As the Timmins Rock’s 2020-21 roster continues to take shape, the NOJHL squad has announced something old and something new for its blue-line.
Something borrowed and something blue will have to wait, but Eric Moreau — now the elder statesman of the Rock D-men — will be back for a third season in the maroon, gold and white and he will be joined on the back end by 2002-birth-year defender Bode Dunford.
Moreau (55, 1-16-17, 22), a 2001-birth-year right-hand shooting Penetanguishene native, doubled his offensive output and finally notched his first NOJHL goal in 2019-20 — after twice being credited with the accomplishment the previous season, only to have those goals later taken away from him and credited to teammates.
Any serious Timmins fan could tell you, however, it was in the defensive zone Moreau shined brightest, as the stay-at-home half of the Rock’s top blue-line pairing, alongside the now-departed Josh Anderson (Nipissing University).
At 5-10 and 182 pounds, Moreau is far from the biggest body on the Rock’s back end, but he is effective at shutting down offensively gifted opponents.
Given COVID-19 prematurely ended the 2020 NOJHL playoffs after just one game — a 5-2 victory over the Hearst Lumberjacks — the blue-liner can’t wait for training camp to open.
“Our team has been having at least one Zoom meeting per week and I have a smile on my face the whole time, seeing the returning guys from last year and the new players look like they are going to be great additions,” he said.
“So, I am excited for sure.”
Moreau knows it won’t be easy for the Rock to overcome the loss of his former defensive partner.
“It is especially a big loss for me because I played with Ando almost exclusively the past two seasons,” he said.
“I don’t think anybody, especially myself, needs to go out and change their game. We just all have to try and take on a little bit more responsibility and try to fill the shoes Ando has left, for sure.”
Although Moreau is the first of the Rock blue-liners to officially resign with the club, it is expected up to four veteran D-men will be back in 2020-21.
“To have four returning guys back, to show the new guys the ropes, will be huge,” he said.
“We can challenge each other to be better, as well.”
As well as things went for the Rock as a team in 2019-20, Moreau is confident there is still some room for improvement this season.
“Everybody starts the season 0-0-0-0 and last year is behind us, so we need to take what we learned from last year and move on,” he said.
“We know the talent and the work ethic are there for this group, so it is just a matter of bringing it every night. Last season, we had a couple of stretches where we were playing absolutely lights out and there were a few times where there were games that left us wanting more.”
Moreau admits the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted his off-season activities.
“Normally by now I would have been on the ice, with a couple of different guys,” he said.
“I am pretty fortunate because I have a pretty good amount of gym equipment at my house, so I have been able to keep up with things that way.”
Having spent the past two seasons as a member of the Rock organization, Moreau is comfortable being in Timmins during these uncertain times.
“Being up there, living with my billet family when things went down, it wasn’t like I was nervous or anything,” he said.
“Our team staff kept us really updated as to what was going on and what we needed to be doing to take care of ourselves.”
Being a couple of years older than the incoming crop of first-year Rock players, Moreau has not played with or against any of them — nor does he remember any older brothers he might have crossed paths with over the years.
“I have definitely reached out to all of them at least once and they all seem like they are great guys,” he said.
“We have a couple of guys from down in southern Ontario who would have played in the same minor hockey association I played in growing up.”
Moreau is looking forward to once again getting to play in front of goalie Tyler Masternak, who has rewritten the NOJHL record book over the past couple of seasons.
“Masty is one of a kind and I love having him back there, especially as a defenceman,” he said.
“Going back for pucks and stuff, he is always talking and sometimes he is like a third defenceman out there. I bust my rear end getting back and he just makes a breakout pass for me.
“He comes up big when we need him.”
Coach Corey Beer is certainly happy to have Moreau back patrolling the Rock blue-line.
“Statistics are not what make Eric Moreau a great player,” he said.
“Eric Moreau himself, the person, is what makes him great. He is probably one of the best teammates anyone will ever come across.
“He is professional in every aspect of his game, his detail off the ice, his detail on the ice.
“He plays that shutdown role as good as anybody. He has a mean streak in him and then he can come and sit down afterwards to chat about the game and he is laughing.
“He is a very special person. He really is. He is an absolute pleasure to coach.”
Beer realizes Anderson would not have been able to accomplish some of the things he did offensively the past couple of seasons without the ever-reliable Moreau having his back.
“He was the Marc Methot for Anderson’s Erik Karlsson when they played together,” he said.
“He was the Jake Muzzin for Drew Doughty. He was the Marc(-Édouard) Vlasic for Brent Burns.
“He is the guy who makes sure the guy with all the offensive numbers can get all of those offensive opportunities. Ricky is the guy who makes sure his partner has the freedom out there and backs him up on everything.
