The NOJHL has announced the Timmins Rock will tangle with East Division-rival Hearst Lumberjacks in a six-game series starting at the McIntyre Arena on Sunday, Dec. 13. Currently tied for top spot in the division, each boasting records of 5-1-0, the Rock had a 1-0 lead in their best-of-seven semifinal series when the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the cancelation of the 2020 playoffs. Rock forward Zach Smith and Lumberjacks goalie Liam Oxner, seen here during a regular-season matchup at the McIntyre Arena on Dec. 1, 2019, are among those looking forward to the series. FILE PHOTO/THE DAILY PRESS
The NOJHL has announced the Timmins Rock will clash with East Division-rival Hearst Lumberjacks in their second six-game series of the 2020-21 regular season.
Heading into the series, scheduled to begin at the McIntyre Arena on Sunday, Dec. 13, the Rock and the Lumberjacks sport identical 5-1-0 records, good for a first-place tie in the division.
It will be the first meeting of the two rivals since the Rock defeated the Lumberjacks 5-2 in Game 1 of what was supposed to be a best-of-seven East Division semifinal series at the McIntyre Arena on March 11.
Even though Timmins won that contest and finished in second spot in the NOJHL’s overall standings, the Lumberjacks gave them problems in the 2019-20 regular season — winning five of the eight games, accounting for almost half of the Rock’s regulation setbacks.
As one might expect, there have been significant changes to both rosters since that contest.
The Rock have 10 players — goalie Gavin McCarthy, blue-liners Lucas Branch, Bode Dunford, Felix Cadieux-Fredette and Christopher Innes, as well as forwards Tyler Patterson, Henry Brock, Landon Deforge, Nicolas Pigeon and Harry Clark — who were not full-time members of the maroon, gold and white when they last entertained the Lumberjacks.
Meanwhile, the Lumberjacks have added 15 new players — goalie Andrew Stephan, blue-liners Thomas Dodds, Dylan Ford, Calum Haslam, Mason Wesley, as well as forwards Quinton Hill, Pineshish Whiteduck, Liam Doyle, Mason Bazaluk, Zachary Demers, Tyren Grimsdale, Alexander Christopoulos, Brayden Palfi, Jaxon Penner and Raphael Lajeunesse.
Perhaps the biggest change, however, is behind the bench where former Abitibi Eskimos sniper Marc-Alain Bégin has taken over from Marc Lafleur as head coach.
Record aside, there appears to be little similarity between how the Rock and the Lumberjacks approach the game of hockey.
The Rock’s defence-first approach to the game has seen then allow just 12 goals in their first six games, with seven of them coming in a Game 5 meltdown that saw them surrender three tallies in a 21 second span.
By comparison, Hearst has given up 21 goals in their first six games of 2020-21.
On the other hand, the Lumberjacks 35 goals rank them at the top of the NOJHL in terms of offensive output.
Meanwhile, with 23 goals on the season, the Rock rank No. 4 in the NOJHL.
A big part of the Rock’s defensive success, of course, can be traced to veteran goalie Tyler Masternak.
Masternak (248:00, 4-0-0, 1, 0.73, .966), a 20-year-old Oshawa native who is now in his fourth and final season in a Rock jersey, leads the NOJHL in every significant goaltending category.
As long as he remains healthy and continues his assault on the NOJHL record books, Rock fans can expect to see him get the majority of the starts between the pipes — in this series and beyond.
Masternak’s understudy, 17-year-old Athens, Ont., native Gavin McCarthy (112:00, 1-1-0, 0, 4.82, .804) has made two starts this season, with mixed results.
He looked solid in a 7-2 home-ice win over the Rayside-Balfour Canadians in Game 3 of their series, but was not as sharp and got no help from his teammates in a 7-4 setback in Game 5.
Stephan (238:00, 3-1-0, 0, 3.02, .895), an 18-year-old Montreal native, has gotten the majority of the starts in the Hearst net so far this season.
But 19-year-old Halifax native Liam Oxner (121:00, 2-0-0, 0, 3.97, .830) enjoyed a great deal of success against the Rock during the 2019-20 NOJHL campaign.
Given the Rock’s modest offensive output to this point in the season, it shouldn’t come as too big of a shock that they have just two players among the NOJHL’s Top 20 snipers — Josh Dickson (6, 4-6-10, 6) and captain Derek Seguin (6, 5-3-8, 12).
In fact, only two other members of the squad — Zach Smith (6, 1-6-7, 2) and blue-liner Brendan Boyce (6, 2-3-5, 8) — have cracked the five-point mark, although Tyler Schwindt (6, 3-1-4, 4) is not too far off that pace.
Hill (5, 8-5-13, 2), meanwhile, not only leads the Lumberjacks in scoring, but is also the pace setter in the entire NOJHL.
And four of his teammates — Sebastien Doucet (6, 2-7-9, 6), Grimsdale (6, 2-7-9, 14), Olivier Cloutier-Faucher (6, 5-3-8, 4) and blue-liner Carson Cox (6, 1-6-7, 2) — are among the league’s Top 20 scorers.
In addition, the Lumberjacks have three other players — Whiteduck (5, 3-3-6, 0), Penner (6, 3-3-6, 4) and Demers (6, 3-2-5, 4) — who have accumulated at least five points.
Special teams can, of course, play an important role in deciding the outcome of any series.
That’s why it is important to limit the number of odd-man advantages you give your opponent.
To this point in the season, Rock players have spent 56 minutes in the sinbin — lowest in the NOJHL — while the Lumberjacks, with 79 minutes, have spent the third most time in the penalty box.
With nine goals in 37 opportunities (24.3 per cent), the Rock have the third-most lethal power play in the NOJHL, although they have surrendered three shorthand goals, which ties them for most in that category.
On the other hand, the Lumberjacks have scored five goals with the man advantage in 36 chances (13.9 per cent), good for sixth in the NOJHL, but like the Rock they have also given up three shorthanded goals.
The Rock’s NOJHL-best penalty kill has given up just three goals in 28 shorthanded situations (89.3 per cent), but they are still looking for their first shorthanded goal of the season.
Conversely, the Lumberjacks’ eighth-best penalty kill (74.1 per cent) has surrendered seven goals in 27 shorthanded situations.
Unlike the Rock, however, they have already notched three shorthanded goals on the season.
The second game of the series will also be played at the McIntyre Arena, on Tuesday, Dec. 15.
Then the action will switch to the Claude Larose Arena in Hearst for Game 3 on Wednesday, Dec. 16, Game 4 on Friday, Dec. 18, and Game 5 on Sunday, Dec. 20.
The series will conclude with Game 6 at the McIntyre Arena on Tuesday, Dec. 22.