By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock have acquired forward Eric Hulford from the Athens Aeros, of the CCHL2.
Hulford (46, 25-32-57, 10) finished second on the Aeros in points and third in goals during the 2016-17 CCHL2 campaign.
His playoff point total (16, 4-10-14, 0) was fourth on the squad.
New Rock head coach Corey Beer, who served as an associate coach with the OJHL’s Cobourg Cougars last season, is quite familiar with Hulford’s game.
“Eric is a player who plays a good two-way game,” he said.
“He is a left-hand shot who is kind of a play-making, hybrid type sniper. He is definitely a kid who is going to fit in a role in our Top 9.
“He is an honest player. He is going to go out there and give us a solid effort every night and contribute in the 15- to 18-minute range. He is a good kid and hopefully in the long run he will earn his way onto our special teams, whether it be the power play or the penalty kill.”
The 2016-17 campaign was Hulford’s second with the Aeros and he showed a significant improvement over his 2015-16 numbers (43, 11-16-27, 19).
Officially listed a 6-1 and 211 pounds on the Aeros website, the Sittsville, Ont, native, who will turn 19 in November, should bring a combination of size and skill to the Rock roster — perhaps replacing some of those factors lost with the departure of Bain Cunningham, who was traded to the Burlington Cougars, of the OJHL, on Thursday.
“That is going to go hand-in-hand with the type of game plan we want to employ out there on the ice,” Beer said.
“We want to be fast. We want to be physical, but we want to have a good skill set and manage the puck and maintain possession.
“Eric is the type of kid who has good size and presence on the ice. We are not going to ask him to go out there and throw 15 hits a night, but he can play that good, hard style of game we are asking for from our players and still be able to chip in offensively, too.
“Like everyone else, Eric is going to have to earn his ice time, but he has the skill set to be able to step in an have an impact right off the hop.”
Since being hired as the Rock’s new head coach, Beer has been dividing his time between working with general manager Kevin Peever and assistant general manager Eric Paquette on the recruitment of new players and trying to familiarize himself with the team’s returning veterans.
“I have gone through a ton of video,” he said.
“When I was with Cobourg, the whole time leading up to the RBC Cup after we got beat out in the conference finals was spent watching video on every other league, so I was pretty familiar with the Timmins vs Powassan series.
“There are some guys who stood out. Obviously, Wayne Mathieu is going to be a huge player for us, along with Stewart Parnell. He is going to be a guy who can take that next step and really solidify himself as a top-end player. And there are probably a couple of guys I am leaving out.
“I am slowly getting my feet wet, getting to know our own players, but right now we are so heavily involved in the recruiting process that it is still too early to give a full synopsis of where we are at, but I definitely feel we are making strides and bringing in the right type of players and personalities that are going to make us successful this year.”
When it comes to recruiting, one of the areas Beer feels the Rock must address is the back end.
“We need to make sure we are a mobile group and a physical group, but one that’s able to transition the play real quick and defend on the fly. That’s going to be an ongoing process.
“We are going to have to find out early on which guys can play at that kind of level and which guys can adapt on the fly.”
The Rock vs Voodoos playoff series in the 2017 playoffs was not an example of the team’s blue-line playing at its best.
“Obviously, Powassan is a very talented team and with them not having very many 20 year olds, they are primed to bring back a lot of that same roster,” Beer said.
“The one thing I did notice and it’s not to take anything away from last year’s team, is that we are going to have to play with a lot more defensive structure. We need to take care of our house and our systems foremost, then let the offensive game develop from there.
“We are going to be tough to play against. If you want to go on a long run in the playoffs, you can’t go out there and try to win 7-6. We are going to have to clamp games down and win 3-1, those ugly type of games.”
Beer has seen a change in the prototypical shutdown D-man in recent years.
“You absolutely do need size, but the days of the old, stay-at-home shutdown defenceman are gone,” he said.
“They have evolved themselves into more of a two-way player. The Brooks Bandits, the team we (Cobourg Cougars) beat in the RBC Cup finals was a mobile group that did a good job of making a good first pass out of their zone and transitioned the puck well.
“I do think we need to add a little bit of size back there, though, and have a group that is a little bit nasty to play against in our end but with an offensive capability.”
Beer anticipates the Rock will have a number of announcements in the coming days and weeks, as the team’s roster begins to take shape.
“At this point, we are pretty excited and happy with the direction the team is going,” he said.