GALLERY: Timmins to host Wolves, Huskies

United Way Centraide North East Ontario executive director Michael Cullen, centre left, and Timmins Mayor Steve Black prepare to drop the puck between Rouyn-Noranda Huskies coach and general manager Gilles Bouchard and Sudbury Wolves vice president of hockey operations and general manager Rob Papineau during a press conference at the McIntyre Arena Tuesday morning. The press conference was to announce an exhibition contest between the two clubs at the McIntyre Arena on Friday, Sept. 14, to raise funds for the United Way and Bell Let’s Talk program. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS

By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)

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TIMMINS – The OHL’s Sudbury Wolves and the QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies will face off at the McIntyre Arena Friday, Sept. 14, in support of the United Way Centraide North East Ontario and Bell Let’s Talk.

Representatives of all four organizations, as well as the City of Timmins and the Timmins Rock were on hand for the official announcement Tuesday morning.

“It’s a very exciting announcement for the entire city,” said Mayor Steve Black.

“These are two great organizations, one from the the OHL in the Sudbury Wolves and one from the QMJHL in the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, that will be facing off here in an exhibition game.

“Back in October or November (Wolves owner) Dario (Zulich) came up and we had a conversation, discussing whether we thought this would be possible and kind of started working from there.

“They brought on their partners at the United Way to help co-ordinate some of the logistics.

“I think this is going to be a great opportunity for fans in the City of Timmins to witness some OHL-calibre, QMJHL-calibre hockey here in our home town.

“There is always lots of talk about possibilities in the hockey world for the City of Timmins and I think this is a great way to have a showcase and see the support levels for the City of Timmins to witness this level of hockey.”

For its part, the City of Timmins waived the fee for the use of the arena for the exhibition contest.

United Way Centraide North East Ontario executive director Michael Cullen noted, however, the support from the city goes much farther.

“It is more than just the fee,” he noted.

“It’s logistics. It’s Heather’s office, media communications, the pre-event and post-event logistics. The city staff have been great today.”

Cullen is excited about the contest’s potential for the United Way and its partners.

“With the help of Bell Lets Talk and Northern Tel, because they have helped to make it sustainable from the get go, it means a lot because this is sort of an innovative approach to bringing two groups (Wolves and Huskies) together that wouldn’t normally get together,” he said.

“Logistically it was a challenge, but we have gotten through that hurdle so it should produce an exciting experience for the City of Timmins and its hockey fans.

“We re-branded ourselves after the closure of the Cochrane-Timiskaming United Way and we want to do more in the community so people really see that local-raised is local-distributed.”

Cullen feels the exhibition contest has the potential to raise “$20,000 to $25,000.”

“We will also be bringing our electronic 50/50 component, similar to what we will be using at the Stars and Thunder this summer,” he said.

“That will add another element of fun, if you will, to the game, as well.”

Cullen is confident Timmins fans will come out in droves for the exhibition contest.

“Hopefully, with the Rock’s help we will be able to push the 2,000 mark,” he said.

“They have been great and the tickets will be going on sale Wednesday at 10 a.m.”

Rock president Ted Gooch, who represented the NOJHL franchise at the press conference, is pleased his organization will be able to lend a helping hand.

“It means a lot to us, as an organization,” he said.

“When we got the call from Michael at the United Way about a month ago bringing up the idea I don’t even think he had finished his first sentence before I said, ‘Yes, we are all in.’

“It is a great opportunity for the Rock to help put on a huge event like this. They have leaned on us to provide everything from our game-day staff, ticketing system, hockey operations, our FastHockey system, our complete facilities. Everything from top to bottom will be handled by the Rock.

“Hosting big playoff runs, with large crowds, we certainly feel we can handle a game of this nature.”

While the OHL and the QMJHL will be late in their exhibition seasons by Sept. 14, the Rock will likely have already started their regular season — although the NOJHL will not hold its scheduling meeting until June.

“It is a good opportunity to have our hockey operations staff interact with the staffs from Sudbury and Rouyn-Noranda to build relationships in terms of player development,” Gooch said.

Zulich noted a lot of people from Timmins go to Sudbury on a regular basis and not just for Costco.

“They also come to see hockey,” he said.

“At the same time, a lot of people from Sudbury come up to Timmins. I have come up here for a lot of years now. I do a lot of work here as an industrial contractor.

“People from Rouyn-Noranda also come to Timmins, so what better place than to meet up here in the middle of hockey country to play an exhibition game.

“It is so exciting and I am so happy it has come together. We can celebrate hockey, but at the same time raise some money with the United Way for youth mental health. That’s the most important thing.”

Huskies coach and general manager Gilles Bouchard would at some point in the future like to see his squad get a chance to play regular season games against OHL teams like the Wolves, but is looking forward to the upcoming exhibition contest.

