By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – Eric Jackson brings a championship pedigree with him to the Timmins Rock crease.
As a member of the Port Hope Panthers, of the PJCHL, Jackson was an affiliate of the RBC Cup champion Cobourg Cougars this past season and helped the Toronto Nationals win a Telus Cup as Canadian Midget ‘AAA’ champions in 2015.
Rock general manager Kevin Peever, himself a former Junior ‘A’ goalie, is excited to add Jackson as a No. 1B to work in tandem with the team’s No. 1A, Brendan Bishop, who was acquired earlier this off season from the Atlanta Knights, of the USPHL.
“(New Rock coach) Corey (Beer) really liked what he saw from him last year when he was an assistant coach with the Cougars,” Peever said.
“He saw him make great strides in improving his game. Corey is confident Eric can be part of our 1A and 1B goaltending tandem.
“Eric knows what it takes to be a winner and he is very driven. He knows exactly what his end goals are and he is willing to work to achieve them.
“He really wants to achieve that next pinnacle for himself and for the club.”
A 1998-birth-year goalie, Jackson has two years of Junior ‘A’ eligibility remaining, which would seem to make him an ideal complement to Bishop, who will be entering his final year with the Rock this season.
“Right now, Bishop is coming into camp as our No. 1A, due to his size and experience, but we wanted somebody who could push Brendan Bishop,” Peever said.
“We feel Eric Jackson is capable of being a No. 1B and doing just that.”
Having two goalies capable of playing effectively in the NOJHL is critical for most teams and especially the Rock who have had to endure a number of injuries to their puck stoppers in each of the past three seasons.
“You are not always going to be fortunate enough like we were last year to be able to bring in a goalie like Al Rogers come November,” Peever said.
“Not many teams are prepared to give up their starter at that point in the season and we don’t have the luxury of having Junior ‘B’ teams or Junior ‘C’ teams in the area to be able to call up a goalie like they can in the OJHL and some of the other Junior ‘A’ hockey leagues.”
In addition to getting a solid recommendation from Beer, Peever is familiar with goaltending coach Zac Bierk, who works with Jackson during the summer months.
Jackson is excited to have an opportunity to play for Beer this season.
“He immediately impressed me with his ability to coach a team,” he said.
“I came up to the Cougars a few times and then was up for the last month or so of the season, toward the RBC Cup and really got to know him then. He strikes me as a very impressive and very mature coach. I think he is going to bring a lot to the Timmins Rock organization.”
Jackson started the 2016-17 season with the Grande Prairie Storm, of the AJHL, posting a 5.49 goals against average and a .855 saves percentage.
His numbers, 2.30 goals against average and a .890 saves percentage in 11 games, improved significantly after he moved back to Ontario and joined the Panthers.
In six playoff games with the Panthers, Jackson posted a 2.45 goals against average and a .900 saves percentage.
Getting to go to the RBC Cup with the Cougars following the completion of the Panthers’ season was clearly a positive experience for the 6-0, 187-pound puck stopper, as well.
“It was very surreal,” Jackson said.
“I came very late to the team, but the guys were very welcoming. Everyone was very tight as a group, so it was a very cool experience to be part of something like that.”
Like so many goaltenders of his generation, Jackson has tried to pattern his game after Montreal Canadiens netminder Carey Price.
“I really love his style and how calm he is in the net,” he said.
“He has the ability to make the read and make the play without exposing too much of his net. He is very conservative with his movements and his energy. It really showcases how a goaltender can do a lot more with less movement.”
Three of the members of the Cougars RBC Cup winning team — Brenden Locke, Brennan Roy and Nick Minerva — are former members of the Rock organization, having played for the team while it was known as the Abitibi Eskimos and located in Iroquois Falls.
“I got a chance to ask them a few questions about the NOJHL and they all said it was a great league with some very animated crowds,” Jackson said.
“There are a lot of smaller communities up here and the people really get behind their teams. Being here in Timmins, I have already been able to see there is a lot of support for the Rock and I am really excited to be a part of that.
“Growing up in Toronto, there is not a lot of fan support for minor hockey, or even Junior ‘A’ hockey because everything is focused on the Toronto Maple Leafs.”
Jackson can’t wait to have a chance to play in front of crowds as big as the Rock were able to draw last season.
“It really gives you the motivation to come up with that big save and help win a game,” he said.
“Even going on the road, it can be a lot of fun to play against opposing teams in front of their crowds. Last season, we were playing in Lakefield and the fans would tap the glass with quarters behind me to try and distract me.”
Jackson isn’t hung up on labels, such as being the No. 1A or the No. 1B.
“All I can do is come out and do my best,” he said.
“Obviously, I want to be the starting goalie and be able to have an impact on the team, help it out as much as I can.
“I am coming up here with the experience of participating in two national championships. We won the Telus Cup Midget ‘AAA’ championship in 2015 and then had a chance to go to the RBC Cup in 2017.”
Jackson is hoping playing in the NOJHL will help him earn a scholarship to continue his education at the university level.
“I would really like to earn an NCAA scholarship,” he said.
“I graduated from high school with a 93% average and I want to focus on getting into some sort of international law program.
“One thing that really interests me is the global conflict over water. The scarcity of water is becoming a very serious issue in places like Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. There is a lot of water there, but it is not drinkable water.
“Being Canadian, we are quite fortunate but we need to help out and take care of the world around us.”
In addition to Bishop and Jackson, Jeff Vietch — who backed up Rogers last season — remains on the Rock roster, but he is likely to be traded prior to the start of training camp next month.
“We have been in contact with Jeff over the course of the last month or so and he is aware of everything that has transpired,” Peever said.
“We are trying to assist with getting placed with another junior hockey club.”
The Rock do not anticipate signing any other goaltenders prior to the start of training camp, but they do intend to bring in a few more puck stoppers to push Bishop and Jackson.
NOJHL NOTES — The Kirkland Lake Gold Miners have also made a goaltending move, shipping 1997-birth-year netminder Alan Menary to the Elliot Lake Wildcats in exchange for a player development fee. It will be the second tour of duty with the Wildcats for Menary, who has also spent time in the NOJHL with the Cochrane Crunch … In a corresponding move, the Wildcats have dealt 1999-birth-year goalie Justin Richer to the Burlington Cougars, of the OJHL. Richer also spent time with the Rayside-Balfour Canadians … The Hearst Lumberjacks, meanwhile, have dealt 1997-birth-year forward David Stickney to the Aldergrove Kodiaks, of the PJHL … The Soo Thunderbirds have been busy, as well, acquiring 1999-birth-year forward Tyler Malpass from the Fort Frances Lakers, of the SIJHL. Earlier this month, the T-Birds shipped 1999-birth-year forwards Mark Tassone and Gage Stephney to the Trenton Golden Hawks, of the OJHL. It was the second move involving the Golden Hawks, as they moved 1998-birth-year forward Zachary Senecal to Trenton in exchange for 1997-birth-year defenceman Andrew Cordssen-David. The T-Birds’ top sniper from 2016-17, 1997-birth-year forward Matt Caruso was dealt to the Niagara Falls Canucks, of the GOJHL, while 1997-birth-year blue-liner Brendan Jay was shipped to the Dryden Ice Dogs, of the SIJHL, in exchange for 1998-birth-year defender Garett Giertuga.