By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – It has been just over a year since it was announced Junior ‘A’ hockey would be returning to Timmins for the first time since the 1998-99 season.
The inaugural season of Timmins Rock hockey came to an end Thursday night when the Cochrane Crunch completed a four-game sweep of the former Abitibi Eskimos in the NOJHL East Division semi-finals.
And even though the Rock did not win an NOJHL championship in 2015-16, the return of Junior ‘A’ hockey has to be viewed as a success.
Only one NOJHL squad — the Soo Eagles (622) — had a higher average attendance this past season than the Rock (595).
The Iroquois Falls Eskis — formerly the Mattawa Blackhawks — were third in the NOJHL, with an average of 436 fans per game, while the Cochrane Crunch (396) were fourth and the Elliot Lake Wildcats (385).
Not bad. Three of the Top 4 franchises in terms of attendance, hail from the Timmins area, while the fourth local club, the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (320), are sixth.
Equally impressive is that the Rock had the single-game high (1,123) for attendance in the league this season on Dec. 6 when they hosted the Eagles.
That was the night the Rock retired the jersey of Steve Sullivan.
It should be noted the Rock had the second-highest single-game attendance, as well.
The team’s 2015-16 regular-season home opener against the Gold Miners on Sept. 12 attracted 1,046 fans.
Attendance figures for the Rock would, no doubt, have been even higher if it were not for the second-half slump that saw the squad go 6-11-0-0 in its last 17 games.
Despite that woeful streak, the Rock still finished its first season back in Timmins with a record of 29-24-0-1.
The Rock may not have been able to match the high-octane offence of the Crunch, but they raked up 247 goals this season — third only to Cochrane (298) and the Powassan Voodoos (278).
It was on the defensive side of the puck that the Rock struggled, finishing with the eighth fewest goals allowed, 219.
Rock players also spent a little too much time in the sin bin this year, as the team ranked third in penalty minutes, with 759.
The final buzzer may have just sounded on the 2015-16 campaign, but the Rock are already busy selling season tickets and legacy partnerships (five-year season ticket packages), while coach and general manager Paul Gagne has begun recruiting players.
— Thomas Perry