By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – Fans waiting to learn the names of some of the new Timmins Rock players will have to remain patient, but the team did confirm on Thursday the names of three veterans who will be back for the 2017-18 NOJHL campaign.
With 271 goals, the Rock tied with the Powassan Voodoos for top spot in that category during the 2016-17 regular season and the offence should get a boost from the return of forward Wayne Mathieu (54, 29-32-61, 22) who tied for third place among Timmins snipers.
The 20-year-old Timmins native’s totals also tied him for 19th place in the NOJHL scoring race.
“There are no two ways about it, the guy is a Top 6 forward in this league,” said Rock assistant coach James Daschuk.
“He is small in stature, but the kid has got the heart of a lion. He is one of those guys who loves hockey and works hard.”
Regardless of whether the Rock were leading by 10 goals, trailing by 10 goals or playing a nail-biter in double overtime, Mathieu brought the same level of energy to the ice throughout his second season in the NOJHL.
“Wayne has got one speed and it’s fast,” Daschuk said.
“I look back to an overtime goal he scored against Powassan at the beginning of the year, playing shorthanded. It was the fourth goal of the game for him.
“I think it was the fourth or fifth game of the regular season and it really established the type of player we were going to get. It was his coming-out party, basically.”
Mathieu’s improvement over his 2015-16 numbers (43, 8-8-16, 48) established him as one of the most improved players in the NOJHL.
“He comes to play every day,” Daschuk said.
Mathieu (10, 3-3-6, 2) also had a strong playoff for the Rock, helping the team get past their arch rivals the Cochrane Crunch, before bowing out in four-straight games to the league champion Voodoos.
Daschuk is quite familiar with the second player returning to the Rock lineup for 2017-18, given that he coached him as a bantam player, as well.
With one year of midget eligibility left and a spot secured on the Timmins Majors, Stewart Parnell (54, 10-32-42, 30), a Timmins native who turns 18 in July, was a walk-on in training camp who earned a spot on the Rock roster and excelled during the regular season, playing on the team’s third line with Alexandre Brisson (48, 17-23-40, 42) and either Cole Gilligan (55, 22-20-42, 4) or Jacob Shankar (46, 21-22-43, 44).
“He has always been that guy who scores the big goals,” Daschuk said.
“He has got that track record. He works hard and 99% of the time his goals aren’t pretty, but he finds a way to get the job done.”
The assistant coach was not surprised to see the bulk of Parnell’s regular season points come from assists.
“I think that’s his strength,” Daschuk said.
“He is not a selfish player. I think he is a pass-first kind of guy.”
After being mainly a set-up man during the regular season, Parnell (10, 6-2-8, 4) became a finisher during the 2017 playoffs — leading the Rock in goals.
Daschuk feels there will be more balance to Parnell’s offensive game in 2017-18.
“When he gets the puck in the slot, it’s going to go in the net,” he said.
“I can envision him jumping up to our second line and maybe contributing even more offensively. I can see him putting up a lot of points.”
Brisson, a Cochrane native who will turn 20 in September, is the third veteran who has committed to returning to the squad for the 2017-18 campaign.
He took particular delight in helping the Rock eliminate the Crunch in six games during Round 1 of the 2017 playoffs.
Playing with his traditional gritty edge, Brisson (10, 2-4-6, 11) was one of the Rock’s more consistent players during the post season.
“Brisson and Parnell were together pretty much all year,” Daschuk said.
“I can remember last year, at the start of training camp, Brisson was trying to find himself.
“The year before, he had been on the fourth line and his ice time was kind of limited, but this past year he was a huge piece of our puzzle.
“He is one of those guys who doesn’t say much, but his respect is earned with his play and hard work.”
Officially listed on the Rock website as 5-9 and 174 pounds, Brisson is far from the biggest player on the team’s roster, but he plays with an edge to his game.
“That’s his role and I think even if he was playing on our first line he would play the same way,” Daschuk said.
“That’s the type of player he is. He likes to hit and he plays like he is 6-3. He is able to do that and that’s where his success comes from. He doesn’t have to go out there and fight guys, but he finishes his check every shift and he hits hard and he competes.
“He doesn’t like to lose any battles and I think that is part of his upside.”
Both Gilligan, a 20-year-old Craighurst native, and Shankar, an 18-year-old Prescott native, are also eligible to return to the Rock lineup this season, but there is no word yet on whether either player will be back.