Devils’ Rooney Falls Right In Line

By Joshua Brett
Special to the Times

TRENTON — It should be no surprise that Joe Rooney fell naturally into hockey.

After all, he got to see plenty of it as a young child. His father, Steve, spent five seasons in the NHL as part of an eight-year professional career, winning a Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens in 1986.

“I remember the end of it a little bit, when he was playing in the minors,” Rooney said following the Trenton Devils’ practice Wednesday at Sovereign Bank Arena. “There was one game I remember where he got a puck to the face. When he came home, the whole side of his face was black.”

T-Devils head coach Rick Kowalsky is hoping Rooney falls similarly naturally into being a scorer in the ECHL. Even though his team snapped a scoreless streak of nearly 192 minutes in Sunday’s shootout win over Wheeling, it still has scored the fewest goals in the league (34) among teams that have played at least 17 games.

“He’s not a big guy, but he gets in on the forecheck,” Kowalsky said of the 5-foot-11 Rooney. “He’s definitely got a good skill set. He’s crafty with the puck. He reads the play and anticipates the play well.”

In Sunday’s win, Kowalsky might have found the right line combination for the 22-year-old Rooney while boosting the offense as a whole — alongside Eric Castonguay and newcomer Matt Rogers.

The three-some, whom Kowalsky described as “puck possession” players but who can also see the ice well to make tough passes, combined for 15 shots on goal in the win. The line also produced the tying goal midway through the third period.

Kowalsky said he plans to keep those three together when the Nailers return to SBA on Friday night.

“Right now, I think we’re going to keep (Rooney, Castonguay and Rogers) together,” said Kowalsky. “They obviously played well (on Sunday). But we’re going to continue to tinker with this until we feel really comfortable with three whole lines.”

In Rooney and Castonguay, Kowalsky also has the bonus of having two players who are used to playing deeper into a season, and doing so in high-pressure situations. Rooney was a part of two Boston College teams that reached the NCAA championship game. Castonguay went to the 2007 Memorial Cup — the annual tournament featuring the champions of the three Canadian Hockey League member leagues — with the Lewiston MAINEiacs of the QMJHL.

Their experience playing longer seasons could leave them fresher later in the season than many of their teammates, most who are in their first full pro campaign.

The playoff runs also show that they are used to winning, something which this T-Devils team has done only six times in its first 17 games.

“Going that far, you play more games,” said Rooney. “The season is longer, like a pro season. Getting into a big stage like that helps too.”