Rock host Rapids Sept. 8

Timmins Rock forward Derek Seguin is shown here cutting through the neutral zone during an NOJHL game against the French River Rapids at the McIntyre Arena on Oct. 22. The Rock will open their 2018-19 NOJHL regular-season schedule against the Rapids at the McIntyre Arena on Saturday, Sept. 7. It will be one of four regular-season visits to the McIntyre Arena by the Rapids this season. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS

By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)

TIMMINS – Timmins Rock fans will get their first look at the 2018-19 version of the NOJHL squad when it plays its regular-season home opener at the McIntyre Arena on Saturday, Sept. 8.

The French River Rapids will provide the opposition in the first of 27 home games for the Rock at the McIntyre, while the team will also play one home and one road game during the annual NOJHL Showcase tournament at the Countryside Sports Complex in Sudbury in early October.

That initial home contest, like all of the team’s evening contests, will be a 7 p.m. start.

Attendance at Rock games has increased in each of three seasons the team has been back in Timmins and in two of those three years, the squad has led the NOJHL in that category.

“We are bringing in some high-end, skilled players this season and we are hoping to see that trend continue,” said Rock general manager Kevin Peever.

“During the past three seasons, we have always put a great product on the ice and that’s what keeps fans coming back.

“Our board of directors has done a really good job of ensure we offer a really good game-day experience to our fans, as well.

“We have done different types of promotions at the games to try and provide the fans with an interactive experience and I think that has also helped.

“The community has really been excellent in contributing to our program. When we go out to recruit players, people are always commenting on our phenomenal attendance. What kid wouldn’t want to come and play in front of 900 fans a night.”

In addition to the home opener, another date Rock fans will likely want to circle on their calendars is the first visit of the Cochrane Crunch, affectionately known to Rock fans as the Evil Empire, to the McIntyre Arena.

That won’t happen until Friday, Nov. 16, but given that the Crunch ended the Rock’s impressive playoff run in the East Division final in five games local fans likely won’t have forgotten or forgiven even at that late date.

Fans won’t have to wait quite so long to get their first look at the Gold Miners, as Kirkland Lake will visit the McIntyre Arena on Sunday, Sept. 9, one day after the home opener.

Meanwhile, the Hearst Lumberjacks won’t make their first visit to the McIntyre Arena until Friday, Nov. 30, while the Powassan Voodoos will travel to Timmins for the first time on Sunday, Sept. 23.

Saturdays will be the second most popular date for Rock home games this season, with six of them on the 28-game home schedule.

The Rock have eight Sunday games on their schedule, with six of them being afternoon starts of 2 p.m.. 3 p.m., or 4 p.m. The other two will begin at 7 p.m.

“We have most of our games scheduled on Sundays because anytime French River or Powassan come through the North, they like to play in Timmins on Sunday afternoons so they can get home earlier,” Peever said.

“They both do four road swings this way and it just kind of works out we are always the team that is able to accommodate them on the Sundays.

“It works well that way because people are able to come watch games and then still make it home for Sunday dinner, or make an evening of it as a family on a Sunday.”

There are also five Friday Rock home dates on the NOJHL schedule, , four on Tuesdays (not counting the NOJHL Showcase), two on Wednesdays and one each on a Monday and a Thursday.

The one Monday contest, on Family Day, will be a 3 p.m. start, with the Rock hosting the Hearst Lumberjacks.

“We had a huge success with the afternoon game we played on Family Day last season because it gave families a chance to come out and spend some quality time together,” Peever said.

“With it being a long weekend, most people who had gone away had returned home by that point from whatever trip they might have taken.”

Having 19 of their 27 games at the McIntyre Arena on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday shouldn’t hurt from an attendance standpoint, either, while the Rock’s more immediate rivals are more easily able to make trips to Timmins mid-week.

“With Hearst being in the league, they like to do French River, Powassan and Kirkland Lake on their way home, to maximize their travel time,” Peeve said.

“So, that is kind of why we have a lot of games mid-week against teams like Hearst, Cochrane and Kirkland Lake.”

With no changes in either of the NOJHL’s East Division or West Division for 2018-19, the Rock will play one home game and one road game against four of the teams in the West Division (Soo Eagles, Soo Thunderbirds, Espanola Express and Rayside-Balfour Canadians), while they will play an extra home game against the Blind River Beavers and an extra road game against the Elliot Lake Wildcats during the NOJHL Showcase.

Against East Division opposition, the Rock will play five home and five road games with the Gold Miners, and four home games and four road games with the Voodoos, the Crunch, the Lumberjacks and the Rapids.

With the exception of one game against the Canadians on Jan. 17, the Rock will conclude most of their road schedule against West Division teams prior to the end of October.

“The one thing we switched up this year was instead of doing two West Division road swings of three games, this year we are doing a three-and-back against Rayside-Balfour since Chelmsford is only three hours away, which is the same distance as Hearst,” Peever said.

“So, we will do a two-game road trip to Elliot Lake and Espanola (Oct. 12 and Oct. 13) and we will do a three-game road trip to Blind River, Sault, Mich., and Sault Ste. Marie (Oct. 26, Oct. 27 and Oct. 28).

“Last year, we had the one road swing where the game in Sault Ste. Marie was postponed because of a bad accident and then we ended up having to play four games in four nights later in the season.

“The idea is to get most of the long trips out of the way while the weather is still good.”

The Rock, who open their 56-game schedule on home ice, will also play their final game of the regular season at the McIntyre Arena on Sunday, March 3, with the Voodoos providing the opposition.

Prior to the start of the regular season, the Rock are hoping to play a number of exhibition contests, but details have yet to be finalized.