Forward Riley Robitaille and his Timmins Rock teammates celebrate his first-period goal during Game 6 of the NOJHL East Division semifinal series against the Powassan Voodoos at the McIntyre Arena. The Rock went on to edge the Voodoos 2-1 and take the series 4-2. The Rock announced announced on Thursday that Robitaille will be back for the 2018-19 season if he does not make the roster of the QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. Coach Corey Beer feels Robitaille could be in for a breakout season with the Rock. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock have made a significant upgrade to the their offence with the acquisition of 1998-birth-year forward Maxime Charbonneau from the Granby Inouk, of the QJAAAHL.
It was one of four transactions officially announced by the NOJHL team on Thursday, with 2001-birth-year defenceman Eric Moreau being acquired from the Midland Flyers, of the PJCHL, the signing of 2000-birth-year forward Mahingan Decontie and the return of 2000-birth-year forward Riley Robitaille.
Those four transactions bring the Rock’s official roster up to 20 players (one goalie, six defencemen and 13 forwards) with the start of training camp (Aug. 19) less than a month away.
Rock coach Corey Beer notes his French will have to improve with the addition of Charbonneau.
“Maxime was coached by a guy I worked with at Canada East, Patrice Bosch, who brought him to our attention,” Beer said.
“They have a cap on the number of 20 year olds they are allowed to have on their team. So, Maxime was not going to be able to be part of their group and Patrice felt getting him into our program, under our staff, would be a great thing for the kid.
“Obviously, we are very excited to bring him in to our program. He is a very high-end offensive talent.
“He is a smaller forward (5-8 and 180 pounds), but he is obviously a guy who can make plays at a high level and contribute to our offence.
“We are thrilled to have him and we think he is going to be a very integral part our team this year.”
Charbonneau (17, 5-7-12, 4), a Sherbrooke native, averaged almost a point a game in his one season with the Inouk.
He spent the previous two campaigns (29, 6-12-18, 48, in 2015-16 and 31, 10-15-25, 52)with the Thetford Mines Filons, of the QCHL.
“He is going to be a guy who is going to get opportunities to put the puck in the net, as well as setting guys up,” Beer said.
“We are really looking forward to getting him in there and seeing what he can do right off the hop.”
While Charbonneau is mainly known as an offensive player, he does not shy away from the dirty areas of the ice.
“Teams might try to take him out of the equation, so for him to be able to back up his game with a little bit of grit and sandpaper is a nice combination,” Beer said.
The coach has a lot of confidence in what Bosch had to say about Charbonneau as a player and a person and he has also had a chance to watch him play on video.
“Obviously, I trust Patrice’s opinion a great deal,” Beer said.
“He is a phenomenal coach. He tells us he is a great kid and good room guy. He fits the bill that way and I have seen him play on FastHockey.
“I have a pretty good idea of how his game will translate to our team. We are trying to add as much skill as possible to our roster and Maxime certainly fits that bill.”
For his part, Charbonneau views Timmins as the ideal community in which to finish up his Junior ‘A’ career.
“I made it clear to the management in Granby that I would like to finish off my career in an English community,” he said through Rock assistant general manager Eric Paquette, who served as an interpreter for the interview.
“The Granby coach and coach Corey spoke and when I did my research, Timmins looked like a perfect fit. I think it is a community where I will enjoy playing my last year.”
The high percentage of bilingual residents in Timmins definitely worked in the Rock’s favour.
“When I looked into things, I found this is the perfect community,” Charbonneau said.
“I can work on my English, but there is still the comfort of having a large French-speaking population.”
Charbonneau describes himself as a goal scorer who can also set up plays and isn’t afraid to take the body when the need arises.
“My game revolves around speed and skill,” he said.
“All of my life, I have been on the smaller side, but I am not afraid to go in the corners and play the body.
“Growing up, I tried to pattern my game after (Los Angeles Kings forward) Dustin Brown. He can score. He can make passes. He can throw the big hits, if they are needed, and he is also a leader.”
While many of his new teammates are not accustomed to playing in front of large crowds, that is not the case with Charbonneau.
“In Granby, we played in front of about 600 fans a night,” he said.
“Obviously, in Timmins the crowds will be a bit larger and that is something I am looking forward to experiencing. Crowds that size can really give a team energy.”
Charbonneau knows there will be some adjustment required as he makes the jump to the NOJHL this season.
“I am not familiar with that league and the style of play,” he said.
“The league I played in last season was a very offence-oriented league, but I don’t anticipate any problems adapting to the style of play in the NOJHL.”
Like many of his new Rock teammates, Charbonneau doesn’t consider himself to be much of a golfer.
“I will have to practise,” he said, when asked if he if he is looking forward to the Rock’s annual golf tournament the day before the opening of the team’s training camp on Aug. 19.
“I am definitely looking forward to getting to meet the former NHLers (Billy Smith, Kevin Stevens and Shayne Corson). I am hoping to ask them about all the hard work they put into their careers.”
