By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – With three capable puck stoppers competing for two goaltending jobs, it is safe to say there is a healthy competition in the crease at the Timmins Rock training camp this week.
Regardless of which two netminders prevail, however, Rock goalie coach Marc Bisson hopes his NOJHL squad can avoid last year’s seemingly endless string of injuries — especially of the lower-body variety.
“Both of our goalies (Logan Ferrington and Matthew Nixon) suffered a couple of injuries last year, so hopefully our goalies will be a little healthier than last year,” he said.
“Matt, in particular, didn’t do a good warm-up before games last year, but this year he has been regimented in doing his warm-ups. His issues last year were his groins and he mentioned he will be going in to see a physiotherapist once a week this year.
“I think it is just a matter of being more proactive and doing the proper warm-ups. I think it was just bad luck last year.”
When it comes to goaltenders, groin injuries or hamstring problems are among the most feared kinds of ailments.
“As a goalie, they are the muscles that are the most vulnerable because of your lateral movements back and fourth, and going up and down,” Bisson said.
Three days into training camp, there have been no health issues yet among the goaltending fraternity.
With last year’s No. 1 goalie, Ferrington, now too old the play, the Rock are counting on 19-year-old Nixon (920:00, 8-7-0-0, 0, 3.78, .898) to pick up the reigns.
“Matt was here last year, so we are familiar with him and we know what he is capable of out there,” Bisson said.
“We are looking at him probably as our No. 1 right now. I think he learned a lot last year during his first year of Junior ‘A’ hockey. Playing behind a guy like Logan Ferrington was definitely beneficial to him.”
“I think he has got the confidence now. He knows what the game is all about and he knows what to expect out there.”
Nixon trained hard over the summer to ensure he arrived in camp healthy and in tip-top shape.
“I am feeling really good coming into the season,” he said.
“I am feeling a lot quicker and stronger, so I am expecting bigger and better things this season.”
Other than staying healthy, Nixon hasn’t really set any goals for the 2016-17 season.
“Every game I get in there, I am planning on winning,” he said.
“Hopefully, they will just keep running with me.”
Nixon agrees confidence is just as important as any of the other skills a good goaltender utilizes.
“In goaltending, the mental game is the biggest thing,” he said.
“If you get down on yourself, it doesn’t help at all. Confidence is definitely the biggest thing in my game. When I play confident I am out on top of my crease and I play better.”
Nixon feels the experience he gained last year as a rookie in a Rock uniform is the reason he is more confident heading into the 2016-17 campain.
“I am more used to the speed of the league now and I know who some of the better players are on the other teams,” he said.
Now 19 years old, Nixon is hoping to take more of a leadership role on and off the ice for the Rock.
He has been encourage by what he has seen so far from the talented group of blue-liners playing in front of him.
“We picked up some size and some guys who are ready to bang some bodies,” Nixon said.
“They should be able to protect the front of the net and I am feeling confident in the guys who will be playing in front of me this year.”
Nixon, Dobson and Barris are all competing for the same two jobs, but it is a friendly competition.
“They are great guys and I really like them,” Nixon said.
“We are all competing for the same two positions, but in the end we are friends.”
Bradley Dobson (99:00, 1-1-0-0, 1, 1.82, .949), an affiliate player called up from the Timmins Majors due to the Rock’s 2015-16 injury woes in net, also gained some valuable experience at the Junior ‘A’ level last season.
Dobson, a Moose Factory native who will turn 18 in December, was the No. 1 goalie for the Timmins Majors, of the GNML, last season.
“I coached Brad back in Bantam,” Bisson said.
“I have know him for quite a few years. He is a great kid with a great attitude. He always shows up ready to play. I think he only got in two games with us last year, but I am sure he practised with us at least 20 times.”
Bisson feels there is a lot to like about Dobson’s game.
“He is a big goaltender and he is very calm back there,” he said.
“He has good skills and he doesn’t over react or over play the puck. He makes the kind of saves you expect your goalie to make for you.”
Officially listed as 5-10 and 154 pounds on the Elite Hockey Prospects website, Dobson has grown a lot since those outdated stats were posted.
“I’m about 6-1, or 6-2 right now and I weigh 185 pounds,” he said.
“Being a big goalie really helps me quite a bit.”
