By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The remake of the Timmins Rock crease continued on Thursday, as the NOJHL club announced the acquisition of goalie Jeff Veitch from the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners.
“We have always liked Jeffrey and we would have liked to have had him back in August, but he decided to go to Kirkland Lake,” said Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“We have always liked his numbers and his size. He is a big man (6-2 and 187 pounds) and I really liked the way he played against us in our season opener. He was the difference in our losing that game (4-3 on Sept. 10) against Kirkland Lake.”
Despite that early success, Veitch (470:00, 3-2-0-1, 0, 3.19, .890), a 19-year-old Mission, B.C., native, had trouble getting playing time behind Gold Miners starter Victor-Olivier Courchesne (1339:00, 10-12-2-0, 1, 3.58, .884) this season.
“Things didn’t work out as well as he would have liked in Kirkland Lake and now he is ready to start a new chapter with us,” Gagne said.
In a strange twist of fate, the Gold Miners also dealt Courchesne prior to the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s 9 p.m. Eastern trade deadline, shipping him to the Wellington Dukes.
With 20-year-old Albert Rogers (731:00, 3-7-2-1, 0, 4.27, .910, overall; 186:00, 2-0-1-0, 0, 2.26, .941, with Rock) — obtained in a Nov. 17 trade with the Rapids that sent forward Tyler Planetta to French River — having established himself as the Rock’s primary puck stopper, Veitch and Matthew Nixon (773:00, 8-4-0-0, 0, 3.96, .897), also 19, will battle for playing time.
“We got the MRI results for Nixon, which showed there is no more issue with his lower-body injury, but we just don’t want to take any chances,” Gagne said.
“We are going to go with three goalies for the remainder of the season.”
Given the rash of goalie injuries and suspensions the Rock (formerly Eskimos) have had to deal with the past couple of seasons, that could prove to be a very wise strategy.
“We are quite confident to have any of the three of them in the net, but right now Mr. Rogers has earned the right to be our starter,” Gagne said.
“It will be a matter of the other two working hard in practice and pushing themselves and we will go from there. I think it will be really positive to have healthy competition.”
Being a product of the PIJHL, which has produced a number of players for the Rock over the past couple of seasons, including current captain Jordan Rendle and blue-liner Brendan Campbell, the Rock were quite familiar with Veitch before he made the move to the NOJHL at the start of this season.
“One of our scouts, Dave Rendle (father of Jordan), recommended him to us back in August,” Gagne said.
Prior to being obtained by the Gold Miners on Aug. 30, Veitch split the 2015-16 campaign between the Melville Millionaires (3.07, .907), of the SJHL, and the Mission City Outlaws (2.44, .913), of the PIJHL).
During a 16-game playoff run with the Outlaws, Veitch posted a 3.20 goals against average and a .900 save percentage.
Veitch arrived in Timmins Wednesday night and got to practise with his new teammates for the first time Thursday afternoon.
“The Rock have definitely been playing well and I am looking forward to the opportunity of playing here,” he said, prior to practice.
“I am a big, technical goalie and I like to take away a lot of angles. I like to control my rebounds and not allow a second or third shot.”
Like just about every goalie of his age, Veitch is a big fan of Montreal Canadiens puck stopper Carey Price.
“I know a lot of goalies look up to him and I do, as well,” he said.
Having played in the PIJHL, Veitch “knows of” his new teammates Rendle and Campbell.
“I know them somewhat from having played against them, but not on a personal level,” he said.
“Coming into a new situation, it does help to see a couple of familiar faces.”
Veitch plans to be patient and he knows what he is going to have to do to earn playing time with his new team.
“I am just going to have to go out and work hard in practice every day and then, when I get an opportunity, play well,” he said.
“Hopefully, I can improve over time.”
Veitch was a little surprised to see his former team make so many moves — including trading himself and Courchesne — prior to the deadline.
“We hadn’t been playing so well, so I guess Marc wanting to bring in some new guys does make sense,” he said.
Veitch had a good relationship with Courchesne and he expects to get along well with his new creasemates in Timmins, as well.
“I find it is always pretty easy to get along with other goalies,” he said.
“We all kind of think the same.”
Veitch and his new teammates will be playing three games in two-and-a-half days, starting Friday night in Cochrane and ending Sunday afternoon at home against the Powassan Voodoos.
The middle games of that stretch will see the Rock travel to Kirkland Lake for a game against the Gold Miners.
“It is definitely going to be a little weird being on the other side of the arena and walking into the visitors’ dressing room,” Veitch said.
“Even after all the trades, I still have a lot of friends down there. There are a lot of good guys on that team.”
Gagne does not like to tip his hand with regard to which goalies will start — or even dress — for games, so it remains to be seen if Veitch will be in the lineup Saturday night in Kirkland Lake.
