IROQUOIS FALLS - The Abitibi Eskimos’ 2014-14 NOJHL regular season will kick off Saturday night when the Powassan Voodoos land at the Jus Jordan Arena.
“The players are looking forward to it,” said Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne Thursday afternoon.
The coaching staff has been busy working in practice this week to implement “the program,” which defines Eskimos hockey.
“We have had four exhibition games, with little things that we introduced, and the players did excellent, especially in the fourth exhibition game.
“They were really getting it and understanding what we wanted.
“And in practice, I would say the comprehension has been 100%.”
How well the Eskimos — especially the younger players who will be playing their first game in front of a large crowd — are able to retain what the coaches have taught them, might determine how successful the team will be Saturday night.
“When the pressure is on and the season starts, a little bit of nerves set in and uncertainty, lack confidence, I am hoping they can focus and concentrate on being patient and working within the program,” Gagne said.
The Eskimos expect to have the team’s leading scorer from 2013-14, Brady Clouthier, in the lineup Saturday night against the Voodoos.
Clouthier, who was injured in the first of four exhibition games against the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners, resumed skating on Tuesday.
The news is not quite so good, however, when it comes to forward Ryan Tront, who suffered an upper-body injury in the final exhibition game against the Gold Miners.
“We are looking at a minimum of two weeks,” Gagne said.
The Eskimos anticipate having a new player in the lineup in time for Saturday night’s game, but nothing is official yet.
“We have signed him, but it has not been approved yet, so I can’t really say who he is,” Gagne said.
“I don’t want to be fined.”
The Eskimos also anticipate having two affiliate players in the lineup for Saturday night’s game, including Timmins Majors forward Dillan Bruce.
The Eskimos have signed Dalton Bruce, but he will not be in the lineup Saturday night as he awaits doctor’s approval to play in a game following off-season upper-body surgery.
“He does not have the OK from a doctor yet, but he has been on the ice with us all week,” Gagne said.
While the Eskimos have not played against the Voodoos, they will have the advantage of being able to watch them take on the Crunch at the Tim Horton Event Centre in Cochrane Friday night.
“We are going to have a few people there, that is for sure,” Gagne said.
The key for the Eskimos, however, will be worrying about their team and not focusing too much on their opponents.
“Especially at the start of the year, you really look after your team, take care of your situation,” Gagne said.
“And then when it comes time to adjust, we are going to adjust and do what we need to do, as a team … our program.
“There are always a couple of things we can recognize from the opposition, but I would say 80% of it is look after our team right now.”
The Voodoos are a young team that is continuing to evolve as their parent club, the North Bay Battalion, of the OHL, progresses through training camp and the exhibition season and makes cuts.
“We are going to be icing a very young team,” said Voodoos head coach Scott Wray.
“I think we have only one 20 year old in our lineup, so we are going to be full of youth and hopefully excitement.
“With us being very youthful, we are definitely going to rely on our speed and getting to pucks first, getting shots on net.
“We are not going to be the biggest team in the league, so we won’t be a team that relies on fighting and checking guys through the boards, but we will play a greasy type of road game and hopefully come out on top.”
The Voodoos team that skates out onto the ice at the Jus Jordan Arena Saturday night will not be the same squad that started the preseason.
“We started out the first couple of exhibition games against Cochrane with a real depleted lineup,” Wray said.
“We had a lot of young guys who have never played junior before. We had guys who have been out of hockey for a while and then the Battalion came to camp and they released a few guys and we picked up a few guys that way and we have gotten some older guys in since then.
“I think we have a totally different team than we started training camp with to where we are now.”
The evolution of the Voodoos is likely to continue through the early part of the regular season, as the Battalion conclude their camp and exhibition schedule.
“We are just going to have to be patient and work with what we have right now,” Wray said.
“I am happy with what we have got. Like I said, we are very young, but the kids have responded well in practice.
“The one good thing about a young team is they are not old enough to snub their nose at you yet.”
Among the players the Voodoos are counting on to make a difference in the early going are forward Steven Harland, Michael Silveri, 6-5 defenceman Nolan Smith and goalie Ben Auger.
“Ben earned the No. 1 spot,” Wray said.
“He is a young kid, but you can’t get experience without playing.”
Auger and Silveri are both local boys, who played for the North Bay Trappers, of the Great North Midget League, last season.