COCHRANE - The Abitibi Eskimos will be looking for a little payback when they visit the Tim Horton Event Centre for the second half of a home-and-home series with the Crunch Friday night.
A 7-5 loss in the opener — and specifically how it came about — likely still has normally mild-mannered Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne fuming.
“We are going to have to play within our means,” he said following Tuesday night’s loss, when asked what the Eskimos will have to do to beat the Crunch Friday night.
“We had passengers (Tuesday night) and we cannot play like that. We don’t have enough players.
“At moments, even our better players were making mistakes and you just can’t have that.
“As a coaching staff, we are going to have to do something about it. It is our job to correct it.”
The two NOJHL East Division rivals have split their first two games at the Tim Horton Event Centre, with the Crunch crushing the Eskimos 9-3 back on Oct. 17 and the Eskimos earning a 7-6 overtime victory on Nov. 21.
The Crunch have won three of the four meetings — including Tuesday’s 7-5 victory — at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls.
With a record of 18-10-0-2 and 38 points, the Crunch sit in second place in the East Division, seven points behind the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners and three points up on the Eskimos, 16-12-0-3 and 35 points.
The Crunch still have a game in hand on the Eskimos.
Another regulation loss Friday could drop the Eskimos five points behind the Crunch, but a regulation victory could once again close the gap to just one point and give the visitors an opportunity to move past Cochrane when they host the Gold Miners at the Jus Jordan Arena Saturday night.
Josh Racek (30, 13-27-40, 19), who scored three goals against the Eskimos Tuesday night, realizes just how important it is for the Crunch to win Friday night’s game, as well.
“Friday night, in our building, is going to be huge,” he said.
“If they come out like we did tonight, we are going to have to have all lines going.
“If we can get a one-goal lead, or a couple of goals lead, we are going to need to sit on top of them and not let our foot off the gas.”
Racek’s coach, Ryan Leonard, who is also the general manager and owner of the Crunch, also knows the importance of following up Tuesday’s win with a solid effort Friday night.
“We have got to go home Friday night and make the game worthwhile,” he said, following Tuesday’s victory.
“This was a four-point game for us tonight. If we had lost tonight it would have put us one point behind. But we won tonight to jump up three points on them, with a game in hand.
“Now Friday night should be that much more exciting for us.”
Both the Crunch and the Eskimos have the ability to put the puck in the net with great frequency.
Cody Gratton (28, 34-25-59, 24), of the Crunch, leads all NOJHL players in scoring.
In addition to Racek, their other top snipers include Dustin Cordeiro (25, 26-13-39, 23), Aviv Milner (28, 9-22-31, 14), Jason Berube (30, 11-13-24, 20), defenceman Joey Mavrin (30, 6-15-21, 16), Daniel Stagg (18, 9-7-16, 4) and Henry Berger (8, 3-4-7, 4)
The Eskimos attack, meanwhile, features Brady Clouthier (28, 26-29-55, 35), who is second in the NOJHL in scoring, defenceman Brennan Roy (31, 15-22-37, 38), Brenden Locke (25, 20-15-35, 13), Ryan Attwood (28, 12-21-33, 40), Ryan Tront (19, 13-17-30, 16), Jake Holland (13, 10-19-29, 12) and Tristan Salesse (12, 6-15-21, 6).
Both Attwood and Eskimos captain Kevin Walker (25, 3-12-15, 37) missed Tuesday night’s game with upper body injuries and their status for Friday night’s game against the Crunch and Saturday night’s game against the Gold Miners remains unclear.
When it comes to keeping the puck out of their own net, neither the Crunch nor the Eskimos have excelled so far this season.
Cochrane’s current tandem features Ben Auger (328:39, 0, 3.29, .897) and Brett Young (300:00, 0, 3.40, .918) after both Troy Paquette and Matt Young were sent packing.
At the other end of the rink, the Eskimos are going with Chet Tooker (1249:31, 1, 4.37, .884) and Ryan Ferguson (180:00, 0, 6.33, .846), after Bradock Baalerud was released.
If the outcome of Friday’s game comes down to special teams, the Eskimos should have a slight advantage over their hosts.
The Eskimos currently rank fifth in the NOJHL in terms of power play (21.8%) and they are tied for third in penalty killing (83.2%) with the Soo Thunderbirds.
Cochrane’s power play ranks seventh (18.6%), while its penalty killing sits at fifth (77.4%).
The Gold Miners have the NOJHL’s best power play (31.7%), while the Elliot Lake Wildcats have the best penalty-killing unit (84.6%).
The Crunch, who have now won five of their past seven games, have made some slight alterations to their attack.
“Our style the last couple of weeks has been trying to get some of our D involved in the offence more,” Leonard said.
“We weren’t getting goals from some of our goal scorers.”
Crunch captain Max Glashauser (24, 2-12-14, 31) was front and centre with that new philosophy Tuesday night, attacking the Eskimos’ net time after time.
“He is the type of player, if he jumps into the play, he is quick enough to get back before anybody else gets there,” Leonard said.
“I think we was only on the ice for one goal against tonight. We are happy with his play and hopefully he can carry it on Friday night.”
Game time for Friday’s contest at the Tim Horton Event Centre is 7:30 p.m.