By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – New Rock forward Dean Kiriacou has a ways to go before his facial hair will rival San Jose Sharks Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, but he arrived in Timmins with his playoff beard well underway.
“This is me after three weeks of growing a beard,” he said, prior to Friday afternoon’s practice.
“It comes in really fast and I am just going to grow it out, I guess. It should be draping down off my face pretty good by the playoffs.”
With just under two months to go until the end of the 2016-17 NOJHL regular season, it remains to be seen if Kiriacou will be able to match the beard bravado of Thornton and Burns, but he is certainly providing inspiration to his new teammates in that regard.
After being acquired by the Rock from the Brockville Braves, of the CCHL, on Jan. 10, he hopped into his vehicle for what he was expecting to be an eight-hour drive to Timmins.
“I didn’t expect it to be that bad,” he said.
“It took me something like 10-and-a-half hours. Once I passed North Bay, the snow started coming down and I had to take it slow from there on in.
“Then, when I got here I saw all the ‘danger, bears’ signs I got a little scared, but once I drove into civilization things started to look up.”
No need to fear, of course, since the majority of the bears in this part of Northeastern Ontario — except the ones located in Cochrane’s Polar Bear Habitat — are fast asleep at this time of year.
Fierce winter blizzards and the local bruin population aside, Kiriacou is enjoying his time in Timmins.
“All of the guys are really, really cool,” he said.
“This is probably the best locker room I have been a part of and I have only been here for a day.
“Everybody was really for the team last night and we rallied together. It felt like we were having fun while we were playing. We weren’t just playing to play.”
The 20-year-old Sharon, Ont., native made his NOJHL debut during Thursday’s 5-3 victory over the Cochrane Crunch at the McIntyre Arena.
Kiriacou was quickly introduced to the intense rivalry between the Rock and the Crunch Wednesday night and then again Saturday night in Cochrane.
“I can’t really imagine what it is going to be like in the playoffs,” he said.
Given that Kiriacou was — on paper — a member of the Crunch for two days after being acquired by Cochrane from the Wellington Dukes, of the OJHL, on Nov. 22 and then traded to the Braves on Nov. 24, he has a unique perspective on that rivalry.
“I am not sure how much they like me,” he said, with a chuckle.
Given that all signs are pointing to a divisional semifinal match up of the Rock and Crunch, Kiriacou hopes his squad will come out on the right side of the equation.
“I really hope that we can come out of the whole league,” he said.
“I think we have a really good team and we have the pieces we are going to need to do that.”
While Kiriacou never physically made it to Cochrane during his two-day tenure as a member of the Crunch, he is familiar with a few players around the league.
“I know a few guys on a bunch of the other teams,” he said.
“Guys like (Justin) Hess, from the Crunch, Evan Look, who played for the Elliot Lake Wildcats last year and is now in Kirkland Lake, Spencer McLean, who played for Elliot Lake last year and is now out playing in the United States.”
So, what’s the scouting report on Kiriacou?
In his own words: “I am more of a skilled kind of player, so I am hoping to be able to put some points up on the board. I am at my best in the offensive zone. I like to battle hard, as well. Last night was a little be tough on me because I still had road legs.”
At 6-1 and 205 pounds, Kiriacou also brings an element of size to the Rock lineup.
“I like to get involved with the rough stuff some times, especially when you are in the game,” he said.
“Sometimes, it is tough to stay out of it, but I am a guy who loves to be on the power play and I don’t really penalty kill, so I would much rather be the smart guy who draws players from other teams into taking penalties than putting my team on the penalty kill.”
The Rock (3, 0-2-2, 0) are Kiriacou’s four team this season, not counting the Crunch. He started the year with the Cumberland Grads (15, 1-3-4, 2), of the CCHL, before moving on to the Dukes (11, 0-1-1, 2) and the Braves (9, 2-1-3, 6).
Kiriacou is looking forward to finishing his Junior ‘A’ career playing for Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne, who had a lengthy NHL career.
“He was a really, really good forward when he played, so I am hoping he will be able to help me round out my game,” he said.
“Sometimes I have difficulties in the D zone or with systems, so hopefully he can offer me a little extra insight and help me grow that way as a player.”
You only get one opportunity to make a good first impression and Kiriacou puts his best foot forward during Thursday night’s win over the Crunch.
“We gave him lots of ice time, especially in the second and third periods and I think he is going to be a nice addition to our club,” Gagne said, following that contest.