TIMMINS – The Abitibi Eskimos will be looking to claw their way up the Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League standings this weekend.
Friday night the Eskimos will host the red-hot Kirkland Lake Gold Miners at the Archie Dillon Sportsplex and then on Saturday night it will be the not-so-hot Sudbury Nickel Barons providing the opposition at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls.
The Gold Miners have taken two of the three games against the Eskimos this season and have won four of the five games they have played since dropping a 6-2 decision to Abitibi in Iroquois Falls on Oct. 13.
“They are not a very flashy team,” said Eskimos coach and GM Paul Gagne.
“They play well defensively. They capitalize on their chances, whenever the opportunity strikes.
“The coaching makes a difference right now. They keep it simple and they don’t give away too many chances.”
Having a veteran goaltender like Chris Komma between the pipes doesn’t hurt, either.
Komma is third in the NOJHL with a 2.58 goals against average, third in saves percentage, .908, second in wins with nine, and tied for first in shutouts, with one.
“He is a big asset for them right now,” Gagne said.
“When you are playing that well, obviously the goaltending makes a big difference.
“He’s kept them in games many times this year and that’s what happens when you are a 20 year old, you have experience and things go well.
“On the other side, we are just a young team and we have young goaltenders.
“It’s just a matter of time and we are going to put it together and things will start rolling … and I hope that starts on Friday.”
The Gold Miners do not have any big guns, but the diminutive Connor McNally leads the team in scoring with 11 goals and 16 points.
Jordan Briand and Royce King each have 14 points, while Chapleau’s Jonathan Dionne has 13 points. Newcomer Jean-Michel Naud, meanwhile, has given a boost to the offence, with six points in five games.
“Everybody is trying to tweak their team, which is important,” Gagne said. “You have to do that. You can’t just stay with the same team all the time. They added a couple of players and sometimes a couple of players can make a difference.”
The Nickel Barons, clearly, will be looking for a difference on Saturday night.
Sudbury’s lone victory in its past seven games came one home ice against the Eskimos on Oct. 24.
“We are going to call this game redemption,” Gagne said, in reference to the 7-2 setback the Eskimos suffered in Sudbury.
“They had lost four in a row and we went there and things didn’t work out.
“They got those four goals in five minutes, or so, and Saturday we will be looking to hold the fort in the back end. Our goaltenders are going to hold the fort and defensively, also, and if we can take advantage of a team that’s in a little bit of turmoil, why not?”
ESKIMOS NOTES: Centre Zach Innes will serve the fourth game of his four-game suspension on Friday night and will be eligible to return to the lineup Saturday night versus the Nickel Barons … Forward Jonathan Levesque has opted to leave the Eskimos roster because of work commitments … Defenceman Kealey Cummings remains out of the lineup with a lower-body injury.