By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock lineup got a little bigger Tuesday afternoon with the arrival of forward Maxime Laguë in the City with the Heart of Gold.
The 19-year-old native of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., was acquired by the Rock from the La Ronge Ice Wolves, of the SJHL, in a Jan. 5 trade, but his arrival in Timmins was delayed by an illness in his family.
Laguë drove to Timmins on Monday, met his new teammates and the coaching staff on Tuesday and got into his first practice with the NOJHL squad.
“I am sure he hasn’t been on the ice for a couple of weeks now, so he might not be in the best of shape, but he will have three practices with us before the weekend,” said Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne prior to Tuesday’s practice.
The Rock will embark on a two-game road trip that will see them make stops in French River Friday night to play the Rapids and Powassan Saturday night to take on the NOJHL-leading Voodoos.
“Maxime’s arrival is good, because it brings some competition to our lineup,” Gagne said.
“If somebody is not playing at 100% during a game, somebody else will be there to take their job. That’s what it is all about, raising the level.
“For example (Cory) Sprague last game was put into the lineup in a position to maintain his job after coming back from an injury. He wasn’t just content to be back in the lineup. He had that extra work ethic.
“Even (Tyler) Romain started off on the fourth line the last game and the next thing you know, one player didn’t play as well as they would have liked to have and we moved Romain up and he got involved right away.”
Indeed, the Rock’s leading scorer netted the game-tying goal and set up the game-winner in the team’s 3-1 win over the visiting Iroquois Falls Eskis Sunday night.”
Prior to the arrival of Dean Kiriacou (3, 0-0-0, 0) and Laguë, the Rock had been forced to use affiliate players on a regular basis.
It remains to be seen exactly what role Laguë will fill in the Rock lineup.
“We will start him out on the fourth line and see where we go from there,” Gagne said.
“He has got to get used to our program and then we will see what kind of compete level he has and what he can bring to the table.”
If things go well in practice this week, Laguë will likely make his debut in a Rock uniform against either the Rapids or the Voodoos.
“There is a big possibility he is going to play on the weekend,” Gagne said.
Prior to Tuesday’s practice, Gagne had not had a chance to see Laguë play — either in person or on video.
“Our scouts tell us he competes and he works hard in the corners.” Gagne said.
“He doesn’t hit as much as our scouts would have liked to have seen him hit, but he gets in the way. He has got size and he makes things happen. He is willing to play any role the coach asks him to play. A player like that, you can put him on any line.”
In some ways, Laguë seems similar to Cole Gilligan, a 6-4, 182 pound Barrie native who has blossomed this year as an all-around player and tenacious forechecker.
“We are envisioning he might be that type of player, but Cole might have better hands,” Gagne said.
“Even in midget hockey, Cole put up some pretty good numbers.”
Laguë did not spend a lot of time in Saskatchewan with the Wolves (8, 0-0-0, 6), as he started the year with the Alexandria Glens (3, 0-0-0, 0), of the CCHL, and also spent time with the Valley Wildcats (6, 2-1-3, 0) this season.
He split the 2015-16 campaign between a pair of QJAAAHL teams, the Saint-Léonard Arctic (14, 1-3-4, 14) and the Chambly Forts (1, 0-1-1, 0).
Prior to that, Laguë played two seasons with the CIHA Voyageurs Midgets (52, 11-10-21, 54), of the OEMHL.
“It (SJHL) is a different kind of league,” Laguë said.
“It is more skilled than the leagues in Quebec. I only played eight games, so I didn’t really get used to it, but it was a pretty good league.”
Prior to joining the Rock, Laguë didn’t really know much about the NOJHL.
“I hear it is a pretty good league,” he said.
“It is physical and there is pretty good speed, so I am really excited to play here.”
Asked to describe his style of play, Laguë said: “I just like to keep my game simple, get my feet going and take the body. I think of myself as a power forward. I don’t mind going into the dirty areas to score goals.”
As a Montreal Canadiens fan, it is no surprise Laguë tries to pattern his game after Habs forward Alex Galchenyuk.
Making his NOJHL debut during this weekend’s two-game road trip will give Laguë and opportunity to work out any nerves before he gets a chance to play in front of 600-plus enthusiastic Rock fans during his first home game.
“I am excited to play here,” he said.
“I have heard they have some really good fans here. It is going to be good.”
The next home game for the Rock will be on Friday, Nov. 27, when the Blind River Beavers make their lone visit of the 2016-17 season to the McIntyre Arena.
Like Kiriacou, Laguë drove to Timmins but the weather for his commute was a little better.
“It was really long, about 11 hours, so I was getting tired by the end,” he said.
With a population of 92,394, Laguë’s hometown of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu is about twice the size of Timmins and the climate is a little milder.
“They don’t have any snow,” he said.
“Right now, it is raining.”
For the record, Laguë is a big fan of snow.
“I missed it a lot when I was back home,” he said.
“I wish I had my sled here.”
Laguë started playing hockey when he was nine years old and his dad, Mario, was his role model when he was growing up, so when his dad took ill, it was natural that he wanted to stay home with him.
“He is doing better now,” he said.