By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – Deadline day came and went in the NOJHL on Sunday with far less flash than the NHL transaction fest that keeps sports fans drooling and fixated on TSN and Sportsnet year after year.
That doesn’t mean, however, that there were no significant moves on Sunday, or the days leading up to the close of player movement for teams across the Canadian Junior Hockey League.
Each of the 12 teams in the NOJHL were busy adding and subtracting pieces they hope will give then an extra edge as the playoffs draw closer.
Timmins Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne was working the phones diligently in the final hours leading up to Sunday’s 9 p.m. deadline and thought he had a deal in place.
“We were very close,” he said.
“We were down to the last half hour. At 8:30 p.m. we had a deal, but one of the players involved decided he was going to quit hockey if he was dealt, so we ended up cancelling the deal. All the paperwork was done.”
Gagne, who declined to identify the other team or the names of the players involved in the transaction, was a little frustrated but feels it might have been for the best.
“What if the player had come here and wasn’t happy?” he asked.
“It would have been a nightmare.”
The Rock were able to complete three transactions in the week leading up to Sunday’s trade deadline.
Forward Devin Panzeca (29, 17-10-27, 6) was dealt to the Chatham Maroons, of the GOJHL, and forward Michael Norris (34, 7-6-13, 26) was shipped to the English River Miners, of the SIJHL, in separate cash transactions.
Both players are from suburbs of Chicago, have the same family advisor and requested a trade after returning to the Rock following the Christmas break.
“Panzeca could have played on our first, second, third or fourth line,” Gagne said.
“That’s the type of player he is. He can muck it up and stuff, but he prefers to play on the second line (with Jordan Rendle and Bain Cunningham), but I am not going to take my top scorer (Zachary Kercz) off that line.
“We had been really happy with his play and he had been happy. Then he went home for Christmas and came back and he had that in his mind. Something happened during his vacation time.”
Norris, meanwhile, showed some offensive flashes early in the season, but he had not been able to establish himself on either of the Top 2 lines.
“Basically, it was the same situation,” Gagne said.
“He wasn’t happy with his role.”
In a separate transaction with English River, the Rock acquired 20-year-old forward Landen Matechuk (24, 15-18-33, 30) — second on the Miners in both points and goals.
The left-hand shooting Fort Langley, B.C., native was in his second season in the SIJHL, after splitting the 2014-15 campaign between the Mission City Outlaws (19, 12-6-18, 10) and the Miners (27, 5-9-14, 22).
At 6-0, 190 pounds, Matechuk will bring a little size to the Rock lineup, to go along with the offensive flair he should help provide.
“He will provide some good depth to our lineup,” Gagne said.
Matechuk, who arrived in Timmins Monday night, began practising with the team on Tuesday.
“Once he gets familiarized with our program we will put him into the slot where we feel he belongs,” Gagne said.
Matechuk becomes the fourth B.C.-born player on the Rock roster.
“That is just the way things have worked out this year,” Gagne said.
“(Rock defenceman) Joe Olson remembers playing against him. Joe told me he is a great player.”
Gagne described Sunday as a “typical” deadline day in terms of the number of calls he was making and receiving.
“It all depends who is involved,” he said.
“You search prior, but in the last five hours or so, somebody will put out the name of a player just to get feelers to see if he can get the right price. He might not even want to trade that player.”
The Iroquois Falls Eskis, who defeated the Rock 6-3 Sunday afternoon, made their big moves prior to the trade deadline when they acquired forwards Blake Holowaty and David Stickney, as well as defenceman Kyle Sutherland, from the Dryden Ice Dogs, of the SIJHL, in exchange for Nathan Avery on Nov. 20.
Earlier in the month, they reacquired goalie Joe Sheppard from the Amherst Ramblers, of the MHL.
More recently, the team has added sniper Dante Juris (3, 3-0-3, 0) from the Louisiana Drillers (15, 4-8-12, 43) of the NA3HL.
At 5-8 and 165 pounds, the 19-year-old Pickerington, Ohio, native does not bring a lot of size to the Eskis lineup, but he has plenty of speed to spare.
Juris split the 2014-15 campaign between the Powassan Voodoos (23, 7-5-12, 25) and the Blind River Beavers (7, 3-4-7, 6), in the NOJHL.
The Eskis have also added goalie Matthew Camilleri (109:00, 0-2-0-0, 0, 7.14, .829).
The 20-year-old Richmond Hill native split time between two OJHL teams — the Toronto Jr. Canadiens (1.85, .926) and the Stouffville Spirit (5.27, .813) earlier this season.
Commenting following Sunday afternoon’s 6-3 win over the Timmins Rock, Eskis assistant coach Jamy Bernier did not anticipate any further moves in the final few hours.
“We believe in the 23 guys we are sitting with right now and we have believed in them for most of the year,” he said.
“We made some big trades earlier in the season that we thought were imperative to make, so that we could work with those players through the deadline.”
The NOJHL East Division-leading Cochrane Crunch boosted their already-high-powered offence with the addition of forward Brenden VanSweden (2, 3-1-4, 2) from the Springfield Jr. Blues (9, 0-2-2, 4), of the NAHL.
“He is a big boy and he got another goal and an assist,” said Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard, following Saturday night’s 5-3 win over the Rock.
“He plays really well along the boards.”
A native of Kentwood, Mi., VanSweden stands 5-10 and weighs in at 181 pounds.
“He was in Springfield and he had only played half their games,” Leonard said.
“This was his first year in the North American Junior Hockey League, probably one of the best leagues out there and we decided to take a chance on him.
“They spoke highly of him and they wanted to get him a little more ice time for the rest of the year. He was drafted by the Saginaw Spirit, of the OHL, and was also a USJL draft pick of the Muskegon Lumberjacks.
“The two best junior leagues in the world both saw something in him, so we were lucky to get him for the rest of the season.”
Leonard likes what he has seen out of VanSweden so far, as well.
“He is a big body and he is a smart hockey player,” he said.
“He is not overly fast. He is not overly flashy. He just does his job and takes care of his responsibilities.
“That’s what we have seen out of him so far, in the first two games.”
The Crunch also shipped out forward Zach Renfrew (19, 4-3-7, 38) to the Alexandria Glens, of the EOJHL.
Asked Saturday night about the possibility of any additional moves, Leonard said: “No. Our roster is is finalized. We are set.”
The evolution of the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners continued on early January, with a pair of transactions.
On Jan. 2, the Gold Miners traded defenceman Sam Oden (15, 1-5-6, 12) to the Rayside Balfour Canadians.
Then, on Jan. 6 – they shipped forward/defenceman Jamey Lauzon (20, 9-11-20, 64) to the Baie-Comeau Drakkar, of the QMJHL.
Elsewhere around the NOJHL, the Elliot Lake Wild Cats acquired 19-year-old defenceman Sean McLaren (27, 1-2-3, 92) from the La Ronge Ice Wolves, of the SJHL.
McLaren is a 6-1, 190-pound native of Oakville.
The Rayside Balfour Canadians re-acquired 20-year-old defenceman Sheehan Kirkwood (31, 1-6-7, 48) from the Brantford 99ers, of the GOJHL.
The Sudbury native stands 6-4 and weighs in at 223 pounds.
The Soo Thunderbirds transferred the contract of 18-year-old goalie Mario Culina to the Windsor Spitfires, of the OHL.
The Thunderbirds have brought in 19-year-old Minesing, Ont., native Connor Ryckman to shared the crease with Ben Gordon.
Ryckman was acquired from the Newmarket Hurricanes (2.42 ,.920), of the OJHL.