Timmins Rock forward Linden Spencer hounds Hearst Lumberjacks forward Samuel Bourdages during Game 2 of the NOJHL East Division quarterfinal series at the McIntyre Arena in March. The Rock have announced Spencer, one of the team’s top forecheckers and penalty killers in 2017-18, has committed to returning to the team for the 2018-19 campaign. THOMAS PERRY/THE DAILY PRESS
By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS - The off-season crafting of the Timmins Rock roster for the 2018-19 NOJHL campaign continues with the “official” signing of two more players who attended the team’s prospect camp in Oshawa and the return of another veteran.
Joining the team are 2000-birth-year forward Josh Dickson and 1998-birth-year blue-liner Ian Elkins, while 1999-birth-year forward Linden Spencer has confirmed his return to the maroon, gold and white.
Spencer (55, 4-14-18, 54), who had been a bit of a one-dimensional player prior to signing with the Rock, developed into a solid 200-foot player in his rookie campaign.
In addition to being one of the Rock’s most effective forecheckers, Spencer was also one of the squad’s most reliable penalty killers.
The 5-11, 175-pound native of Eastmain, Que., continued his strong play in the playoffs (10, 1-1-2, 17) despite being cut just under his right and requiring a number of stitches to close the gash.
Spencer’s strong play — both in the regular season and in the playoffs — made a positive impression on Rock coach Corey Beer.
“Linden made the transition from an offensive go-to guy with the Timmins Majors (of the GNML) and all of a sudden he found himself playing Junior ‘A’ hockey,” Beer said.
“His role changed and the skill set necessary to play that role changed. He spent most of the year as a checking centre.
“For him to be able to shut guys down the way he did and kind of play that pest role, and excel at it, was impressive. I thought he had a good season.
“Would he have wanted to put the puck in the back of the net a couple of more times? Absolutely, I think every guy would look back and say I missed this goal or I missed that goal, but I think the biggest thing for Linden last year was getting that experience and knowing how physical the grind can be out there.
“He was playing against the (Nicolas) Flanders, (Kyle) Herbster and (Austin) Stauffer line (Cochrane Crunch) every shift.
“That’s a lot to ask of a young guy, but we felt Linden was up to the task and I think the growth he showed last year is only going to pay dividends this season.
“He is a guy who is going to come back and be a key cog on our penalty kill. We think we have one of the better penalty kills in the league and Linden is a big reason for that.
“He has a bit of offence in his game, but he also knows how to play good defence. That really is invaluable to a coaching staff and a team. We are thrilled to get him back.”
Many players would have had difficulty returning to the ice so quickly after having a close call like taking a stick to the face, but Spencer showed no hesitation whatsoever.
“He is a fearless player,” Beer said.
“He doesn’t know how to play the game other that 100% all out. We missed him at the start of Cochrane series and for him to come back and get his game going again really showed the growth he had experienced throughout the season.
“Some people might not realize how passionate this kid is about the game of hockey. I know it might sound like a bit of a cliché, but he really loves the game and you can really see it.”
Dickson (39, 13-9-22, 46), a right-hand shooting forward, spent the 2017-18 campaign with the Port Perry MoJacks, of the PJCHL.
The 6-0, 180-pound native of Port Perry is a graduate of the Oshawa Generals Minor Midget ‘AAA’ program.
“I think he is a guy, with his speed and skill set, who is going to be an impact scorer for us,” Beer said.
“He is going to be given an opportunity to come in and contribute offensively. He has got phenomenal skills that will allow him to get shots off in tight areas
“He is a guy who is going to be able to complement his linemates playing somewhere in our Top 9.
“Being a 2000-birth-year player, he is right in the middle of his Junior ‘Aֹ’ hockey career and right in the prime of his progression.
“We feel extremely lucky to be able to bring him on board.”
Dickson was pleased with the way things went during the Rock prospect camp and he is looking forward to meeting the rest of his new teammates.
“I know (Rock goalie) Tyler Masternak,” he said.
“We played together in minor midget with Oshawa.”
After talking with Masternak about how things went for him in 2017-18 with the Rock, Dickson is confident he is going to enjoy his time in Timmins.
“He told me he had a good time up there playing for the Rock,” he said.
Dickson describes himself as a fast-skating playmaker who is a pass-first kind of guy.
“Growing up, I liked to pattern my game after (Philadelphia Flyers forward) Claude Giroux,” he said.
“He is a hard-skating playmaker who is not afraid to go into the corners or the gritty areas of the ice and use his body.”
Dickson had no idea when he signed with the Rock that he would get to play games against the Lumberjacks, who play in Hearst — Giroux’s hometown.
