak, a 17-year-old Oshawa native who started the year with the Powassan Voodoos (179:00, 2-1-0-0, 0, 3.68, .823) and has also seen time with the Port Hope Panthers (120:00, 1-1-0-0, 0,1.50, .945), of the PJCL.

Mastermak was an 11th-round (206 overall) selection of the Saginaw Spirit in the OHL’s 2016 Priority Selection.

“I am real close to their (Spirit) associate coach, Chris Lazary, and a couple of our guys here on the staff know GM, Dave Drinkill, so he comes highly recommended,” said Rock coach Corey Beer.

“We have done our homework on him and we expect Tyler to come in here and be that good, young goalie prospect we are looking for.”

Jackson will continue to get the bulk of the starts in the Rock net and he will be between the pipes when they host the Wildcats Friday night.

“He (Mastermak) will get in some games, because we have got to see what he can do, but we are also very cognizant of the fact Eric has done a tremendous job for us and we want to keep him rolling, as well,” Beer said.

“We feel highly he (Mastermak) will be a good goalie prospect for us moving forward.”

Adding a younger goalie to team with the 19-year-old Jackson indicates the Rock are happy with the play of their current No. 1.

“Eric has done a tremendous job of taking the reigns and running with it,” Beer said.

“He is a good, hard-working kid from a great family and with a good background.

“He needed a chance, more than anything.”

The addition of Soroko and Robitaille should help provide a boost to the Rock’s offensively challenged attack — that took a huge blow on the weekend.

Leading scorer Derek Seguin (19, 5-12-17, 26), a Timmins native, blocked a shot with his face and the news is not good.

“He is going to be gone for a month or two,” Beer said.

“He has a fractured jaw and it has been wired shut. We will not have him the lineup for some time and that is going to be a major loss.

“As the old saying goes, it will be the next guy up. It will be an opportunity for somebody else to step into his spot and eat those minutes, get that power-play time and be relied upon in the same way Derek was.

“We might have to shuffle the deck a few times to see who is going to step into that role.”

Seguin aside, the Rock do not have a plethora of high-scoring forwards on their roster.

He is followed on the depth chart by Jordan Picard (20, 5-10-15, 18), captain Wayne Mathieu (18, 5-9-14, 18), Stewart Parnell (19, 6-7-13, 10), Alexandre Brisson (19, 5-8-13, 12), affiliate player Austin Holmes (3, 2-2-4, 2), Connor Hoffmann (14, 2-2-4, 6), Seth Reuben (16, 2-1-3, 0) and Linden Spencer (18, 2-1-3, 12).

Robitaille has seen time with the Rock (4, 0-0-0, 0) this season, but he has spent most of the campaign with the GNML’s Timmins Majors (7, 3-5-8, 12).

At 6-2 and 180 pounds, Robitaille should bring some much-needed size to the Rock forward ranks, while Soroko, at 5-10 and 183 pounds, is better known for his speed.

“You can’t teach size and Riley brings with him useful size, Beer said.

“It is one thing to be a big guy, but it is another thing to be able to use it. I am not just talking about throwing big checks, but also winning puck battles and using your body as a control factor.

“I think this is going to be a great spot for Riley. He has done some great work with the Majors and their staff has really worked hard to get him ready. We feel it is a good time to kick start his Junior ‘A’ career.

“He is a great kid and he knows our system a bit already.”

Even without the injury to Seguin, Beer knew his team was in need of some fine tuning.

“We are trying to add some bodies in here, as well as add some talent and some skill, he said.

“There is no question our forward group has been having trouble scoring goals and we are confident these two young guys (Robitaille and Soroko) can come in here and play their game and hopefully contribute some offence for us.”

Soroko spent last season with the Waterloo Wolves (20, 4-3-7, 36), of the AHMPL, he also got into a playoff game with the Waterloo Siskins, of the GOJHL.

“Jace comes highly recommended by the rest of our staff here (assistant general manager Eric Paquette, assistant coach James Daschuk and goalie coach Marc Bisson), Beer said.

“They all coached him when he was playing minor hockey. They speak incredibly highly of his energy level and his passion for the game.

“He is versatile, as well, since he has the ability to play defence, as well as forward.

“We envision him as being a guy who can get in on the forecheck and play a speed game. I am very excited to see what he can do this weekend.”

On the defensive side of the puck, it appears the Rock have managed to avoid a serious downtime with blue-liner James Redmond (19, 2-2-4, 4), who suffered a lower-body injury during Saturday night’s 6-2 loss to the Eagles.

He did manage to play in Sunday’s 3-1 loss to the Beavers in Blind River.

Redmond, along with Jared Hester (16, 3-7-10, 16), converted forward Connor Losen (18, 3-5-8, 6) Grant McClellan (19, 1-3-4, 21), newcomer Josh Anderson (6, 0-2-2, 10), Will Caston (11, 0-0-0, 10) and Shawn Sloan (17, 1-0-1, 10) have combined to give the Rock a solid blue-line corps this season.

Sporting a record of 6-12-0-1 and holding down last place in the East Division standings — with the NOJHL’s second-worst record — the Rock have their work cut out for them in the coming days, weeks and months.

