A case for the defence

The Abitibi Eskimos blueline for the 2012-13 campaign will feature at least four newcomers.   Only Dan Villeneuve, Kevin Walker and Kealey Cummings are back from last year’s squad, opening up a number of spots.   The Eskimos currently have nine blueliners in camp, including the three veteran defenders.   Cummings was limited to just 32 games in 2011-12 because of a recurring shoulder injury, but when he was healthy he displayed skill at both ends of the rink.   And with the loss of Justin Kord, he might have an opportunity to earn more time on the power play this season.   The 17-year-old Sudbury native scored five goals and assisted on eight others last season, while spending 13 minutes in the penalty box.   “Last year, I learned the system and I learned how to be a better defenceman, all around,” Cummings said. “With what I learned last year, I think I will be better able to trust the system, so I won’t be afraid to go in and attack, or go ahead and take the body.”   He views himself as a bit of a hybrid defenceman.   “I honestly think I am more of a defensive defenceman and I try to make the smart plays, the right plays, the safe plays,” Cummings said.   “But if I see an opportunity to rush the puck, I’ll go ahead and rush it.   “If I see the need to go into the corner and play the body, I will play the body to give my team the chance to get the puck out … I try and do the right thing.”   While he is still only 17 years old, Cummings is prepared to take on more of a leadership role with the Eskimos this season.   “With the knowledge I gained last year, I think I can help other defencemen by explaining how to do things and giving them a different way of looking at it,” he said.   Villeneuve and Walker, meanwhile, focused more on the defensive side of their games in 2011-12 and showed some toughness.   Villeneuve spent 49 minutes in the penalty box, while Walker registered 37 minutes in penalties.   “For defence, we have to have a mixture,” said Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.   “We have two lines that we like to play power play, so we need two anchors on the power play and with the third or fourth lines we need defensive defencemen, who can move the puck well and play well defensively, also guys who can shut down opponents, kill penalties, play the last minutes of periods.   “So everybody has different roles. Even the first two lines they have to do that job, too, defensively.   “So that’s basically what we are looking at and this week will be a good indication. Our little prospect camp we just did a couple of drills and dropped the puck and then played.   “Well, this week, we are implementing our program for these players because we have two games this weekend and I definitely want to learn about their comprehension.   “If they don’t know what they are doing and what we are asking them for and they can’t execute their assignments, then the players don’t belong.   “So, it’s going to be a good week for evaluations.”   Although nobody is guaranteed a spot on the team until the roster is finalized, one of the newcomers who has a shot to make the team is Cody Parker, who spent last season with the Great North Midget League’s New Liskeard Cubs.   “The biggest challenge is going to be picking up on the speed and getting my legs going and dealing with a few more bigger guys this year,” he said when asked what he expects to be the biggest difference between the two leagues.   “I am more of a stay-at-home guy, I like to grind it out in the corners and keep the puck down low.”   While Parker isn’t the biggest player in camp, he feels his strength will help him keep the area in front of the Eskimos net clear of traffic.   “I like to move guys out of the way. It’s one of my strengths, I guess,” he said.   Parker showed some offensive flair, with four goals and 17 assists in 34 regular season games, as well as a little toughness, with 92 minutes in penalties.   “He’s a good stay-at-home defenceman, who moves the puck well,” Gagne said. “And he takes the man pretty well.”   Another GNML grad who might end up on the Eskimos blueline this season is Ryan Kerr of the Timmins Majors.   Kerr got into three regular-season games with the Eskimos last year and also played in a number of playoff games.   Kerr is scheduled, however, to attend training camp with the Ontario Hockey League London Knights.   “He’s got a lot of potential,” Gagne said.   “He’s got a really good skill set and he’s got a really good chance of making this team.”   The team also has a couple of defencemen in camp from the Montreal area — Simon Desrosiers and Jordan St-Marie — as well as a couple of local products — Bryce Robert and Zach Joron.   Gagne is expecting to keep seven or eight defencemen, depending on how the rest of the roster shakes out.