Rock exhibition season opens Wednesday in KL

The 2019-20 version of the Timmins Rock will open their NOJHL exhibition schedule at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex in Kirkland Lake Wednesday night.

Thomas Perry – The Daily Press
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In preparation for the engagement with the Gold Miners, the Rock — who have 13 veterans back from the 2019-20 campaign — have been on the ice since Saturday afternoon.

That experience should bode well for the Rock as they attempt to secure their first NOJHL championship since returning to Timmins from Iroquois Falls prior to the 2015-16 season.

Rock coach Corey Beer has been impressed with what he has seen from his troops to this stage of training camp.

“In terms of the pace and the skill level, it has been good so far,” he said.

“Sunday, there was a little bit of learning lesson in terms of intensity. This is Junior ‘A’ hockey now. It is big-boy hockey for a lot of these guys and they can’t just slough from drill to drill and take your time. The pace is quick and we want to play that way.”

Having so many veterans back from last year’s squad is a definite bonus when it comes to getting the newcomers up to speed on the systems the Rock hope to employ in 2019-20.

“The challenge for them (the veterans) is to be more vocal,” Beer said.

“It is one thing to know what you are doing. It is another thing to bring your teammates along with you.

“As we go along, our new guys are slowing learning our systems, but the guys who have been here for a year, two years or even three years need to speak up and bring these guys along.

“It is no good if two or three guys on the ice know what they are doing. All five guys and everyone on the bench need to know what they are doing.

“So, it was a learning lesson for everybody Sunday.”

One of the keys among that solid core of veterans is 2000-birth-year goaltender Tyler Masternak (2,610:00, 29-13-2-0, 6, 2.51, .907), who led the NOJHL in minutes played and wins while posting a new single-season total for shutouts in the regular season.

Masternak (545:00, 5-4, 0, 2.64, .898) seemed to tire a bit in the playoffs, however, although he backstopped the Rock to within one game of upsetting the eventual NOJHL-champion Hearst Lumberjacks in the East Division semi-finals.

Rock fans can expect the 5-11, 168-pound Oshawa native to still get the lion’s share of the workload in 2019-20, but they are counting on newcomer Vance Meyer who posted a 3.60 goals against average with the AHMPL’s Brantford 99ers and a 2.93 mark with the PJCHL’s Ayer Centennials to pick up some of the slack.

Goalie Vance Meyer makes a save while getting a snow shower from teammate Stewart Parnell during the Timmins Rock training camp at the McIntyre Arena on Sunday. The Rock will open their NOJHL exhibition schedule with a game against the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake Wednesday night. Their next preseason tilt will be against the GOJHL’s Pelham Panthers at the McIntyre Arena on Wednesday, Aug. 28, at 7 p.m.

The 2002-birth-year Guelph native stands 5-10 and weighs in at 151 pounds.

“Vance is a young talented guy, a lot like Ty was a few years back when he was 17 years old,” Beer said.

“He is hungry. He wants starts. He wants to be better and he shows lots of promise and upside.

“Obviously, with Ty here, it is his net. He has got to hold him off. It is a good battle. You definitely want that kind of competitiveness in camp.

“We have a lot of bodies in here for position players, but with the goalies, it is just those two guys.

“With goalies, you definitely want a good relationship, but you also want them fighting for those starts.”

Sharing a crease with a veteran like Masternak, Meyer knows he will have to be patient as he waits for his chance.

“I am going to learn everything I can from him and try to push him, as well,” he said.

“He is a great guy and I am excited to start the year and learn from him.”

“As soon as I get that chance, I am going to have to jump on it.”

What can Rock fans expect from Meyer when he does get a chance to man the crease?

“I can be flashy some of the time,” he said.

“I like to get the crowd going, keep things simple and calm in net. Keep our team in the game.”

Over the years, Meyer has tried to pattern his game after new Florida Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.

“He is just very calm in the net,” he said.

“He is very underrated. He is always up there in the stats, save percentage and everything.”

Three members of the Rock’s 2018-19 blue-line corps — Josh Anderson (52, 11-33-44, 81), Eric Moreau (48, 0-8-8, 22) and Owen Shier (51, 7-9-16, 14) — are back in the maroon, gold and white.

They have been joined on the back end by diminutive Timmins native Phil Caron (21, 5-10-15, 22) who was picked up in an off-season deal with the Cambridge Redhawks, of the GOJHL.

Caron, a 2000-birth-year defender, stands just 5-8 and weighs 169 pounds, but his resume includes Major Junior experience in both the OHL and the QMJHL.

