Max Khull, shown here in action against the Rock at the McIntyre Arena on Jan. 27, will lead the NOJHL West Division leading Blind River Beavers into Timmins for a game at the McIntyre Arena Friday night. With eight points in four games, Khull is tied for second place in the NOJHL scoring race and his Beavers have won all four of their starts so far this season. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock will be looking to get back to .500 when they host the West Division leading Blind River Beavers at the McIntyre Arena Friday night.
Heading into the contest, the Beavers sport a perfect record of 4-0-0-0 and they hold a one-point lead over the Soo Thunderbirds in the West Division standings.
It will be the start of a three-game road swing through the North for the Beavers who will continue their trip with stops in Cochrane on Saturday night and Hearst on Sunday afternoon.
Rock coach Corey Beer knows his squad will have to be at the top of its game to have a chance against a Blind River team that boasts an enviable combination of speed, skill and size.
“Their back end has a lot of size and speed, too,” he said.
“These are not slow, plodding guys. They can move and cause damage both defensively and offensively, so we have to be very cognisant of that fact.”
All six of the Beavers blue-liners — Jacob Papesh (6-03, 195 pounds), Matthew Millan (6-0, 180 pounds), Nick Richards (6-3, 185 pounds), Max MacNaull (6-0, 195 pounds), Braedan Case (6-0, 175 pounds) and Ryan Nielsen (6-2, 185 pounds) — stand at least six-feet tall.
And they can all contribute offensively, with Nick Richards (4, 0-5-5, 12), Millan(4, 1-2-3, 2), Nielsen (4, 0-3-3, 4) and Papesh (4, 0-2-2, 11) each having at least two points four games into the 2017-18 NOJHL campaign.
The Beavers are not lacking for size up front, either, as six of the 12 forwards — Owen Robinson (6-0, 170 pounds), Hunter Lammi (6-2, 190 pounds), Tristen Bernard (6-1, 215 pounds), Dylan McMahon (6-2, 180 pounds), Ryan Cullen (6-0, 180 pounds) and Max Khull (6-1, 170 pounds) — on their roster stand at least six-feet tall.
Heading into the weekend, Max Khull (4, 2-6-8, 8) is tied for second place in the NOJHL’s scoring race — trailing only Powassan Voodoos defender Dayton Murray (5, 6-5-11, 6).
Other top Beavers snipers include Caleb Serre (4, 6-1-7, 6), Owen Robinson (4, 2-4-6, 2), Ryan Cullen (4, 1-3-4, 0), Steven Khull (4, 2-1-3, 4) and Dylan McMahon (4, 2-1-3, 4).
“We are going to have to use our speed and skill down low and try to get out of the corners pretty quick,” Beer said.
“I thought during our last game (Tuesday’s 7-5 home-ice win over the Cochrane Crunch) of being first on the puck, getting ourselves moving on the cycle and activating our plays that way.”
The Beavers have been getting solid goaltending from rookie Garret Boyonoski (182:00, 3-0-0-0, 0, 1.97, .931), who is backed up this season by Tyler Shugrue (60:00, 1-0-0-0, 4.00, .907).
In the Timmins crease, Eric Jackson (219:00, 2-1-0-0, 0, 1.92, .919) has been Rock solid, while Brendan Bishop (80:00, 0-2-0-0, 0 6.00, .814) looked better in his last start.
Tuesday’s victory provided a big boost of confidence to the Rock roster.
“I wouldn’t say we were down in the dumps or anything like that,” Beer said.
“Teams lose two games in a row all the time and I thought our guys were still pretty positive and we had a good reinforcement of all of our tactics and systems in practice going into the game.
“Getting onto the scoresheet was big for us and we want to try and carry that momentum into Friday’s game.
“We are certainly not expecting another 7-5 game. Blind River plays good defence and we are going to try and tidy up some things on our end.
“It is nice to know, however, we can get some depth scoring throughout the lineup, with different guys coming to the forefront. That was a big key for us and we are hoping to carry it into Friday night.”
It will be hard for Connor Hoffmann to surpass what he accomplished during his debut in a Rock uniform Tuesday night.
“For a big guy, he has got good linear speed,” Beer said.
“His strengths include the ability to get into the forecheck and causing some disturbances. We definitely like what he brings to this team from a physicality standpoint.
