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Rock roll into K.L.

By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
Wednesday, September 9, 2015 6:28:13 EDT PM

KIRKLAND LAKE – The Gold Miners quest for a Dudley Hewitt Cup championship will begin Friday night at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex as they host the Timmins Rock in the NOJHL opener for both squads.

Even though the Gold Miners will be hosting the Dudley Hewitt Cup coach and general manager Marc Lafleur’s squad will not be thinking past Friday night’s clash with the Rock — not even as far as the second half of the home-and-home series back in Timmins at the McIntyre Arena Saturday night.

“It’s our job, as a coaching staff, to make sure we are not looking at anything beyond Game 1,” he said.

“Once Game 1 is done, the only thing we will be looking at is Game 2 (Saturday at the McIntyre Arena, starting at 7:30 p.m.).

“As the year progresses, there may be moves that are made as we get ready for the Dudley Hewit Cup. We don’t know yet, we will see how things go, but even as coaches it will be tough for us to stay on an even keel but it is our job to make sure the guys do.”

The Gold Miners produced a record of 4-1-0-1 during exhibition action, while the Rock finished the preseason with a record of 3-3-0-0. Those games included an 8-2 win by the Gold Miners over the Rock in Kirkland Lake and a 5-3 win by the Rock back in Timmins.

The Gold Miners lost most of their top scorers from the 2014-15 season — including forwards Steven Babin (36, 20-44-64, 12), Connor Thie (35, 21-38-59, 16), Ryan Aubertin (38, 27-31-58, 12), Luc Soares (49, 24-28-52, 44), Ryan Swain (42, 17-34-51, 44), Jeremy Dumont (50, 26-24-50, 30) and Tristen Hazlett (42, 17-26-43, 14), as well as blue-liners Jeremy Picard-Fiset (50, 5-46-51, 35) and Ethan Strong (50, 17-29-46, 14) — but putting the puck in the net should not be an issue for this squad.

“Our philosophy in Kirkland Lake has always been and will always be that we don’t look to rebuild, we look to reload,” Lafleur said.

“You want to start with good people on and off the ice, combined; guys who have a good head on their shoulders in terms of knowing what to do and what not to do.

“If you look at the last four years, especially in the NOJHL, the turnover ratio has been very high — especially with small-market teams like ours.

“A couple of days after we were eliminated last year, we went out really hard to try and replace the players we knew we were going to lose.”

Among the players who displayed a knack for putting the puck in the net during the preseason are newcomers Brandon Wolfe (6, 5-5-10, 0), Brayden Stortz (6, 3-5-8, 8), Logan Fredericks (5, 3-4-7, 4) and Declan Conway (5, 5-1-6, 0), as well as veteran Joel Fortin (5, 4-1-5, 2).

Wolfe in particular has caught the eye of his coach during the exhibition games.

“Brandon Wolfe has really stuck out in terms of playing both ends of the ice,” Lafleur said.

“I knew he was good, I just didn’t know he was this good. I had never seen him play. One of my assistants saw him play last spring and they really liked him.

“And Marc-Antoine Arseneau (2, 1-3-4, 2), from Temiskaming, has really played well, as well. We didn’t know much about him coming into camp and he has been lights out offensively. He came into camp with a great attitude.

“Guys like Brayden Stortz and Jamey Lauzon (5, 1-2-3, 36). There are a lot of guys I can say I have been impressed with. Now, it’s just a matter of OK that was the exhibition season, now let’s keep this momentum building for Game 1 vs Timmins.”

A great part of the success the Gold Miners have enjoyed in recent seasons can be attributed to a strong defensive corps anchored last season by the big three of Picard-Fiset, Strong and Dylan Rosen.

“We are going to have a younger blue-line this year than any other year,” Lafleur said.

“It is just one of those things where we hit the recruiting trail and guys that we would have had a tough time getting any other year were looking at our program this year because we are hosting the Dudley Hewitt Cup.

“I am talking about guys like Jesse Houlton (4, 0-2-2, 12) and Adam Desgagnes (6, 1-1-2, 4), a 1997 who has really impressed us.

“For us to have a guy like him and also have guys like Jesse Houlton, who is also a 1997, that helps us out.

