TIMMINS – Forwards Connor Losen and Donny Schultz made their debuts in Timmins Rock uniforms during Friday night’s NOJHL exhibition contest against the Cochrane Crunch at the Jus Jordan Arena.
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
And it appears fans might get to see a lot more of the duo who spent the 2016-17 with the La Crosse Freeze, of the NA3HL.
The players have committed to playing for the Rock this season, although neither general manager Kevin Peever nor coach Corey Beer would confirm on Friday that either player has been signed.
Given both Schultz, who hails from Marquette, Mich., and Losen, a native of La Crosse, Wis., are Americans, no formal announcement can be made until both Hockey Canada and its U.S. counterpart have signed off on the transaction and the deals have been registered with the NOJHL.
Schultz and Losen visited Timmins in early August and both obviously liked what they saw, as they were back at training camp when it officially opened at the McIntyre Arena on Aug. 17.
Schultz (40, 13-20-33, 8), a centre, averaged almost a point a game with the Freeze last season in his first year out of high school hockey and had an even more productive playoff (5, 3-4-7, 4) campaign.
“I had a pretty good season last year,” he said.
“I like to play a fast-paced style of game.”
At 5-7 and 145 pounds, speed and skill are obviously two of the biggest assets the right-hand shooting Schultz brings to the ice.
He played on a line with Losen last season in La Crosse, but so far in camp the Rock coaching staff has kept them apart to see how they do with other forwards.
Neither player has objected although they would clearly like to be reunited at some point in the season.
“We already have some chemistry going,” Schultz point out.
“We play similar styles of games. We are both really hard workers, we win the battles in the corners and we can find each other pretty easily out there on the ice.”
Being from Michigan, Schultz is naturally a big Detroit Red Wings fan, but the player he tries to pattern his game after now actually plays for another NHL team.
“I really like to watch (Buffalo Sabres centre) Jack Eichel skate and play,” he said.
“Growing up, my favourite player was (Red Wings forward) Pavel Datsyuk. He was just magic with the puck.”
Schultz is looking forward to getting an opportunity to play in front of anywhere from 800 to 1,600 fans at the McIntyre Arena while wearing a Rock jersey this winter.
“It is really going to be amazing,” he said.
“I haven’t really gotten to experience anything like that and I am really looking forward to it.”
Hockey is big in Michigan, like it is in many other northern states, but youngsters have many sports to chosen from when they are growing up.
“I fell in love with the game when I was young,” Schultz said.
“I played all kinds of different sports when I was growing up, but I decided hockey was the one for me because I loved it the most.”
Having played with former Rock blue-liner Patrick Gazich, who was a teammate with the Freeze at the start of the 2016-17 season before making the move to Timmins, Schultz and Losen had a good idea of what the city and the league were like before they expressed interest in joining the team.
“I was pretty good friends with him when he did play on our team and I have talked to him a lot,” Schultz said.
“He loved the time he spent here and he strongly suggested we make the move. He told us the crowds are amazing, everybody treats you like a celebrity and it’s a great atmosphere.”
Schultz knows there will be a bit of an adjustment as he makes the jump to the NOJHL from the NA3HL.
“It is a faster league and I know the guys are going to be a bit stronger, as well,” he said.
“I am just going to have to keep working hard, get better and adjust my game to fit in.”
Getting a chance to play for a coach like Beer, who was an assistant coach on the Cobourg Cougars squad that won the 2017 RBC Cup championship, added to the incentive for Schultz and Losen to make the move to Timmins.
“I really like what he is trying to do with the team,” Schultz said.
“I am really excited to get a chance to play for him this year.”
Both Schultz and Losen are 1998-birth-year forwards, meaning they have two years of Junior ‘A’ eligibility remaining.
At 5-7 and 170 pounds, Losen will be far from being the biggest player on the Rock roster, but like Schultz speed and skill are the strengths of his game — although he does play with an element of grit.
During the 2016-17 campaign, Losen (42, 3-28-31, 89) had a solid season with the Freeze and, like Schultz, an even better playoff (5, 2-5-7, 0).
“I like to make plays and make things happen out there,” he said.
Like Schultz, hockey was Losen’s choice when it came time to pick a sport.
“My dad kind of got me into it,” he said.
“He loved the game and as soon as I stepped on the ice, I loved it, too. I love being at the rink and hanging out with my buddies. It’s a fun game to play and you meet good people.”
While he was growing up, Losen tried to pattern his game after new Montreal Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin.
“In terms of teams, I like the New York Rangers,” he said.
“There was something about that team that drew me to it when I was about three years old and I have loved them ever since.”
Being an American, perhaps it is the red, white and blue of the Rangers’ uniforms.
“Maybe,” Losen said.
Losen enjoyed the opportunity to play on a line with Schultz last season.
“We clicked really well,” he said.
“We are both smaller, speedier guys who can make plays and move the puck quick.
“Off the ice, I like hanging out with him, as well. He is a really good guy.”
Losen feels the speed and skill he and Schultz can bring to the Rock lineup will lead to success for them in the NOJHL.
“I like to make cuts in the corner and I think our speed will really work well,” he said.
Losen is excited about getting a chance to learn from a coach like Beer who has helped take a team all the way to the promised land.
“I am really excited,” he said.
“He obviously knows his stuff and I think we can learn a lot from him.”
For his part, Beer was just as excited to get Schultz and Losen into training camp and on the ice for the team’s first exhibition contest.
“They both have good speed and good skill and that would go hand-in-hand with the fast-paced attack we are looking to push here,” he said.
“Kevin has done a tremendous job of finding talent like Donny and Connor, allowing us to accumulate as much high-end skill as possible.”
Speed was definitely one of the key factors the Rock were aiming to build the team around heading into the 2017-18 NOJHL campaign.
“You look at the elite teams we want to get up there with and you have to play fast-paced hockey,” Beer said.
“There are no more plodding players out there slowing the game down and trying to grind things out. You have to be quick and you have to be skilled and I think we have done a pretty good job of putting a team like that together.”
The Rock kicked off their exhibition season with Friday night’s game against the Crunch, but details from that contest were not available at press time.
The two teams will return to the Jus Jordan Arena for their second exhibition contest on Sunday, at 7 p.m.