A busy Monday saw the Timmins Rock acquire 20-year-old blue-liner Carson Cox, shown here in action during a game at the McIntyre Arena on Nov. 30, from the East Division-rival Hearst Lumberjacks in exchange for 17-year-old forward Tyler Patterson. It was one of four transactions the Rock made before the CJHL trade deadline. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS
While the exact date of their return to action remains up in the air, the NOJHL’s Timmins Rock were busy on Monday completing a series of transactions designed to strengthen their blue-line.
In a deal with the OJHL’s Lindsay Muskies, they reacquired 20-year-old blue-liner Eric Moreau who spent the previous three seasons in a Rock uniform, in exchange for a player development fee.
Perhaps the day’s most intriguing deal, however, saw the Rock acquire 20-year-old blue-liner Carson Cox from the East Division-rival Hearst Lumberjacks in exchange for 17-year-old forward Tyler Patterson.
Two other deals saw the Rock ship forward Daniel Beaupre to the OJHL’s Trenton Golden Hawks and blue-liner Riley Dubois to MHL’s Amherst Ramblers, both in exchange for a player development fees.
Sporting the best record (23-5-1-1) in the NOJHL and ranked No. 9 in the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s most recent Top 20 poll, the Rock didn’t necessarily have to make any moves heading into the second half of the 2021-22 campaign.
“We didn’t have to make any kind of crazy adjustments, but you can’t ignore the quality of players like Carson and Eric,” said Rock coach and general manager Brandon Perry.
“They are just pieces to the puzzle. We have a great group back there (blue-line) and they have been doing a tremendous job.
“These guys are going to put us over the top.”
Clearly, Cox (18, 5-16-21, 26), a right-hand shooting blue-liner, who stands 5-11 and weighs in at 180 pounds and hails from Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., was the prize acquisition.
“That was a big one for us,” Perry said.
“We really wanted to get better on our back end, not that it was bad by any means, but it is super important to have big, experienced defencemen back there if we are going to be serious about making a run at this thing (Dudley Hewitt Cup and Canadian Junior Hockey League championship).
Cox is far more than just and offensive D-man, as he will bring an element of toughness to the Rock blue-line, as well.
“That’s the biggest thing,” Perry said.
“I think he is a complete player all around. He can chip in offensively, but he is really here for his defensive presence and his physical presence.
“All our guys hated playing against him and he certainly adds a different element to our back end.”
Cox spent the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons with the Lumberjacks, as well, and racked up some impressive offensive numbers (55, 8-38-46, 41) along the way.
If there is a downside to Cox, however, it is the three suspensions he has racked up this season (one game for picking up two misconducts in the same contest on Sept. 10, eight games for a head-contact incident during a contest on Oct. 3 and eight games for another head-contact incident during a contest on Dec. 10).
He will still have three games from that last suspension remaining to be served when the Rock begin the 2022 portion of their schedule.
“He is a guy who plays on the edge and sometimes he gets caught,” Perry said.
“There is a conversation to be had with him about … listen, we need him to play.
“We didn’t make this move to have him come in here and get suspended again.
“We need him to not change his game, but not cross the line, and be an important piece.”
Meanwhile, Patterson (28, 6-12-18, 12) was in his second campaign with the Rock after joining the team as a 16-year-old last season (15, 2-7-9, 4).
“Unfortunately, when you acquire players of that caliber, it comes at a cost,” Perry said.
“For us, that cost was Tyler Patterson. He is an incredible young talent.
“Obviously, if we could have been able to do it another way we would have been able to keep Patty and acquire him (Cox) but that’s the way it goes.”
The fact the Rock have so many offensive weapons up front kind of made giving up Patterson in exchange for Cox a little more palatable, just a little.
“If I am being honest, I don’t think there is anything that can kind of dull that pain,” Perry said.
“It is incredibly hard to see him go. He is a heck of a talent and an even better kid.
“We have a lot of guys who can contribute up front and he probably wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity here in terms of minutes and playing time, power play, even though he has been in and out of those all season, he will get with Hearst.
“We wish him all the best.”
Moreau, a fan favourite during his first stint in a Rock uniform, split the first half of the OJHL campaign between the Collingwood Blues (11, 0-2-2, 4) and the Muskies (20, 0-6-6, 18).
“We wanted to get more experience on the back end after moving Dubois and we had a hole to fill and there is no better person to fill it with than a guy who comes in at 20 years old and knows your system inside and out,” Perry said.
