Tense. Testy. Torrid. Just three words of description that narrate the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League rivalry between the Timmins Rock and Hearst Lumberjacks.
Separated by just over 160 miles of rugged northeastern Ontario highway, Timmins and Hearst are not only the top two teams in the East Division of the NOJHL but they are the league leaders on the attendance chart.
The two teams met in an epic seven game playoff set that decided the East Division title last spring with Hearst winning Game 7 on the road by a 4-3 score in front of 1,868 fans at a packed McIntyre Arena in Timmins.
Backed by frenzied fans with frantic finishes to games that are not for the faint of heart, Timmins and Hearst have both picked up where they left off last season and are in another race for first place on the East side.
Ironically, while both have powerhouse teams and are atop the league’s attendance standings, the Rock and Lumberjacks are relative newcomers to the NOJHL. The Rock joined the NOJHL in 2015 by way of the relocated Abitibi Eskimos. And the Lumberjacks came into being in 2017 after purchasing the former Iroquois Falls Eskis franchise.
On solid ground from their respective executive and ownership on down, both the Rock and Lumberjacks are led by home-grown head coaches with 33-year old Brandon Perry at the helm in Timmins and 31-year old Marc-Alain Begin running the bench in Hearst.
Cue the rivalry.