The Timmins Rock were more widely known for keeping the puck out of their own net in 2019-20 than they were for lighting the lamp behind opposition goalies.
Allowing 41 fewer goals than the next-best team in the NOJHL had a lot to do with that enviable and well-earned reputation, but the boys in maroon, gold and white were no slouches when it came to scoring goals (231), either, ranking third behind only the Powassan Voodoos (264) and the Rayside-Balfour Canadians (260).
And the Rock took a huge stride toward ensuring that offensive prowess will continue in 2020-21 this week with the signing of last year’s Top 2 scorers — captain Derek Seguin (45, 26-28-54, 22) and linemate Josh Dickson (55, 26-31-57, 64).
Having the COVID-19 pandemic bring a premature end to the 2020 playoffs was frustrating for the Rock and all their fans, but it was just one of three painful developments for Seguin, whose older brother Ryan passed away in December and whose grandfather Paul died in May.
“Hockey was kind of a bittersweet thing for me, especially after losing my brother,” he said.
“Seeing the guys at the rink every day and getting on the ice, being able to clear my mind, was good but it was also a very tough thing for me, as well.
“I kind of had to do a lot of self-reflecting and for the first part of my summer, I focused a lot on my mental health because it had taken a hit throughout the season and throughout the year, with the COVID-19 and also losing my grandfather.
“I took a break from social media. I went up to our cottage and just spent time focusing on myself and taking care of my mental health.
“In the mental state I was at, I was not ready mentally or physically to get back in the gym and be ready to give my 100 per cent.
“So, it was kind of almost rebuilding my foundation to where I could start going to the gym and be completely present.”
Seguin is enthused to have between 12 and 14 of his teammates from 2019-20 back in the Rock fold and committed to capturing an NOJHL championship.
“That’s the goal and it has been the goal for the past three seasons,” he said.
“We are a family, as a team, and we are all in the same boat, striving to achieve the same goal.
“I have huge faith in every single guy who is returning and I am excited to get to know the new guys.
“It seems they are ready to hop on this win train.”
Seguin, a South Porcupine native, will be entering his fourth and final year in a Rock uniform, with a realistic shot at moving into the franchise’s all-time Top 5 in goals, assists and points.
With 72 tallies in his first three seasons, he is just 20 goals shy of Marc-Alain Begin’s fifth-place 92 goals.
Andrew Bain, with 125 career goals, holds the franchise record, followed by Jimmy Ratte (119), Josh Clancy (106), Adam Chircoski (98) and Begin.
Meanwhile, Seguin’s 74 assists leave him 44 shy of Dean Roach’s fifth-place total of 118.
With 191 helpers, Begin’s career mark is likely well beyond the reach of even a player as talented as Seguin.
Next on the assist list are Bain (144), Clancy (132), Felix Boutin (128) and Roach.
Seguin’s 146 points in his first three seasons in a Rock uniform mean he will need just 51 this season to surpass Ratte’s 196 fifth-place points.
With 283 career points, Begin holds the franchise’s all-time mark, followed by Bain (269), Clancy (238), Boutin (213) and Ratte.
Seguin acknowledges it would be nice to have his name included among such icons in franchise history, but winning a championship remains his primary focus.
“Obviously, it would be special with it being my home-town franchise and stuff, but at the end of the day I would rather have an NOJHL championship ring and a banner hanging in our rink than having my name in the Top 5 for goals, points or assists,” he said.
Even though COVID-19 has prevented any in-person meetings with his new teammates to this point in the off-season, Seguin has still had an opportunity to get to know them.
“We have actually had the opportunity to talk quite a bit,” he said.
“(Coach Corey Beer) Beersy has got us on Zoom meetings every week, talking about team philosophy and getting guys to speak up about their personal experiences and opinions.
“So, we are starting to get into that phase where the new guys are going to be speaking up. So, I still have a lot to learn about these guys, but from what I have learned so far, things seem promising.”
Given everything he has gone through, Seguin is really looking forward to getting on the ice for the start of training camp, a date which has yet to be finalized.
“It is going to be awesome,” he said.
“I am really looking forward to it.”
You can count Beer among those elated to have Seguin back in a Rock jersey, once again sporting the C.
“Not many times can you return your captain for three years,” he said.
“It is certainly a very special thing to have him back in the fold. He spoke up during one of our Zoom calls and the way he commands the dressing room, the attention, whatever it is, he is a phenomenal leader for us.
“Quite honestly, it is a relationship that far exceeds hockey for me and him. He is a phenomenal person and I can’t say enough good things about him. He really is one of the great people in the game.
“We are fortunate to have him back for his last year. He is something special, for sure.”
Despite everything he endured off the ice, Seguin’s production did not suffer when he was in uniform.
“He really does it all in all facets of the game, too,” Beer said.
“He is terrific on the power play. The puck just finds him and he always makes something special happen.
“He is also arguably one of the elite penalty killers in the league, if not the best. He has the potential to score a shorthanded goal any time he is out there.
“He is also the hardest worker on the ice and you put that together, your best player, with that kind of work ethic and those kinds of numbers and you combine the team-first mentality he has and it is pretty special when he gets out there.