“I loved his urgency Tuesday night. That is one of the things we are trying to preach right now is urgency shift-in and shift-out.
“He gave Cochrane’s defencemen fits all night with his pressure up ice and he really complemented Stewart Parnell and Alexandre Brisson.
“It is still early and he is going to have a lot of stuff thrown at him, but I thought he responded well and had a good game.”
Leading the way for a balanced Rock attack five games into their 2017-18 campaign are Brisson (5, 2-2-4, 4), Derek Seguin (5, 2-2-4, 6), Hoffmann (1, 2-1-3, 0), Parnell (5, 2-1-3, 6), defenceman Grant McClellan (5, 0-3-3, 2), Wayne Mathieu (5, 0-2-2, 6), C. J. Bradburn (4, 1-0-1, 2), Donny Schultz (4, 1-0-1, 0) and defenceman James Redmond (5, 1-0-1, 2).
Mathieu scored 29 goals in 2016-17, but he has yet to find the back of the net this season.
Beer is not worried about his captain, however.
“Wayne does so many things on the ice that go unnoticed,” he said.
“Sometimes you are waiting for him to score a goal, but he is the guy who makes the play three or four plays ahead that allows your team to score.
“He does so many things out there on the ice for us and he is a great leader in the room. He was definitely one our our best players shift-in and shift-out on Tuesday night with his tenacity on the forecheck, his ability to kill penalties and work the power play.
“He may not be putting up big stats on the scoresheet, but he is doing the little things that allow our team to be successful.”
The Rock blue-line will again be missing a pair of regulars Friday night, as Will Caston continues to nurse an upper-body injury and Jared Hester serves the second game of a two-game suspension he picked up for a cross-checking infraction against the Lumberjacks in Hearst last Friday night.
“Guys like (James) Watier, McClellan and Redmond have to understand they are playing big minutes, so it will all be about shift management,” Beer said.
“They did a good job of that the other night. Those guys were up over 25 or 26 minutes and Watier played 30 minutes.
“Any time guys are going to play that many quality, tough shifts, they need to be prepared for the task at hand and I thought they did a good job of that the other night.
“Other guys, like (Lucas) Dolanjski and (Shawn) Sloan, need to keep things simple and find their outlets and make smart decisions. They have good offensive tools and they can use them in the offensive zone, but they need to try not to do too much.
“A team like Blind River is a very good forechecking team and they will cause problems in our end if we hang onto the puck for too long.”
Caston (4, 0-0-0, 4) is officially listed as day-to-day, but he is likely at least 10 to 15 days away from seeing any game action.
“We certainly miss having him in the lineup,” Beer said.
“He is one of our best penalty killers and a real force back there on the blue-line.”
Caston is just 16 years old, but at 6-4 and 201 pounds he brings a physical pressence to the Rock blue-line.
The news is a little bit better on Bradburn, who suffered a lower-body injury against the Lumberjacks in Hearst last Friday night.
“Hopefully, he will be able to skate this weekend, so there is the possibility he might be in the lineup next week (Sept. 29 in Kirkland Lake),” Beer said.
“It is one of those things we don’t want to rush, however. We want to make sure everything heels properly and that he is 100%.
“There is no use having a skill guy out there who can’t move around that well.”
With a win Friday night, the Rock would be .500 on the season but Beer is more focused on where the Rock will be in the standings at the end of 56 games.
“It is kind of one of those things teams use to measure themselves,” he said.
“They want to get back to .500 when they are under it and once they get there they kind of want to stay above that medium line, but we certainly don’t focus a lot on the standings this early in the season. We are just basically worried about how we play day-in and day-out.
“When I first got to Cobourg, we actually started the season 1-13-1 and ended up sneaking into the playoffs as the eighth seed and ended up sweeping the first seed in the first round.
“In junior hockey, there are so many teams at different levels of their development. You look at what Powassan has been able to do and even Blind River, the two teams that were in the final. They have picked up where they left off.
“We are a team that has rebuilt itself, with a new injection of players and style of play. This is going to be a growing process for us and we are not going to get hung up on where we are in the standings.
“We feel we have a good leadership group and good players in that dressing room. Everybody holds themselves accountable and we want to see a situation where we keep progressing day by day.