The Timmins Rock have acquired 2001-birth-year blue-liner Cameron Dutkiewicz, shown here in action during an NOJHL game against the Espanola Express, from the Soo Thunderbirds in exchange for a player development fee. The Timmins native is a graduate of the GNML’s Timmins Majors, where he played for new Rock coach/GM Brandon Perry. CHELSEA SOLOMON/NOJHL NETWORK
The Timmins Rock announced four transactions on Wednesday that will have a significant impact on the NOJHL squad’s blue-line for the 2021-22 campaign.
And perhaps it is fitting the first player officially acquired by new Rock head coach/general manager Brandon Perry is a D-man he is quite familiar with from his days with the then-Great North Midget League’s Timmins Majors.
Timmins native Cameron Dutkiewicz (21, 9-10-19, 10), a 2001-birth-year right hand-shooting defender, is returning home after spending the 2020-21 NOJHL campaign with the West Division’s Soo Thunderbirds.
The addition of Dutkiewicz, in exchange for a player development fee, capped off a busy day for the Rock, who dealt fan favourite Eric Moreau (22, 5-11-16, 6) to the Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Collingwood Blues, Zachary Fortin (12, 1-2-3, 6) to the Superior International Junior Hockey League’s Kam River Fighting Walleye and Evan Beaudry (22, 4-9-13, 27) to the Central Canada Hockey League’s Kemptville 73’s, with the return for all three blue-liners also being player development fees.
Dutkiewicz’s nine goals and 19 points led all NOJHL D-men in 2020-21 and his point total had him tied for 12th in the league’s overall scoring race.
The 6-0, 195-pound, blue-liner was especially lethal on the power play, as his six goals with the man advantage topped all D-men in that category and had him tied for third overall.
Perry admitted familiarity played a big part in the Rock’s decision to bring Dutkiewicz home for his final year of Junior ‘A’ hockey.
“Especially with the way the season went last year, with COVID-19, it is hard to find recent video on guys, so having that familiarity with Cameron was big,” he said.
“Obviously, he is a 20-year-old, right-hand shooting defenceman with great offensive instincts, who can play on the power play.
“That is the kind of player you want on your roster at the Junior ‘A’ hockey level.
“So, we are extremely excited to bring him home and get him to play his final year in front of friends and family.”
As good as Dutkiewicz was in his final year with the Majors (35, 7-14-21, 44) — and Perry agreed that was pretty darn good — the blue-liner seemed to take his game to a whole new level with the Thunderbirds in 2020-21.
“He looked incredible,” Perry said.
“They did a good job with Cameron in the Soo. They gave him the opportunity and put him in the right spots that allowed him to be successful.
“Watching games on HockeyTV, I thought he looked absolutely incredible. I think he is going to be a very good player for us.
“Obviously, we are going to rely on him with the other deals we have made (pending finalizing of Hockey Canada paperwork). He will be relied upon to play some big, important minutes.”
The new Rock coach/GM appreciates the fact Dutkiewicz made the decision to “hopefully (depending on COVID-19 restrictions)” play his final season in front of friends and family.
“I think he was torn, just because the Soo did give him that opportunity,” Perry said.
“He went to the CCHL2 (Renfrew Timberwolves, 2019-20: 40, 4-11-15, 28) right out of Midget (now U18), developed there and then went up to the Soo last year where they gave him that opportunity and allowed him to be the player he is, an offensive-minded guy they played on the power play and in all kinds of situations.
“So, I think that was tough for him, wanting to show that loyalty to the team that gave him the opportunity, but we have always had a great relationship.
“Playing at home was a big appeal to him and I am glad we could get the deal done.
“I am really excited to be coaching him again. He is a great kid and he comes from a great family. He is really going to add to the culture of our locker room and what we are trying to build here.”
As one might expect, Dutkiewicz — who saw action with his hometown squad as an affiliate player in 2018-19 (regular season 1, 0-0-0, 0; playoffs 2, 0-1-1, 0) — is excited to once again suit up in a Rock uniform and play for his former Majors coach.
“I am looking forward to a great year,” he said.