“It will be great for the fans,” he said.

“It is a good opportunity for us to get to play against an OHL team. It is important to learn about teams in the other league, so it will be good to play against Sudbury.”

“It will be good for our fans, Sudbury’s fans and fans in Timmins.”

The Huskies will not have finalized their roster by the time to two teams meet on Sept. 14, but they should be relatively close.

“It will be a good chance to prepare our team for the 2018-19 season because we will probably start our season somewhere around Sept. 17,” Bouchard said.

“We should have a team with good maturity. We will probably have around 11 19-year-old players, five 18-year-old players, five 17-year-old players and three over-age players.

“We are hoping to have a really good season.”

With training camps still months away, there is, of course, no guarantee who will suit up for either squad on Sept. 14, but Bouchard notes there are a few Huskies Timmins fans will want to watch closely if they are in the lineup.

“Rafael Harvey-Pinard (67, 26-50-76, 38), who wears No. 11, and our goalies Samuel Harvey (2.10, .930) and Zachary Emond (3.26, .897) are key player to watch,” he said.

“Both of our goalies might be drafted (2018 NHL Draft) in June in Dallas.”

Aside from attending Tuesday’s press conference, Bouchard had only been to Timmins once before.

“I came here last year to meet a player with his parents,” he said.

“It will be great to be here for a game.”

The Huskies home facility, the Dave Keon Arena, with a capacity of 3,500 fans is slightly larger than the McIntyre Arena, but Bouchard expects the atmosphere in Timmins for the exhibition contest to be great.

“The atmosphere at home in Rouyn-Noranda is unbelievable,” he said.

“So, here I think it will be the same. With the arena full, it will be great to play here.”

With Timmins being so close, Bouchard expects many Huskies fans will make the trek to Timmins to watch the exhibition contest.

Over the years, many Timmins fans have made the trek to Rouyn-Noranda to watch the Huskies play — especially when local hockey heroes like Erik Robichaud and Aaron Kerr were playing with QMJHL squads.

So, the Huskies might have a chance to encourage even more fans to attend their home games if they play an entertaining game on Sept. 14.

“I think it will be a good situation for our organization to build fan support here in Timmins,” Bouchard said.

“We play fast, exciting hockey.”

There is, of course, just as strong a tradition of Timmins fans venturing to Sudbury to catch Wolves games and vice president of hockey operations and general manager Rob Papineau is looking to build upon that, as well.

“There has always been a great relationship between Sudbury and Timmins,” he said.

“There has always been a lot of business done between the two cities and there are a lot of people who travel to shop in Sudbury with the big box stores and this is just an opportunity for people — when they are making those trips — to become more familiar with the Wolves.

“If they are in Sudbury, we would love to see them at the arena.”

Papineau noted the exhibition game is a natural progression for the two franchises.

“Since Dario bought the team, in the last 18 months we have talked often about hockey in general and hockey in the North,” he said.

“We are big about supporting hockey in the North and we have partnered the last year with the United Way and it has been an unbelievable partnership.

“We had been wondering how we could take our game beyond that. A lot of us grew up in the North. I grew up playing hockey in Sudbury and when we got a chance to play teams from Rouyn-Noranda, it was often here in Timmins in a tournament.

“It was the perfect common ground and it happened right from the time kids were in Novice, all the way up.

“With the OHL and QMJHL being two strong leagues, we thought it would be great for the people of Timmins to see how these kids grow up and where they go after they leave Midget hockey.”

Logistically, Timmins is an ideal location for the game and with the two teams being the closest opponent in their opposite leagues it makes sense for the Wolves to tangle with the Huskies.

“It (McIntyre Arena) is a great building and I grew up playing in this building,” Papineau said.

“There is a lot of atmosphere here and for our guys who grew up not playing hockey in Northern Ontario, it will be great for them to experience what kids who grew up in the North got to experience their whole lives.

“To hear how loud this building can get and how alive it can become will be great.”

The Wolves will be at a similar point to the Huskies in terms of training camp and pre-season play when meet in Timmins on Sept. 14.

“Fans will get a really good look at players who are going to be part of the Huskies and part of the Wolves in the regular season,” Papineau said.

Like the Huskies, the Wolves have many exciting young players for Timmins fans to watch including 2017 No. 7 overall pick Blake Murray (57, 21-23-44, 8).

“Blake had an unbelievable year for us,” Papineau said.

“He came in and he led all OHL rookies from that draft class with most points per game.

“This year, of course, we were really fortunate to be able to get Quinton Byfield, who is an exceptional talent.”

Byfield was chosen No. 1 overall in the 2018 OHL Priority Selection from the York-Simcoe Express.

“Fans in Timmins will definitely get an opportunity to watch both Blake and Quinton in the game along with the rest of our hockey team,” Papineau said.