“We also need some veteran leadership and we have brought in guys like Kyle Lamont from out west (La Ronge Ice Wolves, of the SJHL) who is going to give us a lot of reliable minutes. He has been through thick and thin in junior hockey.

“We need those type of guys to handle key moments in games.”

The Gold Miners have what Lafleur likes to call a “healthy battle” in net with the duo of Marc Audet (180:00, 0, 2.33) and Tyler Mazzocato (189:15, 1, 2.22).

“You always want your goalies to battle it out but what I like about it is that they respect each other,” he said.

“It’s a healthy battle and they talk in practice a lot. They share ideas and that’s what you want. Sometimes what happens with having a clear-cut No. 1 is that he doesn’t feel the pressure from the guy who is behind him. Sometimes a No. 1 may get lackadaisical at times, upstairs as opposed to physically.”

Lafleur is generally pleased with how training camp and the exhibition games progressed.

“Like any team right now, we are experiencing some peaks and valleys,” he said.

“Some things are easier to teach to certain players, while some things are very new to other players.

“We understand the learning curve at this time of year.

“That’s why we played the exhibition games, to know what we had to focus on between the last exhibition game and the start of the regular season.

“That is what we have been working on, correcting the mistakes that were more prevalent in the games.”

Lafleur sees the potential for this year’s edition of the Gold Miners to be even better than to squads he iced the past two seasons.

“I really do think we are going to have the depth this year that we didn’t have in years past,” he said.

Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne has been busy getting his squad ready for the home-and-home series with the Gold Miners during practice this week.

“We have been working on just about everything,” he said, with a chuckle, prior to Wednesday’s on-ice session.

“Every drill that we do is a little reminder, all the tactical stuff we do, allows the players to get a better grasp at it. What we have been doing is getting ready with our program.”

Having played the Gold Miners twice in the preseason, Gagne has a pretty good idea of what to expect during Friday and Saturdays contests.

“We are going to have to play sound defensively,” he said.

“We have to make sure we help out down low. Their forecheck is relentless, so we have to come down low and help out.

“At the same time, we have to get our forecheck going and that is something we are going to be working on again today.

“I would rather play the game 200 feet away from our net.”

A few seconds later, Gagne quickly corrected himself when he realized playing 200 feet away from the front of his team’s net back home at the McIntyre Arena would put the play in the ice resurfacing room behind the Gold Miners’ net.

With six exhibition games under their belt, Gagne does not expect his Rock players will be too nervous either Friday night in Kirkland Lake or back home Saturday night.

“The players feel a little bit more confident now,” he said.

“They are more comfortable with what we are asking them to do out there. There may be a few little butterflies out there but with the experience of those six exhibition games they know what their role is right now.

“They understand and we haven’t even started the season yet. That’s nice. I like that.”

Gagne is pleased with the way his forward units — especially the Top 2 lines of Bain Cunningham, Jordan Rendle and Devin Panzeca; and Tristan Salesse, Zachary Kercz and Ravinder Shokar — have been playing.

“Right now, I like the way they are playing,” he said.

“Like I have said before, nothing is carved in stone but the first line, the second line and even the third line has been playing well and killing penalties.”

The arrival of Matthew Nixon late in training camp has helped solidify the goaltending picture, as it looks like he will be able to press incumbent Logan Ferrington for playing time.

“We are very pleased with Matt,” Gagne said.

“He is going to put a little bit of pressure on Logan, which is healthy. They both know that when they have an opportunity to play they are going to have to play their best to stay in there.”

Heading into the weekend, only defenceman Tyler Somers is out of action from an injury standpoint. He had off-season surgery and is not expected to see any game action for at least a couple of weeks as he continues to recover.

“(Kyle) Levis will be serving the first two games of his four game suspension, as well,” Gagne said.

Levis was ejected from the Rock’s final preseason contest for butt-ending.

NOJHL NOTES — The Rock completed a pair of transactions on Tuesday. They traded forward Dalton Bruce (43, 4-4-8, 22), an Iroquois Falls native, to the Eskimos. They also traded forward Patrick Picard (37, 3-11-14, 24) to the Stittsville Rams, of the EOJHL. The Rock have also released defenceman Darcy Robinson.