Rock ink Sullivan’s nephew

Timmins Rock coach Corey Beer and forward Riley Brousseau hold the 2001-birth-year forward’s white road jersey. The Rock officially announced on Friday that Brousseau, who played seven regular season games and 13 more in the playoffs as an affiliate player, has signed to play for them in 2018-19. He joins former Timmins Majors teammate Austin Holmes and defenceman Carson Burlington on the roster. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS

By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)

TIMMINS – Riley Brousseau has decided to make the jump to Junior ‘A’ hockey and sign with his hometown Timmins Rock.

It wasn’t an easy decision, however, for the 2001-birth-year forward who still has a year of midget eligibility left and could have returned to the Timmins Majors.

After being part of a Majors franchise that struggled to a Great North Midget League-worst 2-32-1-1 record in 2016-17, Brousseau was part of a team that turned things around in 2017-18 (13-21-1-1) and swept the Soo Greyhounds in a best-of-three series before bowing out to the North Bay Trappers in three-straight games.

“I was talking to people and saying, ‘should I play here, should I play there?’” he said. “And obviously the OHL Under-18 Priority Selection was in my head, so I was kind of wondering where I should play.

“Beersy (Rock coach Corey Beer) told me if I play here, he can get me to tryouts in the QMJHL, the OHL or NCAA or CIS schools.”

Brousseau plans to eventually go to school when his Junior ‘A’ days are behind him.

In the meantime, he is grateful for those who have helped him get the opportunity he is now embracing.

“I really want to thank the Timmins Majors, the coaching staff and all of my teammates, as well as my sponsors for a great season,” he said.

Brousseau (regular season: 34, 13-12-25, 55; playoffs: 5, 0-4-4, 2) was one of the top snipers for the Majors last season and he also spent time with the Rock as an affiliate player (regular season: 7, 1-1-2, 2; playoffs: 13, 2-2-4, 0).

“I just played my game and it helped that the boys brought me in and made me part of the Rock family right away,” he said.

“It is a lot faster and they guys are a lot bigger. Obviously, I was a 16 year old playing up as an AP.

“In the Great North Midget League, you have a lot more room to play. Hopefully, I can step in this year and prove myself.”

Brousseau had also played with a number of Rock players — including Riley Robitaille, who started the season with the Majors — in the past, which helped boost his confidence level, as well.”

During conversations with Beer and Rock general manager Kevin Peever, Brousseau got a clear understanding of what the team is hoping to see from him in 2018-19.

“They assigned me a role for the upcoming season,” he said.

“It is to get at least 25 goals as a rookie. Hopefully, I can accomplish that.”

Brousseau, who was officially listed at 6-0 and 154 pounds last season, has been working hard this off season to add to his 175-pound frame.

“I have been in the gym every day, seven days a week at Discover Fitness and I have been working on my legs,” he said.

“It is has really helped me. Hopefully, I can get stronger and faster.”

Brousseau is confident being bigger and stronger will help him make the adjustment to playing against NOJHL players this season.

“Oh, for sure,” he said.

Brousseau didn’t have far to look to find a positive role model in the world of hockey when he was growing up.

“I have always looked up to my uncle, Steve Sullivan,” he said.

Sullivan, of course, is a senior advisor with the Rock and played for the franchise in its first year in the NOJHL, back when it was known as the Golden Bears, before going on to an illustrious NHL career that saw him play 1,011 regular season games and another 50 in the playoffs.

“I would like to follow in his footsteps, hopefully,” Brousseau said.

“I see him once a year, at the Molson Lever-Sullivan Classic, and we chat a little bit. He has told me to always make sure I keep my feet moving.”

Sullivan’s No. 26 is, of course, retired, so there is no chance Brousseau will get to wear his uncle’s number this season.

He will, however, be making a switch from the No. 50 he wore as an affiliate player to the No. 16 he sported with the Majors.

For those wondering, Kevin Kutasi was the last Rock player to don No. 16 during the 2017-18 season.

