Deals help bolster Rock line-up

Timmins Rock general manager Kevin Peever wrapped up his shopping well in advance of Friday’s Canadian Junior Hockey League trade deadline.

Thomas Perry
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And with the Rock chasing down top spot in the NOJHL, he added a pair of significant pieces.

The NOJHL’s top-ranked defence got even stronger with the addition of blue-liner Zachary  Fortin  from the  QMJHL’s Gatineau Olympics and up front the picked up sniper Gabinien Kioki from the CCHL’s Rockland Nationals.

To make room for the newcomers, the Rock have shipped forward Jonah Devereux to the GOJHL’s Pelham Panthers.

In addition, forward Linden Spencer, who had been in his third year with the Rock, opted to return home to Eastmain, Que.

Fortin (13, 0-3-3, 14), a 2001-birth-year defender, was in his second season with the Olympiques, after seeing significant playing time (50, 1-1-2, 19) during the 2018-19 QMJHL campaign.

The left-hand shot blue-liner stands 5-10 and weighs in at 183 pounds.

“He is going to be a guy who will bring leadership and experience to our lineup,” said Rock coach Corey Beer.

“He is not going to be rattled by a big stage like some guys who get traded to our program, come in and find themselves playing in front of a thousand fans at the McIntyre Arena.

“Sometimes that can be a little bit of an experience in itself. He is going to be used to that kind of thing after playing Major Junior hockey.

“He was able to play there for a year and a half and you look  at (Rock blue-liner) Josh Anderson who played up there for a year and  you can see the impact he has had, the same for (Rock forward/blue-liner) Phil Caron.

“So, we fully  expect Zach to come in here and be one of our  better defencemen.

“He will be joining a great group back there that has been doing the right things defensively and offensively.

“I think Zach will fit right into that mix and do extremely well for us.”

The Rock coach feels Fortin will bring a unique combination of skills to the line-up.

“I think he brings a little bit of everything,” Beer said.

“He was obviously playing in a bit of a different situation there in Gatineau, playing a bit of a shutdown role, so you know he has got good attention to detail. He match up against other teams’ good players and shut them down.

“Once he gets comfortable here, he will be able to unleash some of his offensive potential, which is something we are definitely looking forward to seeing because of the style of game our defencemen play.

“They have to be able to move their feet and move the puck.

“He has good skating ability and good puck-moving ability, so he will likely play a more offensive role with us.”

The Thunder Bay native arrived in  Timmins on Wednesday, but given  the distance he  had  travelled and  the fact he had  not had  an  opportunity to practice with  his  new  team, he was not in the lineup for the Rock’s 4-3 overtime  win over Cochrane Crunch  at the McIntyre Arena.

Kioki, a 2001-birth-year forward who hails from Attawapiskat and played midget hockey with the Timmins Majors, started the season with the NOJHL’s Powassan Voodoos (6, 6-2-8, 4) before being dealt to the Nationals (22, 1-7-8, 22).

After failing to record any points or penalty minutes during one game as an affiliate player with the Cochrane Crunch during the 2017-18 season, Kioki had a breakout season with the Voodoos (53, 24-22-46, 18) in 2018-19.

“He knows a bunch of our guys already,” Beer said.

“He knows Riley Brousseau and he knows Riley Robitaille, Derek Seguin, Phil Caron. He trains with Derek in the off season.

Gabby is a great kid. He is extremely polite and mature for his age. He is not a selfish player, which is good because in our system we want all five guys touching the puck.

“He is a guy who is going to fit in and we know how his offensive game is going to translate. He is going to be a high-end player for us.

“He brings instant credibility with his scoring touch. He is a good play maker and a great skater.

“There are a lot of guys on our team who are going to be the beneficiary of him getting them the puck, or them getting him the puck.

“He is a pretty deceptive player out there.

“He is another weapon we are going to utilize here and we can’t wait to get him into the line-up.”

It wasn’t a long wait, as the 6-1, 181pounds, right-hand shot forward made his debut in a Rock uniform Thursday night against the Cochrane Crunch at the McIntyre Arena.

“It feels really good to get that first game under my belt,” Kioki said following Thursday night’s contest.

“I have followed this team for a while now and I know the coaching staff. I have heard really good things and I am excited to get things going.”

He admits he had a few butterflies during his first shift in a Rock uniform.

“I think anybody would be a little nervous playing in your home town,” Kioki said.

“People expect big things, but I just went out there and played through it.”

During Thursday’s contest, Kioki played mainly on a line with Seguin and Josh Dickson.

“We had a good first period, we started talking and we were communicating well,” he said.

“We got some tough bounces during the game that we couldn’t control, but that is why you have to be 100% every game.”

He doesn’t feel it will take long to adjust to his new linemates.

“Not at all, we have been playing hockey our whole life,” Kioki said.