“It would be pretty cool if I got a chance to play against them,” he said.
Veitch got to play in front of 874 enthusiastic fans during the Rock’s season opener back on Sept. 10 and he heard about the 1,662 fans who attended last Saturday’s game against the Voodoos and can’t wait for his first game on home ice.
“This is a great rink and the fans here are really supportive,” he said.
The Rock also announced an off-ice change to their hockey operations department on Thursday, with long-time Eskimos head trainer Roger Gagne — Paul Gagne’s older brother — coming out of retirement to replace Dan Ansara as head trainer.
When asked the reason for the reason behind the mutual parting of the ways with Ansara, Gagne politely declined to comment.
“You could say that Roger has been with me for almost 55 years,” Gagne said.
“He was our head trainer for six or seven years with the Eskimos, so we are really happy to have him join us. We have already had three phone calls from people willing to come and help out since Roger took over.”
With the 9 p.m. Eastern CJHL trade deadline quickly approaching, there was plenty activity across the league Wednesday night and Thursday morning.
In addition to dealing two of their three goaltenders, the Gold Miners shipped forward Austin Ramirez (28, 6-15-21, 12) to the Thief River Falls Norskies, of the SIJHL, on Wednesday.
Ramirez, a 19-year-old Blaine, Minn., native, likely never made it to Thief River Falls, however, as the Norskies traded him to the Voodoos later in the day.
The Gold Miners then acquired 19-year-old forward Max Cavallini (15, 0-3-3, 21) from Steinbach Pistons, of the MJHL, in exchange for the CJHL playing rights of Arthur Miller (8, 4-5-9, 20), who played briefly in Kirkland Lake during the 2015-16 campaign.
Cavallini, a 5-9 and 161 pound speedster from Barrington, Ill., is the son of former NHL player Gino Cavallini and he holds dual citizenship.
The Gold Miners have also acquired 19-year-old forward Dionne Demke (11, 3-2-5, 4) from the Winkler Flyers, of the MJHL.
Demke, a 5-9 and 170 pound Winkler, Man., native, spent the last two seasons with the Flyers after leading his Midget ‘AAA’ team to a provincial title.
“Dionne’s grittiness is something our group has been lacking, so he will be a welcome addition to the lineup,” Gold Miners coach and general manager Marc Lafleur said in a news release.
The Gold Miners were also working on a deal to bring in a second goaltender, believed to be 19-year-old Blaine, Minn., native Ridge Gerards, who had been with the Colorado Eagles, of the WSHL, but there was no confirmation of that transaction at press time.
Gerards (1.94, .926) played for Blaine High School, of the USHS, during the 2015-16 campaign.
Gold Miners fans might need a program to sort out all of the additions and deletions when the team hosts the Powassan Voodoos at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex Friday night and the Timmins Rock the following evening.
In Iroquois Falls, the Eskis shocked their fans by trading captain David Osborne (24, 19-17-36, 35) to the Summerside Western Capitals, of the MHL.
It was a move that was initiated at the request of Osborne, but it certainly wasn’t because he was unhappy playing for the Eskis and living in Iroquois Falls.
“Obviously, David’s on-ice performance spoke for itself,” said Eskis coach and assistant general manager Jamy Bernier Thursday morning.
“David was with our organization for two-and-a-half years and he is a first-class individual.
“We believed it was time to give him an opportunity pursue a dream he had of being able to play out his final year of Junior ‘A’ hockey where his grandfather would have an opportunity to watch him play. As an organization, we decided if we had an opportunity to help him fulfil that dream, it would be the right thing to do.”
As a family man, Bernier understands Osborne’s desire.
“I have had the luxury of spending all of my life with my grandparents around and that has been something very special.”
Losing a captain midway through a season is tough for any team to deal with, but Bernier is confident the Eskis have a leadership group capable of taking over for Osborne.
“We believe in the group we have in the dressing room,” he said.
“We still have more that 16 veterans in our dressing room and we are going to be getting back some of our young guys who have been helping to carry the load offensively back into the lineup.”
Bernier said the team will likely take a few games to assess things before naming a new captain.
He also suggested the team is looking at some other offensively gifted players who might be able to help replace some of the firepower lost in the Osborne trade.
Elsewhere, the Elliot Lake Wildcats acquired 19-year-old forward Taylor Bucsis (5, 0-3-3, 0) from the Dryden Ice Dogs, of the SIJHL, in exchange for 19-year-old defenceman Quinn Robelle (30, 4-12-16, 16) and 18-year-old defenceman Garett Giertuga (23, 0-0-0, 28).
Bucsis, a 6-2 and 192-pound Trondheim, Norway, native, played for Lillehammer (24, 5-4-9, 14), of the Norway U20, in 2015-16.