By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock have completed their first transaction of the off season, shipping forward Bain Cunningham to the Burlington Cougars, of the OJHL.
The move was strictly a cash transaction, but it will indirectly allow the NOJHL squad to add another forward from a different team.
With the cash acquired in the Cunningham transaction, the Rock are in the process of acquiring a “skilled forward” from Western Canada, but the paperwork on that part of the transaction has yet to be finalized.
That is just one of a number of deals new Rock general manager Kevin Peever has in the works in hopes of assembling a championship calibre roster for the 2017-18 campaign.
“Bain had reached out to us, wanting to play his final year of junior hockey closer to home (Barrie) so his family members would be able to watch him play in person a little more often,” Peever said.
“He had played for the Cougars as an affiliate player before coming to the Timmins Rock and they were interested in acquiring him.
“Bain gave everything he had on the ice for us the last two years and he scored some big goals for us.”
Indeed, as a rookie, Cunningham tied for the NOJHL lead in game-winning goals, eight, while putting up some pretty impressive numbers (53, 25-33-58, 48) during the 2015-16 campaign.
He exceeded those numbers during the just-finished 2016-17 season (56, 19-42-61, 49) and he was the Rock’s leading scorer during the 2017 playoffs (10, 4-9-13, 2).
Peever knows it will be tough to replace a player with Cunningham’s size (6-3, 206 pounds) and offensive touch around the net.
“We do have some deals in the works right now to hopefully replace his accurate shot and knack for scoring big goals,” he said.
As Rock fans wait on news of new arrivals, Peever was able to confirm on Friday the return of three more veterans — defenceman Jared Hester, forward Nicholas Hway and goalie Jeff Veitch — bringing the total to six.
Assistant coach James Daschuk worked with the Rock D-men last season and he is quite familiar with what Hester brings to the squad.
“We are glad to have Jared back,” Daschuk said.
“We were No. 3 in the league on the power play last season and Jared was a huge part of that. The strength of his game is his offence.”
During his second season in the NOJHL, Hester (52, 10-19-29, 56) became a more complete player.
“He provided a lot of offence from the back end, but I think the thing he improved on the most last season was the defensive part of his game,” Daschuk said.
“I think he realized after his first year in the league you can’t just excel at one end of the ice, especially as a defenceman. He worked on his foot speed a little bit and we saw some improvement.
“His ice time probably doubled last year compared to his first year and being a 20 year old, it will likely go up again this year.”
At 6-0 and 215 pounds, Hester has pretty good size but he isn’t normally an overly physical blue-liner.
“I would compare him a little bit to (Nashville Predators D-man) P.K. Subban,” Daschuk said.
“He is a high risk, high reward kind of defenceman. He is going to make some mistakes but he will make five good plays after them.”
Anybody who has spent any time talking to the soft-spoken Waskaganich, Que., native would likely chuckle at the Subban comparison.
“Their personalities are different, but has far as their presence on the ice, I think it is an accurate comparison,” Daschuk said.
“We are going to be counting on him to do a lot this year.”
Hway (52, 5-8-13, 18) spent most of the 2016-17 season playing on the Rock’s fourth line, but also filled in on the other units when the need arose.
“Coming in as a rookie, his ice time was limited, but he earned respect from his teammates by getting into a couple of good fights,” Daschuk said.
“You never encourage fighting, but sometimes it’s inevitable and he had a couple of good tilts this season to earn his stripes. He is a very good team player and the guys love him.”
At 5-9 and 170 pounds, the Timmins native who turns 19 in October, certainly isn’t a heavyweight when it comes to the fisticuffs, but he did not back down from anybody.
“He is an awesome kid and the type of guy you want around your locker room,” Daschuk said.
“We expect him to play a similar role for us this season.”
Veitch (414:00, 4-2-0, 0, 4.20, .887) was acquired from the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners prior to the Jan. 10 trade deadline and struggled to find playing time behind all-star starting goalie Albert Rogers.
He was, however, able to get into seven of the Rock’s 10 playoff games (218:00, 0-2-0, 0, 4.13, .897).
A 6-2, 210 pound Mission, B.C., native, Veitch, who will turn 20 in October, will be looking to stake his claim to the Rock crease in 2017-18.
“He was a fantastic teammate and I think back to a game in Cochrane (Jan. 14) when he made 55 saves in a game,” Daschuk said.
“That kind of boosted his confidence. It’s hard to get into a groove when you are not playing.”
After being acquired by the Rock, Veitch endured a couple of injuries and was also felled by a lengthy illness.
In late February, Veitch donned his full equipment and uniform for the shooting of the Rock official team photo even though he was still hooked up to an IV at the time.
“He is a great kid and you want guys like that on your team,” Daschuk said.
NOJHL NOTES — The Hearst Lumberjacks have inked defenceman Maxim Lacroix, a graduate of the Kapuskasing Flyers, of the GNML. The 1999-birth-year Hearst native stands 5-10 and weighs170 pounds. Lacroix (33, 5-23-28, 104) is coming off a solid 2016-17 campaign with the Flyers.