Rock, Crunch renew rivalry

Forward Derek Seguin fires a shot on goalie Brendan Bishop during one of the drills at the Timmins Rock practice Tuesday night at the McIntyre Arena. Bishop has been cleared to face shots, but he will be held out of a pair of exhibition games against the Cochrane Crunch this weekend for precautionary reasons. The Rock will also sit most of their veteran players in the games at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls Friday night and Sunday night to get a better look at the newcomers in camp. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS

By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)

TIMMINS – Bring on the Cochrane Crunch!

A week after opening their training camp, the Timmins Rock will travel to Iroquois Falls to renew their rivalry with the Crunch when the NOJHL exhibition schedule opens on neutral ice at the Jus Jordan Arena Friday night.

When the two teams last met, fans at the McIntyre Arena were singing “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye,” as the players shook hands after the Rock had eliminated the Crunch in Game 6 of their NOJHL East Division semifinal series on March 28 — avenging two earlier playoff defeats at the hands of Cochrane.

Only a handful of players remain on the roster of each team at this point, however, and most — if not all — of those veterans will be watching from the stands when the puck drops at 7 p.m.on Friday.

New Rock coach Corey Beer wants to see what his squad’s players can do under actual game conditions.

That means veteran blue-liners Jared Hester, Grant McClellan and James Watier, as well as forwards Wayne Matthieu, Stewart Parnell and Alexandre Brisson will get a “well-deserved” rest.

“We are going to be facing a real good, veteran team,” Beer said.

“(Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard) Lenny always does a good job of bringing in high-end talent, so it should be a real good test for our guys. We will see how they react to playing against older guys.

“We are primarily going to be using a lot of younger, first-year guys in the first game. Our vets have earned the right to sit down and watch the first one. There will be a lot of guys who are on the bubble in the lineup. It will be a good opportunity for them to face good Junior ‘A’ talent so we can kind of measure where they are at.

“A couple of the things we are going to be looking for … the compete level has got to be there. Our level of intensity is going to have to be as high as Cochrane’s. We need to make sure our guys are prepared and ready for the task at hand when their number gets called and their opportunity arises.”

Beer was not about to discuss line combinations or defence pairings in advance of Friday’s contest, but he did admit they will likely change quite frequently during the course of the game.

“There will be a lot of tweaking of the lines and the D pairings,” he said.

“We want to put every player in the best situation possible for them to succeed. We are not going to pair three veteran guys together on a line, with three guys in their first year out of midget playing together and having to fight for their lives. That does not set them up in a good situation to move forward and possibly make the team.”

To clarify, when Beer refers to veterans in this instance, he is speaking of players such as 1997-birth-year forward Halen Cordoni — a player in his final year of Junior ‘A’ hockey — not somebody who played for the Rock last season.

The only two players among those expected to dress for Friday’s game who have experience playing together are forwards Donny Schultz and Connor Losen, who were on the same line last season with the La Crosse Freeze, of the NA3HL.

“They have been on different lines thus far in camp, knowing they can play together and be dynamic,” Beer said.

“We have been trying them on different lines to see if they can still have that same kind of impact and if they can bring the level of those lines up.”

Also among the forwards the Rock are expected to dress Friday night are C.J. Bradburn, Derick Seguin, Evan Kenntish-Stack, Linden Spencer, Riley Robitaille, Austin Holmes, Seth Reuben and A.J. Campbell.

Blue-liners expected to see action include Lucas Dolanjski, a Timmins native who was acquired from the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, Connor Palush, Will Caston, Shawn Sloan, Cameron Svec and Frederic Leclair-Pouw.

James Redmond, who has begun practising again following an upper-body injury, won’t likely see any action this weekend.

Goalie Brendan Bishop, also recovering from an upper-body injury, will also be out of the lineup for both Friday’s game and Sunday’s, as well.

“We want to be absolutely certain and take every precaution necessary to manage his injury,” Beer said.

“He is feeling good and there is no hesitation on his end. It is more of a management decision. We want to err on the side of caution.”

That means Eric Jackson and affiliate goalie Jordan Yaremchuk, from the GNML’s Timmins Majors, will split action in the two games against the Crunch.

“I think Chucky (Yaremchuk) has earned the right to get himself into a game,” Beer said.

“He has performed very well and he has done a good job with the Majors so far, too.”

After more than a week of pre-camp and training camp drills Beer acknowledged the Rock are eager to see some game action.

“I am sure they are probably eager for that so they don’t have to hear my voice during the battle drills anymore,” he said.

“I think it is going to be an exciting time, even from the players’ standpoint, to see how they react to the level of competition.”

With so many new faces in camp, the Rock have put a lot of emphasis on making sure everybody is on the same page.

“We have done some team bonding things the last couple of days,” Beer said.

“We did some blindfolded dodge ball yesterday (Tuesday). That was a big hit and got everybody working with different guys. I thought it was a great experience for the guys and it certainly paid off.”

Despite the history between the two franchises, Beer does not anticipate there being any more focus on winning at all costs than there would be if they were playing any other team.

