By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – In the words of Timmins Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne, “nothing is set in stone,” when it comes to line combinations.
Given that the NOJHL team is only two-thirds of the way through its exhibition schedule, that is understandable.
But in talking with Gagne you get the impression the trio of Jordan Rendle (4, 1-2 -3, 4), Devin Panzeca (4, 2-3-5, 2) and Bain Cunningham (2, 0-2-2, 0) might be at least set in hard-packed clay at this point.
“I really like the way they play together,” he said.
“They had a good weekend. They have been playing some pretty good hockey. They have really been clicking and they all have a great compete level.
“They do all the little things right, which is nice to see.”
The line accounted for the lone Rock goal, scored by Rendle, in the Aug. 28 7-1 loss to the Rayside-Balfour Canadians on home ice and they were on the ice for three of the team’s four goals the following night in Sudbury and collected seven points between them.
“Our line really has pretty good chemistry,” Panzeca said.
“Me and Jordan have been playing together for pretty much every preseason game so far and we have played together really well. Then Bain jumped in and he has got good size and we are all pretty well clicking out there right now.”
What is it about the three members of the line that has helped make them so effective?
“Jordan is a really good centreman,” Panzeca said.
“He wins a lot of his draws and he is a great playmaker. He finds me and Bain on the ice well and he really knows how to set up a play.
“I am still getting used to Bain, but he is a big guy who brings a little bit more physicality to our line. He sets up some good plays, too, and he is good at the breakout, as well. He gets us going quick.”
Cunningham stands 6-2 and weighs in at 208 pounds, while Rendle is listed at 5-10 and 155 pounds.
Panzeca is your prototypical power forward who likes to make himself at home in front of the other team’s net.
“I am really good at tipping pucks and being really aggressive out there. I like to forecheck hard,” he said.
Panzeca is from the Lake Zurich, Ill., area, just outside of Chicago.
The 6-0, 185-pound right-hand shooting forward split the 2014-15 season between the Great Falls Americans (21, 8-1-9, 6) and the Bozeman Ice Dogs (13, 14-8-22, 12), both of the NA3HL.
There have been a few players from the area Panzeca calls home who have played in the NOJHL before, but he really did not know an awful lot about the league before attending the Rock tryout camp in early August.
“For the most part, things have been pretty new for me,” he said.
One of Panzeca’s new teammates, Mike Norris, hails from Lake Villa, Ill., which is also located just outside of Chicago.
“I met Mike only once prior to coming up here,” he said.
“It was just a fluke. We were both at an open skate and one of his buddies actually introduced us and we found out that we had both just signed that week to play here in Timmins.”
Like Norris, Panzeca is a big Chicago Blackhawks fan.
“They won their third (Stanley) Cup in six years and they are going to keep it rolling,” he said.
“I attended the Stanley Cup parade after they won this last cup and it was quite the experience. There were a lot of people there, maybe a couple of million.”
The fact that Panzeca is 6-0 likely ruled out basketball as an option at an early age, but why did he opt to play hockey instead of baseball or football?
“My dad played hockey when he was a kid and he got me into the sport when I was really young,” he said.
“I was probably on my first team when I was three or four years old and I fell in love with the game and I have been playing ever since.”
Many young hockey players try to emulate the play of their favourite NHL player.
“I wouldn’t say that I model my play after any specific NHL player,” Panzeca said.
“I just try to adapt to whatever situation I am put into. It kind of depends on what role I have to play on a team.”
While this is Panzeca’s third year of junior hockey, it is his first year playing Junior ‘A’ in Canada.
“The speed of the game is probably the biggest adjustment I have to make,” he said.
“The game up here is a little bit faster. It is also a bit of an adjustment getting to know a new group of guys. They are a great group of guys, though.”
Under Gagne, the Rock play a structured system that demands players execute various assignments.
“He really emphasizes the dump in and employing a good forecheck,” Panzeca said.
“We also have to be very secure in our D zone. Those are probably the biggest parts of his program.”
The Rock will travel to the Sports Palace in Kapuskasing for an exhibition game against the Cochrane Crunch Thursday night and then return home to face the Crunch in the second half of the home-and-home series Friday night at the McIntyre Arena.
Game time for both contests is 7:30 p.m.
NOJHL NOTES — The Rock have released 17-year-old goalie Seth Morrow. Morrow arrived in camp earlier this week following the release of fellow 17-year-old puck stopper Jack Stockdale … The Elliot Lake Wildcats have traded away their two top scorers from the 2014-15 campaign. Forward Adam Baxter (48, 25-47-72, 28) has been shipped to the Clarence Beavers, of the EOJHL, while Cole Hepler (52, 27-43-70, 10) has been traded to the Aurora Tigers, of the OJHL.