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Rock’s 7-11 D pairing back on blue-line

Blue-liner Brendan Boyce, the No. 7 half of the Rock’s 7-11 D pairing, when he isn’t wearing his No. 29 third jersey, will be back in a Timmins uniform for the 2020-21 NOJHL season. The Cortice, Ont., native, who will be entering his second season with the maroon, gold and white, will be looking to take on more of a leadership role this year. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

The Timmins Rock’s 2020-21 blue-line continues to take shape with the return of its 7-11 combination — 2001-birth-year D-men Brendan Boyce and Evan Beaudry.

Thomas Perry – The Daily Press/Postmedia Network
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Both blue-liners will be entering their second years in a Rock uniform when the NOJHL campaign begins.

Boyce (54, 5-22-27, 43), a 6-2 and 195-pound left-hand shooting defender who hails from Courtice, Ont., was taken by the Guelph Storm with the 33rd overall pick in the 2019 OHL U18 Priority Selection.

Prior to joining the Rock, he spent the bulk of the 2018-19 season with CIHA Green (44, 14-35-49, 64), of the HEO U18, although he also saw some action with the Rockland Nationals (5, 0-1-1, 2), of the CCHL.

“Brendan has good size and good overall physical characteristics about him,” said Rock Coach Corey Beer.

“He obviously had a great start last season and showed a lot of offensive potential.

“He came in and produced early on. It was great for us. He was found gold out there. He didn’t work out in the CCHL and he came in and all of a sudden, boom, he was one of our better two-way defencemen.

“Then, he hit a bit of a rough stretch where his defensive game kind of lapsed.

“Where I think Brendan has hit his stride again, to be honest, is this off season.

“He and I have been chatting and texting all the time, with him wanting more of a role as a leader on the team.”

While Boyce struggled in the defensive zone for part of the 2019-20 campaign, the other part of his game remained quite consistent.

“His offence has never gone away from him,” Beer said.

“He just needed to accept more responsibility and want to be more engaged that way.

“You see it so many times with players in Junior ‘A’ hockey. They go on a team and they play and it’s like, ‘oh yah, I am going to have a good year,’ and then … no.

“For us, you have to be fully invested and, in my opinion, Brendan is now fully invested.

“What happened last year is he wasn’t fully invested on the defensive side of things. He will be the first one to tell you that.

“Now we are seeing, at least in the off season, him wanting to take more responsibility for it.

“He wants to see video of himself, so he can correct those things. That is the sign of a player who is fully getting himself back into it and at age 19 this season, I think we are going to see a phenomenal player.

“He has always had that mean streak in him where he can go out and knock somebody on their butt and he has one of the best one-timers in our league.

“He has got an offensive pedigree. He can jump in the play and create offence.

“He is going to have a year under his belt and now he is going to have the opportunity to come back and improve his minutes, be a more well-rounded player.

“I think Brendan Boyce is going to be a big surprise this year, in terms of being one of the best defencemen in this league.”

After the way the 2020 playoffs ended (following Game 1 of the East Division semi-final series), due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Boyce is eager for training camp to begin.

“I am just looking forward to getting back, getting on the ice and seeing everyone,” he said.

“Hopefully, COVID-19 won’t interrupt this season and we can get a chance to take things further.”

Having a full year under his belt, Boyce is looking to develop his game even more in 2020-21.

“I learned a lot last season, obviously, especially with Corey Beer coaching,” he said.

“He likes to keep his defencemen active and jumping into the play.

“The first couple of games, coming from Midget, there was a lot of difference in the speed of the game.”

As one might expect, Boyce anticipates he will be a lot more comfortable with the Rock’s systems in 2020-21.

“Obviously, I studied them all year, so hopefully it will be like second nature or the back of my hand,” he said.

The Rock produced the second best record (42-11-2-1) in the NOJHL last season, even though they sported one of the youngest lineups in the league.

And with up to 14 veterans expected back in the lineup in 2020-21, Boyce anticipates there might be even more exciting days ahead for Rock fans.

“We have got a good group of guys coming back this year and an even better group of new guys,” he said.

“Hopefully, I can be a leader and a teacher for the new guys this year like the veteran guys last season taught me the systems.

“I think we can take things all the way this season.”

While the Rock have a number of veteran D-men returning to the lineup, Boyce realizes the loss of a blue-liner like Josh Anderson (now at Nipissing University) won’t be easy to overcome.

“Ando was our quarterback (on the power play), obviously,” he said.

“It will really help having four or five returning guys. Hopefully, we will all be able to help fill that big hole his departure leaves in our lineup.”

Boyce started last season playing with the now-traded Owen Shier as his D partner, but he ended up playing with Beaudry at his side.

“We kind of play with everybody, but we will see what Beersy is thinking at the start of training camp,” he said.

“Anybody can go down at any time, but it is also a trust factor. We have to trust everybody knows the system and knows what they are supposed to be doing.

“We all have that trust factor, so it is just easy (playing with any of the other Rock D-men), honestly.”

The summer has been anything but normal for Boyce, like most of his teammates.

“My gym has been closed basically the entire summer, so far,” he said.

