By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – Three members of the Timmins Rock earned recognition when the Gongshow Gear awards for January were announced.
Defenceman Andrew Castagna has been named defenceman of the month, while forward Jordan Rendle earned honourable mention for player of the month and Bain Cunningham earned similar accolades for rookie of the month.
“These young men are good people,” said Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“They are not just good hockey players. They deserve these accolades. They are true Timmins Rock players. They set good examples off the ice and they are always doing things in the community.
“They are among our better players and they have great attitudes, so it is nice to see them get the recognition, absolutely.”
Hailing from North Vancouver, B.C., the 19-year-old Castagna (45, 10-15-25, 29) averaged just over a point per game for the Rock while also bolstering the squad’s back-end.
In nine outings, Castagna scored six times — including a pair of game-winning markers — and added four assists for a 10-point month.
He nearly doubled his overall point total in January.
“His game was basically grab the puck and jump in the play and go offensively,” Gagne said.
“We want them to play a little bit more defensively in the defensive zone in our program, play passive, play aggressive, but once he understood the program we gave him the leeway to jump in the play.
“Andrew has also been incredible on the power play. He sees the play well and he shoots well. He has really come along, especially in the last month or so. He is more confident.
“He is a beautiful, smooth skater and plays well, always in good position. He is not big in stature (5-11, 155 pounds), but he still has half-decent size.”
Nathan Campbell, of the Elliot Lake Wildcats, and Dylan Holt, of the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, earned honourable mention for the top defenceman award.
Rendle (43, 30-29-59, 51) and Gold Miners forward Logan Fredericks earned honourable mention for the player of the month award won in January by Wildcats sniper Cole Hepler.
The 19-year-old Surrey, B.C., native is third on the Rock in scoring, but is their most complete all-around player and one of the team’s most consistent performers at both ends of the rink.
“Jordan is a true 200-foot player,” Gagne said.
“He competes hard and he has got passion for the game. He is at the rink early. He is one of the first guys on the ice and one of the last guys on the ice.
“He brings passion and fun to the dressing room. He is a true leader. He comes to the rink with a smile all the time. He works just as hard in practice as he does in games.
“Jordan is a very skilled player.”
Rendle and his linemates — Cunningham and Zachary Kercz — often draw the assignment of shutting down the other team’s top unit, a testament to the offensively gifted trio’s commitment to team defence.
The combination of Rendle and Cunningham has been magic for the Rock since early in training camp.
“They are the only two players we have not separated since training camp,” Gagne said.
“They have a real chemistry. They have the same mind set. They work well on the cycle. They work well on the forecheck.”
The third member of the line has changed from time to time as the season has progressed but all of the right wingers place into that spot have enjoyed success.
“Jordan plays a structured game,” Gagne said.
“In the offensive zone, he has the skill set to drive to the net, make the moves, take the shot, or make the pass.
“He follows our program to a T. He is a coach’s dream. Everything you ask him to do, he does it.
“When other players play with him, he is so structured they have to follow the program, as well.”
Cunningham (45, 23-27-50, 36) and Iroquois Falls Eskis defenceman Stuart Harley (4, 4-15-19, 37) earned honourable mention for the rookie of the month award won by Holt.
The 18-year-old Barrie native, brings a nice combination of size (6-3, 206 pounds) to the Rock lineup.
“He uses his speed, he uses his body,” Gagne said.
“Some games he is going to hit 75% more often than in other games, other games he plays with a little bit more finesse. He goes into the corners and comes out with the puck. His game is different every time he plays.”
As well as Cunningham has played, Rock fans may not have seen the best the left winger has to offer yet.
“He doesn’t realize how good he is,” Gagne said.
“He has got the size. He has got the shot. He has got the vision. He has soft hands and he is a beautiful skater. He just seems to make things happen all the time.”
Playing with Rendle, Cunningham has become one of the Rock’s more consistent performers this season.
“Very seldom does he make a mistake,” Gagne said.
“He is a ’97, but he is playing like a 20 year old.”
Connor Ryckman, of the Soo Thunderbirds, is the goaltender of the month for January, while Aaron Mackay, of the Wildcats, and Victor-Olivier Courchesne, of the Gold Miners, received honourable mention.