By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – Former Timmins Rock defenceman Nicholas Hautanen will be patrolling the blue-line for the Morrisville State College Mustangs this season.
Hautanen joins a number of other Rock grads — including Jordan Rendle and Brendan Campbell at Trinity Western University, Albert Rogers at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, Patrick Gazich at Gustavus Adolphus College and Spencer Segui at Fitchburg State University — who has turned successful Junior ‘A’ careers into solid education opportunities.
The Timmins native, who will turn 21 later this month, is pumped to get the opportunity to continue his hockey career with the Mustangs.
“It looks like a great program, with a great coaching staff,” he said.
“It is a great organization and that’s what attracted me.”
Hautanen is enrolled in Morrisville State College’s Renewable Energy Bachelor of Technology program.
“I have always wanted to get into the electrical field and I feel renewable energy will be a good future for me,” he said.
Hautanen isn’t surprised he and so many of his teammates have been able to line up solid educational opportunities after honing their skills with the Rock.
“I would recommend to anyone they come here and play for the Rock,” he said.
“It’s a great organization and the fans here in Timmins are absolutely unreal. This is definitely a hockey town and the organization really helps out in terms of getting players to the next level.”
Hautanen would rather have seen his Junior ‘A’ career in Timmins end with an RBC Cup victory, but he knows they lost to a pretty good team in the Powassan Voodoos and he can savour the NOJHL East Division semifinal victory over the Cochrane Crunch.
“Having been eliminated twice in a row (2015 and 2016) by them in the playoffs, it was unreal for us to beat them last year,” he said.
“I went around the room and thanked all of my teammates. It was really surreal. I can’t really explain the feeling.”
Mustangs coach Kevin Krogol is excited to have the former Rock assistant captain join his young squad in time for the 2017-18 NCAA Division III SUNYAC (State University of New York Athletic Conference) campaign.
“Nick is a great pickup for us,” he said.
“We are happy to have him. I think he is going to be a huge contributor. We are bringing him in as a guy we feel can contribute immediately, without having to sit and ride the bench. It will all be up to what he does when he gets here, but we have full faith in him.
“He is a great kid and he comes from a great family and we are excited to have him.”
The Mustangs are coming off a season that saw them struggle to an overall record of 5-16-4, and they weren’t much better, 4-9-3, in conference play.
“We struggled a little bit in our defensive zone last year,” Krogol said. “That was definitely our down side.
“Looking to improve our situation this year, we were looking for a defenceman we felt could step in and contribute immediately and not have to come in and bide their time.
“In watching Nick, we see him as a gritty guy, with good size but more importantly good vision, a puck-moving guy who can make the first pass to exit our zone with confidence.
“We really needed to shore up our defensive zone and we saw him as a guy who is positionally solid. He doesn’t get caught and he really takes care of the front of the net.
“We need a guy who can help us limit time in our end so we can spend a little bit of time in the offensive zone.”
Hautanen (55, 9-17-26, 50) turned in a solid season as a 20 year old with the Rock in 2016-17 and while his playoff numbers (10, 0-1-1, 12) were down, he was solid in his end of the rink.
At 6-2 and 205 pounds, the Timmins native will bring size to the Mustangs blue-line.
“With the rules changes and everything, you don’t get to bully teams as much anymore because the games are called a little tighter,” Krogol said.
“A lot of teams have moved away from size, going with faster, skilled guys but I still think there is room on the back end for that size and intimidation factor, especially coupled with a kid who has the skill to go with it and can move.
“That is absolutely very intriguing.”
Overall, in three NOJHL seasons spent with the Rock, the Abitibi Eskimos and the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, Hautanen (157, 15-33-48, 118) showed some offensive upside to his game.
“We do see him as a guy who can contribute offensively,” Krogol said.
“Obviously, we don’t look at that as his primary role, but we see him as a kid who has great vision, who can move the puck.
“We are going to have a young team and I can tell you he is going to have plenty of opportunity to show us what he has got. We love defencemen who know the right time to jump into the play and can pick their moments.
“Being defensive minded, Nick thinks D first but when he sees that opportunity to jump into the play, he does it and he does it well. And I think we have the guys to surround him with that if he is moving the puck, can put up some points and he will get the opportunity to put up some points in the offensive zone, as well.”
Hautanen served as an assistant captain with the Rock last season and his new coach is confident his leadership skills will have an opportunity to blossom with the Mustangs.
“I am going on my fifth year now as head coach and we have really put a focus on bringing in character kids to make sure we have the right locker room guys,” Krogol said.
“Anytime we can grab a kid who has the hockey skills he has and is a proven leader, that’s a great thing. We know Nick is going to be a locker room guy, who is going to buy into our program. He has played a leadership role in the past, so looking at our leaders he will know what they are going through. He has been there and done that.
“If he can be a guy who blossoms into that leadership role, that will be a huge plus for us. We look for guys who have been in those leadership roles, who we know are going to do the right things on and off the ice.”
The Mustangs have recruited a number of former NOJHL players in the past — including former Gold Miner D-man Joe Ftoma and former Mattawa Blackhawks forward Jimmy Philbin who were part of the 2016-17 squad.
“It has been a great league for us,” Krogol said.
“It is a league I see as getting stronger and stronger. We used to do a lot of scouting in the OJHL, and we still do, and the GOJHL, but to be honest with you I have kind of seen a shift to the NOJHL.
“It is a great league.”