By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock will open their 2017-18 NOJHL campaign with a three-game home stand at the McIntyre Arena.
With a new head coach and many new players, it will give local fans an opportunity to quickly familiarize themselves with the squad.
One night after the Elliot Lake Wildcats and the Canadians face off to kick off the NOJHL campaign, the Rock will play host to the French River Rapids at the McIntyre Arena — with a new 7 p.m. start time — on Friday, Sept. 8.
While the Rapids (56, 3-51-1-1, 8) may be coming off a woeful season, the arrival of hockey legend Sherry Bassin as director of hockey operations and former NHLer Ken Strong as head coach, means French River can no longer be taken for granted.
The three-game weekend will also include the first visit of the NOJHL’s newest team — the Hearst Lumberjacks (formerly the Iroquois Eskis) — to the McIntyre Arena for a Saturday, Sept. 9, date.
Then, on Sunday, Sept. 10, the West Division champion Soo Thunderbirds will conclude a three-game road trip through the North by taking on the Rock in a contest scheduled to start at 3 p.m.
“We wanted to provide an opportunity for the families of the players coming up to Timmins for the start of the season to be able to watch more than one home game before they have to go back,” said Rock general manager Kevin Peever.
“It will be an excellent opportunity for them to do that.”
The general manager also feels it will be a good chance for local fans to get a look at what he hopes will be a championship-calibre club.
“It will give them a chance to come out and watch three home games before the minor hockey season gets into full swing,” Peever said.
“We are hoping that will help us get great crowds for all three of those games.
The Rock’s new 7 p.m. start time is also geared toward trying to get more fans out to games.
“We are trying to accommodate the younger fans who come to our games,” Peever said.
“Quite often last year, fans would come for a period and a half and then head home. During weeknights, youngsters have to get up and go to school the next day and on the weekend they often have to get up early for minor hockey games or practices.
The Rock have enjoyed an intense rivalry the past two seasons with the Eskis — given that prior to the 2015-16 season the Rock were known as the Eskimos and played out of the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls.
Peever does not expect that to change much with the Eskis now in Hearst and wearing the Lumberjacks logo on their chest.
“It will be a good opportunity for Iroquois Falls fans to make the trip to Timmins to see two Junior ‘A’ teams with roots in the community,” Peever said.
The Rock, of course, also have a pretty intense rivalry with the Crunch and local fans are still savouring Timmins’ six-game defeat of Cochrane in the 2017 NOJHL East Division semifinals.
The Crunch will make their first visit of the 2017-18 campaign to the McIntyre Arena on Tuesday, Sept. 19.
The East Division’s other two teams — Powassan and Kirkland Lake — will not make their first visit to the McIntyre Arena until Saturday, Nov. 25, (Voodoos) and Sunday, Nov. 26 (Gold Miners).
The Rock will play their first road game on Friday, Sept. 15, when they travel to Hearst to play the Lumberjacks at the Claude Larose Arena.
Their first visit to the Tim Horton Event Centre in Cochrane to play the Crunch is not scheduled until Friday, Nov. 10.
Traditionally, the Rock like to get their longest three-game road trip through the West Division out of the way before the weather turns bad.
This year, they will visit the Thunderbirds in Sault Ste. Marie on Friday, Oct. 27, the Eagles in Sault, Mich., on Saturday, Oct. 28, and the Beavers in Blind River on Sunday, Oct. 29.
This season, the Rock will play the majority of their home games on either Saturday nights (seven), or Sunday nights or afternoons (seven).
They will also play four home games on Friday nights, three each on Tuesday night and Wednesday nights, two on Thursday nights and one on a Monday night.
That only adds up to 27, as the Rock will play one home game and one road game at the Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex in Sudbury, as part of the NOJHL’s Showcase Tournament.
The schedule for that event has not yet been announced by the league.
The Rock will be playing a number of exhibition contests prior to the start of the NOJHL regular season — including a home-and-home with the Lumberjacks — but the team has yet to finalize all of those games.
“We are just finalizing the dates,” Peever said.
“There is also a possibility we will be playing an exhibition game against the Crunch. Ideally, we would like to play three or four exhibition games.”
2017-18 HOME GAMES
Friday, Sept. 8: French River Rapids, 7 p.m.;
Saturday, Sept. 9: Hearst Lumberjacks, 7 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 10: Soo Thunderbirds, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 19: Cochrane Crunch, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 22: Blind River Beavers, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 30: French River Rapids, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 6: Rayside-Balfour Canadians, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 20: Hearst Lumberjacks, 7 p.m.
Sunday, Oct. 22: French River Rapids, 3 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 4: Elliot Lake Wilcats, 7 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 5: Hearst Lumberjacks, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 25: Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, 7 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 26 3:00 PM Powassan Voodoos, 3 p.m.
Wednesday, Nov. 29: Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 2: Soo Eagles, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 5: Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 7: French River Rapids, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 12: Cochrane Crunch, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 16: Espanola Express, 7 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 17: Powassan Voodoos, 3 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 7: Hearst Lumberjacks, 7 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 21: Powassan Voodoos, 3 p.m.
Wednesday, Jan. 31: Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 3: Powassan Voodoos, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Feb. 8: Cochrane Crunch, 7 p.m.
Monday, Feb. 19: Cochrane Crunch, 3 p.m.
Wednesday, Feb. 21: Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, 7 p.m.