The other three additions to the Rock blue-line — Aidan Milne, Alec Brown and Tarcisius Tibishkogijig — all bring an element of size to the Timmins lineup.

“That is a big point of emphasis we had through our prospect camp and while we were searching for guys,” Beer said.

“The game has changed so much and it is so fast now. You absolutely want those big defencemen and I think the St. Louis Blues are the perfect model for that.

“You look at their guys, (Colton) Parayko, (Jay) Bouwmeester, (Alex) Pietrangelo and (Joel) Edmundson. These guys are all 6-4 or 6-5, but they can all skate and transition the puck. They can add offence to their game.

“It is those kinds of guys you want.

“Certainly the Phil Carons and guys like him can wheel and do their things out there, but you look at the size of a Milne, of a Tibs, of Browny. These are three guys who are all over 6-2.”

At 6-5 and 184 pounds, the left-hand shooting Milne (31, 6-5-11, 64), a 2001-birth-year defender who hails from Oshawa and played for the Midget ‘AAA’ Generals, of the ETAHL, is the tallest of the trio.

Meanwhile, Tibishkogijig, a left-hand shooting 2002 Thunder Bay native who split the 2018-19 campaign between the NAPHL’s Kings (20, 1-5-6, 12) and the LJHL’s Kings (18, 2-9-11, 6) in his hometown is the heaviest of the newcomers at 6-3 and 241 pounds.

Brown (21, 3-7-10, 65), a 2001-birth-year, right-hand shooting D-man, is native of Zephyr, Ont., who spent the past season with the Central Ontario Wolves, of the ETAHL.

He stands 6-2 and weighs 180 pounds.

When it comes to style of play, Brown is your prototypical stay-at-home defender.

“I am not a skill guy,” he said.

“I am more of a physical player and I like to get into the dirty areas.”

Brown is the kind of guy Masternak and Meyer can count on to keep the front of their net clean.

“Exactly, I thrive in the dirty areas,” he said.

Brown is quite familiar with a number of his new Rock teammates.

“Tyler Masternak, Josh Anderson and Cameron Kosurko, I have played with all of them at least once or twice,” he said.

“So, it’s nice to come up here and know at least a couple of guys. I heard what a great place it is to play from all of the Wolves kids who have been here before.

“They all talked about it and I decided go to the Rock camp and now I am here.”

In terms of NHL players, Brown likes to emulate current Winnipeg Jets blue-liner Dustin Byfuglien and former New Jersey Devils D-man Scott Stevens.

“He is my all-time favourite,” he said.

Brown figures speed is going to be the biggest transition he is going to have to make as he makes the jump to the NOJHL.

“I am going to have to get faster myself and try to slow everything down,” he said.

Up front, the Rock have plenty of fire power back from the 2018-19 squad with the return of captain Derek Seguin (52, 34-30-64, 52), Riley Robitaille (49, 11-22-33, 55), Riley Brousseau (53, 11-22-33, 29), Keegan McMullen (54, 15-16-31, 34), Josh Dickson (52, 14-17-31, 34), Linden Spencer (51, 9-10-19, 78), Gage Tremblay (25, 10-8-18, 4), Rhys Chiddenton (4, 2-2-4, 0) and Stewart Parnell (3, 0-2-2, 0).

After missing almost all of the season with an upper-body injury, it will be interesting to see how Parnell, a 6-1 and 180-pound Porcupine native, closes out his Junior ‘A’ career.

Entering his fourth and final year in a Rock uniform, Parnell (84, 19-45-64, 46) has proven to be a dependable asset at both ends of the ice.

Also returning to the Rock forward ranks — after a one-year absence — is 2018 playoff hero Tyler Gilberds (49, 4-12-16, 88) who was re-acquired from the OJHL’s Toronto Patriots.

At 6-2 and 185 pounds, the 2001-birth-year Georgetown native should add an element of size to the Rock forward units.

It is a homecoming of a sorts, as well, for Karter Renouf (49, 15-7-22, 54), whom the Rock acquired from the MJAHL’s Truro Bearcats earlier this month.

While the right-hand shooting 1999-birth-year forward has never worn the maroon, gold and white, he is a South Porcupine native who has played with the Timmins Majors in the GNML and the Timmins Eagles in the NOBHL.

“It really feels good to be back home,” he said.

“I am happy to be back with a great organization.”

Being a former Eagle, Renouf played for current Rock assistant coach James Daschuk and with a number of his new Timmins teammates (Seguin, Parnell, Robitaille and Caron).

“It feels great to be reunited with them,” he said.

