By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock opened training camp Monday night with an abundance of puck stoppers, a dearth of defenders and a plethora of would-be goal scorers.
Neither of the squad’s key trade acquisitions were anywhere to be found, however.
Forward Nick Siracuse (48, 12-23-35, 25) picked up in a June 16 trade with the Powassan Voodoos in exchange for forward Ryan Theriault and forward Joel Grandbois (51, 21-17-38, 26) who came to the Rock in exchange for Tristan Salesse in an Aug. 10 swap with the Espanola Express were both conspicuous in their absence Monday night.
During a phone interview Tuesday morning, Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne indicated he is still “optimistic” both Siracuse and Grandbois will report.
“We were totally surprised that Nick wasn’t here last night,” he said.
“We don’t know what happened. We traded for him, but he has just gone AWOL. We are not sure why. Even his advisor doesn’t know where he is.
“As for Grandbois, we are not sure what he wants to do. He is looking at possibly playing high school hockey this year.”
Siracuse, a 5-9, 180-pound right-shooting forward who turns 20 in November, is a native of Buffalo, N.Y., while Grandbois, a 6-1, 181-pound left-shooting 18-year-old forward, hails from Blezard Valley.
In net, the Rock have four goalies in camp, including Matthew Nixon (920:00, 8-7-0-0, 0, 3.78, .898), Bradley Dobson (99:00, 1-1-0-0, 1, 1.82, .949) and Devon Debastos (213:00, 0-3-0-0, 0, 5.08, .870), all of whom saw some time with the NOJHL squad during the 2015-16 campaign.
Debastos, who will be attending Laurentian University in Sudbury this fall, is only in camp to get in a little extra ice time.
Nixon, 19, backed up Rock starter Logan Ferrington last season, while Dobson, who will turn 18 in December, was the No. 1 puck stopper for the Timmins Majors of the Great North Midget League.
The fourth member of the goaltending fraternity in camp is 19-year-old Martins Ferry, OH, native Caleb Barris who split last season between the Kalkaska Rhinos (3.66, .905) and the Dells Ducks (1.56, .929), both of the USPHL.
“There were a lot of goals going by them last night, but it was only the first day of camp,” Gagne said.
“Everybody was eager and they didn’t know the players, but by the end of this weekend we will see what we have.”
After four days of training camp, the Rock will play a home-and-home exhibition series with the Goldminers — Friday night at the Joe Mavrianc Community Complex in Kirkland Lake and then back home at the McIntyre Arena.
There are, at this point, only five blue-liners in camp including veterans Nick Hautanen (54, 4-8-12, 36), who turns 20 on Saturday, 19-year-old Jared Hester (54, 9-12-21, 20) and 20-year-old Spencer Segui (6, 0-2-2, 0), who was a late-season pick up from the Northern Cyclones (13, 1-1-2, 8) of the EHL.
They are joined by newcomers Grant McClellan (28, 5-17-22, 26) from Trenton High School, of the USHS, and 18-year-old A.J. Holenski (34, 3-0-3, 0) from the Niagara Falls Rivermen, of the SCTAMM.
“We had another defenceman who we were interested in and the paperwork was on the table,” Gagne said.
“We were just waiting for him to respond and at the last minute he signed with another team in the United States. That’s why we only had five defencemen out tonight.
“We had been looking at having seven defencemen out because we are also waiting for another player who is trying out for a team in a higher league.
“So, we are looking to add another defenceman.”
While the group of blue-liners in camp may be lacking in terms of quantity, there is plenty of quality to build upon.
“McClellan is a really nice skater for his size,” Gagne said.
“He had really good size and I think he is going to add something to this team, for sure. He seems really calm and poised back there, too. He moves the puck really well.”
Holenski also made a favourable first impression during his inaugural session with the Rock.
“I am really happy with what we are seeing so far,” Gagne said.
The Rock’s trio of blue-liners also looked sharp during their first session at camp.
“Segui has a little bit more experience with us now and he understands what we want from him,” Gagne said.
