Eskimos host Wildcats Friday

TIMMINS - It hasn’t taken Ryan Reeves long to make an impression on Abitibi Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.

When the Eskimos acquired the 5-11, 200-pound Moseley, Va., native from the Fort Frances Lakers, of the SIJHL, Saturday they were expecting to get a stay-at-home defenceman who dishes out bone-crunching hits.

And that is just what the 19-year-old blue-liner did in practice this week, as he caught Scott Peng (10, 2-0-2, 4) with devastating, but clean, check that crumpled the forward to the ice with a broken fibula.

“It was a clean hit, right at the blue-line, but the kid is so solid, he just put himself in front of him and boom,” Gagne said.

“It was an accident, obviously, and he feels bad about it.”

Reeves (7, 0-0-0, 6) is not known for his offensive skills, but he demonstrated in practice this week that he knows how to move the puck.

“He has been really conscientious of what we are asking for in practice this week, because we were doing a little bit of (implementing) our program,” Gagne said.

Gagne has paired Reeves with Eskimos captain Kevin Walker, who was shifted back to defence from forward for last Saturday’s 7-0 win over the Mattawa Blackhawks.

“He (Walker) can provide him with some leadership and help him out here and there,” Gagne said.

“It will make it a lot easier for his transition (learning the Eskimos program) on the ice.”

Reeves and the other two players the Abitibi acquired from the Lakers — forwards Jake Holland (15, 5-6-11, 20) and Tristan Salesse (10, 0-3-3, 2) — will be in the lineup when the Eskimos host the Elliot Lake Wildcats at the Archie Dillon Sportsplex in Timmins Friday night and the Soo Thunderbirds at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls Saturday night.

Holland, who is expect to bring an element of toughness to the Eskimos’ lineup, has demonstrated some offensive skills, as well.

“At first, I didn’t think he was that quick, but last night he was really involved and skated well,” Gagne said.

“He was taking good shots on net and driving to the net, making things happen. It was nice to see.

“It was the same thing with Tristan Salesse, he is a very skilled forward and I have put him along side (Brenden) Locke right now and he has shown his skills.”

Holland will likely begin his Eskimos career playing on the third line and providing a little bit of grit and sandpaper.

The addition of the three former Lakers should strengthen an Eskimos roster that beat the Wildcats 5-2 in Elliot Lake in their only meeting so far this season and took the Thunderbirds to double overtime in Sault Ste. Marie, before dropping a 5-4 decision.

“It adds a little bit of depth on our roster,” Gagne said.

“I am very pleased, so far.”

Peng was scheduled to have surgery in Timmins Thursday afternoon, so he will likely be out of action for an extended period.

“I am not a doctor, but it is similar to the injury that Kevin Walker had last year,” Gagne said.

“So, we are looking at three or four months, not good.”

With the Wildcats and the Thunderbirds on the agenda for Friday and Saturday, the Eskimos will have to bring their A game, if they want to duplicate the success they had against those two teams on the road.

“We have been working on our program again this week (in practice),” Gagne said.

“We have had some serious practices, with a high level of intensity.

“It was a little bit of an introduction for the new players, but also a bit of a recap again for the veterans … back to the drawing board, basically.

“We just need to get back to playing our game, like we did against Mattawa. Hopefully, that will mean a lot of forechecking, good play in the defensive zone, fewer turnovers, more shots on net and more time in the neutral and offensive zones.

“And hopefully we will get a little bit of energy from our new players.”

In other words, Gagne is hoping to see the Eskimos build upon the positive result they produced against Mattawa last Saturday night.

“There was a lot more attention to detail in that game,” he said.

“The players were conscientious of what needed to be done.

“Even when we were up by a few goals, we still played our program.

“When it was time to do a little bit of a trap, the forecheck was always there but if it wasn’t 100%, we made sure we played well defensively.

“The guys were really focused and I am hoping this weekend we do the same things, because we have been pretty focused all week in practice.”

Now that Braddock Baalerud (354:25, 2.88, .920) has returned to health, the Eskimos have released goalie Tyler Lesschaeve.

Chet Tooker (699:24, 3.95, .887) and Baalerud have give the Eskimos a solid one-two combination so far this season.

Game time for both Friday night’s game at the Archie Dillon Sportsplex and Saturday night’s game at the Jus Jordan Arena is 7:30 p.m.