Nicolas Pigeon, the new captain of the Timmins Rock, shown here in action during an exhibition game against the Crunch at the Tim Horton Event Centre on Aug. 28, and his teammates will welcome the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners to the McIntyre Arena on Friday, at 7:30 p.m., for their NOJHL regular season opened. The two squads will then play the second half of their home-and-home series at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex on Saturday, at 7 p.m. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS
The Timmins Rock will take their first strides toward what they hope will be an NOJHL championship Friday night when they host the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners at the McIntyre Arena, for a 7:30 contest, to open the 2022-23 NOJHL regular season.
The Daily Press/Postmedia Network
It will be the first half of a home-and-home series that will see the two sides clash at the Joe Mavrinac Community Centre on Saturday, at 7 p.m.
The East Division Rock (33-8-5-2) are coming off a 2021-22 campaign that saw them finish second overall to the West Division Soo Thunderbirds, while the Gold Miners (12-33-0-3) were fifth in the East Division.
To say the Rock dominated the Gold Miners last season would be a bit of an understatement, as they won all eight encounters.
Still, this is a new year and the rosters of both squads feature plenty of new faces.
The Rock played six exhibition games to prepare for the start of the campaign, blanking the Crunch 4-0 in Cochrane before compiling a record of 1-4-0 at the 2022 Cottage Cup exhibition tournament in Collingwood.
On the surface, that might not be an enviable record but the event was about more than wins and losses for Rock coach and general manager Brandon Perry.
“It was just an unbelievable experience for the guys and the amount of exposure (to college and university scouts) they got during those three days was second to none,” he said.
“Did we want to go down there and show well, win games? Of course we did.
“We were frustrated in the moment, but after you have a six-hour bus ride on the way home to kind of think about it.
“We have been together here a week and a half and those teams we played are seasoned, they are old, they are big, they are strong and they have been together a lot longer that we have, going to summer tournaments and playing exhibition games.
“That’s not to make excuses for our guys because there were certainly moments where we could have competed a little harder and been a little cleaner (executing the team’s systems).”
The Rock opened the Cottage Cup with a 7-1 loss to the Trenton Golden Hawks, then on Day 2 fells 4-3 to the North York Rangers and 6-2 to the Milton Menace, before splitting a pair of games on the final day, falling 5-0 to the host Collingwood Blues and edging the Navan Grads 1-0 in a shootout.
“I think in Game 1 a lot of it was nerves,” Perry said.
“We got out of the first period down one, the first two or three shifts we came out fast and hard, had a couple of good scoring chances and we thought ‘alright, we are right there.’
“Then, for whatever reason, I don’t know what it was, we were just a totally different team, just really sloppy in our own end.
“The Thursday, I think, was our most complete day. We lost 4-3 to North York, should have won the game, I think we had two or three leads.
“Again, they were mistakes you expect to see, you hope you don’t see them, but it is early on (in the year).
“We had a quick turn around and played right away for our third game and we were up 2-0 after the first period, playing well and carrying the pace.
“I don’t know what happened in that second period. Maybe we just ran out of gas.
“Then, on the Friday, the morning game we were just never in it. We played against a really strong Collingwood team.
“And then, we ended up getting a win in our last game.”
Despite the 1-4-0 record, the coach saw a number of positives from his team during the Cottage Cup.
“I think our goaltending (Patrick Boivin and Jacob Brown) was outstanding all week, especially in our last game” Perry said.
“I thought our compete level was really high in that fifth game, as well.
“We blocked a lot of shots and kept a lot of shots to the outside.”
Boivin (179:59, 1-2-0, 1, 4.00, .760), who played the first two periods against the Crunch, was in net for three of the tournament’s five games, with Brown (119:44, 0-2-0, 0, 4.51, .710) between the pipes for the other two.
Another positive for the Rock has been the chemistry developed between new captain Nicolas Pigeon (5, 1-3-4, 2) and Brady Harroun (5, 3-2-5, 2), acquired in the off-season from the SIJHL champion Red Lake Miners, during the Cottage Cup.
The duo was involved in more than 50 per cent of the Rock scoring plays during the exhibition tournament.
“They were fantastic,” Perry said.
“I think Nicolas Pigeon can play on any team in this country. We are extremely lucky to have him. He is just an incredible talent and an even better person.
“He was fantastic throughout the week and Brady is a big, strong 20-year-old, as well.
“We need a couple of other lines to catch up chip in offensively.”
