TIMMINS – The Abitibi Eskimos are looking to right the ship when they faceoff against the team that started their current six-game losing streak.
Abitibi lost 4-1 to the North Bay Trappers on Jan. 27 at the Memorial Gardens and the two clubs will meet up on Saturday at the Jus Jordan Arena.
North Bay occupies second place in the Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League standings, while the Eskimos are two points up on the last-place Elliot Lake Bobcats.
With all that in mind, things will look a little different when the two clubs faceoff.
Firstly, forwards Brandon Windsor and Philip Sweeney were cut from the team for “off-ice” issues and secondly, defenceman Ryan Kerr has been moved up to the top line as a winger.
Kerr has recorded four goals and 18 points through 37 games this season as a defenceman.
He will be joining his brother Aaron and centreman Ryan Wildman who will be returning to the lineup after missing five games.
“I’m going to call it the Timmins line,” said Eskimos head coach Paul Gagne. “He (Wildman) does well defensively and he’s a workaholic. He’s a big player on our team. It’s definitely nice to have him back. “We’re looking to generate some offence and continue on with those two lines and the checking line.”
Forwards Ryan Tront, Zach Innes and Peter Poulin-Roy will make up the second line.
Innes is currently riding a three-game point streak, having recorded four goals and six points over that span, while Poulin-Roy has registered one goal and seven points also over the last three games.
Over the six-game losing streak, the Eskimos have been outscored 34-14, but 12 of those goals came over the last three games against the Bobcats, Blind River Beavers and first-place Soo Thunderbirds.
“We’re pretty happy with the way we played last game,” said Gagne. “Blind River and Elliot Lake have been playing some really good hockey right now. We’ve had issues after issues this year, but we’ve played some pretty good hockey lately.”
The Eskimos are a fairly young team with goalie Jackson Winkler being the lone 20-year-old, so it’s fair to say, the lack of experience may have played a factor in the team’s 12-24-0-2 record.
“We’re not going to do some miracles here, but I want to keep this team together considering what we have with our defence,” said Gagne. “We’re a young team we know that. I want to keep them together and if we can persevere through this season, you never know what can happen in playoffs.”
The Trappers have a lot to play for this season as the host of Dudley Hewitt Cup this spring.
“We know we’re playing against a great team,” said Gagne. “We simplified things a little more. We’re working hard on our forecheck and we’re working hard in the defensive zone.
“We have to come out and play 60 minutes. I know it’s a cliche, but if we can put that together, we can give ourselves a chance to win and it will be nice to get that piano off our back.”
The Trappers own the season series between the clubs, posting a 4-0 record.
Last year, the Trappers bounced the Eskimos from the playoffs.
“We’ve got one game this weekend,” said Gagne. “We’re going with the players we have. They’re going to get a lot of ice time. If we can stay disciplined with the lack of players, we’ll just concentrate on playing hockey.
“They’re loose and having fun. I don’t know if it’s because of the changes we made, but it’s not a team that’s lost six games in a row. In the long run things will work out.”
Gametime Saturday is 7:30 p.m.