By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – Jared Hester put up some impressive numbers during his rookie season with the Timmins Rock, but coach and general manager Paul Gagne feels they might just be the tip of the iceberg.
“We are expecting him to be quite the player this year,” Gagne said Tuesday morning while announcing the team has re-signed the Waskaganich, Que., native for the 2016-17 NOJHL season.
“Entering his second season, he knows the expectations. He knows what he has to do to continue improving his game defensively.
“He can log a lot of ice time if he is on top of his game.”
Despite being mainly the Rock’s seventh defenceman for much of the 2015-16 season, Hester (54, 9-12-21, 20) proved to be an offensive force when he was on the ice.
“He is a talented player and he can read the play and move the puck well,” Gagne said.
“He is one of the best passers in the league.
“We are hoping he might be able to double that point total this year.”
Hester, who turned 19 on Saturday, is also known for having a lethal, heavy shot which helped him accumulate four power-play goals in his rookie season.
The one area Hester needed to work on throughout the course of the season was his play in his own end and his positioning without the puck.
“Without the puck, he needed a lot of work,” Gagne said.
“Over the course of the year, though, he really improved. Going into his second year, these things — like playing without the puck — are all going to be instinctive for him. That’s where his game is going to improve. He is going to be a 200-foot player this year.”
At 6-0 and 200-pounds, Hester, whose skating has improved significantly since his first season in the Great North Midget League with the Timmins Majors, has the size to be an effective defender in his own end of the rink.
“He just needs to learn to finish his checks more consistently out there,” Gagne said.
“He is a big body and he is such a good skater, but he just needs to take the man a little more often and stay with his man. That’s where he needs to improve the most.
“Other than that, he has got the skill set, a great shot and great vision.”
Hester (2, 0-1-1, 0) did not see a lot of ice time during the playoffs, but Gagne envisions a larger role for Hester this year on the Rock blue-line.
“We mostly played him on the power play last year,” he said.
“This year, his ice time is going to improve because we are going to use him more killing penalties and five on five. He is going to be a great asset on our blue-line.”
A man of few words, Hester prefers to let his play on the ice do his talking.
“He is a quiet kid,” Gagne said.
“He goes about taking care of his own business. He doesn’t want to rock the boat too much.
“I think this year, you will see him come out of his shell a little bit more. He will be entering his second year and a little bit more confident. He will be a little bit stronger and mentally stronger.”
Hester is the sixth member of the 2015-16 Rock to re-sign for the upcoming season, joining goalie Matthew Nixon, fellow blue-liner Nick Hautanen and forwards Bain Cunningham, Jordan Rendle and Wayne Mathieu.
The Rock have also acquired forward Nicholas Siracuse from Powassan in a deal that saw Ryan Theriault shipped to the Voodoos.
The Rock will be holding a tryout camp at the McIntyre Arena from Aug. 2-5, with training camp set for later in the month.
ROCK NOTES — Season tickets for the upcoming season can be purchased by visiting the Rock website: http://timminsrock.com/tickets … The team is also continuing with sales of its five-year Legacy Membership packages that include a framed, autographed Steve Sullivan No. 26 jersey with the purchase of a pair of memberships … It is expected the 2016-17 NOJHL schedule will be released sometime later this month … The Timmins Rock will be holding their inaugural golf tournament on Saturday, July 30, at Spruce Needles Golf Club … Alumni Dan Cloutier, who played with the Timmins Golden Bears during the 1992-93 season, has been named goaltending coach for the Vancouver Canucks. Cloutier, a Mont-Laurier, Que., native, played in 351 NHL games with the New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning, the Canucks and the Los Angeles Kings.