By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – Timmins Rock fans will get their first glimpse of the Canadians when Rayside-Balfour invades the McIntyre Arena Friday night.
The visiting squad that steps onto the ice, however, may not too closely resemble the roster the Canadians will open the NOJHL season with on Sept. 11.
“We are still waiting on some guys,” said Canadians coach Jason Young.
“We have kids going to OHL camps, so tomorrow is kind of going to be a chance for me to see (what we have). We have got some guys who will be sitting out and we have got some guys who will be playing.
“It will be a chance to see if some kids can play in this league, or if they can’t.
“I am not a veteran coach, so I don’t get to say right away, ‘This kid can play or this kid can’t play.’ It is easier for me to see them in game action.”
The Canadians, who will be playing their first season out of the Countryside Arena in Chelmsford, are the former Sudbury Nickel Barons franchise.
“I think we are going to have about 15 guys coming back,” Young said.
“We lost all our 20 year olds — we had five of them last year — but we have some good young talent coming in.”
One of the players the Canadians will be counting on to supply a veteran presence will be Ryan Erickson, a 6-2, 194-pound, 20 year-old right winger who split the 2014-15 season between the Hamilton Red Wings (33, 9-22-31, 36) of the OJHL and the Whitby Fury (21, 3-12-15, 24), of the OJHL.
“Ryan is definitely going to bring some leadership to our club,” Young said.
“He has played in the CCHL, he has played in the OJHL. He is a tremendous player and it was great for us to acquire him. He is coming home to go to school, so it was an opportunity for us to jump on and we did.
“In addition to being a leader, he is going to put some points up.
“I think Ryan is going to be a good player in this league, if not a great player and I am looking forward to seeing him play all year.
“We are going to have a really young team, so we are going to need to go get a few more veterans, a few more 20 year olds. We have some on the back end and one in net but we are going to look to get a couple of more forwards.
Young anticipates the 2015-16 Canadians squad will be similar to the Nickel Barons team he coached last season.
“Three quarters of our team should be back, so our style will be similar,” he said.
“We are not going to beat up anybody. We are not that kind of team but we will be able to match the physicality if it is that kind of game.
“We have some speed and we have some skill and I like our back end. We have three 20 year olds back there with three 1998s, so it is a little bit of a mixture, young and old.
“I like our team. We are going to be OK. We will be similar to what we were last year, but in saying that, every team is going to get better. I am not sure what other teams will look like. I have heard Kirkland Lake is pretty much similar to what they were before, a high-scoring team. We don’t get to play them too much. We get to play them twice (during the regular season), I think, but they are the guys who are going to be hosting the Dudley Hewitt Cup. So, if we want to get there we are going to have to match that.”
Unlike the Rock, who will be playing their third exhibition contest Friday night, the Canadians will be seeing their first preseason action
“We are looking at tomorrow as a stepping stone, our first game just to get back into it and then we will go from there,” Young said.
Rock fans who attended last Saturday’s home-ice 5-3 exhibition victory over the Gold Miners will notice a few roster alterations when the Timmins squad skates out onto the ice Friday night.
While coach and general manager Paul Gagne has not yet announced his official roster, forwards Bain Cunningham, who arrived in camp Tuesday night, and Zachary Kercz, who joined his new teammates Thursday, will likely make their first appearances in Rock uniforms.
Kercz’s arrival in Timmins was delayed because of work commitments following Monday’s trade that saw the Rock acquire him from the Dryden Ice Dogs, of the SIJHL.
Veteran Logan Ferrington will get his third-straight start in the Rock net Friday night, but 17-year-old goalie Jack Stockdale, who checked into camp on Wednesday, will likely dress and get into the second half of the home-and-home series Saturday night.
“He is going to see some action on the weekend,” Gagne said.
“We are going to dress him and maybe get him half a game or so on Saturday just to see how he plays at the Junior ‘A’ level.”
Like Young, Gagne will not be as concerned with the numbers on the scoreboard as he will be with how well his players perform.
“The main objective for us in exhibition games is to evaluate our players and implement our program,” he said.
“They have five or six players who are trying out with OHL teams right now and those are likely their best players.”
Gagne is happy with the progress the Rock have been making so far, rebounding from a tough 8-2 loss in Kirkland Lake to earn a 5-3 victory on home ice and following that up with a hard week of practice.
“We are happy we are going to be having six exhibition games, instead of two,” he said.
“You can practise things you want to do during the games because obviously you want to implement your program. There are quite a few things we have been working on and I feel we are ahead of schedule compared to previous years.
“The kids are really comprehending what we are asking them to do. It is hard for them to play with instincts at this time of year because they have to pay attention to their assignments.
“I am impressed. I am really happy with what is happening.”
While the Rock’s final roster remains a work in progress, the team appears to have more speed and size than the Abitibi Eskimos squad that fell to the Cochrane Crunch in their first-round playoff series.
“We have lots of speed and with the young Kercz coming in we are adding even more speed,” Gagne said.
“We have a good core, a good group of players. It is only the start of the year, but we have had some team bonding already with some basketball at the house of one of our billets.”
ROCK NOTES — Defenceman Tyler Somers will not see any action on the weekend as he continues to rehab from off-season surgery. Somers is able to practise, but is not expected to see any game action until he is cleared by doctors — likely mid-September at the earliest … Forward Cole Gilligan’s status will likely be a game-time decision. He suffered a lower-body injury last weekend against the Gold Miners.