Riley Brousseau, left, shown celebrating a goal with captain Derek Seguin during an NOJHL game against the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners at the McIntyre Arena on Jan. 15, 2019, is returning to the Timmins Rock lineup after sitting out the 2020-21 campaign. The 2001-birth-year forward has played more than 100 regular season games in the NOJHL. FILE PHOTO/THE DAILY PRESS
The Timmins Rock have added a player with 104 games of NOJHL regular season experience and a highly regarded product of former coach Corey Beer’s Okanagan Hockey Ontario U18 prep program to their roster in advance of the 2021-22 campaign.
And Rock fans should be quite familiar with the former, as 2001-birth-year forward Riley Brousseau gained all of that experience in a maroon, gold and white jersey from 2017-18 through 2019-20, before sitting out the COVID-19-shortened 2020-21 season.
He will be joined in the Rock lineup this season by 2004-birth-year forward Eric Barnard, who hails from Owen Sound.
Brousseau, a Timmins native whose father Chris started with the franchise when it was known as the Golden Bears back in 1991-92, racked up some impressive statistics during that time.
In 2019-20 (44, 9-22-31, 12) the younger Brousseau, who stands 6-1 and weighs 183 pounds, turned in his second-straight 30-plus-point campaign despite missing a dozen games.
He was coming off a breakout 2018-19 campaign (53, 11-22-33, 29) that saw him establish himself as a regular in the Rock lineup after he broke into the NOJHL in 2017-18 (7, 1-1-2, 2).
Brousseau started the 2017-18 season with the then-Great North Midget League’s Timmins Majors (34, 13-12-25, 55) and after making the jump to the Rock lineup was just as productive in the 2018 playoffs (13, 2-2-4, 0).
Like the first player officially acquired by the Rock this offseason, blue-liner Cameron Dutkiewicz, Brousseau played for new Rock head coach/general manager Brandon Perry when he was with the Majors.
“He played for me during my first year (as Majors coach),” Perry said.
“He is a local kid and I like the fact he has more than 100 games of Junior ‘A’ experience and I have always liked the way he plays the game.
“I really liked him as a player in Midget (now U18) and he is a nice player to watch. He is smooth. He is big and when he is competing, he is as good as you are going to get at this level.
“He is a very high-end player and we are happy to have him back.”
With his combination of size and speed, Brousseau is your prototypical power forward.
“I think that is a huge part of Riley’s game,” Perry said.
“He has obviously developed a lot since I had him in Midget. In Midget he was a pass-first guy, who liked to play on the perimeter, but he is a big body who can skate well and we expect him to drive guys wide and take the puck to the net, create chaos that way.
“He is also an excellent passer who has great vision.
“If he competes night-in and night-out he is going to be a very, very good player this year.”
Brousseau, who notched three game-winning goals in 2018-19, one in the 2019 playoffs and another in 2019-20, seems to have a knack for coming up with big goals when they are needed most.
“He does score some timely goals and that’s a really good sign,” Perry said.
“You want guys who don’t shy away from big moments. We are expecting to have a long playoff run and to compete for a league championship. That is obviously the bar and to have a guy who raises his game in those big moments and kind of feeds off that energy of the crowd at home will be big for us down the stretch.”
The Rock head coach/GM isn’t too worried about the fact Brousseau sat out the COVID-19-shortened 2020-21 NOJHL campaign.
“To be honest, in a normal season you would be a little worried about the time off because your timing would be off and everything just seems a little quicker when you come back but because of COVID-19 nobody really played a full season,” Perry said.
“We played 22 games, so that’s less than half a season (56 games). So, I don’t think it is going to affect him too much.
“He is a kid has always been in good shape and we expect him to hit the ground running in the fall.”
Brousseau is “very, very excited,” to rejoin his teammates for what he is confident will be a successful 2021-22 season.
“I was going through a pretty tough time and that’s why I made the decision not to come back and play (in 2020-21) but things happen for a reason,” he said.
“There were some points I wish I was there with them (teammates).”
Brousseau closely followed the progress of the 2020-21 version of the Rock as his former teammates compiled an 18-4-0 regular season record, but were again denied a chance at playoff glory.
“In 2020, we played Game 1 against Hearst (a 5-2 Rock victory) and we would have definitely had a chance to win (an NOJHL championship) but unfortunately COVID-19 hit and we couldn’t finish,” he said.
“That being said, there is some unfinished business and hopefully we can finish that this year.”
The success the Rock enjoyed in 2020-21 didn’t come as any surprise to Brousseau.
“I watched a few games here and there and with all the veteran players who were still there last year the obviously did very well,” he said.
“I was still proud of them even though I wasn’t there with them.”
Brousseau is confident the Rock will be able to continue their recent success when the puck drops on what will hopefully be a normal season in the fall.
“With Brandon Perry coming in, that’s going to be huge because he is a really good coach,” he said.
“I know him and he knows how I play and I am familiar with our systems because I was there with the Rock for two-and-a-half years, counting my time as an AP (affiliate player), as well.”
During his time away from the Rock, Brousseau kept in tip-top shape, which he is confident will help ease his return into the lineup.
“I stayed on the ice, training every day, skating with Matt Tremblay (former Abitibi Eskimos star), Frankie Hart (Timmins native who will be playing professionally with GIJS Groningen in the Netherlands this season) and a bunch of guys,” he said.
