TIMMINS - The Rock have announced that Timmins native Kyle Levis will return to the NOJHL franchise for the 2015-16 season.
Despite being just 16 years old, the forward put up some impressive numbers — 43, 8-9-17, 49 — during his rookie campaign with the then Abitibi Eskimos.
Far from the biggest player in the NOJHL at 5-10 and 170 pounds, Levis was not intimidated playing against players who, in most cases, were at least a year older than him.
Levis saw duty on all four lines with the Eskimos during the 2014-15 season and also spent time on the special teams units.
In fact, his two short-handed goals led the team in that category during the regular season.
Levis (6, 3-0-3, 6) stepped up his game during the Eskimos’ six-game playoff series against the Cochrane Crunch and was third on the team in goals scored in the post season and netted one of the Eskimos’ two game-winning goals.
Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne knows just how much of an accomplishment it was for a 16 year old to crack the roster of an NOJHL squad.
“When you are a 16-year-old it takes a while to adapt to the program, the mentality and confidence level and stuff,” he said.
“Coming into training camp this year, he will know our philosophy. He will know our program. He will know what’s to be expected in terms of assignments on the ice and all of that.
“Right from the start, he is going to know. As soon as he gets onto the ice, he going to be thinking program.
“His confidence level is going to be 100% compared to last year.”
Gagne is going to be expecting big things from Levis during the 2015-16 campaign.
“With his skill set, he is a player we are expecting to be in our Top 6,” he said.
“He should be in the Top 6, but it is all up to him.
“He is a good kid on and off the ice. I think he is going to show leadership. He had a chance to learn last year from the leaders we had.
“He didn’t cut any corners and he learned the hard way, so I think he is going to be a good little hockey player this year.
Levis is excited about getting the opportunity to continue his Junior ‘A’ hockey career in his home town.
“It is really awesome,” he said.
“Given the size of Timmins, we should be able to bring in an couple of hundred extra fans per game and maybe even hit a thousand.”
Levis enjoyed playing in front of the fans in Iroquois Falls last season, but there are a few aspects of being an Eskimo that he will not miss.
“The hardest part about last year was the travelling,” he said.
“To travel an hour there and an hour back for practice, then by the time you get home it was 10 p.m. or 11 p.m., depending on the day.
“When you have got schooling and everything else, it becomes pretty challenging.”
Levis, an École secondaire catholique Thériault student, will be entering Grade 12 this fall.
The speed of the game is the area Levis feels took the most adjustment during his rookie campaign.
“It was hard to adjust to and it took a while,” he said.
“It was definitely the fastest hockey I have ever played.”
With a year of Junior ‘A’ hockey under his belt, Levis expects to be a little more comfortable when the puck drops at training camp.
“Learning the systems from the coaches, trying to keep up with the intensity while remembering where you are supposed to be on the ice became pretty challenging last year,” he said.
“This year, knowing the systems and having played against guys who play at a top-notch level will definitely be an advantage.”
Levis’ to-do list for 2015-16 includes: “Listening to the coach would definitely be No. 1. Whatever he tells me to do I am going to do. If he tells me to dump the puck in I am going to dump it in. If he wants us to crash and bang, we are going to crash and bang. Whatever he needs us to do, we will be on board.”
The Rock have lost a number of key veterans from last year’s squad because of age, but Levis feels their wisdom will linger on.
“All of us young guys have learned a lot from our leaders last year, guys like (Eskimos captain) Kevin Walker, Brady Clouthier, Ryan Tront, guys like that,” he said.
“We are just going to feed off that this season.”
Levis is planning to work hard this summer to ensure he is in peak shape when training camp opens in August.
“I have definitely been working on my cardio,” he said.
“I have been running a lot and doing a lot of biking, running in sand pits to make sure my legs are still in shape.
“And I will obviously be hitting the gym, trying to put on a little bit of weight before training camp starts.”
Levis is the fifth player the Rock have announced who will be returning for the 2015-16 NOJHL campaign.
He joins goalie Logan Ferrington, forward Tristen Salesse and defencemen Joe Olson and Kealey Cummings.