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NOJHL East Division Final preview: Timmins Rock vs. Hearst Lumberjacks

SUDBURY, Ont. – Two evenly matched Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League clubs will take to the ice Tuesday evening at McIntyre Arena as the Timmins Rock and Hearst Lumberjacks commence their East Division Final at 7 p.m.

Timmins advanced by sweeping the French River Rapids in four straight games, in one divisional semifinal, while Hearst needed six appearances to get by the Powassan Voodoos.

Neither team has yet to lose on the road in the 2022 playoffs.

Here’s a look at the best-of-seven affair:

SEASON RECORDS: Only one point separated the two teams in the final regular season standings, with the Rock taking the division title in narrow fashion.

Timmins: 33-8-5-2 (1st NOJHL East/2nd overall)
Hearst: 35-11-2-0 (2nd NOJHL East/3rd overall)

HEAD-TO-HEAD: Squaring off eight times during the course of the regular season, Timmins took the season set, going 4-1-2-1 overall versus Hearst.

Six of the match-ups were decided by just one goal, including three that went to overtime and one more required a shootout to determine a winner.

While the Rock did pick-up at least one point in seven of their eight meetings with the Lumberjacks, Hearst won each of the last three games played and four of the previous five.

In all, Timmins out scored Hearst by a 28-26 count.

RESULTS:

Sept. 19: @ Timmins (2-1 Rock – OT)

Oct. 29: @ Timmins (4-3 Rock)
Nov. 19: @ Hearst (5-1 Rock)
Nov. 28: @ Hearst (6-3 Lumberjacks)
Nov. 30: @ Timmins (5-4 Rock)
Feb. 27: @ Timmins (Lumberjacks 5 Rock 4 – OT)
March 18: @ Hearst (Lumberjacks 5 Rock 4 – OT)
March 25: @ Hearst (Lumberjacks 2-1 – SO)

SERIES SCHEDULE:

NOJHL East Division Final
Timmins Rock vs. Hearst Lumberjacks
Best-of-seven series
Game 1: Tuesday, April 19 @ Timmins 7:30 p.m. (McIntyre Arena)

Game 2: Wednesday, April 20 @ Timmins 7:30 p.m. (McIntyre Arena)
Game 3: Saturday, April 23 @ Hearst 7:30 p.m. (Claude Larose Recreation Centre)  
Game 4: Sunday, April 24 @ Hearst 4 p.m. (Claude Larose Recreation Centre)  
Game 5*: Monday, April 25 @ Timmins 7:30 p.m. (McIntyre Arena)
Game 6*: Wednesday, April 27 @ Hearst 7:30 p.m. (Claude Larose Recreation Centre)
Game 7*: Friday, April 29 @ Timmins 7:30 p.m. (McIntyre Arena)
*-if necessary

THE ROCK: In their series triumph over French River, the Rock outscored the Rapids 16-8.

Their leading point producer in the postseason to date is forward Harry Clark.

He has collected seven points on a goal and six assists, which ties him for third overall among all NOJHL playoff performers.

The trio of Nicolas Pigeon, Tyler Schwindt and Gabinien Kioki are next with four points each.

A well-balanced attack sees 15 members of the Rock, who have two, or more, points through their first four playoffs outings.

Goaltender Gavin McCarthy started all four contests in the sweep of French River and sported a goals-against average of 2.00, along with a save percentage of .928 and one shutout.

Timmins earned the No. 1 seed in the NOJHL East after winning the tightly-contested division title under league coach of the year, Brandon Perry.

Boasting a solid line-up in all areas, the Rock are led by their captain, Schwindt.

The veteran forward finished tied for third in NOJHL scoring with 64 points with his 34 goals, four of which were game-winners, being the third-most in the league as well.

Another over a point-per-game player on the team is Riley Brousseau.

He was seventh in league offensive numbers with 57 points in 48 outings on 19 tallies and 38 helpers.

Then there was Pigeon, who collected 47 points, with a dozen markers and 35 assists to his credit.

On the back-end, Timmins sees second team NOJHL All-Star Cameron Dutkiewicz and Bode Dunford leading the way there.

Dutkiewicz possesses a powerful shot that helped him score 18 times from the point, as part of his 43 points that saw him finish third in offensive production among league defencemen.

As for the play-making Dunford, he doled out 29 assists and scored eight times in his 45 games played.

Netminder McCarthy led the NOJHL in wins among netminders with 23 and sat fourth in goals-against average at 2.53 and tied for eighth in save percentage at .902.

THE LUMBERJACKS: Featuring the top two league point producers in the 2022 postseason to date, Hearst is tied for the league-lead in playoff tallies with 21.

Right winger Raphael Lajeunesse tops all NOJHL skaters in both playoff goals and points with five and 10 respectively.

Next is centre Zachary Demers, who has four markers, and as many assists, heading into the series with the Rock.

10 different Lumberjacks’ players have two or more points in the postseason.

Liam Oxner got the starting nod in all six games against the Voodoos and had a 2.31 average in the series to go with a save mark .914 and one shutout.

Featuring a high-octane offense, Hearst boasted three players who finished in the Top 10 in league scoring during the regular season.

Led by the NOJHL’s leading goal scorer and point-getter Robbie Rutledge, he paced all skaters with 39 tallies and 67 points.

Fourth in league offensive numbers was Demers who notched a dozen markers while doing out a NOJHL-best 52 assists.

Then there was 58-point man Lajeunesse, who ended up sixth in offensive numbers, scoring 22 times and helping set-up 36 others.

Rutledge and Lajeunesse also supplied five game-winning goals apiece.

Defensively, Hearst boasts a solid tandem in Jaden Raad and Dylan Ford.

Combining for 82 points between them, the duo also paired up to collect 18 goals as well.

This group of five helped the Lumberjacks boast the power play rate in the NOJHL this season at 25%.

In net, Hearst also has a solid pair, who played well between the pipes.

Veteran Oxner won each of his last three regular season appearances, allowing only one puck to get by him, in 185 minutes of work.

He also went 9-1-0-0 in his past 10 decisions with Hearst to conclude the campaign, as part of his 46 career NOJHL victories with the Lumberjacks.

Meanwhile rookie netminder Matteo Gennaro went 14-4-2-0 in his first season in the league with a 2.66 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage.

UP NEXT: The winner of this series will take on either the Soo Thunderbirds or Soo Eagles for the NOJHL championship.

The league title holder will then head to Estevan, Sask., to compete in the Centennial Cup, presented by Tim Hortons, in May.

WHERE TO WATCH: All NOJHL playoff games are streamed live online, and on demand, at HockeyTV.com.

Photo credit: Marc-André Longval