COCHRANE - The Battle of Highway 11 will resume at the Tim Horton Event Centre Friday night as the Crunch host the Abitibi Eskimos in the first game of a home-and-home series.
The return engagement will be at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls Saturday night.
On Friday night, the Crunch will trade in their normal home blue uniforms in favour of pink jerseys which will be auctioned off following the game to raise funds for breast cancer research.
“All of the proceeds will go to the Canadian Cancer Society,” said Crunch coach, general manager and owner Ryan Leonard.
“We are hoping to be able to raise anywhere from $2,000 to $2,500.”
Given the rivalry between the Crunch and the Eskimos, Leonard is anticipating that the Tim Horton Event Centre will be packed with fans of both teams.
“They (Eskimos fans) have bought 48 tickets, for one full bus, already,” he said.
“I think you will see 700, 750 this week, considering last week we had 605.”
Round 1 of the 10-game NOJHL regular-season series went to the Eskimos back on Sept. 20.
Goals by Brenden Locke (11, 10-5-15, 5) and Brady Clouthier (13, 10-12-22, 21) gave the Eskimos a 2-1 victory in that game played at the Jus Jordan Arena.
Defenceman Dustin Deugau (10, 1-3-4, 8) had the lone goal for the visiting Crunch.
Braddock Baalerud (331:08, 2.17, .937) got the start for the Eskimos in that contest and he turned aside 36 shots to earn the victory, while Troy Paquette (345:32, 2.95, .906), of the Crunch, made 43 saves while being tagged with the loss.
The Crunch, who are looking to rebound after dropping both ends of a home-and-home series with the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners last weekend, have made a number of lineup changes heading into this weekend’s games.
Forward Ryan Gruszka (12, 3-3-6, 16) has been released by the Crunch, who acquired forward Daniel Stagg (4, 3-1-4, 4) from the OCN Blizzard, of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
“He is a 20 year old, who is a big body (6-2, 203 pounds), a big winger, who can score some goals,” Leonard said.
“He has been here since last Wednesday, but his paperwork wasn’t done on time for him to play on the weekend.”
Not totally happy with the goaltending provided by veteran Matt Young (381:24, 2.67, .929) and Paquette, the Crunch have added netminder Tyler Lesschaeve from the Kindersley Klippers, of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
The 18-year-old Thunder Bay native, who spent the 2013-14 season with the Ontario Hockey Academy (2.44) after attending the Shattuck St. Mary’s Academy (1.89) the previous year, had yet to get in a game with the Klippers this season.
“He will be practicing Wednesday and Thursday and then we will make a decision on whether he will be playing Friday night, or not,” Leonard said.
Against the Eskimos, the game plan for the Crunch will be fairly simple.
“Our biggest goal is just to get guys in front of the net,” Leonard said.
“That has been our trouble in the games against the top teams, not getting enough traffic to the net.
“We still want to be perimeter guys too much. We have the skill and we have the attitude to want to be there, but too many guys still want to be perimeter guys.
“It took us a period to adjust to the game on Friday (against the Gold Miners) and it was just a matter of too little too late, but on Saturday night they (Kirkland Lake) got lucky to get another two points. We outplayed them at both ends of the ice. We held them to 19 shots, but we gave up some pretty weak goals.
“We held them to three shots in one period and the only real shot they got on net, they scored on it short-handed in the third period.
“It deflates the hockey club, that’s for sure.”
The Crunch do have a couple of big bodies who can be effective in front of the net in 6-3, 225-pound Jake Gevaart (11, 0-0-0, 14) and 6-5, 225-pound Ned Simpson (9, 0-4-4, 27) — especially on the power play.
Another key to the Crunch being able to pick up points against the Eskimos on the weekend will be their work ethic.
“We have to get our compete level a lot higher,” Leonard said.
“We can’t wait until we get down a goal to get some urgency. That is the way our hockey team has been, we get down and all of a sudden we wake up and get right back in the hockey game, but we need to get urgency right away, not after we get a goal scored against us.
“We have to play with a little bit more heart and character.”
The Eskimos tend to employ a trap style, especially when they get a lead, but Leonard is confident the Crunch can beat the trap this weekend.
“Kirkland Lake tried to play a similar style, but when you have guys who are quick, guys like (Dustin) Cordeiro (11, 14-4-18, 8), guys like Gratton (12, 13-10-23, 6), guys like (Josh) Racek (12, 4-12-16, 8), those guys are quick and they can fly out of the zone, cut up the middle, cut up the sides,” Leonard said.
“It is hard to catch them, without them taking a penalty.”
The Eskimos, who are tied for first place in the East Division with the Gold Miners, two points up on the Crunch, are coming off a successful road trip that saw them earn two victories and pick up a point in a double-overtime loss.
Overall, they have five wins and a double-overtime loss in their past six games.
For that trend to continue this weekend, Abibiti will have to play Eskimos hockey.
“Program, program, program, I preach it all the time,” said Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“This past weekend we did progress in our program. We made fewer mistakes, we made fewer turnovers, we had good puck possession, we had lots of controlled forechecking, we were under control in the neutral zone, our entire five man unit was on the same wave length.
“That is what we are going to have to do (against Cochrane) and if there are any adjustments we have to make based on what they do, then we will make them.
“We want to, obviously, shut down their top forwards totally and just be patient. Then, when we get our opportunities, we will have to take advantage of them.
“That is what we are going to have to do and we did it this weekend.”
Gagne is hoping to see the Eskimos play a similar type of game as they did during their first encounter with the Crunch.
“That would be nice and even the outcome would be nice,” he said.
“We have added a few things and there are more and more players who have been buying into our program.
Both the Crunch and the Eskimos are relatively healthy heading into this weekend.
Crunch defenceman James Vuillemot (4, 0-0-0, 2) remains out of the lineup with a long-term injury, while Eskimos blue-liner Michael Rancourt (6, 1-0-1, 4) is day-to-day with a lower-body injury.
Game time for both ends of the home-and-home series is 7:30 p.m.