The blue-liner admits things couldn’t have gone much better with the Thunderbirds last season.
“It (signing with the Soo) was kind of a last minute decision,” Dutkiewicz said.
“I decided the Soo would be a great place to play and it worked out great. I enjoyed every moment of it. They had a great staff and a great group of guys. They made me feel at home.”
Dutkiewicz spent the bulk of the 2020-21 campaign paired with Connor Toms, a third-round pick of the Ontario Hockey League’s Soo Greyhounds, on the Thundebirds’ blue-line.
“He is an unbelievable kid and he was awesome to play with,” he said.
“We developed great chemistry and he was a good partner.”
While Dutkiewicz was confident in his abilities heading into last season, he admits he was a little surprised at how well things went for him.
“I wasn’t expecting things to come out that well,” he said.
“I just wanted to go there, work hard but opportunities came and things just worked out great.”
Indeed, the Thunderbirds’ 13-6-2 record was second only to the Rock’s 18-4-0 mark in the NOJHL’s COVID-19-altered campaign.
“We just worked hard to implement what our coaches had been teaching us in practice,” Dutkiewicz said.
“We took that work ethic from practice to games and things worked out great.”
Dutkiewicz’s Thunderbirds only played against West Division squads in 2020-21, but he feels the experience he gained should make him feel more comfortable heading into the upcoming season.
“Now that I have gained some experience this past year and did pretty well, I should definitely have more confidence in myself,” he said.
Entering his final year of Junior ‘A’ hockey, Dutkiewicz is looking forward to getting an opportunity to help mentor some of the Rock’s younger blue-liners.
“I doesn’t really matter who I play with,” he said.
“We will just work together to become better.”
With Timmins still firmly in the grips of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, for the second-straight year players like Dutkiewicz have to adapt their off-season training program.
“Obviously, the gyms aren’t open yet,” he said.
“So, every night after work I head over to the track to do some track workouts, sprints, some running.
“I have to do something.”
The addition of Dutkiewicz should help offset the loss of Moreau, Fortin and Beaudry, three 2001-birth-year blue-liners who enjoyed their time in Timmins but requested to be moved for understandable reasons.
“These deals are unique because Ricky (Moreau) and Forts put in their time here,” Perry said.
“It’s not a situation where they are saying, ‘I want out of Timmins.’ They like it here.
“And it is not a sense of us not wanting them on the team. They are unique situations where Eric and Zach want to be closer to home.
“They have some health issues with both of their families and they both want to be closer to their families, to allow them to play their final years of Junior ‘A’ hockey.
“Timmins isn’t close to their homes, but Collingwood is five minutes from Eric Moreau’s front door and Kam River from Fortin’s front door.
“As much as we hate to see them go, they gave us everything they had when the played here.
“They are incredible kids and incredible players and they represented our team well in the community and they were great leaders
“They aren’t kids who asked for anything, so when they asked for something like this and it makes sense for the Timmins Rock and it makes sense for them, we are happy to make it happen.”
“I don’t want to get into the personal reasons for Zach’s decision, but obviously playing close to home and being close to family was important to him,” Perry said.
Moreau, who hails from Penetanguishene, spent three seasons in a Timmins Rock uniform (125, 6-35-41, 50) and saw his offensive output increase in each of those campaigns, although he was better known as a stay-at-home defender.
The Rock acquired Moreau from the Provincial Junior Hockey League’s Midland Flyers prior to the start of the 2018-19 season.
Fortin, a Thunder Bay native, came to the Rock from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Gatineau Olympiques midway through the 2019-20 campaign.
While being able to play closer to family was the key factor in the Moreau and Fortin transactions, education was the motivator behind the Beaudry deal.
“He is another 2001-birth-year defenceman who could have been a big asset on both sides of the puck, but he is going to school at the University of Ottawa,” Perry said.
“He wanted a trade to facilitate being closer to school because obviously a post-secondary education means a lot to him.”
Beaudry, a Mississauga native, spent two seasons in a Rock uniform, but seemed to blossom offensively following the trade of fellow blue-liner Brendan Boyce to the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Whitecourt Wolverines midway through last season.