By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock crease officially became Mr. Rogers’ neighbourhood Thursday following a trade with the French River Rapids.
The suddenly goaltender-challenged Rock shipped 18-year-old forward Tyler Planetta (20, 0-3-3, 21) to the Rapids in exchange for 20-year-old goaltender Albert Rogers (545:00, 1-7-1-1, 0, 4.95, .902).
Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne had been working the phones frantically in search of a new goaltender since rookie goalie Caleb Barris (548:00, 8-1-0-0, 0, 3.07, .910) announced prior to last weekend’s three game road trip that he was quitting hockey.
The situation became exacerbated when the Rock’s other goalie, Matthew Nixon (773:00, 8-5-0-0, 0, 3.96, .897) suffered a recurrence on the weekend of a lower-body injury that cost him two months of the 2015-16 NOJHL campaign.
Rogers arrived in Timmins Wednesday night and practised with his new teammates Thursday afternoon.
“Albert brings a little bit of experience to our team and I really like his statistics,” said Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“His save percentage is really good and I can remember the last game we played against him (Rogers made 61 saves in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Rock on Oct. 29). We had a hard time scoring. He stoned us. He was like a wall back there.
“He works hard in practice and he is always ready for games, plus he is a really nice kid.”
Even though Rogers was playing on a French River team that has struggled for most of the season, his saves percentage was almost identical to the .905 number he posted while playing for a much better Elliot Lake Wildcats team in 2015-16.
“That’s what you want in a goaltender,” Gagne said.
“If we make a mistake out there, it is good to know he is going to be able to make those saves for us to keep us in the game.”
Rogers, who enjoyed his time with the Rapids and will miss his teammates, was all smiles as he got ready for his first practice with the Rock Thursday afternoon.
“As a 1996-born goaltender, you have to win, so I am happy to have this opportunity here in Timmins,” he said.
“I am really excited to get things going.”
Rogers will not have long to wait, as he and the Rock will welcome his former French River teammates to the McIntyre Arena for a game Saturday night.
“It is going to be exciting to see some of the boys,” he said.
“I will have some mixed emotions, but it will be fun to see all the guys.”
Having practised against his now former teammates all season, will Rogers have an advantage facing them, or will it be the other way around?
“I talked to a few of the players on the team about it when I found out I was coming to Timmins and I have to say I have pretty much a book on everybody from practises,” he said, with a chuckle.
“They like to say they know where my weaknesses are and I can’t blame them, but it should be fun. We will see what happens.”
Rogers does not necessarily pattern his game after any one particular NHL goaltender.
“I like to play an aggressive style and keep things fun,” he said.
“I try to use my athleticism to my advantage and play a hard-nosed game.
“There are a bunch of different goaltenders I have tried to pick up little things from. Obviously, Carey Price is the benchmark for every goaltender in the game today. Henrik Lundqvist’s reactions to the puck are paramount. I also like to take little things from goaltenders overseas to implement in my game.”
To say Rogers and Rock defenceman Spencer Segui, who also hails from New Haven, CT, are good friends might be a little bit of an understatement.
“We are both 1996-birth year players and we grew up playing hockey together since we were little kids,” he said.
“We actually started out playing T-ball together, which is kind of funny. We have known each other quite a while, so it’s fitting that we end our Junior ‘A’ careers all the way up here in Northern Ontario.”
Segui (22, 3-15-18, 20), a defenceman, is enjoying one of his best offensive seasons this year.
“I always knew he had that kind of offensive talent to be able to put up points in a league,” Rogers said.
“He is a really smart player and he has tremendous vision. It is really nice to see it is finally paying off for him.”
Rogers is looking forward to getting the start wearing the maroon, gold, black and white of the home side Saturday night.
“It is going to be a different atmosphere,” he said.
“You really get a little extra motivation playing in front of passionate fans like they have here in Timmins.”
Rogers is confident the Rapids are going to start winning their share of hockey games sooner rather than later.
“The chemistry on the team is a lot different than it was at the beginning of the year,” he said.
“We kind of started out a little slow and it kind of snowballed into something we weren’t prepared for, but right before I left I could see things starting to turn around.”
Even with Rogers on board, the uncertainty of Nixon’s injury will likely result in the Rock bringing in another goalie before the trade deadline.
“We don’t know at this point how long he is going to be out,” Gagne said.
“It is the same injury he had last year and at that time he missed a couple of months.
“The deadline is coming up in a couple of weeks and we might have to look for another goalie. Given how long Nixon was out last year, we don’t want to take a chance on getting caught short.
“In the meantime, we are going to go with affiliate players, if we can get them.”
Dante Garito, who plays regularly with the Porcupine Gold Kings, of the Timmins Midget Hockey League backed up Nixon during last weekend’s three-game road trip, but the team has a number of affiliates from which to chose.
Planetta, who played both defence and forward for the Rock this season, should get an opportunity for more ice time with the Rapids.
“Tyler will have a chance to play a little bit more with French River,” Gagne said.
“With us, he was playing mainly on the fourth line. He is a good skater and puck handler. He has a lot of skills and he is a tough individual.
“French River can certainly make use of that type of player.”
NOJHL NOTES — The Cochrane Crunch were also busy on Thursday, trading forward Avery Siau (14, 1-1-2, 10) to the St. Thomas Stars, of the GOJHL, and acquiring defenceman Colin Boudreau from the Yarmouth Mariners, of the MHL, and forward Alex Brisson from the Grand Prairie Storm, of the AJHL … The Kirkland Lake Gold Miners have traded forward Blake Cudmore (8, 3-1-4, 4), a former member of the Abitibi Eskimos, to the Brantford 99ers, of the GOJHL.