Timmins Rock 16-year-old blue-liner Will Caston, shown here in action against the Soo Eagles during a game at the McIntyre Arena on Dec. 2, is excited about the prospects of playing in the 2019 Dudley-Hewitt Cup Championships. The Rock announced on Friday they are submitting a bid to host the tournament that includes the champions of the NOJHL, the Ontario Junior Hockey League and the Superior International Junior Hockey League. A decision on which team will host the event in 2019 is expected to be announced in early February. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – For the Timmins Rock, the only thing better than winning a Dudley-Hewitt Cup championship would be watching their captain hoist the trophy high above his head on the ice of the McIntyre Arena.
That’s one of the reasons the NOJHL team announced its bid to host the 2019 Dudley-Hewitt Cup Championship on Friday at Fountain Tire in Timmins.
“We feel we are well suited right now to provide an experience like this to our fans,” said Rock president Ted Gooch.
“We have a wonderful facility in the McIntyre Arena and huge fan support. We also have a lot of corporate sponsors behind us.
“If any time is right to make a bid, we feel it is now with an NOJHL team scheduled to host the Dudley-Hewitt Cup in 2019.”
Averaging 749 fans per game through their first 20 home dates, the Rock are — for the second-straight season — leading the NOJHL in attendance.
“We certainly think that will be a factor,” Gooch said.
“They definitely like to see host teams sell tickets and create a positive fan experience.”
Gooch is confident the Rock organization and the community have what it takes to put on a first-rate event.
“We will be creating a committee to cover all aspects of the event, from lodging, to food, to game-day operations,” he said.
Dryden, host of the 2018 Dudley-Hewitt Cup championship (May 1-5), learned its bid was successful on Feb. 1, 2017, and Gooch expects Rock fans should find out if Timmins will serve as the 2019 host at some point within the next month.
“Speaking with our commissioner (Robert Mazzuca), we are expecting to hear some kind of announcement during the first week of February,” he said.
“If we are the successful bidder, representatives of our team will be travelling up to Dryden for this year’s tournament to get some idea of how things are run.”
The Rock franchise — then known as the Eskimos and playing out of the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls — last hosted the Dudley-Hewitt Cup championship, when it was won by the OPJHL’s Aurora Tigers in 2007.
“We have reached out already to some of the previous board members in terms of finding out what went well and what didn’t go so well during that tournament,” Gooch said.
In addition to the host squad, the Dudley-Hewitt Cup is contested each year by the champions of the NOJHL, the Ontario Junior Hockey League and the Superior International Junior Hockey League.
The Trenton Golden Hawks, of the OJHL, are the two-time defending Dudley-Hewitt Cup champions — having defeated the NOJHL champion Soo Thunderbirds in Kirkland Lake in 2016 and then knocking off the Georgetown Raiders on home ice in 2017 to retain the crown.
If their bid is successful, Gooch knows the Rock will have to put an even greater effort into building a championship-calibre team in 2018-19.
“This coming off-season, we will definitely have a major focus on bringing in some key players for next year,” he said.
“We currently have a good young core of players who are developing very nicely and having a coach like Corey Beer, with his experience in big tournaments (including the 2017 RBC Cup championship), being able to find those right, key pieces we need to get us to that next level will be important.”
With three out-of-town teams taking part in the tournament, hosting the 2019 Dudley-Hewitt Cup Championship would have a positive impact on the community.
“We are looking at four days of teams staying in hotels, buying meals, the ticketing and shopping that goes with it, so I am confident there would be a big economic boost for the City of Timmins,” Gooch said.
“We will certainly be reaching out to the City of Timmins’ tourism department to have them back our bid and hopefully help us to be successful.”
Beer knows if the Rock bid is successful, it will provide a boost to his off-season recruitment efforts.
“In terms of recruitment, this would be another feather in our cap,” he said.
“When you are talking to high-end prospects or looking at bringing guys in through trades, having an opportunity to compete for a Dudley-Hewitt Cup, or an RBC Cup and having that automatic berth certainly helps.”
With only five 20 year olds on the current roster, the Rock should have a solid foundation upon which to build a championship-calibre squad for 2018-19.
“We have a good nucleus of young guys who are eligible to come back and if we can add to that by luring players with the prospect of playing in the Dudley-Hewitt Cup, it will help us in the long run,” Beer said.
“It would be a terrific event for us to host. Obviously being a part (assistant coach for the host and champion Cobourg Cougars) of the RBC Cup Championships last year, gave me a pretty good perspective of what an event like this would mean to our community and our program.”
Having been a part of the 2017 RBC Cup champion Cougars, Beer knows what it will take for the Rock to reach the next level.
“When you look at the things that make a team successful, you have to have good scoring depth, consistency throughout your lineup, high-end defenders, guys who can make plays and sharp goaltending,” he said.
“A lot of times teams that are young, like ours, come back the next year and their players progress through age, or off-season programs and they are ready to take that next step.
“We are confident a bunch of our guys are going to be able to make that next step to become the core of a good nucleus for next year.”
Sixteen-year-old blue-liner Will Caston is looking forward to being one of those building blocks.
“Everyone always wants to play for a championship and any time you get an opportunity
to do so like this, it will help attract players to Timmins,” he said.
“It will be great for me to take the stuff I learned this year and really put it to work next year. I am really looking forward to it.
“I think we are really going to be able to ice a competitive team.”
Caston, a 6-4, 201 pound Whitby, Ont., native knows the experience the Rock gain during the second half of the regular season and what he hopes will be a long playoff run will help prepare the squad for 2018-19.
“We just have to stick to coach Corey’s system and trust in each other,” he said.
“We have shown we can compete with the best teams in our division and the best teams in the other division.
“We just have to battle hard down the stretch and play playoff hockey all the way to the end.”
Skeptics might point out the Rock were only able to compile a record of 13-20-1-2 prior to the NOJHL’s Christmas break, but few teams had to deal with as many injuries as Timmins during that stretch.
“We have had some consistency issues, but we are going to come after every team every night,” Caston said.