“Every team we play against is on notice every time Derek steps on the ice, whether he is playing with his normal linemates or we juggle things up and he is playing with a young guy.
“He has had 16 year olds on his wing for two-straight years and he just keeps going about his business. He is a lethal option out there.”
The coach agrees it would be an honour for Seguin to take a spot among the franchise’s Top 5 in goals, assists and points this season.
“It is a credit to Derek and the work he puts in getting himself to a place in his game where he is able to get into those types of categories,” Beer said.
“Obviously, if there was a leadership award he would be running away with it and they should probably name it after him the way he acts.
“It would also be very flattering for our program. Here is a guy who came in at 17 and when you look around at some of the teams in our league, maybe they have trouble keeping their guys for multiple years.
“But here we have a high-profile player who comes in and is going to spend four years with our program and gets to achieve some of those milestones.”
Dickson, a Port Perry native who is also entering his final year of Junior ‘A’ eligibility, nearly doubled his goals (26, up from 14), assists (31, up from 17) and points (57, up from 31) totals during his second year in a Rock uniform in 2019-20.
While some of that increased production can be attributed to playing on a line with Seguin, it is also worth noting he was one of the team’s top point producers when the captain was out of the lineup.
“I had a chance to get my feet under me and get comfortable with the way Beersy likes us to play, knowing the game plan, having a bunch of guys return,” Dickson said, pointing to the reason for his second-season success with the Rock.
“We were all on the same page and the guys I was playing with, Segs, and Phil (Caron) and Gabbi (Kioki) all worked really, really hard to set me up, right in the money spot every time.
“Getting matched up against other team’s quote unquote top (defensive) pairings almost every night we played, they would all be wanting to watch Segs to make sure he wouldn’t wheel around them and stuff.
“That would leave me open in spots and he would find me.”
Dickson was quick to deflect any credit for elevating his game during the times when Seguin was not in the lineup.
“It was a total team effort,” he said.
“No one guy was picking up the slack because there is no one guy on our team who can do what he does. It was more everyone coming together and realizing we had just lost our leader. We needed to figure it out until he came back.”
Dickson realizes it would be tough to once again nearly double his offensive production in 2020-21, but he is not overly concerned about his personal statistics.
“This is my last year and I have just the one goal and that is to win a championship, regardless of whether I score one goal or 40 goals,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter.”
Set to turn 20 on Aug. 16, Dickson realizes the younger players on the team will be seeking his guidance this season.
“The new guys, not really knowing what Junior ‘A’ is like can look up to us 20 year olds because some of us will have been here for three or four years,” he said.
“We kind of know what it is like day-in and day-out. The things we have to do.”
While COVID-19 brought an early end to the 2020 playoffs, Dickson doesn’t feel his off season has been too severely impacted by the pandemic.
“I am not really a go to the gym and lift weights kind of guy,” he said.
“So, it hasn’t really had too big of an impact on me. I play baseball every summer, so normally my time would be occupied with that.”
Given the Timmins Men’s Baseball League has had to cancel its season this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, Dickson has been playing a little bit more golf.
“My golf game is getting better, better than it was before, but it is still not too good,” he said, after finishing a round with Seguin and Beer this week.
Speaking of Beer, the coach was not surprised by Dickson’s big jump in offensive production in 2019-20.
“The one thing that is such a tell-tale thing about our program is our players who have a big statistical jump have it after their first year,” he said.
“They come in, they figure out what Junior ‘A’ is going to be like and how our program works. That first year has its ups and downs, for Josh and basically for everyone.
“Then, in their second year, based on their knowledge of the system, how the league works, the work they put in during the off season and their skill level dictates where they are going to be successful in terms of points and numbers.
“Josh is a prime example of that. I don’t know that there is a better player on our team in terms of knowing every single facet of our playbook.
“He knows how the right defenceman needs to be positioned on a breakout on the weak side. He knows were the centreman needs to be on low and slow. He knows where the forwards need to be on entries and breakouts.
“When you know every single spot of where the ice is going to be covered and where players are going to be, it becomes reactionary and Josh has figured that out.
“It is by far his greatest attribute, besides being an extremely talented player with the puck.”
And the coach knows it isn’t just Dickson’s offensive game that has blossomed during his time with the Rock.
“He is a terrific penalty killer,” Beer said.
“I am sure if you went back to his minor hockey days, everybody would be saying there is no way this guy could be a PK guy, yet here he is, one of the more lethal penalty killers.
“He does things the right way and he has become a great 200-foot player.”
The coach agrees Dickson elevated his game to another level during the time Seguin was not in the lineup.
“Those two played the majority of their time together when Derek was in the lineup, but we juggled lines as much as any team in the league,” Beer said.
“There were multiple times when Dicksey was playing centre ice on a different line, or playing the left side with two other guys.
“We have the ability to move some of our players around and Josh is the perfect example. If we needed to spark up another line or make another line lethal to oppose another team’s matchup, we could split up Derek and Josh.
“We did see a little bit of growth from Josh, as well, in terms of taking ownership and being the go-to guy when Derek wasn’t there.
“We want to have that throughout our lineup. We want to have guys who are go-to guys on every single line.”