By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The construction of the Timmins Rock roster for the 2016-17 NOJHL campaign continued Wednesday with the announcement the team has re-signed forward Wayne Mathieu.
The Timmins native, who will turn 19 in July, joins fellow forwards Jordan Rendle and Bain Cunningham, as well as blue-liner Nick Hautanen and goalie Matthew Nixon players who will be back to form the team’s nucleus for 2016-17.
“Wayne’s comprehension of our program is outstanding,” said Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“Anything we ask him to do out there on the ice, he does it and does it well. He always puts out 100% effort, regardless of whether it is in a game or a practice.”
During his rook season in the NOJHL, Mathieu (43, 8-8-16, 48) centred the Rock’s third line, but also saw time on the Top 2 units when injuries or suspensions created holes in the lineup.
“We would like to use him in that role once again this year, but coming into his second season he has the potential to be a regular on the second line,” Gagne said.
“We will play it by ear and see if it makes sense to play him on the second line.”
Mathieu’s ability to be a solid contributor in all three zones could well give the coaching staff the flexibility to use the former Timmins Major in a more offensive role in 2016-17.
“Nothing ever phases Wayne,” Gagne said.
“He really competes and gets under the skin of the players he is playing against. You can’t ask for anything more. He is going to be another nice piece of a solid core of players we are going to have returning.”
As solid as Mathieu was during the regular season, he was even better during the playoffs (6, 2-1-3, 2), especially during the final four games when the Rock were swept by the Cochrane Crunch after they got past the Iroquois Falls Eskis in Round 1.
“That’s the type of player he is,” Gagne said.
“Whenever we defeated teams that were ahead of us in the standings this year, he played incredible hockey.
“He was a key member of our penalty killing unit and was always out there to take key faceoffs in the last minute of periods or games.
“He always played his role well and then when it came time for the playoffs, he played alongside Ryan Theriault and Cunningham.
“No matter what role we gave him last season, he excelled.”
Matthieu was one of the more effective penalty killers in the NOJHL in 2015-16, in part because of his speed and his ability to win faceoffs and secure puck possession.
“He is a smart hockey player and when you are penalty killing, there are only a few metres you have to move the puck,” Gagne said.
“He has the ability to keep his stick in the line of fire and he is able to read the play really well.”
One of the things the coaching staff likes most about Mathieu is his ability to minimize the number of mistakes he makes.
“If he does make a mistake, he comes back to the bench and before we tell him about it, he lets us know about it,” Gagne said.
“He is on top of his game at all times.”
Mathieu is enjoying his summer break, but is already looking forward to the start of training camp in August.
“We had a good season last year, even though it ended a little early,” he said.
“We have a lot of key guys coming back so I think we are going to have an even better season this year.”
Mathieu, one of those players who can be described as always having his motor running, will be a little more confident heading into training camp this year.
“I am just going to go out there and compete as hard as I can,” he said.
“Hopefully, I will be able to put a few more pucks in the back of the net this year.”
Being a Timmins native, Mathieu was proud to be part of the franchises first season back in the community.
“We have a lot of great fans and seeing them in the stands is like having a sixth man out there on the ice,” he said.
“It just feels great to be able to play in front of them.”
Like most Junior ‘A’ hockey players, Mathieu will be spending much of his off season working out to ensure he is in tip-top shape for the start of training camp.
“I am just a little guy (5-10, 150-pounds), so I will be trying to get a little bit stronger,” he said.
Mathieu enjoys camping and will also try to get in some of that over the summer, as well.
“I just started golfing, as well, so I will be trying to improve my golf game,” he said.
With the inaugural Timmins Rock Golf Tournament scheduled for Spruce Needles Golf Club on Saturday, July 30, Mathieu will be hoping to hold his own with more experienced golfers such as Rock captain Jordan Rendle.
“It should be a good time and I am looking forward to it,” he said.
“My game is still a little below average, but I am working on it.”