By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock are set to renew hostilities with the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners during a weekend home-and-home series of exhibition games that begins Friday night at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex.
Technically, this will be the first game ever between the Rock and the Gold Miners but the rivalry between the franchises dates back to the 2011-12 season when they were known as the Eskimos and the Blue Devils.
It’s a rivalry that predates any Timmins Rock/Iroquois Falls Eskimos rivalry, or even Timmins Rock/Cochrane Crunch rivalry.
And defenceman Kealey Cummings, who broke into the NOJHL during that first season, has been around to enjoy it since the beginning.
“We played against each other a lot back then, even in exhibition games,” said Cummings, the elder statesman of the Rock blue-line who is about to enter his fifth season with the franchise.
“We are going to be seeing each other a lot this year and so, for me personally, it is a pretty intense rivalry.”
Does Cummings anticipate that some of his new teammates will be a little nervous when they step out onto the ice Friday night for their first game-action in Timmins Rock uniforms?
“Absolutely, even veterans like myself will be a little nervous,” he said.
“It’s not going to be my first junior game, but as a the first game of the year everybody is going to be a bit nervous.
“We might make some mistakes, but it is better to get those mistakes out of the way early so we can correct them early and then keep moving forward.”
The rosters of both clubs has changed significantly during the off season and the Rock, for example, currently only have seven of the players who were with the team when it was eliminated from the playoffs this spring by the Cochrane Crunch.
Meanwhile, the Gold Miners have said good bye to key players such as goalie Josh Erickson, defencemen Jeremy Picard-Fiset, Ethan Strong and Dylan Rosen, as well as forwards Zach Pease, Steven Babin, Bryan Lubin and Ryan Aubertin — all of whom are now too old to play junior hockey.
In addition, the Gold Miners have traded away goalie Devon Debastos, a Timmins native, defencemen Chris Pearson and Jackson Robinson, as well as forwards Luc Soares and Jeremy Dumont.
“I know they have a few returning players and a lot of new players but I think they will have a very good team again this year,” Cumming said.
“They are hosting the Dudley Hewitt Cup, so they will definitely put together a very good team.
“They have a solid program and they play a very systematic game.”
Regardless of the talent level of either team, Cummings sees a simple path to success for the Rock.
“The best way to compete is with heart, effort and play our program as well as we can,” he said.
The Gold Miners do not like to lose — especially at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex — and Cummings feels it is key for the Rock to establish a similar tradition in the McIntyre Arena.
“It would be nice to go down there and take the W, but when we come back here we definitely want to establish that this is our home rink,” he said.
“We want to establish the same kind of winning tradition we had when we played (out of the Jus Jordan Arena) in Iroquois Falls.
“We want to show our fans that this year is not only going to be fun, it is going to be full of wins.”
With the experience of four previous NOJHL seasons under his belt, Cummings has a lot of confidence in the new teammates he has been practising with for the past three days.
“I think we will do OK as long as we stick together as a team and as long as we work together,” he said.
“In the dressing room and off the ice, we are all pretty close already. It seems like it is going to be a fun year and we are going to win lots of hockey games.”
The Rock coaching will be paying close attention to how well their new players do in their first action against unfriendly competition on the weekend.
“We will be looking to ensure they can keep up with the play and make some heads-up plays,” said Rock assistant coach Eric Paquette.
“It is still early, but we will be looking to see who can compete.”
Paquette agrees with Cummings that some, if not all, of the Rock players will be a little bit nervous at the start of the games on the weekend.
“We have some young guys who will be making their first start in junior hockey,” he said.
“Hopefully, they will be able to shake those jitters off quick and give us a good showing, make it tough for us” (to choose which players to keep).
Wins and losses are not as important in exhibition games as they are during the regular season or the playoffs, but having said that, Paquette would like to see the Rock establish a winning tradition early.
“Every time you step out on the ice, you always want to try to do whatever it takes to win,” he said.
“That should always be what your goal is and I hope that is what our guys come out to do on the weekend.”
The Rock players will have four days of indoctrinating under the (coach and general manager) Paul Gagne system when they see their first game action Friday night.
“We have been showing them the program this week and we will get a chance to see which of them can adapt to it quickly,” Paquette said.
The assistant coach was not prepared to comment on which players would be in the lineup for Friday night’s game in Kirkland Lake or Saturday’s game back home at the McIntyre Arena but coach and general manager Paul Gagne suggested during an interview earlier in the week that the new players would see lots of action so coaching staff can properly evaluate them.
NOJHL NOTES — Goalie Jordan Carlson, a 19-year-old Thunder Bay native who played high school hockey with the Fort Frances Muskies last season, has left camp, leaving just veteran Logan Ferrington on the active roster. Jaedon Giguere, scheduled to play for the Timmins Majors this season, was in camp helping out Wednesday night … The Iroquois Falls Eskies have traded 18-year-old defenceman Eric Verville to the Pickering Panthers, of the OJHL.