BUFFALO, N.Y. – As odd as it may seem, Canada’s 8-0 blowout win over Denmark continued to highlight the importance of one of the team’s least productive offensive players.
Defenceman Conor Timmins did have an assist in the victory, which allowed Canada to clinch first place in Group A at the world junior championship. But it was the 23:08 of effective ice time he skated while Canada’s defence corps was short-handed that once again proved his worth.
“Coming into this I thought I would earn a pretty big opportunity. But when guys go down you have to be ready to step up,” Timmins said. “I’m just focused on my game and doing what I can when I’m called upon. It’s been going well so far.”
Timmins played mostly the left side on a pair with fellow right-hander Cal Foote in the third period as Dante Fabbro and Victor Mete were given a reprieve. Fabbro, who’s seen limited minutes while battling a foot injury suffered before the tournament, didn’t play in either of the final two periods.
Coach Dominique Ducharme said he wanted to make sure both players were healthy for the quarter-final and didn’t want to “expose” them given the lopsided score. He believes all seven defencemen will be 100 per cent for the elimination contest on Tuesday.
But, on Saturday, that meant it was just another night at the office for the Timmins, who’s proven to be a capable and steady hand.
“He’s handled it well,” said Kale Clague – Timmins’ partner for most of the night – who missed Wednesday’s win over Slovakia because of a foot ailment of his own.
“A lot of our defencemen have been out and injured. I think he’s done a good job, along with the other D, to step up and play more minutes.”
Before Saturday’s win over Denmark, only part-time partner Mete – who started the season with the Montreal Canadiens – had played more than Timmins. Mete played 70:32 and 115 shifts, while Timmins was clocked at 62:59 and 100 shifts through three games.
Timmins was also third on Canada in average ice time at 20:59 before the Denmark game behind Clague (25:08) and Mete (23:30).
Because of Mete’s limited action on Saturday – he played just 7:39 – Timmins became the team’s overall ice-time leader at 86:07.
With Canada bringing back three blueliners in Fabbro, Clague and Jake Bean, plus getting Mete from the NHL, Timmins entered the tournament down the depth chart. The 19-year-old has proven his worth with his well-rounded game and on the penalty kill.
“He’s solid,” Ducharme said. “He’s solid in every situation. He’s good at taking time and space away in the neutral zone. He’s got good gaps. He’s forcing plays (and) chips in. He’s good on transition and winning battles to retrieve pucks. He’s playing good defence on both sides – with and without the pucks.”
Ducharme really started taking to the six-foot-one, 185-pound rugged rearguard during the second OHL game of Canada-Russia Series. Timmins recorded a goal and two assists and was named player of the game in a 4-2 OHL win over Russia on Nov. 13 in Sudbury.
“We knew he was good,” Ducharme said. “He’s just playing that way right now.”
That performance essentially catapulted Timmins onto the Canadian team.
“Everyone prides themselves on consistency. That was kind of a turning point for my season,” said Timmins, a second-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche in 2017. “I had a really strong game that night and kind of built upon it for the rest of the year leading up to the camp. That was a good moment for me.”
Timmins is the only OHL blueliner on the roster. He plays on the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, the CHL’s top team, who extended their winning streak to 23 games on Saturday without him and fellow Canadian Boris Katchouk.
That he’s making a bigger impact than expected with Canada is par for the course in the eyes of his regular teammate.
“Good players step up in big moments,” Katchouk said. “He’s been stepping up pretty good.”
“He creates plays where you don’t think they can be created,” Katchouk added. “He’s a guy we rely on lots to lead throughout the year. He’s done that here, too.”
Timmins is more offensively inclined with the Greyhounds than he’s been able to show in Buffalo. He’s sixth in scoring among OHL defencemen with 34 points in just 28 games.
He contributed two assists in the preliminary round as Canada went 3-0-1. The second helper came Saturday when his saucer pass sprung winger Alex Formenton for a breakaway goal.
He brought the puck up the ice on the third Canadian goal by Sam Steel and would have received the third assist, if such a thing existed.
But with power-play minutes being designed for Clague on the first unit and Bean and Cale Makar on the second, Timmins doesn’t have the same offensive role he has in Sault Ste. Marie.
“I still want to move pucks efficiently and play strong defence,” he said. “I might not be putting up as much offence. I’m not getting on the power play. But I’m still playing my game and I don’t think it’s changed that much.”
The world juniors couldn’t be going any better for Timmins. He’s a native of nearby Thorold, Ont. – a stone’s throw away from St. Catharines, where Canada held its selection camp.
He said he’s had anywhere from 20 to 30 family members attend games to cheer him on.
“It’s been a great experience for me,” Timmins said. “It’s already a great experience being the world juniors. But to have it so close to home is just amazing.
“I’m trying to play well for them.”
Given he’s ever increasing role, you can bet they’re not disappointed.