“That’s obviously going to be fun,” he said, after being informed about that fact.
Like most players making the jump to the NOJHL, Dickson knows there will be a learning curve.
“I am going to have to move my feet a little bit more and get a little faster out there on the ice,” he said.
“The hardest part is I will probably be playing against bigger guys, who hit harder and always finish their checks.”
Dickson feels knowing somebody on the team who played in the NOJHL last year should help with any adjustment he has to make this year.
“I am hoping to get bigger and stronger over the summer, which should help, as well,” he said.
“I am going to go to the gym as much as I can and try to eat healthy.”
Like most of his new teammates, Dickson is looking forward to the Rock golf tournament two days prior to the start of training camp and the opportunity to meet three former NHL stars — New York Islanders great Billy Smith, former Pittsburgh Penguins star Kevin Stevens and Shayne Corson, who played for both the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“My golf game is not very good,” he said.
“I get out a couple of times during the summer, but hopefully I will do okay.
“Obviously, the biggest thing is going to be getting a chance to meet former NHL players. Hopefully, I will be able to get some tips and pointers from them.”
Elkins (41, 4-18-22, 16), who will be entering his final year of Junior ‘A’ hockey, also spent the 2017-18 campaign with the MoJacks.
The right-hand shooting blue-liner, who stands 6-0 and weighs 183 pounds, is a native of Courtice, Ont.
“He is a rangy kind of two-way defenceman,” Beer said.
“He has the ability to get shots through from the point and he can generate some solid offence that way, but I think he is going to make his living as a good transitional defenceman.
“He has good footwork and he has a good, active stick. He can shut guys down that way.
“As a 20 year old, we will be relying on him for some key minutes. He can play on the penalty kill and on the power play in a pinch.
“He is the kind of guy we will look to, to calm down and teach some of our younger defencemen.”
Like Dickson, Elkins was pleased with how things went during the Rock prospect camp in Oshawa.
“We had a great group of guys who came out for the camp,” he said.
“Honestly, I didn’t feel like I was in the best shape, but I was happy with the way things went out on the ice.
“I had heard from (father of former Rock defenceman Josh Anderson) Bob Anderson what a great place it is to play. He told me they do a good job of helping to further your game.”
Josh Anderson made the most of his time with the Rock and has since graduated to the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic.
Elkins describes himself as an offensive defenceman who sees the ice very well and moves the puck quickly.
“I love skating up and down the ice,” he said.
“Growing up, I tried to pattern my game after (current Detroit Red Wings blue-liner) Mike Green and (former NHL defenceman) Dan Boyle.
“Because of his size, Dan Boyle had to be shifty and when Mike Green played in Washington, he had two-straight 70-point seasons.
“That’s what really inspired me to become a defenceman. I really worked on my offensive abilities.”
Elkins feels having Dickson as a teammate this season will help make the transition to the NOJHL a little bit easier.
“Josh Dickson is a really great guy,” he said.
“He is a down-to-Earth guy, so it will be fun playing with him again this year.”
Elkins also played with another Rock newcomer, fellow blue-liner Connor Mullins, earlier in his hockey career.
“Connor was my D partner for a while back in Midget ‘AAA’ with the Central Ontario Wolves,” he said.
“Josh Anderson was also on the same team.”
Elkins knows playing the NOJHL will take some adjustment, especially from a geographical point of view.
“Honestly, the long road trips and the bus rides will take some getting used to,” he said.
“Everything in the PJCHL was a maximum of an hour away. So, getting off the bus and trying to get the legs going is going to be one of the biggest challenges, I would expect, but I don’t think it is going to be too hard.”
One thing Elkins is looking forward to is the opportunity of playing in front of between 800 and 1,500 enthusiastic fans during Rock home games.
“I have never had the chance to play in front of that many fans before,” he said.
“It is sure going to be exciting to play in front of a crowd like that.”
Elkins describes his golf game as “average, maybe a little bit below average,” but he is looking forward to getting the opportunity to play in the Rock’s annual tournament just the same.
“Getting to talk to three former NHL players is going to be pretty exciting,” he said.
“Getting to learn some of the things they experienced during their careers would be great.”
With the the latest additions, the “official” Rock roster now stands at 13 players.
Spencer and Dickson are joined up front by newcomers Joshua Kego, Keegan McMullin and Maxime Piquette, former affiliate players Austin Holmes and Riley Brousseau and returning veterans Stuart Parnell and A.J. Campbell, while the blue-line includes Elkins, fellow newcomers Mullins and Carson Burlington, as well as returning veteran Will Caston.