TIMMINS – Two games into their exhibition season, the Timmins Rock continue to be a work in progress as they get ready for the 2017-18 NOJHL campaign.
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
“We are going to have to clean up our play in our own end,” Rock coach Corey Beer said, following Sunday night’s 4-3 victory over the Cochrane Crunch at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls.
“That’s going to be a big priority in practice over the next couple of days. We have to address all the defensive stuff, such as body positioning, being on the right side of the puck, guys being where they are supposed to be, that kind of thing.
“That’s an ongoing thing I think will happen from week to week throughout the entire year.
“Special teams will be another big one, too. We haven’t really had a chance to get into them so far in training camp. So that will be a real key point for us this week, as well, emphasizing the power play and the penalty kill.”
Rock fans will get the chance to see what impact three extra days of practice will have on the team’s play when they host the Hearst Lumberjacks at the McIntyre Arena Thursday night.
After playing twice against the Crunch at the Jus Jordan Arena, it will be the first exhibition game for the Rock in their home arena.
“It’s always a new experience for guys when they play in front of their home crowd, but I think the Junior ‘A’ jitters are out of the way,” Beer said.
“Getting two high-intensity games under their belt against an elite rival, it should be exciting for our guys to get back in their home rink. Obviously, I am excited by that prospect, as well.”
A number of players impressed the Rock coaching staff during the first two exhibition games, but there were also a couple of surprises.
“A.J. Campbell and Seth Reuben really stood out for me and our staff,” Beer said.
“They are a couple of guys who have good offence and good grit ability, too. With them being younger players, 17 or 18 years old, it’s nice to have that kind of secondary scoring.”
Campbell, a 1999-birth-year forward who stands 5-11 and weighs165 pounds, is a Huntsville native who played prep-school hockey in 2016-17 and is a graduate of the North Central Predators (66, 2-9-11, 70, 2015-16), of the ETAHL.
Reuben (30, 9-12-21, 8) spent the 2016-17 campaign with the GNML’s Timmins Majors.
A 2000-birth-year forward, who was born in Timmins, he stands 6-0 and weighs in at 183 pounds.
Thursday’s exhibition contest will be the first chance for Rock fans to see the Lumberjacks — formerly the Iroquois Falls Eskis — in action.
Only a handful of players who wore the black, gold and white in 2016-17 remain with the franchise, however.
They include goalie Artem Bortovskiy (1,344:00, 8-9-3-0, 0, 3.97, .912), defenceman Vasily Gogolev (38, 0-6-6, 8) and forwards Shadow Reuben (55, 33-45-78, 28), Wade Auger (47, 15-19-34, 22) and Morgan Scriber (24, 1-3-4, 14).
Lumberjacks coach and general manager Marc Lafleur, who formerly held the same positions with the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, has been busy in the off season recruiting talent to ensure Hearst ices a highly competitive team in 2017-18.
“I think we are going to be extremely solid in goal,” he said.
“We picked up Nicholas Dube (1,487:00, 1, 1.94), who played for the (GNML’s) Kapuskasing Flyers last year, where he garnered a lot of awards and achievements.
“He may have been that league’s best goaltender last year.”
Dube (20:00, 0, 3.00, .933), a Longlac native, also got in a game with the Crunch last season as an affiliate player.
“He is going to push Artem who, in my personal opinion, and I am not just saying this because I am coaching him, I thought was this league’s best goalie last year.
“They both came into camp with the right attitude and their work ethic is great. We expect them to battle and keep us in games every night.”
When he was with the Gold Miners, Lafleur’s teams always had solid blue-lines and that shouldn’t be any different this season with the Lumberjacks.
“We have some veteran leadership on the back end,” he said.
“Not only are they producing very well in practice right now, but they are also showing the ropes to the younger guys. That’s what you want out of your D corps. We hope to have a D corps that is solid defensively and is able to kill cycles and move the puck to our forwards as quickly as possible.”
Two key members of the Lumberjacks’ blue-line are 1997-birth-year defenders Evan Look (15, 0-7-7, 6) and Colin Boudreau (29, 3-4-7, 25), who were obtained from the Crunch in exchange for talented forward Dillan Bruce, who has since opted to retire from hockey.
“Evan knowing how I coach is a big factor and Colin has a lot of Junior ‘A’ experience,” Lafleur said.
“Maxim Lacroix (33, 5-23-28, 104) was a stand-out defenceman last year in the Great North Midget League and he has come in and he has looked like a veteran.
“And Alec Johnson has been lights out for us ever since he got here. He is a big, strong defenceman who does everything well.
“Guys like him and Lacroix, who are 1999s (birth year), we expect to play like 20 year olds.”
Johnson and his twin brother, Max, a Lumberjacks forward, are natives of Osseo, Minn., and both played for the Sioux Falls Stampede midget squad last season.
Up front, Lafleur is happy with his team’s goal-scoring potential.
“Obviously, having Shadow Reuben back is a plus for us,” he said.
“We expect Shadow to not only put up points this year, but to have, as well, an important role with play away from the puck and defensively.
“A couple of veterans, such as Wade Auger and Morgan Scriber, we expect to be real leaders.
“There are also a couple of guys up front who are really turning heads right now, guys like Max Griffioen (50, 9-12-21, 12, Lambton Shores Predators), who we picked up from the GOJHL during the course of the summer. He has come in in tip-top shape, played really well and skated really well.
“The compete factor with guys like him and Bradley Golant (25, 13-13-26, 8, Lakeville South High, of the USHS) is second to none.
“Bradley is short in stature, but he is our team’s hardest worker. He will be the hardest worker on the ice, regardless of who we play against. He is setting the tone in that department and he has great skill.”
Given only one player, Look, played for him last year in Kirkland Lake, Lafleur realizes it may take some time before the Lumberjacks are all on the same page.
“There will be a learning curve, but we only expect it to last for the first month or so,” he said.
“After that, with the assistant coaches I have on this staff (Bryan Wilson, J.F. Sylvester, former Abitibi Eskimos star Marc-Alain Begin, Claude Lodin and Alain Rioux), the learning curve will be greatly reduced. We expect to play like a veteran team hopefully by October.”
The Lumberjacks have only been on the ice since Saturday, so Lafleur knows there will be some growing pains in the exhibition season.
“Our systems are not fully in place yet,” he said.
“Our special teams are not fully in place yet. We are going to use these exhibition games to rectify whatever we have to rectify for Game 1 (of the regular season).”
NOJHL NOTES — Game time for Thursday night’s contest at the McIntyre Arena is 7 p.m. … The Rock will close out their exhibition season against the Lumberjacks at the Claude Larose Arena in Hearst Sunday night … The Lumberjacks opened their exhibition season on home ice Wednesday night against the Crunch, but details from that contest were not available at press time … The Rock have traded forward Eric Hulford back to the Athens Aeros, of the CCHL2 … Jacob Uridil and Austin Hickner each had a goal and an assist as the Rapids doubled up the Espanola Express 4-2 in exhibition action Tuesday night in French River.