By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock rolled onto the ice at the McIntyre Arena Tuesday night in advance of the “official” opening of training camp on Thursday.
It presented an opportunity for new head coach Corey Beer to begin teaching the defence-first system he hopes will lead to a championship 2017-18 NOJHL campaign.
Beer had originally planned to watch from the stands and let assistants James Daschuk and Marc Bisson run the show Tuesday and Thursday, but with so many of the team’s new players in town, he couldn’t resist the chance to begin putting them through their paces.
There were 20 players on the ice Tuesday night, including Rock grads Tyler Romain (who will be playing in Sweden this fall) and Nicholas Hautanen (who will be attending Morrisville State College).
Goalie Bendan Bishop (upper-body injury) had to sit out Tuesday’s session and likely won’t hit the ice until next week, but Eric Jackson was on the ice and looked to be in mid-season form.
Jordan Yaremchuk, a 2000-birth-year goalie who still has midget eligibility left, was in the crease at the other end of the ice.
Among the signed blue-liners on the ice were NOJHL veterans Grant McCellan and Lucas Dolanjski, as well as newcomers Shawn Sloan, Connor Palush, Will Caston and James Redmond.
Redmond was acquired along with forward MacKenzie Lockyer from Rockland Nationals, of the CCHL, this summer in exchange for forward Jacob Shankar.
“I think I am a real good two-way defenceman who can contribute offensively, as well as defensively,” he said.
“I feel like I am the type of guy our coaches can rely on in any type of situation. I can contribute on the penalty kill, or on the power play.”
Last season with the Gloucester Rangers (now the Rockland Nationals), Redmond (34, 1-3-4, 16) had a solid campaign.
He is looking forward to getting the opportunity to learn Beer’s defence-first system.
“Defence wins championships,” Redmond said.
“Every player on the ice has to contribute in every zone. You have to operate as a five-man unit to be successful.”
Redmond likes to pattern his game after Los Angeles Kings defenceman Drew Doughty.
“I have watched him a lot over the years and I feel we share a lot of the same qualities on the ice,” he said.
“He is strong in his own zone, but also contributes offensively. He is a solid, two-way defenceman.”
Redmond, who stand 6-1 and weighs 190 pounds, is excited about the chance to continue his Junior ‘A’ career in the NOJHL.
“It is an up-and-coming league and it keeps getting stronger each year,” he said.
He is also excited about the chance to play on the same team as one of his best friends — forward Eric Hulford — this season.
“It is always nice when you are friends on the team,” he said.
“It makes it easier doing things like going out to get something to eat. We are going to be living in the same billet home, so it will make the transition so much easier for both of us.”
Palush, a 6-1, 180-pound native of Quakertown, PA, comes to the Rock by way of the Valley Forge Minutemen, of the NAPHL.
“I think that was a great league, with some great competition and it prepared me to play in the NOJHL,” he said.
“A few former teammates played in the NOJHL and they told me it was the best league they have ever played in.”
Palush doesn’t really pattern his game after any one player.
“I am a hard-hitting defenceman,” he said.
“I will fight, if I have to, but I am certainly not the team fighter. I have no problem standing up for any of my teammates.”
Of all the Rock defenders, Caston should have the easiest time picking up coach Beer’s defence-first system.
“I was fortunate enough to be affiliated with the Cobourg Cougars where Corey Beer was an assistant coach,” he said.
“I was able to practice with him and then in the spring and summer I played for their development team and Corey was our head coach.
“He has a passionate approach to the game and a lot of smarts and he really communicates well with his players.
“Being a rookie, coming into this league will be a bit of an adjustment but being familiar with Corey’s system and the way he likes to teach things should help. I think it will make my transition a little smoother.”
At 6-4 and 200 pounds, Caston (22, 1-2-3, 36) played for the Whitby Wildcats, of the ETAMMHL, last season as a minor midget.
“I was fortunate enough to be coached last season by former Toronto Maple Leafs forward Rob Pearson,” he said.
“We had a great team and we won our league championship and went to the OHL Cup. Unfortunately, we lost in the quarter-finals but all-in-all it was a great year.”
Caston considers himself to be a two-way defenceman.
“I take a lot of pride in my work in my own end,” he said.
“I like to get the puck and move it up quick. I have a good shot and I like to play a physical game.”
Caston is a fan of Florida Panthers defenceman Aaron Ekblad.
“I love the way he controls the puck and his leadership on the ice,” he said.
“He takes pride in his penalty kill and he also has a great shot. He is a great role model for other players.”
Veteran defenceman James Watier is expected to arrive in Timmins on Wednesday, while
Jared Hester, who will be entering his third season with the Rock, is scheduled to arrive on Thursday.
Cameron Svec, who played a game with the Rock in 2016-17 as an affiliate player, was also on the ice Tuesday looking to land a full-time spot on the blue-line.
Up front, returning Rock veterans Stewart Parnell, Wayne Matthieu and Alexandre Brisson took part in the on-ice session, as did newcomers C.J. Bradburn, Hulford and Connor Losen.
At 6-2 and 205 pounds, Hulford — who was acquired from the Athens Aeros, of the CCHL2 — should bring some much needed size to the Rock lineup.
“I like to consider myself a two-way forward, but I like to contribute offensively,” he said.
“I feel like the best part of my game is along the wall. I will win my battles nine times out of 10, get the puck out or get it deep. I also have the ability to get pucks on the net.”
Hulford (46, 25-32-57, 10) was second in scoring on the Aeros last season.
“I am a big guy with skill, who can throw the body,” he said.
“I try to pattern my game after (Dallas Stars forward) Jamie Benn and I like to consider myself an all around player. I pride myself in that.”
Hulford’s older brother, Alex, played for the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, the Mattawa Blackharks and the Blind River Beavers.
“He told me the CCHL2 is like North American pro hockey and the NOJHL is like European pro hockey,” Hulford said.
“He said it is fast-paced hockey, but there is room for creativity. He told me to just go out there and play my game.”
Hulford, who turns 19 in November, is excited to get an opportunity to play for Beer, who was an assistant coach with the RBC Cup-champion Cobourg Cougars last season.
“I am all about the win,” he said.
“The reason I wanted to come to Timmins is I thought this is going to be a great team and I am convinced we are going to have a really good year.”
Among the forwards trying out were Austin Holmes and Linden Spencer, both of whom played for the GNML’s Timmins Majors last season
Also out for a little extra ice time before the start of his season was Timmins native Derick Seguin, who played for the Brantford 99ers, of the GOJHL, and will be attending training camp with the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs.
Among the forwards scheduled to arrive in Timmins on Wednesday are Tyler Planetta, who was re-acquired from the French River Rapid this off-season and newcomers Donny Schultz and Halen Cordni.
Other players expected to attend camp are Evan Kenntish-Stack and Frederic Leclair-Pouw, who both spent time with the Rock as affiliate players in 2016-17, and Riley Robitaille, who suited up as an affiliate player with the Iroquois Falls Eskis last season.
Goalies Dante Garito and Jimmy Carleton, as well as forwards A.J. Campbell, Seth Reuben and Jesse McLaughlin are also expected to participate.
The Rock will be on the ice at 8 p.m. Thursday for the “official” opening of training camp and then back on at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.