Dobson agrees with Bisson’s assessment of his calm demeanor in the crease.
“I try to be consistent back there and keep calm,” he said.
Dobson doesn’t consider himself to be either a stand-up goalie or a butterfly netminder.
“My style is kind of a hybrid of the two,” he said.
“I really like how (Toronto Maple Leafs goalie) Frederik Andersen and (Montreal Canadiens goalie) Carey Price play in net. They are both very calm back there.
Dobson feels training camp has been going “pretty good,” so far.
“I have been stopping the puck,” he said.
And when it comes down to it, that’s really all any team can ask of its goaltenders.
Dobson feels the cup of coffee he got with the Rock last season gives him a bit of an advantage as he tries to earn a job this year.
“I guess it kind of does, but it was only a couple of games,” he said.
“The biggest adjustment is going to be the speed of the game. Things are going to be moving a lot faster.”
Dobson’s status with the Rock remains up in the air, as he will be leaving on Sunday to attending training camp with the Niagara Ice Dogs, of the OHL.
“Taking part in the Rock training camp has been a good warmup to get me ready for the Ice Dogs camp,” he said.
“The speed of the game is going to be even faster at the OHL tryout, but this week is helping me make the adjustment to the speed of Junior ‘A’ hockey.”
At one point, Bradley had been attended to tryout for the Smith Falls Bears, of the CJHL, as well, but he will instead be focusing on playing for either the Ice Dogs or the Rock this season.
The wildcard in the Rock goaltending picture 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.
“Caleb is not very big, but he has got quick hands and quick feet,” Bisson said.
“He has put up some great numbers the last few seasons.
“My first impression is that he is quite a good goalie and he is fitting in well with the team.”
At 5-9 and 154 pounds, Barris is the smallest of the three goalies competing for the two Rock jobs.
“I am a pretty traditional butterfly goaltender,” he said.
“With my smaller size, I move really quickly side to side on the ice. My lateral movement is very quick. I also really love to handle the puck, move the puck up the ice and communicate well with my defencemen.”
Barris is confident his success in the USPHL will translate well into the NOJHL.
“I think the big thing is development in practice, working with a great team and seeing shots every day that mimic the speed of the league,” he said.
“I am confident I am ready to play at this level.”
While Nixon might have the inside track, Barris has his sights set on the top spot in the Rock crease.
“I think it is just going to be a matter of working hard, grinding it out and stopping pucks when I need to,” he said.
Barris doesn’t try to pattern his game after any particular NHL goalie.
“I just try to do my own thing,” he said.
“You pick up little things here and there.”
Goaltenders, like catchers in baseball, are generally known to be a little “different” when it comes to personality.
“I think all goaltenders kind of fit that mould in a way,” Barris said.
“We are all a little kooky. We like to get pucks shot at us.”
Ohio is a state where hockey thrives, especially since the Columbus Blue Jackets joined the NHL, but Barris’ hometown is certainly not a haven to the sport.
“The part of Ohio I come from, there is very little hockey actually,” he said.
“We have the Wheeling Nailers (of the ECHL), but coming up here to Timmins, there is such a great fan base. People rally behind the Rock and that is just so great to see. It is great to be playing in such a good hockey town.”
So, how did Barris become involved in hockey in area where other sports were king?
“My dad worked with a guy who played with the Wheeling Thunderbirds (former ECHL team) and he brought me out for their mini-mite program and I got started playing,” he said.
“I fell in love with goaltending and the rest is history.”
Bisson indicated Nixon will sit out the opener of the Rock’s home-and-home exhibition series with the Gold Miners Friday night in Kirkland Lake, with Dobson and Barris dressing.
It is expected Nixon will see some action during the second half of the home-and-home series Saturday night at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.
ROCK NOTES — Forward Joel Grandbois (51, 21-17-38, 26) acquired by the Rock in exchange for Tristan Salesse in an Aug. 10 swap with the Espanola Express has officially told the Rock he will not be reporting to the team. Grandbois intends to stay home and play high school hockey instead this season. Depsite that decision, Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne said the Aug. 10 transaction will stand and the Rock will retain Grandbois rights … There is still no word yet on whether 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 will report … Rock season ticket packages will be available for pickup at the McIntyre Arena on Saturday from 1-4 p.m. and from 6 p.m. until the end of the game against the Gold Miners.