“There are not many guys like that. There are a lot of guys who want to make sure they get their touches and feel good about their game all the time, but there are not a lot of guys who understand there is a partner over there with the skill set who needs to be able to play his game to hit his highest potential.
“Ricky does that and then cleans up the mess afterwards.
“It doesn’t matter if we put him with a high-end offensive old guy, or a young guy to groom. He is going to play it the same way and let that guy have the freedom over there.”
The coach noticed a big difference in Moreau’s game in his second campaign with the Rock.
“His first year, he kept things a little bit more simple,” Beer said.
“Last year, he started to develop a bit more of an offensive game, too. We were very happy he got his first goal last year, but for him it is something he could care less about.
“It is all about playing the right way and he plays around 22 or 23 minutes a night against the other team’s top units. That is not an easy task.
“There are guys who put up great offensive numbers and never touch a matchup situation, ever.
“Ricky is one of those guys who get the tough matchup every single night. He started doing that at the end of his 17-year-old season and then, at 18, he was one of the best shutdown players going.
“I think the sky is the limit in terms of how physical and how good defensively he can be this year, as a 19 year old.
“He is a great asset and we are super thrilled to have him back. He is also one of the best leaders in the (dressing) room.”
Meanwhile, Dunford (36, 1-11-12 38), a left-hand shooting blue-liner who hails from Peterborough, comes to the Rock from the Central Ontario Wolves, of the ETAHL U18.
Prior to the 2019-20 campaign, he attended training camp with the OHL’s Peterborough Petes.
At 5-11 and 163 pounds Dunford won’t be the largest D-man on the Rock blue-line this season, either.
“I am an aggressive, physical defenceman, with quick feet and I can contribute offensively, as well,” he said.
“Growing up, I tried to pattern my game after (Chicago Blackhawks blue-liner) Duncan Keith. I really liked his ability to move the puck and find players on the ice.
“He has a really high hockey IQ.”
Strangely, the Blackhawks were not Dunford’s favourite team when he was growing up, however, nor were the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Montreal Canadiens, or even the Ottawa Senators.
“My favourite team was the Washington Capitals,” he said.
Timmins quickly came onto Dunford’s radar this spring after he received a text from Beer.
“He told me about the program, the fan base and how electric that building is and it really drew me towards the team,” he said.
“It looks like a great place to start playing Junior ‘A’ hockey. I have a Hockey TV subscription, so I have been on there watching (Rock) games for the past couple of weeks.
“Everything just looks amazing and I can’t wait to get up there.”
Dunford and his Wolves teammates saw their 2020 playoffs come to an end in the second round, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Overall, though, it was a good season,” he said.
The pandemic has not impacted his off season as much as it has some of his new teammates.
“I have been using my home gym a lot and I have a pair of Marsblades roller, ice-hockey simulated skates,” he said.
“I am on those every day and working out an hour-and-a-half with weights in my basement every day.”
Dunford knows making the jump from Midget ‘AAA’ to Junior ‘A’ will be a challenge, but he is confident he is ready to make the move.
“There will be a fair bit of adjustment (required), but I feel I am ready for it,” he said.
“I am 18 years old. I am an adult now. So, I will just go with the flow and hope everything works out well.”
Making the move to Timmins will, of course, be an adjustment, as well.
“I think the furthest north I have been is Sudbury,” he said.
Beer is looking forward to getting Dunford into a Rock uniform and feels he will be a key addition to the team’s blue-line.
“Bode is another former captain for the Central Ontario Wolves,” he said.
“He reminds me a lot of Josh Anderson in terms of his skating ability and his ability to cover ice defensively.
“Now, can he get his game to Josh’s offensively? I don’t know. That’s a pretty hard ask.
“I think what we are going to get is a kid who plays pretty physical, with good gap control. He has offence in him to showcase.
“Again, he is a guy who played a couple of years of Midget ‘AAA’ hockey and he comes in at age 18, so he is going to be physically strong.
“You look at the leadership side of things and again he is a high-character kid coming into the room.
“I think Bode Dunford is going to be a big-time sleeper surprise for us.
“He is a guy who may not have the offensive numbers coming in, but it won’t matter. He is a guy who is going to eat up minutes for us very early on.
“He is that kind of player, who has that kind of moxie to him. We were thrilled when we were able to get him.”
Clearly, Dunford has made a positive impression on his new coach.
“He does things the right way in terms of his workouts,” Beer said.
“I have seen his backyard set up and it’s incredible in terms of shooting pucks, or working out.
“He is going to be a player who is going to be a backbone for us for a couple of years, for sure.”