Rock’s future looks bright

The Timmins Rock made it to Game 7 of the East Division final series this season and they will looking to learn from that experience as their quest for an NOJHL championship resumes in 2022-23. Despite losing a number of key contributors due to age, the Rock should have a solid core around which to build a championship-calibre squad, including goalie Gavin McCarthy. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS

While the bitter taste of defeat still lingers for the Rock and their legion of fans — especially since the Hearst Lumberjacks have a 2-0 lead over the Soo Thunderbirds in the NOJHL championship series — it is worth noting the pieces are potentially in place for a title quest in 2022-23.

Thomas Perry
The Daily Press/Postmedia Network

“Building a championship team is always the goal,” said Rock coach and general manager Brandon Perry, who is set to begin his new three-year deal.

“I will never rebuild. Some seasons you are obviously going to have more talent than others, but in those cases you find a way to get the most out of your team.

“The guys who are eligible to come back, I think the biggest thing is they know what it takes to win now.

“They know it’s not easy, you can’t take stuff for granted, take leads for granted, take opponents for granted.

“I think that’s the biggest thing that will drive us next year is that experience we just went through.”

Not to downplay the contributions of graduating 20 year olds Tyler Schwindt (48, 34-30-64, 36), Riley Brousseau (48, 19-38-57, 12), Gabinien Kioki (15, 1-2-3, 2), Tyler Gilberds (43, 16-21-37, 50), Cameron Dutkiewicz (45, 18-25-43, 39), Eric Moreau (18, 3-6-9, 16), Carson Cox (15, 2-11-13, 16) and Tanner Hamilton (44, 4-6-10, 4), but front to back the Rock are in pretty good shape heading into next season.

It should be remembered, of course, that just because a player is eligible to return does not guarantee he will be back on the ice the following season.

“We have a potentially good group of talented players coming back,” Perry said.

“We will see how many of them end up in a Rock uniform next year, but the future certainly looks bright.”

Case in point Brousseau, who sat out the entire 2020-21 campaign before returning to the line-up this season, and Kioki, who not only sat out 2020-21 but did not suit up for a game this season until Dec. 15.

For the purpose of this article, however, we will assume everyone eligible to return will be back — at least until we hear differently.

Let’s start between the pipes, where the Rock have a trio of 2003-birth-year puck stoppers.

Gavin McCarthy (2,300:00, 23-8-5-2, 3, 2.53, .902), a 5-11, 163-pound Athens, Ont., produce clearly established himself as the Rock’s No. 1 goalie in 2021-22.

McCarthy led all NOJHL goalies in wins, tied for third in shutouts, was fourth in goals against average and eighth in saves percentage.

On top of that, he played every minute of every Rock playoff game (667:00, 7-2-2-0, 1, 2.70, .905) in 2022.

Konrad Simard (600:00, 10-0-0-0, 2, 2.10, .902), a 5-10, 160-pound Chibougamou, Que., product was solid as his primary back-up, winning every one of his starts in net.

Timmins native Josh Briand (0:00, 0-0-0-0, 0, 0.00, .000), 5-9 and 150 pounds, didn’t see any action in the regular season or playoffs, but did dress as the back-up goalie on a number of occasions, including during the East Division final series against the Lumberjacks.

The system the Rock employ often calls upon the activation of the team’s defensemen, but it is interesting to note McCarthy picked up three assists during the regular season and one in the playoffs and Simard had one in the regular season, as well.

If there is an area where the Rock will need to make some significant additions heading into 2022-23, it is on the blue-line.

Only three of the Rock’s regular defenders — Bode Dunford (45, 8-29-37, 28), Felix Cadieux-Fredette (47, 0-14-14, 36) and Chase Longhurst (37, 3-9-12, 10) — are eligible to return.

Dunford, a 6-0, 175-pound, left-shooting 2002-birth-year blue-liner who hails from Peterborough, was named the NOJHL’s top D-man in October.

Cadieux-Fredette, a 5-11, 184-pound, left-shooting 2003-birth-year blue-liner who hails from Ottawa, teamed with Moreau to form an effective shutdown duo during the playoffs.

