The Timmins Rock will be looking to close in on the top spot in the NOJHL’s East Division standings this weekend when they play a home-and-home series with the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners to close out the pre-Christmas portion of their schedule.
Heading into the weekend, the Rock (24-5-1-1) trail the division-leading Powassan Voodoos (27-6-0-0) by four points and the second-place Hearst Lumberjacks (26-11-0-1) by three points.
It is worth noting, however, the Rock have two games in hand on the Voodoos and they have played seven fewer games than the Lumberjacks.
In fact, the Rock — sitting at No. 12 in the latest Canadian Junior Hockey League weekly Top 20 rankings — have suffered the fewest regulation losses to this point in the campaign.
While the Rock will take on the Gold Miners at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex in Kirkland Lake Friday night and then host their rivals at the McIntyre Arena on Saturday, at 7 p.m., the Voodoos will take on the Wildcats in Elliot Lake Friday night and the Lumberjacks will not play again until after the Christmas break.
Friday night’s meeting in Kirkland Lake will be the first since the Gold Miners recent leadership change, which saw Kyle Smart hired as coach and general manager to replace Trevor Ritchie, who started the season at the helm of the squad.
Since that coaching change, the Gold Miners — who have a 9-19-4-1 record on the season — have gone 2-2-0-0.
The Rock have swept all four games they have played against the Gold Miners to this point in the campaign and have yet to surrender a goal at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex — winning 5-0 on Sept. 22 and 4-0 on Nov. 9.
Things have been a lot closer in the two games played at the McIntyre Arena, with the Rock winning 3-2 in a shootout on Sept. 14 and 4-3 on Oct. 25.
The Gold Miners, who have scored the third-fewest goals (86) in the NOJHL this season, do not have any players among the league’s Top 20 snipers.
Of course, that does not mean the Gold Miners are not capable of putting the puck in the net when the opportunity arises.
They have four players — Max Newnam (33, 9-15-24, 48), Connor Van Weelie (33, 14-5-19, 6), Cameron Neaylon (30, 5-13-18, 24) and Kyler Campbell (30, 8-8-16, 20) — who have racked up at least 15 points to this point in the campaign.
Meanwhile, the Rock have produced the sixth most goals (130) so far this season, even though they have played the fewest games among all NOJHL squads.
Two members of the Rock — captain Derek Seguin (30, 18-15-33, 16) and linemate Josh Dickson (30, 16-17-33, 28) — sit among the NOJHL’s Top 20 snipers.
And 10 other members of the Rock — blue-liner Josh Anderson (30, 7-22-29, 36), Karter Renouf (31, 14-11-25, 28), Stewart Parnell (25, 10-12-22, 11), Riley Robitaille (31, 6-16-22, 31), Tyler Schwindt (30, 9-10-19, 14), Tyler Gilberds (30, 10-8-18, 32), David Laroche (17, 8-10-18, 4), Phil Caron (14, 6-10-16, 8), Jonah Devereux (26, 6-10-16, 20) and blue-liner Owen Shier (30, 4-11-15, 16— have already hit the 15-point mark heading into the weekend.
There likely isn’t any player in the NOJHL as hot right now as Caron — who is coming off a three-goal, six-point effort against the Lumberjacks Sunday afternoon — who is one of the NOJHL’s Three Stars of the Week.
Defensively, the Gold Miners have allowed the fourth-most goals (125) in the league to this point.
That total might actually be much higher were it not for the steady Gold Miners netminding duo of Kyle McNair (922:00, 4-7-2-1, 0, 3.45, .911) and Kohl Reddy (1,065:00, 5-12-2-0, 2, 3.83, .895).
When it comes to team defence, the Rock, with just 57 goals surrendered on the season, rank No. 1 in the entire NOJHL — 22 fewer than the next best squad (the Voodoos, 79).
Defence is a team statistic, but having the NOJHL’s Top 2 goalies — rookie Vance Meyer (780:00, 10-3-0-0, 4, 1.46, .932) and veteran Tyler Masternak (1,087:00, 14-2-1-1, 4, 1.99, .922) — certainly doesn’t hurt.
Friday’s game at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex in Kirkland Lake is schedule to start at 7:30 p.m., while the rematch at the McIntyre Area on Saturday will get underway at 7 p.m.