“There shouldn’t be much of a transition period. He should just be able to step in and be ready to play.
“We know what he brings in terms of leadership and what he brings on the ice in terms of hard-nosed play, killing penalties and logging big minutes.
“It is certainly good to see him back home, where he belongs. We were sad to see him go in the summer, but he wanted to pursue an opportunity closer to home and be closer to family.
“We respected that, but when we had the opportunity to get him back, we made it happen.
From 2018-19 to 2019-20, the right-hand shooting Penetanguishene, Ont., product was known mainly as a stay-at-home defender, but his offensive game blossomed during the COVID-19 campaign (22, 5-11-16, 6).
Overall, Moreau’s NOJHL numbers (125, 6-35-41, 50) are solid and his return should help strengthen one of the NOJHL’s top defensive units.
“Anything he contributes offensively is going to be a bonus, but we want all our D-men involved in the play,” Perry said.
“We want all our D-men involved in the offence, just like we want all our forwards involved in the D Zone.
“So, I think it is great that element has developed for him.
“We have two high-end guys we rely on heavily the produce offence in (Bode) Dunford (28, 5-19-24, 16) and (Cameron) Dutkiewicz (28, 12-17-29, 21).
“They are all capable back there, but anything from the other guys is kind of a bonus.
“We have two studs who produce for us and we need guys to fill other roles, shut down and be incredibly hard to play against.
“You look at our D corps now and there is not a match-up we can’t handle.”
Beaupre (21, 5-5-10, 6), who missed a number of contests early in the campaign due to injuries had been starting to find his offensive game but became a victim of a numbers game up front.
“Beaups is a great young player,” Perry said.
“When Trenton called today, they were a team that kind of put him on my radar this summer. He was in camp with them and the coach and GM in Trenton used to coach me in Junior.
“They said they have this player who they didn’t think was quite ready to make their team, might be worth looking at for us.
“He was great, so when Trenton called and said they needed some forwards I told them if they were interested in having Beaupre back … they were and we made a deal.
“At the end of the day, we would have liked to have kept Beaups, but it was a way to kind of offset some of the guys coming in.”
The Rock had acquired Beaupre, a North Vancouver product, from the PJHL’s North Van Wolf Pack back in September.
The departure of Dubois (29, 3-11-14, 2) on Saturday triggered the start of the Rock’s mini-makeover, creating the roster space needed to accommodate the additions of Cox and Moreau.
“Dubois was an offensive guy and he wasn’t getting the minutes he needed or deserved because we have those two big offensive guys in Dunford and Dutkiewicz,” Perry said.
“We need to ensure our bottom two pairings are tough defenders.”
Acquired from the OJHL’s Wellington Dukes back in July, the 18-year-old right-hand shooting Oshawa native had been in his first year with the Rock.
His departure, combined with the addition of Cox and Moreau, leaves the Rock with eight blue-liners — including the right-hand shooting Dutkiewicz, Tanner Hamilton (30, 4-5-9, 2), Chase Longhurst (24, 1-4-5, 6) and Aiden Farr (6, 0-4-4, 4), as well as left-hand shooting Dunford and Felix Cadieux-Fredette (30, 0-10-10, 20).
Up front, following the departures of Patterson and Beaupre the Rock still have plenty of firepower.
The forward lines are comprised of captain Tyler Schwindt (30, 21-16-37, 20), Riley Brousseau (30, 13-22-35, 6), Nicolas Pigeon (23, 8-20-28, 19), Christopher Engelbert (30, 12-14-26, 4), Tyler Gilberds (27, 8-15-23, 32), Liam Wells (29, 12-7-19, 31), Justin Charette (30, 7-11-18, 2), Henry Brock (25, 7-10-17, 26), Dylan McElhinny (22, 3-13-16, 13), Nolan Ring (21, 5-8-13, 8), Nicholas Frederick (19, 4-9-13, 14) and Gabinien Kioki (2, 0-0-0, 2).
The Rock did not make any moves in goal and why would they given the success of Gavin McCarthy (1,447:00, 17-5-1-1, 1, 2.49, .895) and Konrad Simard (360:00, 6-0-0-0, 2, 1.50, .917) between the pipes this season.
And the team still has Josh Briand, who has yet to play a minute this season but has dressed as a back-up on a couple of occasions, waiting in the wings.