Longhurst, a 5-10, 175-pound 2003-birth-year blue-liner who hails from Oshawa, is the only right-shot defender in the group.

The Rock did employ a pair of affiliate players on the blue-liner in 2021-22, as well.

Aiden Wilson (3, 0-1-1, 0), a 6-4, 205-pound, right-shot Whitby product, also saw action up front during his brief time with the Rock.

Meanwhile, Tucker McConnell-Fritz (1, 0-0-0, 0), a 5-11, 190-pound left-shooting Hamilton product, spent the majority of the season with the GNU18L’s Timmins Majors (23, 2-8-10, 24).

Up front, two-thirds of the Rock’s top line — Nicolas Pigeon (38, 12-35-47, 23) and Harry Clark (13, 9-8-17, 8) — are eligible to return in 2022-23.

Pigeon, a 5-9, 156-pound, left-shooting 2002-birth-year Aylmer, Ont., product, was the Rock’s leading goal scorer during the playoffs (11, 7-4-11, 4).

Meanwhile, Clark, a 5-9, 150-pound, right-shooting 2003-birth-year Timmins native, led the Rock in points during the playoffs (11, 4-10-14, 0).

He missed the early part of the regular season while attending university down south.

The Rock also got significant offensive contributions from Christopher Engelbert (44, 17-22-39, 13), Henry Brock (43, 15-19-34, 28), Justin Charette (47, 11-13-24, 2), Nicholas Frederick (33, 9-15-24, 16), Liam Wells (46, 13-10-23, 45), Nolan Ring (34, 9-13-22, 16) and Dylan McElhinny (36, 4-18-22, 19) during the regular season.

Engelbert is a 6-0, 165-pound, left-shooting 2003-birth-year Cobourg, Ont., product, who had a solid playoff run (9, 2-4-6, 6).

Brock, a 6-0, 170-pound, left-shooting 2003-birth-year Toronto native, spent the 2020-21 and early part of the 2021-22 campaigns playing on the Rock’s top line with Pigeon and Schwindt, and put up solid numbers during the playoffs (11, 2-5-7, 8).

Charette, a 5-8, 155-pound, right-shooting 2005-birth-year Timmins product, was the youngest player on the Rock roster and he saw limited action during the playoffs (5, 0-0-0, 0).

Frederick, a 6-0, 185-pound, left-shooting 2002-birth-year North Vancouver, B.C., product, was acquired from the MJHL’s Dauphin Kings in October and quickly became a key contributor, averaging almost a point per game in the playoffs (11, 5-5-10, 4).

Wells, a 5-10, 180-pound, left-shooting 2003-birth-year Oshawa native, brought a combination of skill and grit to the Rock lineup, which proved especially useful during the playoffs (11, 1-5-6, 6).

Ring, at 5-8 and 140-pounds, was one of the smallest players on the Rock roster in 2021-22 but the left-shooting 2003-birth-year South Porcupine product’s value to the team exceeded his size, especially during the playoffs (11, 2-3-5, 6).

On the other hand, McElhinny, a 6-2, 200-pound, left-shooting 2003-birth-year Pittsburgh product, was one of the bigger players on the Rock roster although his playoffs (5, 1-3-4, 4) were limited suspension and injury.

Like Clark, Landon Deforge (2, 0-1-1, 0) did not join the Rock line-up until late in the regular season, as he too was attending university down south.

Deforge, a 5-8, 140-pound, 2003-birth-year Timmins product, saw limited time in the playoffs (5, 1-0-1, 2) due to his university commitments.

The Rock also employed a couple of affiliate players in Bradly Moore (4, 0-1-1, 2) and Tristan Bouchard (1, 0-0-0, 0) up front during the regular season.

Moore, a 5-10, 175-pound, right-shooting, 2004-birth-year Timmins product, served as captain of the Majors (23, 19-6-25, 53).

Bouchard, a 5-10, 170-pound, right-shooting, 2004-birth-year Kitchener product, also spend the bulk of the season with the Majors (20, 6-16-22, 16).

Neither Moore, not Bouchard saw any playoff action with the Rock, but they were both part of the team’s Black Aces (extra players carried in case of injury).