By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock officially opened training camp at the McIntyre Arena Thursday with the bulk of the team’s roster now having reported.
For the second-straight day, new head coach Corey Beer and holdover assistants James Daschuk and Marc Bisson put the group, which also includes a number of players trying out and a couple of former players, through their paces during a high-tempo on-ice session Wednesday.
“We are going to make sure these guys practice at the highest tempo possible,” Beer said.
“(Rock general manager) Kevin (Peever) has done a great job of getting guys in who can handle that kind of tempo and pace in practice. We had a great start with those first two days to get things going before camp actually opened today.
“We are looking forward to having a fast and energetic team.”
The Rock players and others looking to crack the roster all showed up for the pre-camp sessions in excellent physical condition.
“Even today (Thursday), during the dry-land sessions, it was very encouraging to see the guys being able to get through the physical side of things, doing wind sprints, footwork drills and burpees, stuff like that.
“The fact they are all in great shape is going to help them push their games to the highest levels possible and make our jobs, as coaches, a lot easier, as well, knowing they are capable of handling the kinds of things we are going to throw at them.”
Beer and his assistants have not really begun to school the players on their new defence-first system yet.
“To be honest, the first two days were more about skills and then a quick tempo and a lot of flow drills,” he said.
“There hasn’t been a lot of systems breakdown yet. We will get into the meat of that during the next couple of days and then especially next week, with video breakdowns and going through walk throughs.
“The first couple of day, I just wanted to make sure the guys were moving and understood the expectations of what we want out of them in terms of pace and practise habits, communication and that kind of stuff.
“It was a good step for everybody and we are looking to carry that throughout training camp.”
Only a handful of players are back from the 2016-17 Rock team that advanced to the NOJHL East Division final before being swept from the playoffs in four-straight games by the Powassan Voodoos.
Up front, that group includes Wayne Matthieu (54, 29-32-61, 22),
Stewart Parnell (54, 10-32-42, 30) and Alexandre Brisson (48, 17-23-40, 42).
Forward Tyler Planetta (49, 2-7-9, 27) was reacquired from the French River Rapids and will be beginning his third tour of duty in a Rock uniform.
Back on the Timmins blue-line are Grant McClellan (55, 6-8-14, 56), Jared Hester (52, 10-19-29, 56) and James Watier (42, 3-12-15, 29).
The Rock also added some more NOJHL experience over the summer by acquiring Timmins native Lucas Dolanjski (50, 5-7-12, 24) from the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners in exchange for a player development fee.
The 1999-birth-year defenceman is excited to have the chance to continue his Junior ‘A’ career with the Rock.
“I am looking forward to getting to know all of the new players a little bit better and getting settled in here with the new guys,” he said.
“It should be interesting.”
With a full season in the NOJHL under his belt, Dolanjski is confident heading into the start of training camp.
“As a rookie, last year I got flustered a bit from time to time, but I feel feel more confident this year,” he said.
“Being a veteran, I have more experience and I know what to expect out there game in and game out.”
Last year in Kirkland Lake, Dolanjski played for coach Marc Lafleur, who put a lot of emphasis on defence, so he is expecting a smooth transition to coach Beer’s defence-first system.
“I like to jump into the play, but I pride myself on playing strong in the defensive zone, blocking shots, getting in the lanes and doing anything it takes to make sure the other team doesn’t put pucks in the back of our net,” he said.
“I think Corey wants us to be decisive out there on the ice. He expects us to be quick thinkers and always make the smart play.”
Like his new teammates, Dolanjski is eager to learn from a coach like Beers, who was an assistant with the RBC Cup champion Cobourg Cougars last season.
“He has experience and he knows what it takes to get to the RBC Cup,” he said.
“Hopefully, with his wisdom and encouragement we will be able to get there this year.”
Dolanjski knows what it is like to play in front of some large McIntyre Arena crowds while wearing opposition colours, but he is looking forward to getting to do so while wearing the maroon, gold and white of the Rock this season.
“It’s really going to be exceptional,” he said.
“I had a bit of a taste of that while I was playing for the (GNML’s Timmins) Majors, but the Rock is a first-class organization and they draw a ton of fans every game. It is going to be really exciting playing in front of so many friends and family members, as well.”
Dolanjski’s parents and other family members travelled to Kirkland Lake a fair bit to watch him play, but being able to do so without an hour-and-a-half drive should be a bonus.
“Everybody is really excited,” he said.
“My grandparents are really excited, too. They didn’t get to see me play as much last year.”
Dolanjski tries to combine the skill sets of a couple of NHL defencemen in his game, but his favourite NHL player is Montreal Canadiens Shea Weber.
“He plays a tough-style game and he is always in your face,” he said.
“I also like a guy like Drew Doughty, who can make a simple play, pass the puck and skate well.”
Dolanjski admits he will have mixed feelings the first time he returns to the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex in Kirkland Lake as a member of the Rock.
“It is going to be exciting,” he said.
“I had a really good year there. I made some awesome friends there, but I think a lot of my former teammates have moved on, as well.
“I expect to see a lot of fresh faces on that team and come game time, nobody is going to be my friend.”
During the off season, the Rock put a lot of emphasis on recruiting speedy, skilled forwards and blue-liners who can move the puck quickly and jump into the play.
Among the players who have already been acquired or signed with the team are forwards Derek Seguin (37, 3-8-11, 28, Brantford 99ers, GOJHL), C.J. Bradburn (34, 16-27-43, 14, New York Aviators, USPHL), Eric Hulford (46, 25-32-57, 10, Athens Aeros, CCHL) and Halen Cordni (42, 16-20-36, 50, Ridge Meadows Flames, PIJHL), defencemen James Redmond (34, 1-3-4, 16, Gloucester Rangers, CCHL), Will Caston (22, 1-2-3, 36, Whitby Wildcats, ETAMMHL), Connor Palush (21, 0-9-9, 38, Valley Forge Minutemen, NAPHL) and Shawn Sloan (45, 3-16-19, 71, Prescott Flyers, CCHL), as well as goalies Brendan Bishop (3.51, .889, Atlanta Jr. Knights, USPHL) and Eric Jackson (2.30, .890, Port Hope Panthers, PJCHL).
Also in camp are forwards Evan Kenntish-Stack (12, 0-0-0, 0) and Seth Reuben (1, 0-0-0, 0), defencemen Frederic Leclair-Pouw (1, 0-0-0, 0) and Cameron Svec (1, 0-0-0, 0), as well as goalies Dante Garito (8:00, 0, 7.79, .750) and Jimmy Carleton (dressed as back-up, did not play), all of whom spent time with the Rock as affiliate players in 2016-17.
Among the players in camp on a tryout basis, are forwards Donny Schultz (40, 13-20-33, 8, La Crosse Freeze, NA3HL), Connor Losen (42, 3-28-31, 89, La Crosse Freeze, NA3HL), A.J. Campbell, Austin Holmes, Linden Spencer, Jesse McLaughlin, as well as goalie Jordan Yaremchuk.
The Rock will be back on the ice from 10-11:30 p.m. on Friday and 9:30-11:30 p.m.on Saturday.
Training camp will continue next week, as well, as the team gets ready for its four-game exhibition season.
They will play a home-and-home series with the Cochrane Crunch on Friday, Aug. 25, and Sunday, Aug. 27, with both of those games being 7 p.m. starts at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls.
The Rock will then host the Lumberjacks at the McIntyre Arena on Thursday, Aug. 31, and then travel to Hearst for a rematch at the Claude Larose Arena on Sunday, Sept. 3. Both of those contests will be 7 p.m. starts, as well.
TRAINING CAMP ROSTER