“Obviously, it is a great rivalry and there is probably some lingering hatred there from the recent playoff series, but from our standpoint, it is more about how we execute our systems and our offensive plays, how guys are working on the back end, stuff like that,” Beer said.

“We won’t be sitting there hanging on whether we win or whether we lose.”

Leonard is pleased with where the Crunch are at this point in their preparation for Friday night’s contest.

“We are very excited,” he said.

“Our training camp wrapped up on Sunday. We started camp with about 34 kids and we finished off with about 28 on Sunday.

“I am very happy with our group. Right now, we have 21 guys on our roster and we are planning to carry 25, like we always do, this season.

“We will be a little thin this weekend for the two exhibition games, we only have 10 forwards right now, nine D and two goalies. We have four of our players from last year who are in North American Hockey League camps and two of them are expected to be back at some point before Sept. 5. We also have two kids who have committed to play for us who are playing exhibition games with teams in the BCHL.”

The Crunch netminding situation appears to be set, with veteran Taylor Unruh (1,193:00, 9-12-0-0, 1, 3.82, .885) back between the pipes.

“Taylor carried most of the weight for us last season from Christmas time until the playoffs,” Leonard said.

“He will be the guy this year. We have a lot of confidence in him. He came into camp in great shape.”

Unruh will be backed up this season by Kyle Henderson (3.32, .894), who split the 2016-17 season between the Glanbrook Rangers, of the PIJHL, and the Ancaster Avalanche, of the GOJHL.

The 1998-birth-year puck stopper is a native of Oakville.

“Kyle won a Telus Cup championship two years ago playing for a Midget ‘AAA’ team out of North York,” Leonard said.

“He is a competitor and a winner. He is chomping at the bit to get his opportunity. He will push Taylor all year for some playing minutes.”

The Crunch blue-line is anchored by captain Connor Lovie (56, 6-21-27, 52), the NOJHL’s top defenceman in 2016-17.

Also back on the Crunch D is Braden King (41, 3-4-7, 50).

“We also picked up Noah Bennett (28, 1-8-9, 32), who started last season in the OHL, with the London Knights,” Leonard said.

“He is a big body (6-5, 187 pounds) and he is very sound back on the blue-line.

“Right now, our defence is looking better than it ever has at the start of the year.”

Up front, the Crunch have Darian Harris (44, 14-10-24, 32), Austin Stauffer (44, 7-10-17, 35), Austin Whelan (38, 10-11-21, 6) and Alex Brisson (23, 2-6-8, 8) back in the fold.

Three other Crunch veterans — Kyle Herbster (56, 17-16-33, 24), Haiden Karnick (53, 12-15-27, 45), Nicolas Flanders (54, 12-18-30, 68) — are currently in camp with NAHL squads and it remains to be seen if they will return for the 2017-18 NOJHL campaign.

“We brought in Josh Roberts (50, 4-10-14, 6) in that deal that sent Quinn Robelle to the Humbolt Broncos, of the SJHL,” Leonard said.

“He came into camp and he is in great shape.”

Another addition to the Crunch is forward Kyle Podwika (40, 17-18-35, 88), who was acquired from the Charlotte Rush, of the USPHL.

“He is going to be an exciting player to watch in our league,” Leonard said.

One off-season transaction that has not panned out for the Crunch is the one that saw them acquire Iroquois Falls native Dillan Bruce (50, 25-38-63, 32) from the Hearst Lumberjacks in exchange for defencemen Evan Look — acquired earlier in the off season from the Gold Miners — and Colin Boudreau.

“We were kind of had,” Leonard said.

“We traded two veteran blue-liners to Hearst and made a couple of other side agreements and Dillan Bruce didn’t report. He quit hockey and it kind of put us in a big jam. We lost two veteran players and we didn’t get anything back in return.

“It’s sad because Dillan has all kinds of skill and he still has two years of eligibility left. This year, he could have been something special. He could have even been the league’s MVP.

“We are real disappointed. We are hoping he will change his mind but at this point, right now, he is not playing hockey.”

Other off-season additions to the forward ranks of the Crunch include Christian Snyder (11, 0-1-1, 2) from the Iowa Wild, of the T1EHL, Thomas Delaney (47, 29-38-67, 22) from the Euless Stars, of the NA3HL, and Caleb Dolman (48, 9-7-16, 30) from the Comox Valley Glacier Kings, of the VIJHL.

NOJHL NOTES — Beer will be manning the dunk tank at Kia of Timmins on Thursday, starting at noon, for any fans interested in meeting him or players wanting to exact revenge for Wednesday night’s practice … The Lumberjacks have made a number of moves in recent weeks, sending Jacob Hryhoriw to the Nelson Leafs, of the VIJHL, and Jacob Herrberg to the Pelham Panthers, of the GOJHL, while acquiring Josh Bifolchi from the Arnprior Packers, of the CCHL2 … the Gold Miners have acquired former New Liskeard Cubs forward Gabriel Rheault from Powassan Voodoos.