IROQUOIS FALLS - The Abitibi Eskimos blue line features a nice mix of experience and youth heading into the 2013-14 season.
The squad features four veterans with one at least one year of Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League experience under their belts.
Captain Kevin Walker is coming back from a potentially career-ending leg injury and has been skating for a couple of weeks. He is feeling good midway through training camp.
“Our captain, Kevin Walker, leads by example,” said Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“He is entering his third year and he is going to bring a lot of experience. He is going to bring a lot of leadership.”
Walker (47, 6-21-27, 42), who stepped up his game to anther level in 2012-13, logged a lot of minutes prior to being injured late in the season.
Like Walker, Kealey Cummings (40, 1-5-6, 38) will be entering his third NOJHL campaign, while Ryan Kerr (47, 5-16-21, 41) and Bryce Robert (46, 0-3-3, 34) are back for their second seasons.
“Kerr was a rookie last year, so he is going to bring a little bit more experience,” Gagne said.
“The same with Kealey Cummings and the young Robert.”
The blue line has been bolstered for 2013-14 by the addition of three former members of the Great North Midget League Kapuskasing Flyers — 16-year-old Jamey Lauzon (34, 10-12-22, 48), a draft pick of the OHL’s London Knights, Brennan Roy (34, 13-19-32, 30) and Sheehan Moore (41, 3-14-17, 41) — as well as a pair of Americans — Richmond, Va., native Will Wickersham (47, 7-23-30, 58, Richmond Generals, MetJHL) and Lumberton, N.J., native Steven Petitte (34, 2-10-12, 48 Trenton Habs, NSHL).
Lauzon, who has yet to take to the ice at training camp because of a hand injury, Roy and Wickersham have been signed.
“We signed Lauzon, who was drafted by the London Knights, and he is quite the 16-year-old defenceman,” Gagne said.
“He is gritty and we just love the way he plays. He had a great rookie camp.”
Wickersham was inked before the start of training camp and the 20 year old should bring some experience to the roster.
“He is gritty, good defensively and finishes his checks,” Gagne said.
“He gets involved. He provokes others. You need that type of defenceman and he is going to get a lot of minutes.”
Like Wickersham, Roy was signed by the Eskimos prior to the start of the rookie camp held in Timmins earlier this month.
“I like to describe myself as an offensive defenceman, with a big shot,” he said.
“I always try and get a good first pass out of the (defensive) zone.”
Roy, an Iroquois Falls native, expects there to be an adjustment moving up the NOJHL from the GNML.
“There will be bigger guys, stronger guys, and it will be a lot faster, too,” he said.
Being a member of a large contingent of former Kapuskasing Flyers in training camp, should help Roy adjust to life as an Eskimo.
“They (Lauzon, Moore, goalies Sylvain Miron and Julien Deschenes, forwards Marc Dube, Brenden Locke and Cameron Etherington) were good teammates and it is going to be comfortable in the room, for sure,” he said.
Roy feels the secret to success for the Eskimos in 2013-14 will be simple.
“I think a lot of team bonding and hard work as a team is key,” he said. “There is a lot of talent at the camp, for sure. If we put it all together I think we can have a good year.”
With nine defencemen on the roster, Gagne and his staff will have some tough choices to make before the end of the exhibition schedule.
“We have a lot of defencemen on the roster right now,” he said. “We are going to have some tough decisions to make, but that’s a good thing, because we are going to have a better club.”