By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
KAPUSKASING – Neither the Rock nor the Crunch are putting too much emphasis on the home-and-home exhibition series between the two clubs that last faced off against each other in Game 6 of their NOJHL first-round playoff series.
That is likely due in part to the fact that each team only has a handful of players remaining from the rosters that did battle that night on the ice at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls.
A 5-3 victory sealed the best-of-seven series for the Crunch and marked the official end for the Abitibi Eskimos — who have since moved to Timmins and become known as the Rock.
Goalie Logan Ferrington, defencemen Kealey Cummings, Ryan Kerr, Michael Rancourt and Nick Hautanen, as well as forwards Tristan Salesse and Kyle Levis are the only holdovers from that final Eskimos squad.
The Crunch, meanwhile, have goalie Brett Young, defencemen Joey Mavrin, Connor Lovie and Kyle Sanford, as well as forwads Dustin Cordeiro, Alex Goulet and Tyler Minoletti back — although Sanford and Minoletti were affiliate players last season.
Still, Kerr (4, 0-4-4, 16) feels beating the Crunch in the two game series — which opens at the Sports Palace in Kapuskasing Thursday night and concludes at the McIntyre Arena Friday night — would be nice.
“It would be pretty good considering they beat us in the first round of the playoffs last year,” he said.
“I think we should have won that series and if we come out strong like we did in our game in Sudbury Saturday night, I think they should be pretty close games.”
Kerr does not anticipate the small number of players returning on the two sides or the arrival of a third team — the Iroquois Falls Eskimos (formerly the Mattawa Blackhawks) — into the region will diminish the rivalry between the Rock and the Crunch.
“Our teams do not really like each other too much,” he said.
The Crunch may have lost Cody Gratton, but the team should have just as many — if not more — offensive weapons as last season with the return of Dustin Cordeiro and the arrival of Seamus Maguire (4, 6-2-8, 2), Hunter Atchison (4, 4-4-8, 8) and Jeremy McNeil (4, 3-2-5, 4).
“I would expect we will see them play a similar style of game, dumping the puck in and then employing a good forecheck, but as long as we play our game, I think everything will be OK,” Kerr said.
“As a defenceman, the key is going to be in position, keeping my feet moving and trying to make the right plays, keep my head up. We need to make quick passes out of our zone and employ a quick transition game. We can’t be standing around waiting for the forwards to come back.”
That is one of the things the Rock were able to do better during the second half of their home-and-home series with the Rayside-Balfour Canadians in Sudbury Saturday night.
“Friday night we were a bit slow, which you could tell from the score,” Kerr said.
“But Saturday we were much quicker at moving the puck.”
Heading into the home-and-home series with the Crunch, the Rock sport an exhibition record of 1-3-0-0, while their opponents have gone 3-1-0-0 in their first four preseason matches.
That record has Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard pretty excited about the team he has been able to assemble in Cochrane.
“We have got four or five guys who can really put the puck in the net and one of the guys (Parker Moskal) has not even seen the lineup yet,” he said.
“He is just flying in this week, so we won’t have him in the lineup Thursday, but he will probably be in the lineup Friday.”
Moskal, who turns 18 in November, stands 6-2 and weighs in at 181 pounds.
He spent time with four teams in three different leagues — Colorado Rampage (23, 9-5-14, 2), of the T1EHL, Cheyenne Stampede (2, 2-0-2, 0) of the WSHL, Long Beach Bombers (10, 1-5-6, 2), of the WSHL, and the Dallas Jr. Stars (2, 1-0-1, 4), of the NA3HL.
“Dustin got suspended in the first period of our first exhibition game, so he hasn’t had a chance to get his groove going yet,” Leonard said.
“He should be back in the lineup, as well, on Friday.
“We should have four or five guys this year who are capable of scoring 25, 30 or more goals. Last year, we only had two but this year we should have four or five.
“We should not only have more offensive-minded but also more well-rounded players up front.”
On the back end, the Crunch have lost captain Max Glashauser, but they do have a couple of key veterans back in Joey Mavrin and Connor Lovie.
“You know what you are going to get from Joey every night, a hard work ethic,” Leonard said.
“He has a good skill set and a good mind set. He is an overall great team leader.
“The same with Connor Lovie. He has a big solid body and he can skate well. He likes to play the man. He is physical and he can clear the front of the net.
“Those two guys, as veterans, provide a solid presence back there for us.”
They have also made some quality additions to their blue-line, as well.
“The play of defenceman Joe Thielen (4, 1-4-5, 0) from Los Angles has been a nice surprise,” Leonard said.
“He looks like a prime veteran out there on defence. He is in shape. He plays physical. He sees the ice well. He moves the puck. He skates smooth and is a really nice player to watch.”
The coach has also been pleased with the addition of Lucas Robinson (4, 0-4-4, 8) to the team’s blue-line.
“We should have a defence that is going to be big, strong and tough,” Leonard said.
“If we can get them to play well together as a unit we should be in good shape.”
Like the Rock, who have Ferrington returning to their net, the Crunch have a veteran presence between the pipes in Brett Young (129:15, 0, 2.79) and they have teamed him with Kapuskasing Flyers grad Kurtis David (120:00, 0, 3.00), a Cochrane native.
“As a 20 year old, Brett is going to carry most of the workload for us, but at the same time Kurtis is going to have a great mentor in Brett to guide him through his first year in junior hockey,” Leonard said.
“This year will be Kurtis’ learning year. He is the future of our program.”
Heading into the two-game series, the Crunch do not have any injury concerns and they still have a few “extra bodies” in camp.
“Two or three of them will be going (cut) but we have a couple of guys who are still battling to stay here,” Leonard said.
“There may also still be a few guys coming in.”
The Rock roster also remains a bit of a work in progress as the team approaches its final two exhibition games.
Goaltender Jack Stockdale was released following Saturday night’s exhibition game in Sudbury and fellow puck stopper Jack Morrow arrived in camp earlier this week on a tryout basis.
“There is a possibility he will see some game action,” Gagne said.
With 23 players currently in camp, including defenceman Tyler Somers who is currently injured, the Rock will likely have some healthy scratches for each of the two games.
Gagne will likely keep the line of Jordan Rendle, Tyler Panzeca and Bain Cunningham together — at least for the first of the two games — but all bets are off after that in terms of combinations and defensive pairings.
“Nothing is carved in stone, at this point, that’s for sure,” he said.
Gagne is not too concerned about who the Crunch will or won’t have in the lineup for the two game series, as he opts to focus on what his team needs to do to be successful.
“During the exhibition games (regardless of the opponent), we will be working on our game,” he said.
“We will be focusing on putting our players where they belong in the lineup, determining what their roles are going to be and implementing our program.”
With four exhibition games under their belts, the Rock have continued to work on Gagne’s program this week in practice.
“It has been a little bit of both (reinforcing components of the program taught earlier in camp and introducing new concepts),” he said.
“We have gone over some refreshers of what we have been putting on the table and we have also been working on a little bit of penalty killing. There are also always little things about defensive zone coverage that we have to work on.”
Game time for both Thursday’s game at the Sports Palace in Kapuskasing and Friday’s game at the McIntyre Arena is 7:30 p.m.