SUDBURY, Ont. – Claude Larose Arena in Hearst will be the site Friday as the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League East Division semifinal between the Hearst Lumberjacks and the Timmins Rock begins at 7 p.m.
In the closest divisional race in league history, only four points separated the four teams remaining in the NOJHL East, that saw each of those sides (Hearst, Kirkland Lake, Powassan, Timmins) finish with 33 victories apiece in regulation.
In the end, it was Hearst that captured their first-ever divisional crown as they finished on top with 73 points while Timmins was fourth with 69.
While the Lumberjacks earned a first round bye, the Rock defeated the 2019 Dudley-Hewitt Cup-host Cochrane Crunch in a tightly contested match-up that saw Timmins take the series 2-0, including a 2-1 triumph in overtime in the finale Sunday to advance.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: While all but one of the meetings Hearst had with Timmins during the campaign was close, it was the Lumberjacks that prevailed in taking the season set by a 6-0-2 count.
Hearst was 3-0-1 at home and on the road in their get togethers with the Rock.
They also outscored their opponent by a margin of 32-19.
Bradley Golant of Hearst had two game-winning goals against Timmins this season and also assisted on another.
SCORING: Up front, the Hearst duo of Jake Desando and Max Griffioen led the team in offensive numbers vs. Timmins with 14 points each. Desando was also tops in tallies with seven.
On the back end, blueliner Alec Johnson was next on the squad with 11 points as he scored three times and assisted on eight others.
Bradley Golant was also in double digits in scoring with 10 points to his credit, including four markers.
During the regular season Desando (30g-45a-75pts) and Griffioen (29g-43-a-72pts) finished third and fourth respectively in NOJHL scoring.
Johnson was fourth in league D-man scoring with 43 points as he scored 12 times and helped set-up 31 more.
Pacing the Rock was defenceman Josh Anderson as he collected eight points in his games vs. Hearst with a pair of tallies and a half dozen helpers.
He was followed by Gage Tremblay’s six points while Derek Seguin supplied four.
Seguin ended up sixth in NOJHL scoring by notching 34 markers and doling out 30 assists for 64 points while Anderson was third in offensive production among defencemen with 11 goals and 33 helpers for 44 points.
GOALTENDERS: League MVP Nicholas Tallarico was a solid 5-0-2 in seven appearances vs. the Rock this season while sporting a 2.27 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage in going unbeaten against them in regulation.
The Lumberjacks’ other goaltender, Tomi Gagnon, won his only appearance against Timmins in 2018-19.
As for the Rock’s Tyler Masternak, he had a 1-4 record against Hearst this season while his goaltending partner, Jean-Marc Brisson, went 1-2.
Masternak led the league in wins during the regular season with 29 and also set a NOJHL record for shutouts in a single campaign with six.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Hearst was a solid 8-39 on the power play vs. Timmins during the year while their penalty kill handled all but two of the 45 man advantage opportunities the Rock had against them.
The Lumberjacks also managed a pair of shorthanded tallies in the seasonal match-ups and did not allow any by their opponent in this series.
ALL-STARS: Both clubs featured strong participation on the NOJHL’s All-Star teams this season.
Hearst boasted league MVP, in goaltender Nicholas Tallarico, defenceman Alec Johnson and left wing Jake Desando on the first all-star squad while Timmins centre Derek Seguin joined them at the centre position.
Meanwhile netminder Tyler Masternak and blueliner Josh Anderson from the Rock garnered second team laurels.
You also had NOJHL Coach of the Year Marc Lafleur tabbed as the first team all-star coach and general manager.
WHAT’S NEXT: The winner of this series will meet either the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners or Powassan Voodoos in the East Final.
ONLINE: Every NOJHL playoff game is streamed live online and on demand via HockeyTV.com.
East Division semifinal
No. 1 Hearst Lumberjacks vs. No. 4 Timmins Rock
Game 1: Friday, March 15 @ Hearst 7 p.m. (Claude Larose Arena)
Game 2: Sunday, March 17 @ Hearst 7 p.m. (Claude Larose Arena)
Game 3: Wednesday, March 20 @ Timmins 7 p.m. (McIntyre Arena)
Game 4: Friday, March 22 @ Timmins 7 p.m. (McIntyre Arena)
Game 5*: Sunday, March 24 @ Hearst 7 p.m. (Claude Larose Arena)
Game 6*: Monday, March 25 @ Timmins 7 p.m. (McIntyre Arena)
Game 7*: Wednesday, March 27 @ Kirkland Lake 7 p.m. (Claude Larose Arena)
With files from NOJHL Statistian/Historian David Harrison