Anderson back for Saturday’s home opener

THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS The Timmins Rock are pleased to welcome back blue-liner Josh Anderson — shown here in action against the French River at the McIntyre Arena on Oct. 22 — back into the lineup in time for the home opener against the Rapids at the McIntyre Arena Saturday night. Anderson, whom the Rock had acquired shortly before this game against the Rapids, spent the latter part of the 2017-18 campaign with the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic. After the Rock host the Rapids on Saturday, at 7 p.m., they will welcome the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners to the McIntyre Arena on Sunday for a 7 p.m. start.

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The Timmins Rock’s already deep and talented blue-line got another shot in the arm just in time for this weekend’s NOJHL regular season opening doubleheader against the French River Rapids and the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners on Saturday and Sunday.

Josh Anderson, a 1999-birth-year Nestleton, Ont., native, has returned from the Rimouski Oceanic, of the QMJHL.

Anderson (23, 1-7-8, 40) was acquired by the Rock from the OJHL’s Cobourg Cougars in the middle of October, but his stay in Timmins was short lived, as he quickly caught the attention of the Oceanic (19, 0-2-2, 15) and he spent the remainder of the 2017-18 campaign and the playoffs (5, 0-1-1, 4) with the QMJHL squad.

Naturally, Anderson is a little disappointed his stay with the Oceanic didn’t last a little longer, but he understands hockey is in many ways a business.

“They were bringing in a lot of young guys,” he said.

“It was kind of hard, but that’s their decision. I am excited to be back. I think we are going to be able to accomplish something special here.”

Even when Anderson was in Rimouski, he kept close tabs on how his former Rock teammates were doing both in the regular season and in the playoffs.

“There were more than a few nights when we were off that I would be at home watching the (Rock) games on Hockey TV,” he said.

“My billet brother had played for Powassan, so when the Rock were playing the Voodoos, we would have a little competition. It was nice to see we won in Game 6.”

Though his time in the QMJHL was limited, Anderson enjoyed every minute of it.

“It was amazing,” he said.

“The speed of the game is so much faster and the players are so much strong. To get the change to be there and play at that level was an honour.”

Anderson is confident the experience he gained last season with the Oceanic will serve him well as he prepares for the start of the NOJHL campaign on Saturday.

“We have a young group here and I am hoping to be able to use what I learned in the QMJHL to help the younger guys,” he said.

“Hopefully, we can develop something special.”

With only Anderson and Will Caston back on the blue-line, the Rock have totally revamped their blue-line heading into the 2018-19 NOJHL campaign.

“Things are looking really good,” Anderson said.

“I don’t think we have any weak point in our roster. We have a very deep team.”

The arrival of Anderson back in Timmins was an unexpected and welcome surprise for Rock coach Corey Beer and the rest of the organization.

“He is a premier puck-moving defenceman,” Beer said.

“He has elite skating ability and he is a guy instantly inserts himself in our Top 4 D.

“His return is certainly a surprise. We had fully expected him to remain with Rimouski this season.

“You add him into the mix and it really strengthens our back end.

“I saw him throughout the summer, during his training and on the ice, and he looked really good.”

After working out all summer and then attending training camp with Oceanic, Anderson is obviously in great shape and he arrives in Timmins with 23 games of Rock hockey under his belt, so he has first-hand knowledge of what Beer expects from his blue-line corps.

“He is probably in the best shape he has ever been in, in terms of his hockey career,” Beer said.

“He should be able to step in Game 1 and provide some key minutes for us.”

Game 1 of the Rock’s 56-game regular season, of course, will see them host the Rapids at the McIntyre Arena on Saturday, at 7 p.m.

While Beer missed the Rock’s final exhibition game in Hearst Friday night because of a bout of food poisoning, he was able to take in the four games the Rapids played at the Polar Bear Classic on the weekend on Hockey TV.

The Rapids dropped all five games they played during the Polar Bear Classic — 6-1 to the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, 8-4 to the Cochrane Crunch, 4-2 to the Pelham Panthers and 7-6 to the Crunch in overtime in one of the two semi-finals — but they showed flashes of promise in each of the contest.

“They look really good,” Beer said.

“They had lots of pace and a lot of compete. They have a growing program and they have some key guys back from last year.

“We know we are going to have our work cut out for us.”

The Rapids (56, 13-38-5-0, 31) are coming off a season that saw them make significant improvement over the previous campaign in which they could only manage three wins.

“You look at a guy like Levi Siau (51, 22-26-48, 23), who scored a bunch of goals last year as a 16 year old,” Beer said.

“He has a big body and he can score and drive possession.

“They have a bunch of guys on that roster who are going to be able to create plays and cause damage.

“They have a new staff (under coach Shawn Frappier) and they play a new style of game. It is going to be a tough test for us.”

The Rock opened the 2017-18 regular season on home ice against the Rapids, with less than favourable results — a 3-1 loss.

“Everyone was counting them out, but they came in here and upset us,” Beer said.

“We know there are no easy nights in this league.”

Beer is certainly hoping for a better result on Saturday night at the McIntyre Arena.

“It is always nice to get off to a good start,” he said.

“A record of 1-0-0-0 looks a lot better than a record of 0-1-0-0. It is going to be about managing our expectations.

“We are a team that is going to be growing and we have a lot of new bodies.”

The Rock only have eight veterans back from last year’s squad — goalie Tyler Masternak, blue-liners Caston and Anderson, as well as forwards Derek Seguin, Stewart Parnell, Riley Robitaille, Linder Spencer and A.J. Campbell.

They inked a pair of affiliate players in forwards Austin Holmes and Riley Brousseau.

Up front, they also added forwards Josh Dickson, Maxime Charbonneau, Joshua Kego, Darcy Haupt, Mahingan Decontie, Keegan McMullen and Maxime Piquette.

The blue-line corps was revamped, with Connor Mullins, Luka Bolduc, Carson Burlington, Owen Shier, Alexis Quane-Arsenault, Ian Elkins and Eric Moreau brought in to complement Anderson and Caston.

Newcomer Nicholas Dicks proved during his three games of preseason action that he should be capable of back up Tyler Masternak, while pushing the incumbent starter for playing time this season.

The Rock have traded a pair of players from their 2017-18 roster, forwards Tyler Gilberds and Paul Spadafora to the Toronto Patriots, of the OJHL, in exchange for player development fees.

Other NOJHL squads have been fine tuning their rosters heading into the start of the regular season, as well.

Following are some of those moves:

• The Hearst Lumberjacks have acquired forward Drew Nesbitt from the St. Stephen County Aces, of the MHL.

• The Gold Miners have acquired goalie Parker Swanson from the Kerry Park Islanders, of the VIJHL, and traded forward Lukas Lyszyk to the Espanola Express.

• The Crunch have traded defenceman Zach Jones to the Whitby Fury, of the OJHL.

• The Powassan Voodoos have traded defenceman Eric Mondoux to the Hamilton Kilty B’s, of the GOJHL.

• The Soo Thunderbirds have traded forward Spencer Van Tiem to the Kanata Lasers, of the CCHL, and they have reacquired forward Nick Smith from the St. Catherines Falcons, of the GOJHL.