Rock’s first-round opponent for playoffs remains a mystery

Timmins forward Brady Harroun, shown here in action against the French River Rapids during an 8-0 home-ice win on March 5, will be hoping to crack the 50-goal mark and 100-point plateau when the Rock host the Blind River Beavers on Friday at the McIntyre Arena, at 7:30 p.m., and the Soo Thunderbirds on Sunday, at 1 p.m., to close out their regular-season schedule. Heading into the weekend, the Rock are still not sure if they will be taking on the Rapids, Cochrane Crunch or Kirkland Lake Gold Miners in Round 1 of the playoffs. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS jpg, TD

As the Timmins Rock prepare to play the final two games of their 2022-23 NOJHL regular-season schedule this weekend, they still don’t know who they will be facing in the opening round of the playoffs.

Thomas Perry
The Daily Press/Postmedia Network

TIMMINS – As the Timmins Rock prepare to play the final two games of their 2022-23 NOJHL regular-season schedule this weekend, they still don’t know who they will be facing in the opening round of the playoffs.

With a record of 44-7-3-2, the Rock have clinched the No. 1 seed in the East Division standings — and they are closing in on top spot in the NOJHL’s overall standings — as they prepare to host the Blind River Beavers at the McIntyre Arena on Friday, at 7:30 p.m., and the Soo Thunderbirds on Sunday, at 1 p.m.

And should the West Division-leading Greater Sudbury Cubs lose in regulation against the Espanola Paper Kings Thursday night, the Rock would clinch top spot in the overall standings without even having to step on the ice.

Three teams, however, remain in contention for the No. 4 seed in the East Division, with the right to take on the Rock in Round 1 of the playoffs on the line.

French River (8-46-2-1) are in the driver’s seat when it comes to the three-team race for the final playoff berth and a win in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., Tuesday night would have locked it up for the Rapids.

Instead, they dropped a 9-4 decision to the Eagles, but even with that setback they hold a three-point lead on both the Cochrane Crunch (7-46-1-1) and the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (7-47-1-1).

The Rapids will have some say in their fate, as their final game will see them host the Gold Miners at the Noelville Arena on Saturday, at 7 p.m.

French River has won all three previous encounters this season, although the last of those decisions was only a 3-2 victory in Kirkland Lake on Feb. 10.

Prior to that showdown, the Gold Miners will host the Soo Thunderbirds at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex on Friday, at 7 p.m.

For Saturday night’s head-to-head matchup in French River to mean anything, the Gold Miners will need a victory over the Thunderbirds Friday night — in regulation, overtime or a shootout.

Meanwhile, the Crunch have three games remaining and if they were to sweep all three the final playoff berth would be theirs — regardless of what the Rapids and Gold Miners do in their remaining contests.

Before Crunch fans begin lining up to purchase playoff tickets, however, it is important to note those three games are against some talented teams — the Lumberjacks (second in the East Division) in Hearst Thursday night, the Thunderbirds (third in the West Division) at the Tim Horton Event Centre on Saturday, at 7 p.m., and the Beavers (second in the West Division) on Sunday, at 3 p.m.

So, heading into the final weekend of the regular season, which of the Rock’s three potential opponents is the hottest, or least cool?

The Gold Miners are 2-7-0-1 in their past 10 games and have lost two-straight games.

French River is 1-8-1-0 in that time period, with six-straight losses, while the Crunch are 1-9-0-0, with seven-straight losses.

From a Rock perspective, does it really matter which of their East Division rivals they face in the opening round of the playoffs?

Let’s start with the Rapids, the Rock’s most likely opponent heading into the weekend.

Their most recent clash saw the Rock score a 6-1 win in French River Saturday night.

It was the fourth-straight win for the Rock against the Rapids this season, building upon an 8-0 victory on home ice March 5, a 7-2 triumph in French River on Dec. 3 and a 6-1 win at the McIntyre Arena on Oct. 21.

