By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – To say that Kealey Cummings is the elder statesman of the Timmins Rock franchise might be a bit of an understatement.
The 1995-birth-year Iroquois Falls native has played more games in a Timmins Rock/Abitibi Eskimos uniform than any other player in franchise history.
Cummings played in all 54 of the Rock’s regular season games this season, giving him 231 for his five-year NOJHL career.
“First of all, Kealey is a great person,” said Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“He is respectful, he is loyal and he is a sharp kid, on and off the ice.
“I can remember Kealey coming in as a 16 year old. He was getting more ice time than some of our 20 year olds at the time. He was playing a regular shift, killing penalties and even playing on the power play.
“What a great kid. Now, I can’t use that word. He is a man now. Over the years, it has been a pleasure to coach Kealey. He has a great comprehension of the game and he is always following our program.”
After five years, Cummings likely knows the program as well as the coaching staff.
“He has seen quite a few of our drills over the years, but we always modify them,” Gagne said.
“There have been a couple of times out there where he would say, ‘Paul, don’t we add a defenceman here? because he knows the drills, but I would tell him it’s the same drill but it’s modified.
“He knows what we expect from our players. He understands the coaching and our program.”
Cummings and the Rock still have some unfinished business in the playoffs, but Gagne can see his current blue-liner himself one day becoming a coach at some level.
“He definitely has the demeanor to become a coach,” he said.
“He is laid back, he doesn’t get too excited and he has been around hockey all his life. He understands the game quite a bit and he is a smart kid. I see potential for him to be a coach one day, for sure.”
Cummings was humbled to have his longevity recognized prior to the Rock’s last home game.
“It feels pretty good, I am happy to have been playing this long,” Cummings said following Game 1 of the Rock’s Round 1 playoff series against the Iroquois Falls Eskis.
“I haven’t lost my love of the game. Paul (Gagne) has been a great coach to me and this is a great organization.
When Cummings broke into the NOJHL as a 16-year-old with the Eskimos, he had no idea his Junior ‘A’ hockey career would last so long.
“Back then, I was just taking things one game at a time and I just wanted to play,” he said.
“I was just looking to get some ice time and do the best I could.”
During his five years with the organization, Cummings has had dozens — if not hundreds of teammates.
“Last week, I was looking back at all the team photos and thinking about all the guys I have played with over the years,” he said.
“It is wild. You meet a lot of really good people and really great hockey players. I hope one day, if there is ever some sort of alumni game, that they can all come back and we can all play again one more time.”
Junior ‘A’ hockey is a serious endeavour but there are always a few players who like to play practical jokes or lighten up the mood.
“We have always had a lot of guys who are funny and good,” Cummings said.
“There have been numerous guys who like to do that, including one of my closer teammates, Brenden Locke. He always seemed to bring a smile to the room. Joe Olson, too, likes to do that.
“There have been so many guys who have been great in the room, trying to calm things down and everything. Ryan Tront was another one and the same with Brady Clouthier.
“We have had a lot of great guys who do that, but I could never say which one of them was my favourite. I could never do that.”
Cummings, who is one of the Rock’s assistant captains, is pretty serious in the room.
“I am a little more quiet,” he said.
“When it comes to making noise, I might do it, but I am a more serious type in the room, all business. If I am meant to be heard, I will speak up.”
Never mind the number of players Cummings has had the pleasure of calling teammate, how about the number of defence partners he has had during that span?
“My current defence partner is Nick Hautanen,” he said.
“I couldn’t be happier. He talks a lot and he is a good communicator. I feel like we have some good chemistry between us.
“Justin Kord was my very first defence partner with the Eskimos. Back then, I was a little bit more of an offensive defenceman and he was an extremely offensive defenceman at the time, so I ended up playing a little bit more of a defensive game. We had good chemistry, too. He was a great player, a great teammate and a great defence partner.”
With so many games played on the Rock/Eskimos blue-line, has Cummings ever considered a position switch?
“I have never thought about going up front, but I have had a few opportunities to move up front and play forward during exhibition games, or if the team is short and they need a big person in the corners or in front of the net to cause a bit of a ruckus,” he said.
“I have never thought ‘I wish I was a forward.’ I prefer playing defence. I like to protect our goalie and protect our house. That has always been my mind set. I would rather try to prevent goals than try to score goals.”
Speaking of goalies, the Cummings family has served as the billet for Rock netminder Logan Ferrington this season.
If not forward, has becoming a goalie ever entered his mind?
“I have thought about it, maybe just going in once to see what it’s like,” Cumming said, with a chuckle.
“Obviously, it is a very tough position and Logan plays it very well. He is a smart goalie and I definitely wouldn’t be as good as him, that’s for sure. It would be fun to give it a try and just see what happens.”
Maybe the Rock coaching staff will keep that it mind if their goaltending trio of Ferrington, Matthew Nixon and Devon Debastos all go down during the first game of their East Division semifinal against the Crunch at the Tim Horton Event Centre in Cochrane Thursday night.
There have been many highlights for Cummings during his five years with the franchise.
“Obviously, there have been a lot of great moments with this team and a lot of great years,” he said.
“With this being my last year, I would say this has been one of my favourite teams to play on. They have all been great teams, but I think chemistry wise in the room this team is great.
“We are always looking to get better and we are always looking for options to be creative on the ice.”
Gagne is the only head coach Cummings has played for since entering the NOJHL, but he has worked with a number of assistant coaches along the way, including Marc Cashmore, Dan Dube, James Daschuk, Eric Paquette and Marc Brisson.
“I really want to thank them for the great five years, it has been awesome,” he said.
“I would also like to thank all my friends, family and the fans in general.”
Cummings is currently attending Northern College and taking construction management.
Who knows, maybe some day he will take those skills and apply them to building the next arena that will house the Timmins Rock.