NHL legend Dionne set to Rock event

NHL legend Marcel Dionne speaks to a group of minor hockey coaches in Fort McMurray Alta., in 2015. Dionne will be coming to Timmins for the fifth-annual Timmins Rock NHL Celebrity Golf Tournament at the Hollinger Golf Club on Thursday, Aug. 26. With COVID-19 restrictions in place, only 25 four-person teams are being accepted, so golfers are encouraged to sign up early. FILE PHOTO/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

The Timmins Rock have teed up legendary NHL Hall of Famer Marcel Dionne for their fifth-annual NHL Celebrity Golf Tournament to be held at the Hollinger Golf Club on Thursday, Aug. 26.

Thomas Perry – The Daily Press/Postmedia Network
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Rock president Ted Gooch confirmed the news the fundraising tournament will once again hit the links this summer after the COVID-19 pandemic forced its cancellation in 2020.

“First and foremost, we always like to look for an ex-NHL player who has a great personality and takes the time share some stories and mingle with our fans,” he said.

“Through my contact down south we have been very successful in that, having some great people come up who have been very personable.

“He asked me what I thought about Marcel Dionne and growing up, watching hockey, certainly Marcel Dionne was a fan-favourite and a great player, so I said absolutely.

“He mentioned he (Dionne) was interested in coming to Timmins. A lot of the ex-NHLers are a small community who do events together and word is pretty much starting to spread Timmins is a great place to visit.

“Marcel has taken the advice of some players who have come here and he is excited to come up and be part of our event.”

The list of former NHL stars — Shayne Corson, Darcy Tucker, and George Laraque (2019), Billy Smith, Kevin Stevens and Corson (2018) — who have taken part in the first four Timmins Rock NHL Celebrity Golf Tournaments is certainly impressive.

It could be argued, however, that none possess the same star power as Dionne, the second-overall pick by Detroit in the 1971 NHL Draft.

The Drummondville, Que., native went on to play 18 seasons in the NHL, with the Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers.

In 1,348 regular-season games, Dionne scored 731 goals (ranking him fifth all time, behind only Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Jaromír Jágr and Brett Hull) while adding 1,040 assists, good for 1,771 points.

During that time, he was a six time 50-goal scorer, all with the Kings, while centering the famous Triple Crown Line with Charlie Simmer and Dave Taylor.

Perhaps his best season was the 1979–80 campaign when he had 137 points, tying Gretzky for the league lead in points.

Dionne was awarded the Art Ross Trophy for scoring two more goals than Gretzky.

Nicknamed the Little Beaver, Dionne also represented Canada six times at Canada Cups and World Championships and he was also on the Canadian roster for the 1972 Super Series against the Russians, although he didn’t get into any games.

Following his retirement, Dionne was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992.

Gooch is clearly excited to see the return of the Timmins Rock NHL Celebrity Golf Tournament after a one-year absence, especially with such a distinguished guest.

“We had really been gaining a lot of traction with the event,” he said.

“We had our fourth annual at Spruce Needles (Golf Club) and we had our highest number of golfers for that one.

“I think a lot of people have really been looking forward to a little bit of normalcy, if you will, and being able to get out and do some regular activities.

“The feedback we have had so far has been great, even before we announced the date and that we had confirmed the event.

“Unfortunately, we will be limited to social distancing and the size of the diner tent at the Hollinger to a maximum of 100 players, 25 teams of four players.”

In the hope that COVID-19 restrictions will have improved between now and Aug. 26, the Rock will create a waiting list.

“Hopefully, restriction will lift and we will be able to add a couple of extra teams,” Gooch said.

The event will feature a four-person scramble format, with a shotgun start at 1 p.m. and a dinner and silent auction to follow the completion of play.

Dionne will be stationed at one of the course’s par-three holes, allowing him an opportunity to interact with players as they progress through their rounds.

“We have had a few years now to try and figure out what works best and we have had a lot of success with that format,” Gooch said.

“It allows every group as they come through that hole the chance to meet him and grab a photo opportunity, maybe grab a signed photo and spend some time with him.”

Each year, the Timmins Rock NHL Celebrity Golf Tournament is scheduled near the start of the NOJHL team’s training camp (Aug. 23), so in addition to getting to mingle with Dionne golfers will also get to meet the team’s returning veterans and new players.

“It is a good team-building exercise,” Gooch said.

“The parents usually come with the new kids from out of town, so this gives them an opportunity to be part of the event, as well.”

The dinner and silent auction that will conclude the tournament will feature a number of interesting items for purchase, although Gooch isn’t quite ready to unveil just what will be on the table.

“Certainly sports memorabilia has always been a fan favourite,” he said.

“Fans can expect to see some autographed jerseys and photos and there might be one or two surprises, as well.

“We are certainly looking forward to having that raise some funds for the club, as well.”

Speaking of auctions, the Rock currently have an online auction running, with bidding scheduled to conclude on Friday, July 23.

Items currently available include a framed autographed Evgeni Malkin Pittsburgh Penguins jersey, valued at $1,200; a one-year gym membership, valued at $940; a tire package, valued at $800; a pair of Timmins Rock season tickets, valued at $600; and a custom-made Timmins Rock fire pit, valued at $500; to name just a few.

Fans can access the page with the auction items by visiting the Rock website: timminsrock.com.

“We have got some great prizes donated by some great sponsors in the community,” Gooch said.

“There is really something for everybody.”

Fundraising is, of course, important for any Junior ‘A’ hockey club any off season, but it is even more critical given that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted three seasons — the 2020 playoffs, 2020-21 regular season and playoffs and the start of the 2021-22 campiagn.

“Very critical, for sure,” Gooch said.

“Not only haven’t we been able to play regular hockey, we haven’t been able to hold any fundraising events.

“We hold two or three a season, so that has been a huge financial loss and icing a team last season and being fortunate to play 22 games, not too many teams or leagues across Canada can say they managed to do that, so we had to do that with very tight purse strings, not being able to have the support of the fans and, of course, our sponsors.

“COVID-19 certainly affected a lot of businesses, so it wouldn’t have been right to reach out and ask for some help when many businesses needed help themselves.

“So, it has been a very trying three seasons, really, but I am so happy we are hopefully at the end of this dark tunnel.”

Some of Gooch’s optimism comes from the fact the NOJHL has announced its 2021-22 regular-season schedule, with teams set to play a 56-game campaign — 27 games at home, 27 games on the road and two games at the NOJHL’s annual Showcase.

The Rock will kick off their schedule with a pair of home games at the McIntyre Arena against a pair of East Division rivals — the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners on Sept. 17 and the Hearst Lumberjacks on Sept. 19.

Heading into 2021-22 the Rock have a bit of a head start on their season ticket campaign.

“We did a big season ticket push during the playoff run of 2020,” Gooch said.

“We always have an incentive that if fans renew early they get the playoffs for free, so we had a lot of people renew their 2020-21 season tickets early.

“Of course, we weren’t able to have fans last season, so thankfully almost 100 per cent of fans allowed us to just roll those tickets over to the upcoming season.

“We didn’t have to provide any refunds, which was absolutely critical and we can’t say thank you enough to our fans for allowing us to do that.

“New fans and families of new players have started reaching out enquire about tickets and it is certainly satisfying to know that.

“People, I think, are excited to get out and get back to normal, doing things in the community.”

Fans interested in purchasing season tickets will soon be able to do so by visiting the Rock website, but Gooch isn’t quite sure exactly when that option will be up and running again.

“Now that the schedule has been released, the ticketing company we deal with is in the midst of building our schedule right now and our ticket support system,” he said.