The COVID-19 pandemic aside, 2021 will go down in the annals of history as a very good year on the ice for the Timmins the NOJHL’s Timmins Rock.
After posting a 9-1-0 record during the second half of their COVID-19 abbreviated 2020-21 campaign, the Rock ended the first half of the current campaign sporting a record of 23-5-1-1 — both tops in the NOJHL.
Combined, the Rock (32-6-1-1) won 80 per cent of the games they played in the calendar year.
Scheduled to open the 2022 portion of their schedule with a game against the Rapids in French River Thursday night, the Rock — No. 9 in the latest Canadian Junior Hockey League Top 20 rankings — appear poised to continue that success in the new year, as well.
Offensively, they have scored more goals (140) than any other team in the NOJHL, even though they have played one game few than the second-highest scoring team in the league, the Hearst Lumberjacks (139).
Defensively the Rock (71 goals in 30 games) have allowed the third-fewest goals in the NOJHL but it is important to note the Top 2 teams, the Soo Eagles (69 goals in 24 games) and the Soo Thunderbirds (70 goals in 28 games) have both played fewer contests to this point in the season.
So, it should come as no surprise that when the NOJHL announced its Players of the Month for December two members of the organization were front and centre, with a third earning honourable mention.
Cameron Dutkiewicz became the second Rock blue-liner to earn Defenceman of the Month honours, joining Bode Dunford, who was recognized in October.
A stalwart at both ends of the ice, Dutkiewicz (28, 12-17-29, 21) scored in the five of the six match-ups he appeared in during the time frame, including markers in each of his final four appearances in 2021.
The 20-year-old Timmins native also notched his first NOJHL hat-trick on Dec. 10 during a road triumph at Cochrane.
Dutkiewicz is presently playing at more than a point-per-game pace for the Rock.
The Rock blue-liner also shares the league-lead in scoring among defencemen and has already established personal single-season best totals in tallies, assists and points.
Honourable mention went to Dylan Ford, of the Hearst Lumberjacks, and Ryan O’Dell, of the Powassan Voodoos.
Rock puck stopper Konrad Simard was named the NOJHL’s Goaltender of the Month for December.
With most NOJHL netminders seeing limited game action in December due to a shortened schedule, Simard was stellar in his time between the pipes, posting back-to-back shutouts in his two starts.
The 18-year-old goalkeeper, who hails from Chibougamou, Que., handled every shot he faced in the time frame, raising his overall record this season with Timmins to 6-0-0-0.
Simard presently sports a solid 1.50 goals against average and has lifted his save percentage to .912.
With 54 consecutive stops to his credit, he has not allowed a goal in his past 138 minutes and 43 seconds of game action.
Honourable mention went to Nolan Chartrand, of the Soo Thunderbirds, and Gabe Rosek, of the Soo Eagles.
Meanwhile, Rock forward Christopher Engelbert — who won the award in September — was a runner-up for the NOJHL’s Rookie of the Month award for December.
First-year Hearst forward Mathieu Comeau etched his name on the game sheet in six of the seven games the Lumberjacks had in the month, collecting 14 points in total, to earn the honour.
Still just 16 years of age, and one of the youngest players in the entire league, Comeau provided six goals for his hometown side in December and helped set-up eight others along the way.
This included a five-point effort on Dec. 11, which matched the NOJHL high so far this season for most points in a single contest.
Comeau currently shares the NOJHL rookie lead in game-winning goals, with four, and will begin the new year with points in each of his past five match-ups.
He is also one of two skaters in the league, who have appeared in 20 or more games so far this season, that have not incurred a single penalty.
In addition to Engelbert, honourable mention also went to Lumberjacks forward Robbie Rutledge.
Rutledge shouldn’t be too disappointed at losing out to his teammate, however, as he was named the NOJHL’s Player of the Month for December.
In six contests to conclude 2021, Rutledge racked up 15 points by scoring nine times and doling out six assists for the Lumberjacks.
This included a trio of multi-tally efforts, which featured a four-goal outburst at French River back on Dec. 11.
The 17-year-old from Severn, Ont., also had a game-winning marker and registered multiple point nights on five occasions during the month.
Heading into January, Rutledge leads all NOJHL skaters in goals, with 23, and sits second in league offensive production, while topping all rookies with his 40 points.
Honourable mention went to Levi Siau, of the Rapids, and Tyson Doucette, of the Thunderbirds.
After opening the post-Christmas portion of their schedule on the road, the Rock will host the West Division-leading Thunderbirds at the McIntyre Arena on Sunday, at 3 p.m.