By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – An Aviator has landed with the Timmins Rock as the NOJHL squad attempts to reach new heights in 2017-18.
The Rock have acquired speedy 1997-birth-year centre C.J. Bradburn from the New York Aviators, of the USPHL, in exchange for a player development fee.
Officially listed as 5-8 and 155 pounds, the Ann Arbor, Mich., native put up some impressive numbers (34, 16-27-43, 14) in 2016-17.
Head coach Corey Beer — a defence-first bench boss — is naturally excited about what Bradburn can bring to the Rock lineup.
“You have to have players who can score goals and C.J. has the ability to do that at will,” he said.
“I think he has the potential to be an impact player in our lineup. In talking with him, C.J. has mentioned a desire to be a complete hockey player.”
In 2015-16, playing for the Tri-City IceHawks, of the USPHL, Bradburn put up even better numbers (46, 27-34-61, 26).
Prior to making the jump to junior hockey, Bradburn (26, 20-40-60, 10) averaged more than a point a game while playing at Pioneer High School, of the USHS.
Beer doesn’t anticipate any difficulty finding linemates to team with Bradburn when the Rock officially open training camp at the McIntrye Arena on Thursday.
“C.J. is a very skilled player, but he also plays with an element of grit,” he said.
“He has some bite to his game and he is willing to go into the corners and be creative that way.
“We may want to put a pure shooter on his line where he can find the open space and get the puck to them, or we may want to add another gritty player to his line to let C.J.’s skill come to the forefront.
“It is something we will monitor through training camp and see how things progress.”
Bradburn visited Timmins in mid-July to get a lay of the land, meet Beer and the rest of the Rock coaching staff, as well as general manager Kevin Peever.
“I am pretty fast and I like to play a smart game,” Bradburn said.
“I am looking forward to bringing that skill set here to Timmins. I really like what I have seen so far. The rink has a really good atmosphere and I am looking forward to getting the season going.”
Bradburn’s favourite NHL player is Columbus Blue Jackets forward Artemi Panarin, a player who is similar in stature and also shoots right.
“I like to model my game after his,” he said.
“He is entering his prime right now and he plays the game with a lot of speed and intensity. I really like watching him play.”
Bradburn had never visited Timmins prior to July, but he knows a few players who have played for other squads in the NOJHL in the past.
“I have heard some really good things about the NOJHL,” he said.
“That inside knowledge is one of the reasons I decided I wanted to play my final year of Junior ‘A’ hockey in Timmins.”
Bradburn is confident his skills will translate well into the NOJHL game.
“With this being my third year of junior hockey, I know what it takes on and off the ice,” he said.
“I am a strong offensive player, but I like to play a 200-foot game. I have played centre my entire life and a big part of that role starts in the defensive zone. You generate your offence from there, once you have puck possession.”
That should fit well with Beer’s defence-first approach to the Junior ‘A’ game and the need for all five men on the ice to take that approach.
“Coach Beer has talked a lot about the need to bring speed and intensity to our lineup,” Bradburn said.
That should translate well with the 800 to 1,600 fans who make the McIntyre Arena a difficult place for visiting teams to play.
“I can really tell this rink has some character,” Bradburn said.
“I can’t even imagine what it is going to be like when it is filled up with that many people. Fan loyalty is huge and I am looking forward to being able to give back to them.
“It would really be nice to win a championship for them here in Timmins.”
With the addition of Bradburn, the Rock now have seven forwards — including returnees Wayne Mathieu, Stewart Parnell and Alexandre Brisson, Tyler Planetta (re-acquired from the French River Rapids) and newcomers Halen Cordoni (Ridge Meadow Flames, of the PIJHL) and Eric Hulford (Athens Aeros, of the CCHL2) — under contract.
Two other “high-impact” American forwards have been signed, as well, but the Rock are still waiting for their paperwork to clear Hockey Canada and the United States registration before making an announcement.
“I think the job Kevin has done, whether through trades or signings has been terrific,” Beer said.
“We have been in constant contact in terms of different prospects we are looking at and things are coming together pretty well. We are really excited.”
Beer and assistant coaches James Daschuk and Marc Bisson have been busy getting ready for the start of training camp, which should be an intense learning experience for the new players.
“It will be a bit of a trial by fire through training camp,” he said.
“We will throw as much information as possible at the players to see how they respond. The ones who retain that information as quickly as possible will have the best opportunity in camp.”
In addition to the nine forwards the Rock have signed — or are in the process of signing — the team also has eight defencemen and a pair of goalies under contract.
They — along with a number of players hoping to make the team — began reporting on Tuesday.
“Unofficial” on-ice workouts under the watchful eyes of Daschuk and Bisson began on Tuesday evening and will continue on Wednesday, with the “official” start of camp set for Thursday night.