Regardless of the number on the back and the sleeves, Beer was just happy to see Brousseau modelling a Timmins Rock jersey on the floor of the McIntyre Arena on Friday afternoon.

Just back from two days of NOJHL meetings in Sudbury, Beer likes the way his 2018-19 roster is starting to shape up.

“It was evident even when we called him during the playoffs that Riley is the kind of guy who can hold his own at the Junior ‘A’ level, both physically and intellectually with what he brings to the game,” he said.

“He has been in the gym working out every day and making great strides to ensure he is ready for the start of the regular season.”

Beer has no doubt that Brousseau is capable of playing on one of the Rock’s Top 3 lines this season.

“He thinks the game so well and he was inserted into that role in the playoffs last year and did a tremendous job through the Hearst (2-1 Rock victory) and Powassan (4-2 Rock victory) series,” Beer said.

“He was kind of dealing with a nasty flu bug during the series against Cochrane (4-1 Rock loss) and that kind of limited his minutes a little bit.

“The way he thinks the game is amazing and he has a deceptively hard shot. It is really heavy.

“He can be a complementary piece on a line, or he could be the go-to guy. I don’t think there are too many limitations to his game.

“We are obviously ecstatic to have him and I think the sky is the limit for his potential.”

That potential was certainly evident during the first two games of the playoff series against the No. 4-ranked team in Canada, the Voodoos, in Powassan.

Brousseau scored a goal in each of those contests to allow the underdog Rock to return home tied 1-1 in the series.

“In Game 2, I can remember his goal from the slot,” Beer said.

“He took a monster hit to make a play. Sometimes you get a guy who is down on the depth chart and you tell him to be in the right spot and the puck comes to him and he is not ready for it, but offensive guys like Riley can kind of see the end.

“What he did in the Hearst and Powassan series was huge for us. At that point, he was playing a Top 6 role for us. That is pretty special for a kid coming out of midget hockey as an affiliate player.

“We see him doing that and more for us next year. Again, we are ecstatic to have him.”

Beer realizes, of course, that as good as Brousseau has been in his 20 games as an affiliate player with the Rock that there are things he must improve upon.

“I think the first thing is quickness,” he said.

“If your first three strides are quick and fast off the hop, you can elude forecheckers and get yourself back in the play offensively, help out on defensive plays.

“So, quickness is going to be a big one. That is going to come with the strength and explosion he is working on in the gym.

“The other thing, too, is he has got to have a little bit more confidence to shoot the puck. He is a dish-first kind of guy, but the way he can create offence and make his shot available in the high slot or on the power play from the bumper position, we are looking at a guy who can fill the net if he starts to get that little bit of want to score goals.”

The coach knows having impressive blood lines does not guarantee you are going to be a good hockey player, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

“If he is anything like the Timmins Tornado, that would be pretty special for us,” Beer said.

“And let’s not forget his dad (Chris Brousseau) was the first captain of this organization back in the day.

“You talk about legacy players and what that means in a small community like this and I got my first experience of what this community can be like when it comes to hockey last season.”

With the addition of Brousseau, the Rock now officially have three players on their roster for 2018-19, as they earlier announced the signing of forward Austin Holmes, a Timmins native, and blue-liner Carson Burlington.

“I think it is important to have a healthy balance of local and out-of-town players,” Beer said. “It, of course, has to be the right guys. You can’t force guys into spots if they are not ready.

“Overall though, it is important to have a good contingent of local talent on this team. If we can continue to help grow the local product and get it into the system, have them be good players and good people for us, it would mean everything to this program.”

Beer knows how important is was for both Brousseau and Holmes to get solid coaching from Brandon Perry’s staff with the Majors last season.

“Hopefully, we won’t have to make use of their guys as often as we did last year, but the work Brandon and his staff did to get these guys Junior ‘A’ ready was huge.

“They did a tremendous job of making their guys accountable and understanding there is more than just showing up at the rink and playing games.”

The Rock expect to continue adding to their roster both before and after their upcoming prospect camp at the Campus Ice Centre & Field House in Oshawa from June 23-24.