“I think it has just opened recently, so hopefully I will be able to get back in there.

“I haven’t been on the ice much, either, so it has been tough, but Beersy has been helping us out, giving us some workout tips and skills tips.

“We have been doing our home workouts and Rollerblading, because that is kind of a substitute.

“Once everything starts back up, I will get back into my normal routine.”

The Timmins Rock will welcome back 2001-birth-year defender Evan Beaudry to their blue-line for the 2020-21 NOJHL campaign. The Mississauga native will be entering his second season with the maroon, gold and white. He will be one of four veteran D-men returning to the lineup to hopefully offset the loss of Josh Anderson, who has moved on to Nipissing University. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

Meanwhile, Beaudry (50, 4-6-10, 26), a 6-2 and 185 pound left-hand shooting defender, came to the Rock from his hometown Mississauga Reps (2018-19, 54, 8-19-27, 11), of the GTHL U18.

“Maybe when he got here, he probably figured he was going to have a bit more offence to show in him and he did,” Beer said.

“He made plays offensively, but just didn’t capitalize on the point side of things.

“You know, there is a pecking order there. Josh Anderson had the rights over the power play for two years, so it was hard for Evan early on to find where he fit in.

“Then, all of a sudden, he got himself on the penalty kill and he never looked back.

“He really became a 6-2 horse on the PK and a guy who could eat up minutes, play physical.

“Then, later on in the season, he started getting that offence back and started to become more of a two-way defenceman.

“I think, at age 19, we are going to see a guy who … man, he is really strong on his skates. He has got good edge work. He can make plays and he has got a bomb of a shot.

“I think he has the potential to jump out here offensively, as well as keep playing a good defensive game.

“Evan is a guy who is well-liked by his teammates. He is a good guy in the (dressing) room and he is easy to get along with. Now, he is going to be a year older, stronger and faster.

“It is certainly going to be a huge benefit for us having him on the back end, this year.”

Beaudry feels he learned a lot during his first year in a Rock uniform.

“There were a lot of ups and downs, but I think the main thing was learning to play within the system,” he said.

“If you do that, everything will kind of work out from there. I am super excited to come back for Year 2.”

The 2019-20 campaign certainly proved Beer’s approach to team defence can be effective when everybody buys into the system.

“The coaches gave us a handbook during my first year and it was kind of tough to take it all in,” Beaudry said.

“Now, I kind of have a good grasp on it. So, anything the coaches throw at me, or the D corps, I think we will be pretty prepared.”

Like any player new to the NOJHL — especially defencemen — Beaudry had to make plenty of his adjustments to his game during his first year of Junior ‘A’ hockey.

“The biggest difference was probably the speed of the game and getting used to playing against bigger guys and faster guys,” he said.

“Once I got comfortable, I just had to stick to the basics.”

Beaudry enjoyed getting the opportunity to play with Boyce, during the later portion of the 2019-20 campaign.

“For most of the year, I was getting thrown around (from defence pair to defence pair), but once me and Boyce started playing together — the 7-11 pairing — I think we got some good chemistry going,” he said.

Technically, during games in which the Rock wore their third jerseys that 7-11 pairing — referring to the numbers worn by Boyce and Beaudry — was actually 29-11.

“Every practice, we would get more familiar with each other’s passes and stuff,” Beaudry said.

“By Game 1, against Hearst, we were play really well together. It makes things a lot easier when you are comfortable with the guy you are playing with out there.

“I play the off side and he plays the strong side, so it is good having somebody who makes consistent passes to either my forehand or backhand.

“Brendan also talks a lot in the D Zone, so he is a really good guy to play with. We get along really well off the ice, too, which helps.”

While Beer’s program is known as a defence-first system, it does allow for some flexibility to the guys on the back end.

“Corey always encourages the defence to jump up and he never gets mad at you for making a mistake when you are trying to make a good offensive push,” Beaurdy said.

“As long as you stick with the system, the defencemen have a pretty wide range of options in all three zones.”

Of course, having the NOJHL’s top netminder (Tyler Masternak) playing behind you doesn’t hurt, either.

“Masty has been great for us and (recently traded backup goalie) Vance (Meyer) was also great for us,” Beaudry said.

“He is gone now, but am sure our second goalie (Gavin McCarthy) is going to be very good this year.

“There is definitely a level of comfort when you have a really good goalie playing behind you and a really good D partner.

“It definitely helps when Masty is back there standing on his head.”

Beaudry admits having the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the playoffs following Game 1 of the East Division semi-final series has made this off season a lot longer than normal.

“We kind of left Timmins with a bad taste in our mouths and some unfinished business,” he said.

“If anything, it is going to help our push for it this year because all the guys will be coming back stronger, faster and in better shape.”

Like most of his teammates, the pandemic has had an impact on Beaudry’s normal off-season routine.

“I have just started getting on the ice in the last two or three weeks and I just got in the gym for the first time last week,” he said.

“All the guys have been working out from home, but you can only do so much at home unless you have a home gym, which I don’t.

“I had been working out at home on my Rollerblades, but it wasn’t the same being on the ice, or in the gym.”