“I have also been at the track, doing a bunch of ladder and agility work with my buddy Cam Dutkiewicz, who just signed with the Rock.
“So, playing with him again is going to be fun. We grew up together, played (minor hockey) together and we chatted a bunch of times about how cool it would be to finish up our last year (of Junior ‘A’ hockey) together.”
The Timmins Rock have bolstered their offence with the addition of 2004-birth-year forward Eric Barnard, who hails from Owen Sound. Barnard comes to the Rock from former coach Corey Beer’s Okanagan Hockey Ontario U18 prep program. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Perry is not quite as familiar with Barnard as he is Brousseau, but the 5-11, 154-pound Owen Sound native came with a pretty good recommendation.
“Eric was highly recommended by Corey (Beer) and obviously Corey is a guy who knows our program really well and he knows the league really well and he knows the caliber of play,” he said.
“Anytime he says, ‘hey, take a look at this kid,’ we are going to listen. We know right off the bat this kid is going to be a player.
“Watching some tape on him, he is very skilled and he skates very well. He is going to fit in really nice with the way we want to play.”
The Rock have had a great deal of success over the past three or four years with 16 year olds, but Perry feels age is just a number when it comes to building a roster.
“I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on that (age),” he said.
“I watch the video and I kind of keep the age out of it. If a kid can play, he can play.
“There are skills and attributes you look for and it doesn’t matter if they are 20 or 16. You go with your gut, but he is a player and he can play.
“Him being young is just a bonus for us.
“We will watch him develop over the next couple of years and if he moves on early that’s great. It is good for the program and if he stays here his full Junior ‘A’ career he is going to be a scary player.”
Perry was at a bit of a loss trying to match Barnard’s style of play to somebody else he has coached or watched over the years.
“That’s just a hard question for me to answer because of the COVID-19 situation the video I watched didn’t have in-game stuff,” he said.
“You are basing it on his skill. You see a lot of skills with the drills he is doing. It is a lot of one-on-one individual skill stuff.
“Similar to Brousseau, he is a big guy, he skates well and he has got decent skill.”
Barnard’s last game action came with the South Central Triple ‘A’ U16’s Grey-Bruce Highlanders (regular season, 31, 3-10-13, 14; playoffs, 8, 1-5-6, 2) during 2019-20.
“Through pretty much the whole season we didn’t get to play any games at all,” he said.
“Okanagan did an awesome job of getting us on the ice and practicing as much as we possibly could.
“At some points throughout the year, because of the lockdowns, we were only allowed 10 people on the ice and we could only practice with a limited number of people, so we would do a bunch of skill drills and stuff like that.
“Then, there was one part of the year, before Christmas, where we had our whole team on the ice for practice and we got to scrimmage.
“We never did get to play any games, but our skill development and everything was there throughout the year other than this lockdown and the January and February lockdown.”
Barnard conceded the coach of the program he is coming from had a big influence on his decision to sign with the Rock.
“With Corey Beer being my coach, he had a ton of good things to say about Timmins and then, when I got talking to Brandon, he seemed like a really nice guy,” he said.
“Corey told me a whole bunch of things about the fans, how every time you score the place goes nuts. He also said it is an awesome town to live in, with lots of nice people.
“The community really supports the team, so, I did some research on the team and came to the conclusion the organization is really top notch and I am very excited to be coming to Timmins.”
Barnard tries to pattern his game after former NHL star Pavel Datsyuk, who has spent the past five seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League.
“He was a great defensive player who used his stick really well and was good at stealing pucks,” he said.
“In the offensive zone, he could really make plays. He was very smart. He was a very good goal scorer, as well.
“I am a two-way centre who can play in the defensive zone and in the offensive zone, as well.”
That would certainly seem to make Barnard an ideal fit for the defence-first approach to the game both Perry and Beer favour.
“To me, the defensive zone is key,” he said.
“Everything starts in your defensive zone. You gain possession of the puck and offence flows after that.”
After not seeing an game action for an entire season, Barnard is really looking forward to what he hopes will be a normal NOJHL campaign this fall.
“I am really itching to get playing because it has been such a long time,” he said.
“I am just so excited. It can’t come soon enough for me. It is going to be very special.”
In the meantime, Barnard will be working hard throughout the offseason to get ready for the start of training camp this fall.
“With Okanagan, they send out workouts for us to work on every day and I have a meal plan set up,” he said.
“I eat right, I shoot pucks and stickhandle every day. Rinks aren’t allowed to be open, probably until the start of August but as soon as we are allowed to be on the ice I am going to be on the ice, to get my legs back under me.”
NOJHL NOTES — Other teams around the league are busy fine tuning their rosters in preparation for the 2021-22 season, as well. The East Division rival Lumberjacks have acquired 2003-birth-year blue-liner/forward from the PJCHL’s Orillia Terriers (0, 0-0-0, 0), in exchange for a player development fee. The Kirkland Lake Gold Miners have shipped 2003-birth-year forward Connor Van Weelie (5, 2-2-4, 2) to the OJHL’s Aurora Tigers. Over in the West Division, the Rayside-Balfour Canadians have dealt 2004-birth-year defenceman Wilson Ferrow to the OJHL’s North York Rangers.