By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock have shipped the team’s top sniper, Tristan Salesse, to the Espanola Express in exchange for promising 18-year-old forward Joel Grandbois in a one-for-one swap.
In addition, the Rock have bolstered their defence by signing 18-year-old blue-liner A.J. Holenski.
Salesse (43, 34-41-75, 18), a 20-year-old Terrace Bay native, led the Rock in goals scored during the regular season and finished second to teammate Zachary Kercz (53, 26-55-81, 90) in points. He also averaged almost a point a game (6, 2-3-5, 2) during the playoffs.
Salesse was one of the Rock’s alternate captains during the 2015-16 campaign.
“We were just looking to get some different leadership for this season,” said Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“We know that Tristan is going to be a good leader for the Express and they are really happy to have him.
“Tristan was with us for a couple of years and sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad to stick around too long.”
The 5-11, 180-pound, left-shooting forward missed 10 games during the 2015-16 regular season, however, while serving suspensions. He received a three-game suspension and a $150 fine after picking up a GM21 in the final 10 minutes of a game against the Powassan Voodoos at the McIntyre Arena on Oct. 24. Then, on Dec. 18, during a game against the Eagles in Soo, Mich., Salesse was handed a seven-game suspension for picking up a GRM63 (Discriminatory Slur) penalty.
Gagne downplayed the impact those missed games had or didn’t have on the team’s decision to move Salesse in exchange for Grandbois.
“He was penalized for trash talking to a player and he just said the wrong thing,” Gagne said.
“That’s why he got those seven games. It was just unfortunate. In the first one, he swore at the referee. You just don’t do those things, but it happened and it was in the past. We have to look at the future and we got a young player who put up almost 40 points last year playing on a sub-par team.”
Salesse was acquired by the franchise in a deal with the Fort Frances Lakers, of the SIJHL, that also saw the Abitibi Eskimos acquire forward Jake Holland and defenceman Ryan Reeves in exchange for defenceman Nick Minerva and he went on to post solid numbers (33, 15-30-45, 23) during the 2014-15 campaign.
During his first year in the NOJHL, Grandbois (51 , 21-17-38, 26) led the offensively challenged Express in both goals and points.
“We are really happy to have Joel on board,” Gagne said.
“He is going to play as an 18 year old this year and he has a lot of upside. We envision him playing in our Top 6.”
Indeed, Grandbois’ stats as an 18-year-old rookie compare quite favourably to the first-year points Salesse accumulated as a 19-year-old in his inaugural NOJHL campaign and he brings a little more size to the Rock lineup.
“He has a nice combination of size and speed, and he has a great shot,” Gagne said.
“He competes every night and that’s what we are looking for in a player. He is also the kind of player we feel can show some leadership and be a key part of our program.”
The Rock have a number of offensive weapons they can combine with Grandbois, including captain Jordan Rendle (51, 30-40-70, 67), Bain Cunningham (53, 25-33-58, 48) and Nicholas Siracuse (48, 12-23-35, 25), who was acquired in an earlier trade with the Powassan Voodoos, to name just a few.
“He is going to get a lot of ice time,” Gagne said.
“In addition to playing a regular shift, he is going to get an opportunity to play on the power play and kill penalties.
“The more players we have like him, the better hockey club we are going to have and the more victories we will have.”
In four games against the Rock during the 2015-16 campaign, Grandbois picked up one assist and one minor penalty.
Prior to suiting up with the Express for the 2015-16 campaign, the 6-1, 181-pound, left-shooting right winger had a solid 2014-15 season with the Great North Midget League’s Nickel City Sons (35, 24-25-49, 44).
Holenski, a 5-11, 185-pound, right-hand shooting defenceman from Niagara Falls, Ont., played for the NOTL Midgets and Holy Cross Catholic Secondary School during the 2015-16 campaign after sitting out a year.
“He has good vision on the ice and a good, heavy shot,” Gagne said.
“He is a highly skilled player who has the speed needed to move up on the rush every once in a while, which is nice to have, and we expect him to be able to play some on the power play, as well.”
Holenski joins a Rock blue-line that features returning veterans Nick Hautanen, Jared Hester and Spencer Segui, as well as fellow newcomer Grant McClellan.
And he brings an added dimension to the squad, as well.
“He also has the ability to play forward, but he prefers to play defence,” Gagne said.
The Rock coach feels Holenski can help offset the loss of offensive defencemen Andrew Castagna and Joe Olson.
Grandbois and Holenski are expected to be on hand when the Rock open training camp at the McIntyre Arena on Monday from 9:30-11 p.m.
Camp will run four days, with the Rock travelling to Kirkland Lake for a game against the Gold Miners at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex on Friday, Sept. 26, at 7:30 p.m.
The two teams will then meet the following night at the McIntyre Arena. That contest is also scheduled to be a 7:30 p.m. start.
Speaking of the Gold Miners, they have made a number of roster moves in advance of training camp, as well.
The latest player to sign in Kirkland Lake is 18-year-old forward William Mizuik, who spent the 2015-16 season with the Sicamous Eagles (47, 9-15-24, 13), of the KIJHL.
“Our reports on William say, he is a hard working young man, with lots of offensive potential,” said Gold Miners coach and general manager Marc Lafleur.
“I look forward to seeing what this young man can do in the NOJHL.”
Earlier this month, the Gold Miners acquired 19-year-old forward Austin Ramirez (26, 13-13-26, 16) from the Minnesota Iron Rangers, of the SIJHL.
“Austin will bring some veteran experience and offensive punch to the Gold Miners’ attack,” Lafleur said.
Other recent Gold Miners signings include 19-year-old forward Steve Tillie (40, 20-32-52, 43, Portland Jr. Pirates, of the USPHL), 19-year-old defenceman Cory Hurtubise (37, 4-6-10, 10, Vermont Lumberjacks, of the EHL), 18-year-old defenceman Michael Fradette (11, 0-0-0, 2, The Hill Academy, of the ECEL), 19-year-old forward Taylor Urch (32, 7-4-11, 26, Anaheim Jr. Ducks, of the T1EHL), 20-year-old forward Ashton Amaya (40, 22-32-54, 6, Richmond Generals, of the USPHL) and 19-year-old defenceman T.J. Oricchio (41, 4-7-11, 12, Richmond Generals, of the USPHL).