IROQUOIS FALLS - The Abitibi Eskimos opened training camp at the Jus Jordan Arena Monday night looking to rebound on a sub-par 2012-13 campaign.
And there was plenty of optimism as coach and general manager Paul Gagne and his staff put 25 hopefuls through their paces in preparation for the Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League squad’s first exhibition game Saturday night when the Gold Miners visit for the first game of a home-and-home series that will conclude Sunday night in Kirkland Lake.
The Eskimos have added a number of impressive pieces to a solid core returning from 2012-13.
Last season, especially early in the season, the Eskimos struggled to put the puck in the net.
“We did have a hard time offensively, but it was also because defensively we had breakdowns,” Gagne said.
“We were playing behind the eight ball all the time and that adds pressure on the offence.
“This year, with our defensive core and good goaltending, all we have to do is work hard in the offensive zone. The more time we play in the offensive zone, the more chances we will have to score.”
That likely won’t be the case with the 2013-14 version of the team, however.
Ryan Wildman, who scored 15 goals and added 26 assists for 41 points in 31 games, was back on the ice Monday.
In addition, winger Peter Poulin-Roy, who had 16 goals and 26 assists for 42 points in 35 games, is expected to return to the squad after attending training camp with the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds.
Winger Aaron Kerr was on the ice Monday night, but he will be leaving shortly to attend training camp with the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack.
Kerr scored 22 goals and added 14 assists for 36 points in his 46-game NOJHL rookie campaign.
“Wildman brings leadership and he is creative offensively,” Gagne said. “And we have Kerr, who is only 16 years old and had a great year offensively, last year. We are expecting hopefully double the results of his statistics this year and we have Poulin-Roy, who is coming back. He can have a great season if he puts it together and I am sure he will.”
Other veteran forwards who were on the ice Monday include Zach Innes (42, 14-17-31, 30), Ben Miller (41, 5-10-15, 13), Jacob Kenney (26, 0-5-5, 31) and Shane Borden (26, 2-2-4, 18).
Ryan Tront (28, 4-20-24, 41) will also be returning for the 2013-14 campaign, but he was not on the ice Monday.
Prior to training camp, the Eskimos inked forwards Brady Clouthier, Tommy Labrecque and Marc Dube.
Clouthier (49, 20-23-43, 76) averaged nearly a point a game with the Brampton Bombers, of the GOJHL, and also played three games with the Orangeville Flyers, of the OJHL, during the 2012-13 season.
At 5-10, 165 lbs., the 19 year old isn’t the biggest player in camp, but he does appear to have good speed.
“Obviously I am going to try and contribute offensively, but it’s not just my offensive game I take pride in,” Clouthier said.
“I also like to play well defensively, block shots … any way I can contribute, I am going to.”
His statistics would suggest Clouthier is as adept at putting the puck in the net as he is at setting up plays.
“If it benefits the play, I am going to pass it, but I am not going to give up a scoring opportunity,” he said.
“If I have the chance to score, I am going to shoot the puck.”
Clouthier isn’t focusing on setting any personal goals heading into the 2013-14 campaign.
“I am hoping to help this team win some games and hopefully get a good run in the playoffs,” he said.
Labrecque brings a nice combination of size and skill to the Eskimos.
The 20 year old, from Quebec City, is 6-2, 190 lbs. and he put up some impressive numbers (42, 30-21-51, 32) with the Trenton Habs of the NSHL last season.
Dube (34, 22-43-65, 68), the younger brother of Eskimos assistant coach and assistant GM Dan Dube, was one of the top scorers in the Great North Midget League with the Kapuskasing Flyers in 2012-13.
Another interesting player in camp is one-time Eskimo Erik Robichaud, who spent the past two seasons in the QMJHL with the PEI Rocket (2012-13 — 67, 7-24-31, 37) and the Moncton Wildcats (2011-12 — 57, 8-4-12, 22).
Prior to that, the 20 year old was the leading scorer (50, 31-42-73, 28) for the Eskimos during the 2010-11 campaign.
QMJHL teams are limited in the number of 20 year olds they can carry on their rosters and there is no guarantee Robichaud will return to the QMJHL this season.
“It’s definitely encouraging, because there are a lot of skills up front and if we can play good defence these kids are going to play really well,” Gagne said.
Other newcomers in camp looking to crack the roster up front include Brenden Locke, Cameron Etherington and Braden Etherington.
Locke (24, 20-18-38, 6) is only 15 years old, but put up some impressive numbers last season with the Kapuskasing Flyers.
He was drafted by the Barrie Colts in the 14th round of the 2013 OHL Priority Selection.
Cameron Etherington (34, 16-37-53, 24), a Moosonee native also played with the Flyers in 2012-13 and was briefly with the Elliot Lake Bobcats.
Braden Etherington, a Moose Factory native, is a former Kapuskasing Flyer who split last season between the North Dundas Rockets (6, 3-0-3, 14), of the NCJHL, and the Ottawa Jr. Canadians (6, 1-1-2, 2), of the EOJHL.