By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock have a new puck stopper in camp and the NOJHL squad is hoping his stay will be a little longer than that of blue-liner Cameron Crowley who made his debut in the maroon, gold and white Friday night and left town the following day.
Crowley (2, 0-0-0, 2) had been acquired from the Soo Eagles on Wednesday, practised with the Rock Thursday and then suited up for Friday’s 6-3 victory over the French River Rapids.
“He felt home sick,” said Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne, explaining Crowley’s quick departure.
“He drove all the way from Sault, Mich., and made it here in time for practice on Thursday, played on Friday and was back home the following evening.”
Goaltender Makaio Goods, meanwhile, has been practising with his new Rock teammates since Monday.
“We are definitely going to look at him,” Gagne said.
“He is a big kid.”
Does that mean Rock fans can expect to see Goods in the crease Thursday night against the Voodoos?
Gagne never likes to tip his hand in advance and would not divulge whether it will be Goods, Matthew Nixon (80:00, 0-1-0-0, 0, 3.75, .900), or Caleb Barris (40:00, 1-0-0-0, 0, 3.00, .926) between the pipes.
Goods, a Duluth, MN, native who will turn 19 on Nov. 30, is listed at 6-1 and 181 pounds.
He spent the 2015-16 season with Duluth Marshall School (17 games, 3.12, .889 regular season; and 1 game, 2.08, .920 playoffs).
Goods is looking forward to the opportunity to prove himself in a Rock uniform.
“I am a big, athletic goaltender who is good at smothering his rebounds,” he said prior to practice on Tuesday.
“I am also pretty good at making quick-reaction saves.”
Goods has not patterned his game after any one particular goaltender.
“I have watched a lot of different levels of hockey over the years and taken notes,” he said.
“I try to just play my own style.”
Being a native Minnesotan, Goods naturally cheers for the Wild, but his favourite NHL goaltender is Carey Price, of the Montreal Canadiens.
“He is the most fun to watch,” he said.
A lot of elite level hockey players have graduated from the Minnesota high school leagues over the years.
“It is pretty competitive and you get a chance to play against a lot of really good players,” Goods said.
The soon-to-be 19-year-old describes the competition for playing time in the Rock crease as a “friendly rivalry.”
“I just need to get back in the groove,” said Goods, who is coming back from a lower-body injury.
“I hadn’t skated for about two-and-a-half weeks before I got here.”
The Rock will be without the services of defenceman Brendan Campbell Thursday night as he serves the third game of the four-suspension he picked up for a hitting-to-the-head infraction during last year’s playoffs with the Ridge Meadow Flames, of the PIJHL.
Campbell will play his first game with the Rock Sunday night in French River.
“He has been working hard in practice and he is a big, strong player,” Gagne said.
“He plays a physical game and he has a great shot. It is going to be great to have him in the lineup, for sure.”
Gagne is optimistic, however, that forward Stewart Parnell (lower-body injury) will get the green light to suit up against the Voodoos.
“We are planning on him being in the lineup unless something happens in practice,” he said.
Thursday night’s contest will be the first meeting of the 2016-17 season for the Rock and the Voodoos, but Gagne has a pretty good idea what to expect from the visitors.
“They have a lot of power up front,” he said.
“I don’t think they have the defence they had last year, so that might be a possibility for us to exploit.
“They just won a big game last (Monday) night in overtime, so we are going to have our hands full.
“We are going to have to continue playing the way we have been. Right now, our forecheck is really good.”
Voodoos coach Scott Wray is pretty happy with the way his squad has started the NOJHL season.
“We have pretty much a whole new group this year,” he said.
“I think we only have about four or five returnees but those guys are kind of paving the path for our new guys right now in terms of how we want to instill our systems in our D zone and with our strong forecheck.
“We are just taking things one game at a time because we are so new.”
Wray is pleased with how quickly the Voodoos have come together as a unit, but is at a loss to explain it.
“I can’t put my finger on it,” he said.
“We are still a young group, not young young, they are not all (birth year 19) 99s, but we have a good mix of 19 year olds and 18 year olds and they are all pushing each other. You can see it when they are out on the ice.
“It’s a special group and, so far, it’s fun to coach. There is a lot of coaching going on right now, because we are such a new group and a young group. It is a nice, tight group.”
Goaltending remains a strength of the Voodoos even though the team lost both of its 2015-16 keepers, Garrett Forrest (2,148:00, 24-10-0-1, 5, 2.37, .934) and Mario Cavaliere (1,138:00, 15-3-0-0, 2, 2.85, .912).
The duo of Nate McDonald (154:00, 2-0-0-0, 0, 1.17, .957) and Owen Liskiewicz (90:00, 1-1-0-0, 0, 2.65, .886) had been solid for Powassan to start the year, but Liskiewicz is no longer with the team.
“I am really happy with Nate McDonald who has two wins under his belt in his first two games,” Wray said.
“Last (Monday) night was a pretty big win for him. We were down 2-0 and our team showed some good character coming back to get the win in overtime.
“And we picked up another goalie, Nick Campbell (29 3.43, .896), from Alexandria Glens, of the CCHL, and he seems like he is going to be a good fit for our team, also. He is going to push Nate for that No. 1 position, hopefully.
“We are all about development here and we want to move these guys up the ranks.”
Wray anticipates the Voodoos will feature a balanced attack this season, with offensive contributions from all four of his lines.
“I am hoping (Tyler) Gervais-Rolfe (4, 0-4-4, 2) and (Francois) Lemelin (4, 1-3-4, 4) start to light the lamp a little bit more,” he said.
“They are a little snake bit right now. (Ryan) Theriault (4, 0-1-1, 0) has been known to score 20 to 30 goals.
“Right now, Andy Baker (4, 3-0-3, 0) has really been coming along nicely. He reminds me a lot of Steve Harland, who we had two years ago. He is very good with the puck. He is smart and he sees the ice very well. He eludes checks and he is a gamer. He is not afraid to go to the hard areas to score goals.
“That’s what has impressed me about him.”
The Rock will also have to pay attention to Voodoos forwards Gary Mantz (4, 3-2-5, 4) and Cade Herd (4, 1-3-4, 4).
Gagne said the Rock will attempt to limit the time and space Voodoos defenders have in their own zone Thursday night.
“Our forechecking is going to be relentless, but it will be important for us to capitalize on our opportunities when we get them,” he said.
“It gives you momentum, obviously, when you score goals and when you play the game 200 feet away from your net, your odds of scoring are going to be good.”
Gagne realizes how his team plays in the neutral zone and its own end of the rink will be just as important Thursday night.
“We have to be a little bit more defensive minded, as well,” he said.
“We are going to have to come back and put pressure on the puck on the backcheck, as well, to help out our defence.”
The Rock have enjoyed large, enthusiastic crowds during their first two home games — 874 for the home opener against the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners on Sept. 10 and 684 for Friday night’s win over the French River Rapids — and Gagne hopes to see that trend continue Thursday night when they host the Voodoos.
“It is going to be a good, entertaining game, I am sure,” he said.
Even though Thursday night’s game is the first half of a home-and-home series that will see the Rock travel to Powassan for a game with the Voodoos Saturday night before travelling to French River for a game with the Rapids Sunday night, the coaching staff and players are not looking that far ahead.
“The only time we think about Game 2 is when management books the rooms and the bus for the trip,” Gagne said.
“You have to take things one game at a time. We have to focus on Thursday’s game and improving our program.”