By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – Entering his third year in the NOJHL, Nick Hautanen has mastered the ability to fend off opposing forwards while staying out of the penalty box.
“Nick is going to log a lot of ice time for us this year,” said Rock assistant coach James Daschuk, prior to the start of Day 2 of training camp Tuesday night at the McIntyre Arena.
“You look at the playoffs last season, he was probably our most consistent D-man, as far as finishing checks and stuff like that … getting in the other guy’s face.
“He played some big minutes and saw a lot of time on the PK (penalty kill). He was a real go-to kind of guy and played a real shut-down role for us.
“That’s what we are expecting from him again this year. He is definitely one of our leaders.”
Officially listed at 6-2 and 185 pounds, Hautanen — who turns 20 on Saturday — began his NOJHL career playing for the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake after graduating from the Timmins Majors, of the GNML.
The Timmins native was enjoying a sold rookie campaign with the Gold Miners (18, 0-3-3, 8) when he was traded to the Abitibi Eskimos along with forward Cosimo Amore in exchange for defenceman/forward Jamey Lauzon on Nov. 18, 2014.
Hautanen’s game continued to blossom playing for the Eskimos (30, 2-5-7, 24) during the remainder of the 2014-15 campaign.
Not known for this prowess in the attacking zone, Hautanen had his best offensive season (54, 4-8-12, 36) in the NOJHL during 2015-16, following the relocation of the Eskimos to Timmins.
“Last year, he scored a couple of big goals for us,” Daschuk said.
“When he did, he would kind of look at his teammates and smile because we weren’t expecting too much from him offensively.”
The improved offensive contribution didn’t come as too much of a surprise to the assistant coach.
“I can remember him playing as a midget and he was definitely more of an offensive player,” Daschuk said.
“If he can bring back a little of that aspect to his game while continuing to be a shut-down defenceman, that would be great.”
Hautanen is confident the experience he gained during his first two years in the league will help him be an even better defender in 2016-17.
“If you buy into the program and trust your coaches, it makes it easier to trust yourself,” he said.
Keeping things simple has been one of he keys to Hautenen’s success in recent years.
“Like (Rock coach and general manager) Paul (Gagne) says,‘go out there and play KISS hockey, keep it simple stupid,’” he said.
“If you go out there and you keep things simple, you are not going to make mistakes. It also helps you to slow the game down.”
Entering his third year with the franchise, the coaching staff’s program is firmly ingrained in Hautanen’s brain.
“It’s almost like second nature now,” he said.
“The system works really well and I am excited to be able to play in it for a third-straight year.”
Hautanen, like Hester and Segui, is eager to help some of the Rock’s new defenders become comfortable in the program, as well.
“We will encourage them and help them out as much as we can,” he said.
“We will try to help make sure everybody is on the same page.”
Hautanen is quite comfortable in his own end of the rink and feels he might be able contribute a little bit in the offensive zone, as well.
“I think I have really locked down the defensive zone, making sure I know where my man is at all times and I can thank Paul for that,” he said.
“Offensively, I think when the time is right I can jump into the rush and help out a bit.”
Jared Hester (54, 9-12-21, 20), a 19-year-old who hails from Waskaganich, QC, is coming off a successful rookie campaign in the NOJHL.
At 6-0 and 215 pounds, the former Timmins Major brings plenty of size to the Timmins lineup, but is better known for his big shot from the point than his ability to rock opponents with solid hits.
Like coach and general manager Paul Gagne, Daschuk is impressed with the conditioning level of Hester at the start of camp.
“I looked at him Monday night and asked him if he has lost weight and he is a pretty quiet guy, so he just looked at me with a grin on his face,” Daschuk said.
“He looks really good out there. I am really excited to see what he is going to be able to offer this year.
“Jared is a definite offensive threat and he logged a lot of power-play minutes last year. He loves to score and he gets pretty excited every time he buries the puck.
“Coming into this season, he knows our program a little bit better and we are expecting big things from him. We are hoping he can log more five-on-five minutes this year.”
The third veteran back on the Rock blue-line this season is Spencer Segui (6, 0-2-2, 0), who was a late-season pick up from the Northern Cyclones, of the EHL.
“He played a handful of games for us at the end of the season, but watching him in practice you can see he has amazing skills,” Daschuk said.
“He can shoot the puck and he is a pretty good skater, too. He makes a good first pass out of our zone.
“I think he is really going to surprise us this year. Coming to a new team is always tough, but now he is comfortable and he knows all the guys.”