So, on the season the Rock outscored the Rapids 27-4.

The Rock have not faced the Gold Miners since Feb. 14 when they blanked their East Division rivals 1-0 after peppering Kirkland Lake goalie Ethan Barron with 57 shots.

It was the 12-straight win for the Rock over the Gold Miners this season, with eight of them coming by way of shutouts.

Earlier action saw the Rock win 5-1 in Kirkland Lake on Feb. 5, 6-0 in Kirkland Lake on Feb. 3, 4-1 in Kirkland Lake on Jan. 21, 5-0 on home ice Jan. 20, 5-2 on home ice Dec. 13, 7-0 on home ice Nov. 25, 8-0 in Kirkland Lake on Nov. 9, 4-0 in Kirkland Lake on Oct. 22, 3-0 on home ice Oct. 11, 2-0 in Kirkland Lake on Sept. 10 and 8-2 on home ice Sept. 9.

Overall, in the 12 games, the Rock outscored the Gold Miners 58-6.

The Rock’s most recent encounter with the Crunch saw them earn a 6-0 decision, in Iroquois Falls, Friday night.

It was the 10th-straight win for the Rock against the Crunch this season, with the others being 9-1 in Cochrane Feb. 11, 7-1 in Cochrane Jan. 27, 9-0 at home Jan. 25, 6-1 at home Jan. 6, 2-1 at home Dec. 16, 4-1 in Cochrane Dec. 2, 9-0 at home Nov. 29, 7-0 at home on Oct. 7 and 7-1 in Cochrane on Sept. 16.

So, on the season, the Rock outscored the Crunch 66-6.

Combined, against their three possible playoff opponents, the Rock had a record of 26-0-0-0 in the regular season, outscoring the three teams 151-16.

The matchups for the NOJHL’s other three first-round series are set, with the second-place Hearst Lumberjacks taking on the third-place Powassan Voodoos in the East Division and the first-place Cubs hosting the fourth-place Paper Kings and the second-place Beavers hosting the third-place Thunderbirds in the West Division.

In terms of individual accomplishments, with two games remaining on their schedule, Captain Nicolas Pigeon (56, 26-78-104, 30) will be looking to lock up the NOJHL scoring title.

And linemate Brady Harroun (55, 47-46-93, 66) will be looking to crack the 50-goal barrier and, with a solid weekend, hit the 100-point plateau, as well.

Blue-liner Kenyon Nyman (56, 11-47-58, 16) holds a one-point lead on Alex Little (52, 20-37-57, 16), of the Powassan Voodoos in the race to be the NOJHL’s highest scoring D-man, although the latter has a sizeable lead in goals.

It should be noted, of course, that while Little is listed as a blue-liner and has played the bulk of his games at that position, he has also played forward.

Jacob Brown, the Rock’s talented young goaltender, holds the NOJHL lead in shutouts, with seven, heading into the weekend, with teammate Patrick Boivin and Charlie Burns, of the Beavers, right behind, with six each.

The trio are the only NOJHL netminders with sub-2.00 goals against averages, as well, with Brown (1.44) leading, followed by Boivin (1.85) and Burns (1.87).

Heading into the weekend, Brown (.928) trails only Noah Metivier (.930), of the Cubs, in terms of save percentage.

Burns (.928) is tied with Brown, while Boivin (.925) is currently fourth.

Given the number of games left in the regular season, no goalie will catch Boivin’s 26 wins, while Brown is fifth, with 18.

With two home games remaining this season, will the Rock be able to smash the 20,000 attendance mark?

Heading into the weekend, they have attracted 18,160 fans, almost 3,000 more than the Soo Eagles, who sit at 15,452.

The Rock (698) also lead the Eagles (594) in average attendance per game.

And the 1,206 fans they attracted on Family Day, Feb. 20, was the largest single crowd to attend an NOJHL game this season.

Second was the 1,003 fans that attended the Crunch’s home game against the Rock at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls on March 10.