“He is going to show some leadership for us this year.”
Segui had the most impressive hit of the day, as he caught Riley Robitaille with a clean hip check in front of his net that flipped the big forward.
“Nick will be going into his third year with us and he really gets things now,” Gagne said.
“Hester really looked good out there tonight, especially shape wise.
“As a group, we are happy right now with the five defencemen we have signed and in camp. We just need to add a couple of more in the next week or so.”
Up front, the Rock have six forwards — Jordan Rendle (51, 30-40-70, 67),
Bain Cunningham (53, 25-33-58, 48), Kyle Levis (39, 4-14-18, 37), Wayne Mathieu (4, 8-8-16, 48), Cole Gilligan (44, 6-6-12, 6) and Alexandre Brisson (25, 4-2-6, 8) — back from last year’s squad.
In addition, Tyler Romain, who started the 2015-16 season with the Rock (18, 4-6-10, 7) before being traded to the Napanee Raiders (21, 12-4-16, 21), of the EBJCHL, and Brandon Major (32, 3-6-9, 35), who attended training camp with the Rock last year before signing with the Napanee Raiders, of the EBJCHL are in camp.
“Experience certainly helps and when you have a good-sized group coming back, they understand the game,” Gagne said.
“It makes things a lot easier when it comes to implementing your program. It will also make things a lot easier for the new guys because their teammates know what the expectations are and how practices are run. Everybody benefits and we are really happy to have so many veterans back.”
Rendle, who will serve as captain of the Rock this season, can’t wait for the start of the regular season on Sept. 10.
“It feels great to be back in that room,” he said.
“I can’t wait to get things going and build some chemistry on the ice and in the dressing room.
“We have some new additions to the team and all the vets are really excited.”
Rendle, a Surrey, B.C., native, and Cunningham, who hails from Barrie teamed up with former Rock forward Zachary Kercz to form one of the most lethal lines in the NOJHL last season.
“Last year, Bain and I started off together right from the get go on the second line and we found some instant chemistry,” Rendle said.
“We definitely connected last year and I think that’s why we stayed together.”
Indeed, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Two members of the Timmins Majors — Robitaille (33, 7-18-25, 58) and fellow forward Stuart Parnell (34, 19-11-30, 38) — are also in camp.
“I think there is some potential there that they might be able to play for us at the Junior ‘A’ level,” Gagne said, when asked whether either Midget ‘AAA’ player might make the team.
Other newcomers in camp include Jacob Shankar (40, 14-16-30, 66), from the Brockville Braves, of the HEOMAAA; Corey Sprague (50, 2-6-8, 60), from the Saint-Jérôme Panthères, of the QJAAAHL; Nicholas Hway (32, 2-6-8, 24) from the Timmins Majors, of the GNML; Marcus Blackned; and Jessie McLaughlin, a Chapleau native.
“Both Corey and Jacob bring a lot to the table,” Gagne said.
“Corey is relentless and he really works hard out there. He is a nice skater. He is a likeable guy in the dressing room and he does everything you ask for him to do out there on the ice.
“Jacob’s skill level is just incredible. He has good size and he sees the ice well. Even though he is only a 99 (birth year) I know he is going to be capable of playing in our Top 6. He can pass and he can shoot. He is just an all-around nice player.
“Our coaching staff was really impressed with Marcus last night. He is a gritty little player. He is not that big, but he definitely has a presence on the ice every time he is out there. He and Jared played together on the same team a few years ago.”
Hway, who played for the Majors last season, got into three games with the Rock during the 2014-15 campaign when they were known as the Abitibi Eskimos and played out of the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls.
“He was an affiliate player and he came in and showed a lot of promise,” Gagne said.
“He is one of those players who is quiet, but he does his job. He works hard and he understands his role. We are going to give him a good look here in this camp.”
Two players on the ice Monday night who stand no chance of making the Rock roster — only because they are too old — are former Abitibi Eskimos sniper Erik Robichaud (Nipissing University) and captain Kevin Walker (scheduled to play for IFK Strömsund, in Sweden).