Charbonneau can’t wait for the 2018-19 NOJHL campaign to get underway.
“This is going to be my last year of Junior ‘A’ hockey and it is going to be a very special season,” he said.
Moreau, another right-hand shooting defenceman, provides the Rock with balance on the blue-line.
“We did some homework on him and he comes with a pretty good recommendation from former Voodoos coach Bo Moyer,” Beer said.
“Eric is a guy he knows pretty well and he is a guy who should be able to work his way up the depth chart for us.”
Moreau (37, 1-11-12, 91) enjoyed a solid 2017-18 campaign with the Flyers and also turned in two steady seasons (2015-16 and 2016-17) with the North Central Predators Minor Midget ‘AAA’ squad in the ETAMMHL.
“We have been trying to find as many talented, young defencemen as we can,” Beer said.
“We are trying to transform our back end into a nice, mobile, puck-moving group that has a little bit of grit. Eric certainly fits into that mold.
“He has got the ability to play good offence and yet still be a very sound, physical defender.”
Elite Hockey Prospects has the Penetanguishene native listed at 5-10 and 174 pounds, but his new coach feels those stats are a little out of date.
“He is actually fairly stocky, to be quite honest,” Beer said.
“He will be coming in at around 195 pounds and he has a very wide-built frame.
“He is in that same size range as (former Rock defenceman) Grant McClellan and we feel he is going to be a pretty sturdy defender back there.”
With a low centre of gravity, Moreau is ideally built for keep the front of his team’s net clear, as well.
“He should be able to come in and instantly contribute in penalty kill situations,” Beer said.
“He should have a good net-front presence in the D zone. I think he will contribute a little bit of offence, as well, which may surprise some guys.
“His stats might not jump off the page at you, but he is a guy who can transport the puck out of our own end and make plays through the neutral zone, into the offensive zone.
Decontie was one of the original seven players the Rock signed following the team’s prospect camp in Oshawa back in June, but the team had to wait for his paperwork to clear Hockey Canada’s registry before the signing could be announced.
The forward spent the last two campaigns (24, 0-2-2, 4 in 2016-17 and 21, 4-5-9, 6 in 2017-18) with Le Sommet Academy, of the PSHF.
“Mahingan was one of the surprises at camp,” Beer said.
“He is a guy who played with Joshua Kego at the Academy and he is almost a duplicate of him, maybe a little bit slighter but a little bit quicker.
“We thought he might be a guy who needed to go back for a year and develop a little bit more, but we watched him going up against guys who are going to be playing on our team, some high-end recruits, and he kept surprising us the entire camp, scoring goals and making plays.
“The puck seemed to follow him around.
“The first thing that stands out with him is his quickness. He is a very fast skater. He is very shifty and he has the ability to make plays in the offensive zone consistently.
“He is going to be a guy we may have to be a little patient with. He has a very good skill set but whether he can stand the night-in, night-out grind of a Junior ‘A’ schedule remains to be seen.
“We definitely see him as a bit of a diamond in the rough. We will nurture his skill set and development.
“We feel he is a guy who in a couple of years could be a real elite player in our league.”
Robitaille, who is scheduled to attend training camp with the QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, had a breakout season with the Rock in 2017-18 (35, 5-4-9, 32) and took his game to another level in the 2018 playoffs (13, 5-5-10, 14).
Prior to joining the Rock, Robitaille (7, 0-1-1, 6) spent some time with the Iroquois Falls Eskis during the 2016-17 NOJHL campaign.
At 6-2 and 165 pounds, the Timmins native brings an element of size to the Rock lineup, but Beer also likes his skill.
“Riley Robitaille is probably one of my favourite personalities on this roster,” he said.
“He is something else. Whether he is shooting me a text and asking me if I am watching the Leafs game or asking me questions about something else, his happy-go-lucky personality is so infectious in our room.
“All of a sudden, he hits the ice and flips a switch — that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing — and at 6-2, with his skating ability and poise with the puck, he is the prototypical power forward.
“The way he commanded the possession game in the playoffs showed he wasn’t a player coming out of midget and just chipping pucks in the corners, crashing and banging.
“Now, he was entering the offensive zone through the middle of the ice and creating smart plays.
“I think the sky is going to be the limit for Robie this year. He is going to be an absolute horse for us.
“What we saw from him in the playoffs is just the tip of the iceberg.
“He is poised to be one of the best players in the league this year. He is a guy who is going to play in every situation for us, power play, penalty kill and five-on-five.”
Robitaille is, of course, a multi-sport star who excels in track and field, as well as one the ice.
“He has an endless motor, even on the ice,” Beer said.
“He is in such good shape and he has the athleticism to make plays most big guys can’t.
“As a coach, you love to see guys who are multi-sport athletes. So much is made out of playing and training year ’round in the same sport, but for a guy like Riley to be able to excel in so many sports is a credit to him and how much he puts into it from an athletic standpoint.”