TIMMINS – With training camp now in high gear, the Timmins Rock are continuing to prepare for the opening of their exhibition season next Friday.
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
Coach Corey Beer has been impressed with what he has seen from his players during the early stages of camp and the two on-ice sessions that preceded its start.
“Having Bendan Bishop injured (upper-body) right now, you don’t get a good sense of what he is going to be like in net, but obviously he is going to be right there with Eric Jackson in a 1A-1B situation,” he said.
“E.J.has handled himself extremely well to this point and obviously (goalie coach) Marc (Bisson) has been keeping a close eye on him.
“There has been nothing but positives and even the young (Jordan) Yaremchuk kid who has been with us the past couple of days, and will continue to come out with us to earn his keep, has done very well and has battled hard.”
After sitting out the two on-ice sessions that preceded Thursday’s start of training camp, Bishop was out on the ice in full equipment — including a Timmins Rock face mask — but he did not face any shots.
The 1997-birth-year goalie who spent the 2016-17 campaign with the Atlanta Jr. Knights (3.51, .889,), of the USPHL, and Jackson, a 1998-birth-year puck stopper, who played for the Port Hope Panthers (2.30, .890,) of the PJCHL, are expected to form the Rock’s goaltending tandem this season.
Meanwhile, Yaremchuk (4.63, .880, Meaford Knights, of the GMHL), who still has a year of midget eligibility left, has also been impressive.
Local goalies Dante Garito and Jimmy Carleton, who both spent time with the Rock as affiliate players in 2016-17, took to the ice for their first sessions of training camp on Thursday.
“You could call our back end an unassuming group, but they are going to be real good,” Beer said.
“We have got guys like Grant McClellan, James Watier and Jared Hester. Those are key returning guys and then you add in the good foot speed and stability of Lucas Dolanjski and James Redmond has been very impressive so far.
“We have Connor Pulush, who is going to be a very physical player to play against and Will Caston is a similar kind of young kid who can really handle himself in his own end. Shawn Sloan’s skating has really stood out for me, as well. He is a guy who going to be an elite puck-moving back-end guy.
“I am very excited about our defence group. Hopefully, we will be able to find a way to get them all into the lineup routinely.”
Indeed, that might be one of the biggest challenges Beer and his assistants face, trying to find playing time for eight blue-liners with only six or seven slots in the lineup.
And even though both Cameron Svec and Frederic Leclair-Pouw spent time with the Rock last year as affiliate players, they will have to have monster camps to dislodge one of those other eight blue-liners.
Beer is really pleased with the group of forwards the Rock have in camp, as well.
“The first thing that really stood out to us, as coaches, is their speed and skill,” he said.
“You could really see it in the tempo of the practices we have had. Our forwards certainly pushed the envelope in terms of the pace.
“When we talk about playing a defence-first type of game, it is going to be very easy to do that when we have fast forwards who are willing to back check and strip guys of the puck, then turn that good defence into good offence.
“That is going to be a key for us all year.”
With only three veteran forwards — Wayne Matthieu (54, 29-32-61, 22), Stewart Parnell (54, 10-32-42, 30) and Alexandre Brisson (48, 17-23-40, 42) — back from the 2016-17 squad, the Rock re-acquired Tyler Planetta (49, 2-7-9, 27) from the French River Rapids.
They also acquired through a series of trades Derek Seguin (37, 3-8-11, 28) from the Brantford 99ers, of the GOJHL; C.J. Bradburn (34, 16-27-43, 14), from the New York Aviators, of the USPHL; Eric Hulford (46, 25-32-57, 10), from the Athens Aeros, of the CCHL; Halen Cordoni (42, 16-20-36, 50), from the Ridge Meadows Flames, of the PIJHL; as well as Donny Schultz (40, 13-20-33, 8) and Connor Losen (42, 3-28-31, 89), from the La Crosse Freeze, of the NA3HL.
With 10 spots locked up — assuming Seguin doesn’t stick with the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs — that would appear to leave just two or three forward spots up for grabs.
Battling for those spots are Evan Kenntish-Stack (12, 0-0-0, 0) and Seth Reuben (1, 0-0-0, 0), who both spent time with the Rock as affiliate players in 2016-17, and Riley Robitaille (7, 0-1-1, 6), who spent time with the Iroquois Falls Eskis (now Hearst Lumberjacks) as an affiliate player.
Other forwards in camp are Ryan Forsyth (38, 4-4-8, 12, with the Eskis), Austin Holmes, Linden Spencer and A.J. Campbell.
With plenty of speed to burn, the Rock lineup is not lacking in size, either.
On the back end, the Rock have four players — Caston (6-4, 200 pounds), Palush (6-1, 180 pounds), Hester (6-0, 215 pounds) and McClellan (6-0, 195 pounds) — who are at least six feet tall and either at or near 200 pounds.
Up front, Hulford (6-2, 205 pounds), Planetta (5-10, 220 pounds) and Cordoni (5-9, 205 pounds) all have good size, as well.
“You look at a guy like Derek Seguin, as well,” Beer said.
“He is a stocky kid who is going to be able to battle in the corners.”
Now that training camp is officially open, Beer and his assistants have begun to roll out the defence-first system they hope will lead to an NOJHL championship this season.
“We are going to take a little time this weekend and make sure everyone is on the same page in terms of expectations of play, intensity and whatnot,” he said.
“We will really start pounding it into the guys early next week to get them up to speed on systems breakdowns. Everything will be supported with video and we will be doing walk throughs outside on the outdoor rink. The next week or so will be a bit of a cram session.”
Beer is confident his Rock players will not have any difficulties picking up the finer points of his system.
“We feel we have a really intelligent group of players,” he said.
“The more information they can retain and the faster they can do it, the better it will position them for the exhibition games. That’s especially true for guys who are competing for spots. Like the old adage says, if you hit the books hard, it will pay off in the long run.”
With so few spots up for grabs, Beer feels it is important for those trying out to make a good impression.
“The biggest thing we tell these guys is every time you step on the ice, somebody is watching,” he said.
“It might be us. It might be another squad, or it could be their midget team. They should always want to leave a positive impression every time they step on the ice.”
The Rock will be back on the ice at the McIntyre Arena from 9:30-11 p.m.on Saturday, but they will take Sunday off before resuming preparations on Monday for their exhibition opener against the Crunch at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls on Friday, Aug. 25.