“It brings a lot of chemistry back into the room and it makes it easier to come to a new team.”

Renouf enjoyed his time in the MHL, but there is no place like home — especially when it comes to finishing up your Junior ‘A’ career.

“It is an honour,” he said.

“I grew up playing here and I had a blast. I moved away for a few years, but to come back and play in my hometown is great. It is really going to feel good to play in front of my family and friends.”

Renouf played five games with the Gold Miners during the 2015-16 NOJHL campaign, but Wednesday’s exhibition game in Kirkland Lake will not hold any special meaning for him.

“It will feel a little strange being there with a different team, but I will be pretty happy when I get to put on a Rock jersey,” he said.

Of the other newcomers to the Rock forward lines, the two with the most offensive upside appear to be Zachary Smith and Cameron Kosurko.

Smith, a left-hand shooting, 2001-birth-year Oshawa native, spent the bulk of the 2018-19 season with the ETAHL’s Clarington Toros ( 30, 12-11-23, 70), but also saw action with the OJHL’s Georgetown Raiders (7, 1-1-2, 0).

At 5-9 and 184 pounds, as one might expect, speed and skill are secrets to Smith’s success.

The same can be said for the 5-9 and 144-pound Kosurko, a right-hand shooting 2003-birth-year Uxbridge native.

Kosurko spent the bulk of the past season playing Minor Midget ‘AAA’ with the ETAMMHL’s Central Ontario Wolves (36, 12-7-19, 10), but also saw limited action with the ETAHL’s Wolves (2. 0-0-0, 0).

Other newcomers to the Rock’s forward ranks for 2019-20 include Ryan Twigg, Tyler Schwindt and Kain Harrietha.

Twigg, a right-hand shooting 2001-birth-year forward, split the 2018-19 campaign between a pair of PJCHL clubs — the Alliston Hornets (15, 1-5-6, 10) and the Midland Flyers (13, 7-3-10, 12).

The Barrie native stands 5-8 and weighs in at 153 pounds.

Schwindt, a left-hand shooting forward who hails from New Hamburg, divided the past season between the PJCHL’s Wellesley Applejacks (37, 11-13-24, 22) and the GOJHL’s Elmira Sugar Kings (4, 0-0-0, 0).

He stands 6-0 and weighs in at 163 pounds.

Harrietha (39, 0-4-4, 30), a 2000-birth-year Oakville native, spent the 2018-19 campaign with the Brantford 99ers, of the GOJHL.

The right-hand shooting forward stands 5-7 and weighs 158 pounds.

Beer is confident the Rock will have no trouble putting the puck in the net during the upcoming season.

“We have lots of skill and high-end speed, too,” he said.

“That has been such an emphasis for us. These forwards can fly and it’s a good thing. We have guys on this team from last year who are skilled offensively, who had to play with a guy or two who could not play at the same pace.

“It is great right now. There is a lot of jockeying for position on the depth chart. There is going to be a lot of turnover in terms of guys going from one line to the next and moving around. It is going to be incredibly competitive.

“It should bring out the best in our team and it will be a challenge for our coaching staff to go through here and pinpoint which guys are going to have good connections together.”

With 25 players currently on the roster, Beer noted a number of veterans likely won’t be in uniform for Wednesday’s exhibition game in Kirkland Lake.

“We do have guys going away to Major Junior camps next week, as well,” he said.

“So, it will be important to get them into their first Junior ‘A’ games Wednesday against Kirkland Lake. We will see how many veterans we can sprinkle through the lineup, as well.”

Fans who attended any of the on-ice sessions might have gotten a little excited to see Danny Katic wearing a “Property of Timmins Rock” jersey, but he was just out for a little extra ice time before heading off to training camp with his Saginaw Spirit (OHL) teammates.

While the Rock have 25 players signed to Junior ‘A’ cards, they also have a pair of midget-age players in camp.

Alex Little (32, 3-4-7, 0), a 2003-birth-year left-hand shooting defender, spent the 2018-19 campaign with the Central Ontario Minor Midget Wolves, of the ETAMMHL.

Meanwhile, Chase Longhurst, a right-hand shooting blue-liner, played Minor Midget ‘AA’ hockey in Oshawa.

NOJHL NOTES — The Rock have traded 2002-birth-year blue-liner Carson Burlington (47, 2-2-4, 30) to the OJHL’s Milton Menace in exchange for a player development fee … The Rock will play their second exhibition game on Wednesday, Aug. 28, when they host the GOJHL’s Pelham Panthers at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is set for 7 p.m.