COCHRANE - Round 8 of the Battle of Highway 11 will see the Crunch host the Abitibi Eskimos at the Tim Horton Event Centre on Friday night.
And if the first seven games of the 10-game regular season series are any indication, fans will see plenty of goals scored.
The Crunch hold a definite advantage to date, with five wins, an overtime loss and a regulation loss for 11 of a possible 14 points, while the Eskimos have two victories, one overtime loss and one regulation loss for five of a possible 14 points.
In those seven games, the Crunch have outscored the Eskimos 46-25.
Cody Gratton leads the NOJHL in game-winning goals with eight, one of which came against the Eskimos, but it is interesting to note that defenceman Joey Mavrin has actually potted game-winners in two of Cochrane’s victories over the Eskimos.
Josh Racek and Reed Gregory, who now plays for the Blind River Beavers after making a stop with the Mattawa Blackhawks, have the other game-winners for the Crunch in the series.
Eskimos leading scorer Brady Clouthier and defenceman Brennan Roy, meanwhile, have the two game-winning goals for the Eskimos.
Neither Crunch coach, general manager and owner Ryan Leonard nor Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne have yet indicated who will start in goal Friday night, but it seems likely the game will feature a match-up of Brett Young for the Crunch and Logan Ferrington for the Eskimos.
Young was in goal for Cochrane’s last two victories over the Eskimos, 7-5 on Dec. 16 and 9-2 on Dec. 19.
The goalies of record for the Crunch in their three earlier victories were Troy Paquette on Oct. 17 and Oct. 18, and Ben Auger on Nov. 22.
Ferrington has yet to face the Crunch.
Braddock Baalerud was in net for the Eskimos during their first victory in the series back on Sept. 20, while Chet Tooker was between the pipes on Nov. 21.
Leonard is hopeful the Crunch will be able to continue their dominance of the Eskimos when the puck drops Friday night.
“We just have to keep playing the way we have been play against Abitibi,” he said.
“We seem to have their number.
“We are going to have to use our speed to our advantage, get lots of shots on net and good things will happen.”
Playing at home Friday night won’t necessarily be an advantage for the Crunch. Their record in the three games played at the Tim Horton Event Centre so far is 2-0-0-1, while in the four games played at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls they have a record of 3-1-0-0.
“The Cochrane Crunch are road warriors,” Leonard said. “If you look at our record and our record at home, our record’s almost perfect on the road, actually.
“Other than the Kirkland Lake games, we really haven’t lost a game on the road this year.
“Out of our 11 losses, I think six or seven of them have come at our own rink. We have got to learn how to play better at home.
“Maybe when we are playing at home we try to do too much to impress the fans and it is not just that, other teams tend to elevate their games when they come to our rink.”
Gagne is hoping that is just what his Eskimos do when they take to the ice of the Tim Horton Event Centre Friday night.
“We have to be careful not to play in our defensive zone too much,” he said. “We have got to commit to getting the puck out.
“With their run-and-gun style and their tendency to hit the stretch guy, we are going to have to be aware of that.
“We are going to have to make sure that we don’t get out manned. If we can eliminate that, it will be a road to success.
“The better we play defensively, the more opportunities we are going to get offensively and then it is just a matter of capitalizing on those opportunities.”
Like most teams, the Eskimos will try to shut down Gratton, but that is a task that can be easier said than done.
“It is not easy to do something with him, because he is all over the place,” Gagne said. “In the normal position for a centre, for a winger, he just does his own thing, so you just have to be aware of where he is on the ice at all times.
“We are going to have to emphasize that we are a bigger team than they are. We are going to have to finish our checks.
“If we can do that, we are going to eliminate their time and space and choke them a little bit. What I mean by choking them is not letting them free-wheel all over the place.”
Given that Gratton already has 10 short-handed goals on the season, the Eskimos can’t even afford to relax when they are on the power play.
“We play five-on-four and it looks like we are playing a five-on-three,” Gagne said. “We shoot and there is a rebound and all of a sudden the puck is on his stick at the offensive blue-line.”
Friday night’s game will be the fifth-straight on the road for the Eskimos and they have only managed one victory in the first four, although the team did not have its leading scorer, Clouthier, for the past three games and was also battling a wave of the flu that kept four players out of the lineup.
In addition, forwards Ryan Tront and Ryan Attwood have been in and out of the lineup as they have battled upper-body injuries.
Defenceman Joe Olson is expected to make his debut in an Eskimos uniform Friday night.
The Crunch, meanwhile, will have Daniel Stagg back in the lineup. Fellow forward Anthony Filoso, who played in the two road games last weekend, will see action in his first home game.
Former Elliot Lake Bobcat Dylan Sakatch, a late cut of the Calgary Canucks, of the AJHL, might also see action.