Saturday night’s opposition, the Wildcats (8-12-1-0) have lost seven-straight games and gone 2-8-0-0 in their past 10 games. They have fallen to fifth place in the West Division standings — three points behind the Soo Eagles, who have five games in hand.

Not good for a team that was a preseason favourite to win an NOJHL championship.

Lest Rock fans start counting their chickens before they have hatched, however, it is worth noting the Wildcats have a better record on the road (5-6-0-0) this season than at home (3-6-1-0).

The Rock, on the other hand, have clearly struggled on the road (0-8-0-1) this season, but they are over .500 at home (6-4-0-0).

“They have a very talented roster,” Beer said.

“We certainly know our work is going to be cut out for us. They may be going through their ups and downs at this point in the season, but they are certainly not an opponent we are planning to overlook.

“They do a good job of playing a highly skilled game, so we have to make sure we are strong on the defensive side of the puck. Slowing down their best offensive players will be a priority for us Saturday night.

“They are a team that sometimes thinks offence even before the puck is on their sticks. That makes any team dangerous and they are never out of a game.”

The majority of the Wildcats struggles this season have come on the defensive side of the puck.

Only two NOJHL squad — the French River Rapids (108) and the Espanola Express (104) — have allowed more goals this season than the 94 surrendered by Elliot Lake.

Goalie Parker Simpson (446:00, 4-2-1-0, 1, 2.96, .916) has posted some decent numbers this season, but the play of Allan Menary (616:00, 4-6-0-0, 0, 4.68, .886), newly acquired Logan Sawka (120:00, 0-2-0-0, 0, 6.00, .883) and Chris Wielenga (85:00, 0-2-0-0, 0, 7.80, .841) has left much to be desired.

Up front, the Wildcats have some weapons who can put up points in a hurry.

Their offence is led by Jacob Kelly (21, 12-16-28, 8), Evan Spencer (18, 10-17-27, 16), William Bucsis (19, 4-19-23, 6), Nick Long (21, 11-11-22, 20), David Elford (20, 6-12-18, 18) and Brett Crook (20, 3-13-16, 33).

Blue-liner Clark Allair (21, 4-10-14, 12) has also put up some good numbers.

The Wildcats can be especially dangerous on the power play, as their efficiency rating of 22.1% ranks second behind the NOJHL-lead Powassan Voodoos (23.7%).

On the other hand, they rank dead last in the NOJHL in penalty killing efficiency, with a rating of 70.5% — almost 6% worse than the Espanola Express, who are ranked 11th.

The Rock rank No. 11 on the power play, with an efficiency rating of just 14.4%, but their have been much better on the penalty kill — with an efficiency rating of 81.4% heading into the weekend, good for seventh best in the NOJHL.

Sunday night’s opponent, the Lumberjacks (9-8-0-0), are in a three-way tie for third place in the East Division standings.

The Lumberjacks have won two-straight games, but they are just 4-6-0-0 in their past 10 games.

This will be the fifth meeting of the season for the East Division rivals, who have split their first four games — with the Rock winning 3-2 on Oct. 20 and 3-1 on Sept. 9 at the McIntyre Arena and the Lumberjacks triumphing 3-1 on Oct. 4 and 5-0 on Sept. 9 at the Claude Larose Arena in Hearst.

“The Lumberjacks are a very hard-working, smart team,” Beer said.

“(Lumberjacks coach and general manager) Marc (Lafleur) has done a great job of getting those guys to buy in to a 200-foot game.

“I am not anticipating anything short of a tight-checking affair. It will likely be a one- or two-goal game.”

Goaltending and strong defence remain the strength of the Lumberjacks, although No. 1 puck stopper Artem Bortovskiy (652:00, 6-5-0-0, 2, 2.76, .911) has cooled off a little bit after a blazing red-hot start to the 2017-18 campaign.

Meanwhile, rookie Nicholas Dube (365:00, 3-3-0-0, 0, 2.30, .913) has had a nice start to his season, after making the jump from the GNML’s Kapuskasing Flyers.

Alec Johnson (17, 6-9-15, 38), who has just been named to Team NOJHL for the 2017 Eastern Canada Cup All-Star Challenge, and Austin Anselmo (10, 0-10-10, 8) anchor a very deep and steady Lumberjacks blue-line.

With only 57 goals on the season, the Lumberjacks are the third-lowest scoring team in the NOJHL — trailing only the Rock (43) and the Express (41).

Up front, they have gotten contributions from Spencer Silver (15, 8-7-15, 4), Samuel Bourdages (17, 8-7-15, 10), Max Johnson (17, 7-8-15, 22), Bradley Golant (17, 6-8-14, 4), Max Griffioen (17, 6-8-14, 10), Shadow Reuben (17, 3-11-14, 8) and Wade Auger (17, 3-7-10, 13).

The Lumberjacks have the 10th-best power play in the NOJHL this season, with an efficiency rating of 19.9%, but they have the fifth-best penalty kill ranking, with an efficiency rating of 83.2%.