Listed at 5-10 and 176 pounds, the 20-year-old Segui hails from North Haven, CT.
One of the most impressive newcomers in camp is 18-year-old Grant McClellan (28, 5-17-22, 26) from Trenton High School, of the USHS.
McClellan plays defence with the mindset of a middle linebacker, which shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise given that’s the position he played on the football field.
“He is a big boy and I was really excited to see him last night,” Daschuk said.
“The new kids coming in, you kind of look at them a little bit more and focus on what they are doing out there.
“Grant finished his checks yesterday, nothing too vicious, just taking the guy out of the play, taking the puck and going with it or getting the pass up to the forwards. That’s exactly what we were looking for.”
A native of Trenton, Mich., McClellan is enjoying live in hockey-crazy Timmins.
“I am pretty poised with the puck and I see the ice really well,” he said, prior to the start of Tuesday’s on-ice session.
“I don’t really go out looking for big hits, but when they are there I don’t pass them up, that’s for sure.”
Not too many players when asked if there is an NHL player they try to pattern their game after would come up with a response similar to McClellan’s.
“Growing up, my hero was Bobby Orr,” he said, referring to the former NHL superstar who stopped playing the game almost two decades before he was born.
“I just loved watching his highlight films and hearing about how his style of play changed the game for defencemen.
“I don’t think I am that exact style of player, but I like to think I am and see what I can do along those lines.
“Growing up, I also like Bob Probert and Scott Stevens, the big heavy hitters, who could put a bruising on guys.”
Coming from Trenton, Mich., McClellan was happy to hear there are a few Detroit Red Wings fans in town and that not all Timmins residents cheer for the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Montreal Canadiens or the Ottawa Senators.
The 6-0, 195-pound blue-liner was not too familiar with the NOJHL or the city of Timmins before he got the call from the Rock.
“The only thing I had heard is that if I was going to play in the NOJHL this was the team to be on,” McClellan said.
“I heard the team has a great fan base and a great coach. From what I have seen since I got here, we have a great group of guys in the locker room, as well.”
High school hockey is a big deal in Michegan and McClellan’s team played in a pretty competitive league.
“It is probably one of the better ones in the country,” he said.
“In my sophomore year, we won a state championship, and in my junior year, we made it to a regional championship, then in my senior year, we won the regional championship and got knocked out in the quarter-finals, losing to the state runner-up.”
In addition to playing hockey and football at Trenton High School, McClellan was also a member of the baseball team.
“I have always been an athletic kid and enjoyed being involved in sports year round,” he said.
“I like all sports, but hockey is my true love. I want to keep playing hockey for the rest of my life, or as long as I can. There is just something special about hockey that makes you want to keep playing until you are too old to play.”
A.J. Holenski (34, 3-0-3, 0) an 18-year-old from the Niagara Falls Rivermen, of the SCTAMM, has also been impressive in the first two days of training camp.
“He is another big boy who is getting back in the swing of things,” Daschuk said.
“I don’t think he had been on the ice that much before training camp.”
Not your typical staff-at-home defenceman, Holenski is more than willing to help out in the offensive zone, as well.
“I like to jump up into the rush,” he said.
“When I get an opportunity, I like to jump into the play.”
Holenski knows what he is going to have to do to help the Rock have a successful season.
“I am just going to go out there and work hard,” he said.
“I think the biggest challenge (of playing in the NOJHL) is going to be the speed. I might take me a couple of weeks to get up to par, but I am looking forward to being able to do it.”
Holenski doesn’t necessarily pattern his game after any particular NHLer.
“I just like to go out there and do my own thing,” he said.
While the Rock are looking to add two more bodies to their blue-line, Daschuk is pleased with the core they have to build around heading into the 2016-17 season.
“Having three guys back from last year is a bonus for us and the two new guys look like they are going to fit in just fine,” he said.
“The guys we have here give us a pretty solid five guys to build around.”
ROCK NOTES — The Rock continue to hope 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 will eventually report to camp … Season ticket packages will be available for pick up at the McIntyre Arena before and during Saturday night’s game against the Gold Miners … Speaking of the Gold Miners, the Rock’s opponents for a pair of upcoming exhibition games, completed a blockbuster trade on Tuesday, sending 2015-15 NOJHL scoring leader Brayden Stortz (54, 38-62-100, 32) to the Wellington Dukes, of the OJHL, in exchange for 18-year-old forwards Brodie Maracle (51, 9-3-12, 26) and William Ward (9, 0-2-2, 0).