TIMMINS - The Mattawa Blackhawks have yet to win a game, a trend the Abitibi Eskimos are hoping will continue Friday night.
That might be easier said than done, however, given that the Eskimos will tangle with the physical Blackhawks on the smaller ice surface of the Archie Dillon Sportsplex.
“It is going to be a little different game plan, because it is a smaller ice surface than we are used to back home,” said Eskimos assistant coach and general manager Dan Dube.
“The defensive zone, the offensive zone and the neutral zone are a little smaller, so we are going to have to play a little tighter game at the Sportsplex.
“The last time we played in Timmins (a 2-1 win over the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners at the McIntyre Arena) tHE boys really followed the game plan, so we are hoping we can do what we did at the Mac at the Sportsplex.”
Staying focused and sticking to the game plan will be key if the Eskimos are hoping to find success in the first of their two home games this weekend.
“We are just going to have to move the puck quickly,” Dube said.
“We are going to have to use our speed and we are going to have to play smart.
“We have been implementing a couple of changes at practice this week.
“We have a little bit of a scouting report on these guys, so we know what to expect. We are going to be ready for them on Friday.”
Now that the Blackhawks have traded the team’s leading scorer, Alex Hulford (11, 7-3-10, 6), to the Blind River Beavers, Mattawa will be relying more than ever on a balance attack.
Kyle Baril (5, 3-3-6, 9), Christian Sgroi (8, 2-4-6, 19), Tyler Broderson (8, 2-3-5, 6), Henry Yawit (8, 2-1-3, 0) and Josh Cameron (7, 2-1-3, 6) are the only other Blackhawks with more than one goal this season.
The Blackhawks are known for playing an in-your-face, aggressive style of hockey that can get under the skin of some teams.
“Our guys bounced back after our first game where we had a few fights and they know what is at stake here,” Dube said.
“They know that we can’t afford anymore injuries, or suspensions, or penalties.
“We want to play on the power play, we don’t want to play on the PK. That is where we are going to be more successful, is on the power play, and the guys are well aware of that.”
The Eskimos have put a little extra emphasis on special teams in practice this week.
“Tonight we are going to be working on power play,” Dube said.
“And then I think we will do some work on faceoffs, what we need to do if we win or lose the faceoffs.”
Playing against teams that are ranked lower in the standings, there is always a danger of becoming overconfident, but the Eskimos showed how focused they can be in such situation while dismantling the Beavers 11-2 last Saturday.
“The guys know that this is junior hockey and you can’t take any team lightly,” Dube said.
“We just have to stick to our game plan and have the players do what we ask them to do.”
Heading into Friday night’s game in Timmins against the Blackhawks and Saturday night’s at the Jus Jordan Arena against the Powassan Voodoos, the Eskimos are relatively healthy, with only defenceman Jamey Lauzon (7, 1-2-3, 14) out of the lineup.
Forward Cameron Etherington (6, 1-0-1, 9) will miss Friday night’s game, however, as he serves the second game of the two-game suspension he picked up in Sudbury on Sept. 26.
The return of Ryan Tront (1, 0-3-3, 0) to the lineup last Saturday against Blind River helped to restore a little balance to the Eskimos’ forward lines.
“Tront has been playing with (Brady) Clouthier (8, 8-6-14, 14) and (captain Kevin) Walker (8, 1-5-6, 8) on the first line and we have Lockey (Brenden Locke 6, 5-3-8, 5) and (Ryan) Attwood (8, 3-7-10, 6), who had some great chemistry last game, and Blake (Cudmore 7, 0-4-4, 2) has been playing well, also,” Dube said.
“He (Cudmore) is a big boy. He likes to finish his checks and he goes into the corners and comes out with the puck most of the time. He has got Attwood and Locke to play with, so if he can find them out there, those guys have got some great finish around the net.
“That is why they had success the last game and hopefully they can continue on this weekend.
“We are going to keep those lines together. Throughout the games, there are always adjustments, but that is what we are going to have for our game on Friday.”
Both of the Eskimos goaltenders — Braddock Baalerud (211:08, 1.99, .948) and Chet Tooker (275:46, 3.48, .901) — have been playing well, and Dube anticipates fans will get a chance to see both of them this weekend, although he would not say which one will be playing which game.
“That is the game plan right now, but anything can happen in practice, or after Friday’s game,” he said.
Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne will be back behind the team’s bench on the weekend, after leaving Dube and goaltending coach Steve Hamel in charge for Saturday’s 11-2 win over the Beavers.
ESKIMOS NOTES — Former Eskimos Sylvain Miron (goalie), Bryce Robert (defence) and Marc Dube (forward) have all signed with the St. Charles Spirit of the new Canadian International Hockey League … After this weekend’s two home games, the Eskimos will play their next four on the road.