For the most part, Pigeon and Harroun were teamed up with Harry Clark (5, 1-1-2, 2) during the tournament but Rock fans shouldn’t get too used to seeing that trio together.
“Harry was just with us for the week,” Perry said.
“He will be returning to school in Ottawa and trying out for the school team.
“It was certainly nice to have him there and if that’s the last time we have him in a Rock uniform he gave us a real nice parting gift with that shootout winner.”
Clark rejoined the Rock at the end of the 2021-22 campaign when he classes were finished for the year and a reunion of that sort at the end of this season isn’t necessarily out of the cards.
A couple of other Rock players caught their coach’s eye during the tournament, as well.
“I thought Ethan Pool did a real good job all week and I thought Lucas Lowe kind of solidified a role on our team, just his work ethic and how hungry he is on pucks, how good he was on the PK (penalty kill),” Perry said.
“Kenyan Nyman, on the back end is another 20-year-old who is a big, mobile guy and Felix Cadieux-Fredette is as good as any 19-year-old defenceman I have seen at this level.
“He is just an outstanding defender who doesn’t get rattled. He is really poised with the puck and with him playing on one of our power-play units now, we are starting to see his offensive side.”
Pool and Nyman are the other two members of the SIJHL champion Miners acquired by the Rock this off-season and the team announced on Monday it has acquired the latter’s younger brother, Tenzin Nyman from the PJHL’s Ridge Meadow Flames.
“When we were looking at bringing Kenyan in during the summer, he really wanted to play his final year of Junior with his younger brother,” Perry said.
“We weren’t in a position at the time to just offer him a spot, it was more of a you have to come in and earn it. We will take you to the tournament and get you in some games, see what kind of player you are.
“He came in and he has been good. He competes and he has outplayed a couple of the guys who are committed on our roster.”
While the addition of the younger Nyman increases the Rock blue-line to eight skaters and the roster to 24 players, there is no immediate need for any subtractions.
“There will be moves made (eventually), but we are allowed to roster 25 guys right now and we are at 24,” Perry said.
Up front, the Gold Miners have eight returning players — Matthew Hill (8,1-3-4, 12), Chance Debolt (47, 7-16-23, 22), Christian Genova (45, 4-2-6, 8), Luca Maiuri (47, 5-4-9, 4), Alex McDonald (47, 11-15-26, 8), Nolan Ouellette (3, 0-0-0, 0), John Paul Scaringi (41, 5-16-21, 23) and Andronique Stepanian (42, 5-7-12, 39) — heading into this weekend’s home-and-home series.
That group was bolstered by the addition of William Neeld (42, 6-12-18, 56) from division rival Hearst Lumberjacks, as well as NOJHL newcomers Chad Van Weelie, Taye Ladislao, Ken Taylor, Bhrett Hibbert and Benjamin Armatage.
Meanwhile, the Rock have six returning forwards including Pigeon (38, 12-35-47, 23), Liam Wells (46, 13-10-23, 45), Nicholas Frederick (33, 9-15-24, 16), Justin Charette (47, 11-13-24, 2), Nolan Ring (34, 9-13-22, 16) and Daniel Beaupre (21, 5-5-10, 6) — although technically Beaupre had a tour of duty in the second half of 2021-22 with the OJHL’s Trenton Golden Hawks before making his return.
The Rock offence, of course, received a significant influx of talent with the addition of SIJHL champions Harroun and Pool.
Other newcomers up front include Timmins Majors grad Thomas Beard, Yenry Jibb, Liam Kelly, Lowe, Hayden Rynard and Evan Grigor.
The Gold Miners have four returnees on the blue-line — Michael Sulmona (46, 2-6-8, 28), Ian McDonald (46, 5-7-12, 27), Samuel De Mauro (32, 1-8-9, 40) and Cameron Allen (5, 2-1-3, 0).
They will be joined by NOJHL newcomers Nikolas Joniec and Luke Hill.
Meanwhile, the Rock have just two D-men — Cadieux-Fredette and Chase Longhurst — back from 2021-22, but the team significantly upgraded its back end with the addition of the Nyman brothers, David MacDonald, Jackson Hildebrand, Kyle Garland and Christophe Petit.
In net, the Gold Miners feature a pair of new puck stoppers — John Lloyd and Braydon Garnhart — following the deal that sent goalie Zachary Reddy to the Thunderbirds in exchange for a player development fee.
The Rock will also have a new duo manning the crease in 2022-23, with Boivin, acquired from the West Division’s Blind River Beavers, and Brown, a fourth-round pick of the OHL’s Flint Firebirds, sharing the crease.