Timmins Rock forward Stewart Parnell carries the puck through the neutral zone during Game 4 of the NOJHL East Division semifinal series against the Powassan Voodoos at the McIntyre Arena on March 21. After missing more than half of the 2017-18 campaign because of an upper-body injury, Parnell returned to the lineup late in the campaign and was a workhorse during the 2018 playoffs. The Rock have announced Parnell, a 1999-birth-year Timmins native, will be returning for his third season with the squad in 2018-19. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
OSHAWA – The Timmins Rock wrapped up a successful prospect camp at the Campus Ice Centre & Field House on Sunday by signing seven of the 30-plus players who took part in the event.
Rock fans will, however, have to wait a little bit longer to learn the identities of the NOJHL team’s newest goaltender, two defencemen and four forwards.
While each player has inked a contract, their signings cannot be officially announced until the deals have been registered with Hockey Canada — a process that can take a number of days, depending on the background of the players in question.
In the meantime, Rock fans who have been jonesing for a little news from their favourite squad in the wake of the NHL’s Entry Draft on Friday and Saturday and its impending free-agent frenzy on July 1 can take some comfort from the fact the team has announced the return of forwards Stewart Parnell and A.J. Campbell for the 2018-19 NOJHL campaign.
Parnell, a 1999-birth-year Timmins native, will be entering his third NOJHL season with the Rock.
He followed up a successful rookie season (54, 10-32-42, 30) with a strong playoff run in 2017 (10, 6-2-8, 4).
Then, after getting off to a solid start to the 2017-18 campaign, he went down with a serious upper-body injury while playing for Team NOJHL at the 2017 Eastern Canada Cup All-Star Challenge.
As a result, Parnell (27, 9-11-20, 14) missed 29 regular season games before returning to active duty late in the campaign and then helping the Rock find success in the playoffs (14, 1-4-5, 4).
“It is really too bad Stewie missed so much time, because the way he was playing prior to getting hurt was great,” said Rock coach Corey Beer.
“He had really built off the great playoff the year before and we were over the top thrilled about how he started the season.
“I thought he was on track to have a tremendous season for us, both offensively and defensively.
“It was hard for him to get back on track. For whatever reason, he just kept fighting it. He was still a serviceable player later on in the season, but he didn’t have the same impact he did before the injury.”
Despite the injury woes, Parnell averaged almost a point a game and was as solid as any forward on the team in his own defensive zone.
Officially listed at 6-1 and 171 pounds, Parnell also brings an element of physicality to the Rock forward lines.
“I think we are going to see a healthy Stewie Parnell this year and hopefully he will be able to get on track the way he started off last year,” Beer said.
“We expect him to have a great summer, working out and putting the time in. He is going to be one of our go-to guys.
“He is such a great player. He plays a 200-foot game that everyone looks for in a player. He is so responsible he can play in every situation for us.
“He is a good, shutdown centre who can play against all the other teams’ top lines. At 6-1, he has a big body and he skates extremely well.
“He is also very good in the face-off circle. Entering his third year in the league, that added experience is only going to help him.
“I can’t wait to see him the lineup and playing at that top level again. I think he is going to be one of the premier centres in the league.”
One of the quietest players on the team — especially now that veteran blue-liner Jared Hester is too old to play — Parnell is not your typical raw-raw kind of leader.
“If you have ever heard Stewie yell, you are the only person who has ever done it,” Beer said, with a chuckle.
“He is a guy who goes out there shows how to play the game the right way. He lets his actions on the ice speak for themselves. He plays on the power play. He plays on the penalty kill. He plays key minutes.
“He doesn’t need to be that raw-raw guy in the room. Stewie is one of those guys who certainly goes out and shows by example.
“With the turnovers in roster from year to year in Junior ‘A’ hockey, it is great to have a guy like that. He is definitely a positive influence for our younger players.”
Campbell (42, 4-2-6, 40) actually had two stints with the Rock during the 2017-18 campaign.
After starting the year with the Rock, he was traded to the Huntsville Otters, of the PJHL, on Oct. 12.
The 1999-birth-year forward from Huntsville was then reacquired from his hometown Junior ‘C’ squad on Nov. 15.
“First and foremost, you have to love A.J.’s personality,” Beer said.
“You can’t say enough good things about him, as a person. He is the consummate team player and he will do whatever it takes to win, block a shot, take a hit, deliver a hit, get in a fight.
“He is the kind of guy that at the end of the year everybody looks at the end of the bench and says, ‘I am really happy we have him on our team.’
“In terms of the gym, he is the first guy in and the last guy out. He comes to the rink with his work boots every day.”
The coach saw a lot of improvement in Campbell’s game after his month with the Otters.
“It is almost like when a player makes the jump to the NHL and then he has to go back to the AHL to get some more seasoning, get his legs back under him, get a little bit more confidence and then come back up,” Beer said.
“We saw that from A.J. last year. When he came back up, he played with a little bit more confidence with the puck. The play wasn’t so fast for him and by the end of the year, he was playing a regular shift and he was a key contributor on the penalty kill.
“He might not be the most talented kid on the ice, but he is certainly the kind of guy you want to build your culture around. He does things the right way and he is a phenomenal teammate. He is phenomenal in the community. He eats right. He trains right.
“If you have nine or 10 A.J. Campbells on your team, you are in great shape.”
Beer sees the potential for Campbell to produce more offence as he matures, but the coach doesn’t put a lot of stock in individual statistics.
“As a player gets older, there will likely be more numbers to support his statistics, but we don’t put a priority on that,” he said.
“It is more about whether a player is playing the right way. If he is, he is going to earn more minutes. He is the kind of player who can jump up the lineup from game to game. He can play anywhere throughout our lineup.”
THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS Timmins Rock forward A.J. Campbell, right, celebrates with his teammates after they eliminated the No. 4-ranked team in Canada, the Powassan Voodoos, from the playoffs in Game 6 of the NOJHL East Division semifinal series at the McIntyre Arena on March 25. The Rock have announced Campbell, who served two stints with the squad in 2017-18 will be back in maroon, gold and white for the 2018-19 campaign.