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Already sitting atop the NOJHL’s East Division standings, the Timmins Rock swung a pair of trades designed to increase their odds of successfully defending the championship they won in 2023.
First, the Rock acquired 2005-birth-year blue-liner Ethan Albert from MHL’s Yarmouth Mariners, in exchange for a player development fee.
Then, the picked up 2004-birth-year forward Jack Kelly from the OJHL’s Cobourg Cougars, also in exchange for player development fee.
Albert (20, 1-1-2, 2) is a 6-0, 185-pound, left hand-shooting, Ottawa product.
He split the 2022-23 campaign between Bourget Collège Volts U18 teams entered in the CSSHLE U18 (regular season: 16, 4-9-13, 8; playoffs: 5, 1-5-6, 4) and the PPHL 18U (regular season: 13, 0-6-6, 2).
“He is a big, solid, dependable defender,” said Rock coach and general manager Brandon Perry.
“He has good puck skills and he moves the puck really well. He is a great defender, with a big, long stick.”
Albert joins a Rock blue-line that also includes captain Felix Cadieux-Fredette, Kyle Trottier, Tenzin Nyman, Chase Longhurst-McIntyre, Ayden Trottier Elijah Pool and Sam Gallagher, as well as affiliate defenders Zach Secord and Jakob Drobny, of the GNU18L’s Timmins U18 Majors.
Perry admitted the team has been searching for additional help on the blue-line for some time, adding he didn’t really have a preference as to whether that player would be big and physical or offensively gifted.
“We were just looking for the best fit, players who come from good programs, programs we trust that have good systems,” he said.
“Obviously, he does coming from Yarmouth. Then, you look at the person, obviously. Do they want to be here? Are they good people? Then, their skill set. We looked at all three of those things and he really looked like he would fit well with our organization.”
With the Rock scheduled to play a pair of games on the weekend, Perry acknowledged there is a chance Albert may see action in one or both of those contests.
“Just like any other player, we will give him a week or two to get things going,” Perry said.
“It is a whole new system, so there is a lot to learn, a lot to digest and right now we are just kind of letting him get comfortable, get used to the group.
“He is picking things up quick and we are excited to see him in a game.”
Perry indicated his new blue-liner reminds him of former Rock D-man Eric Moreau.
“Coming into this, I didn’t know much (about the NOJHL or the Rock), but I am from Ottawa and I have heard rumblings this team has got a pretty good record and they beat my old team at the Centennial Cup last year, so maybe I moved to a better team,” he said.
Albert is not your prototypical defensive defenceman, as he likes to excel at both ends of the rink.
“I would say I am pretty solid defensively,” he said.
“I do take care of my own end, but when the time arises I find my way into the rush and am pretty offensive.”
While Albert hasn’t played with any of his new Rock teammates before, he has played against a handful of them in the CSSHLE.
While Cadieux-Fredette is also from Ottawa, there is an age difference between the two blue-liners — not to mention Ottawa is a pretty big city.
“From my first couple of days here in Timmins, I can tell this is a good group,” Albert said.
“We had a hard battle day my first practice and then the second day I was kind of learning the breakouts a little bit.”
Being from Ottawa, it is no surprise Albert was a big fan of blue-liner Erik Karlsson when he was growing up.
“I would always watch the Ottawa Senators, obviously, because they were my home team and Karlsson played there a lot,” he said.
“It is pretty exciting to see now he has moved to my favourite team (Pittsburgh Penguins). It is a lot of fun to watch him play with all those veterans.”
Albert isn’t expecting too big of an adjustment making the move to the NOJHL from the MHL.
“I watched a couple of games before coming here and I noticed a lot of teams like to finish their checks a bit more, but I am all up for that,” he said.
Kelly (22, 1-1-2, 5) is a 6-2, 161-pound, left hand-shooting, Madoc, Ont., product who is no stranger to the NOJHL.
He spent the 2022-23 campaign with the Powassan Voodoos (regular season: 53, 17-17-34, 8; playoffs: 10, 2-1-3, 0).
“Jack is a player we wanted badly out of Midget (now U18), but it didn’t work out for us back then,” Perry said.
“We got an opportunity to bring him in here now and we are super happy about it.
“He is a big, strong power forward who has quick hands and a great shot. We are hoping he comes in and produces. He has 17 goals last year, as a rookie in our league and we are hoping he picks up right where he left off.”
If everything goes according to plans, Kelly is likely to earn a spot on one of the Rock’s top two lines.
“Like anything else, he is going to have to earn it,” Perry said.
“Guys who play well earn those kinds of opportunities, guys who don’t, don’t get those kinds of opportunities. If he plays his best hockey, with his skill set, he is a Top 6 forward in our league.”
Having played against the Rock at the McIntyre Arena, Kelly knows how vocal Timmins fans can be and he is looking forward to suiting up for his first home game.
“It is going to be different but I know all about the fans here, having played (against the Rock) in the playoffs,” he said.
“They are tough to play against, so it is going to be fun playing on their side.”
Kelly is looking forward to being part of a team that won an NOJHL championship last season and is aiming to defend that title.
“Perrs has a goal and I am ready to help with that goal of going back-to-back,” he said.
Being a graduate of the Okanogan Hockey Ontario program run by former Rock coach Corey Beer, Kelly is familiar with a number of his new teammates from his days down south.
“I still talk to a lot of them and they kind of helped me make the decision to come here,” he said.
Kelly doesn’t have any personal goals and is focused on “whatever it takes to help us win.”
As a rookie with the Voodoos in 2022-23, Kelly produced the same number of assists as goals, but he prides himself on his play on the defensive side of the puck.
“I like to score goals, but I like to focus on my own end first and go from there,” he said.
Growing up, Kelly was a big fan of Brendan Gallagher and he tried to pattern his game after the Montreal Canadiens forward’s game.
“He always had his nose to the net and did whatever it took to score and he was hard to play against,” he said.
“That’s how I try to play.”
To say Kelly is excited to make his Rock debut would be a bit of an understatement.
“I have been counting down the days since I got here,” he said.