Abitibi Eskimos will be looking to end their current losing streak at two games when they play host to the North Bay Trappers at the Jus Jordan Arena Saturday night.
After suffering their first loss on home ice this season last Saturday —and frustrating their loyal fans in the process — the Eskimos were blown out 9-3 by the Cubs in Sudbury on Wednesday.
“We didn’t play at all as a team, we didn’t play collectively on the ice,” said Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“There was nothing that was working. I felt like we played like the first two weeks of the season.”
That early swoon had the Eskimos sitting with a record of 2-4-0 and not looking anything like the team that reeled off nine straight victories to charge to the top of the standings in the Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League’s Eastern Division.
“We played like individuals who don’t know what the game plan is and just wanted to do their own thing,” Gagne said.
The coach feels a sense of complacency may have crept in while they were enjoying the nine-game winning streak.
“You have got to stay focused, you’ve got to maintain your level of intensity and it just was not happening last night, at all,” Gagne said.
“It’s not one or two players, it was everybody.”
Sudbury jumped out to a 2-0 lead Wednesday, with Jamie Haines putting the Cubs’ first shot behind Eskimos’ goalie J.P. Fecteau.
Gagne lifted his starting netminder at that point, putting in backup Martin Bilodeau.
”You know what, the last two games the first three shots of the game (one against Sudbury and two against the Soo Thunderbirds) are three goals,” he said.
“And that’s catch-up hockey and that’s losing hockey. We gave them momentum right away and when you give them momentum, it’s incredible.
“And you can’t play that way, but that’s what happened.”
Perhaps the Eskimos should have had an idea of what was to come, given what took place prior to the puck dropping to open the game.
Abitibi captain Richard Therrien was given a 10-minute misconduct for crossing the line at centre ice during the warm up.
“These rules have been in place for seven or eight years,” Gagne said.
“It just goes to show you the focus we were in.”
Drew MacMillan increased the Sudbury lead to 2-0 when he beat Bilodeau five minutes later.
The Eskimos got a couple of power-play goals from Karl Spenard and Preston Lacasse to tie the game 2-2 midway through the period.
Jordan Carroll’s short-handed goal took away any momentum Abitibi had at that point, however.
And after Andre Comtois scored to put the Cubs up 4-2, Gagne opted to put Fecteau back between the pipes.
But Sebastien Leroux was able to increase the Sudbury advantage to 5-2 before the buzzer sounded to end the first period.
The Eskimos were on the power play for most of the period, as Sudbury took seven of the eight minor penalties in the frame.
“We didn’t capitalize on our power play,” Gagne said. “We had individuals on the power play doing their own things. We had two short-handed goals scored against us.
“We didn’t want to work it at the blue line, we wanted to work it in deep and individuals lost the puck at the blue line.
“We could have had opportunities to get back into the game, or get ahead, but it was just a nonchalant game for us.”
Corey Tozzi scored early in the second period to cut the Cubs lead to 5-3, but that would be as close as the Eskimos could get to staging a comeback.
Darcy Haines scored a pair of goals and Jayce Douskey added an unassisted marker, as Sudbury went to the dressing room for the second intermission with an 8-3 lead.
Nick Esposto had the lone goal of the third period, to make the final 9-3.
A couple of Eskimos are day-to-day heading into Saturday’s home game against North Bay.
Defenceman Daniel Villeneuve and forward Jacob Kord are both nursing injuries and their status isn’t known.
The lineup will be bolstered, however, by the return of defeneman Kealey Cummings, who on Wednesday served the second game of the two-game suspension he picked up for an incident during the Eskimos last visit to Kirkland Lake.
Forward Jeffrey Gagne, who suffered a shoulder injury during the fourth game of the season, may also be close to returning to the lineup.
“He is probably going to go for an MRI this week,” Gagne said.
“He is going through physiotherapy right now. He went to see the doctor on Monday, so he could be in action in the next couple of weeks.”
Forward Chris Gartner, meanwhile, is not expected back in the lineup until sometime after Christmas after breaking his hand in the 10th game of the season.
The message Gagne communicated during Thursday’s practice was simple: “We have to get back to work and start playing the way the Abitibi Eskimos play,” Gagne said. “That’s not individually.”
And the coach isn’t about to take the Trappers lightly, even though the Eskimos have had success against them this season.
“They work hard, they come to play, they work hard, they roll three or four lines,” Gagne said.
“It’s a good little rivalry we have against them.
“They don’t have a powerhouse to score very many goals, but they minimize their goals against, so we are going to have to play with confidence, play as a team and make sure we don’t give them many chances.