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Eskimos hunt first victory

IROQUOIS FALLS – Abitibi Eskimos don’t want to start the Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League season 0-4-0.

At this point, however, coach and GM Paul Gagne is more concerned with how well his squad plays and how it absorbs his system, than the final score of Wednesday night’s game agaist the Nickel Barons in Sudbury.

“Sometimes I would rather lose a game and have progress in the way we played,” Gagne said.

“It (getting two points in Sudbury) would be nice, definitely, but let’s work the program first. Don’t try to win hockey games your own way. I don’t like that.”

“We have to realize that winning hockey is not an individual sport. It’s just a matter of putting things together, here, with the players.

“We have got to come out with our best goaltending. We have got to come out with our best defensive play. We have got to come out with our forwards all in sync together.

“It’s a process. It’s a progression. We are not there yet.”

Eskimos fans are not too use to seeing their team start the season 0-3-0 and will be hoping to see them sporting a record of 1-3-0 on Saturday when they return to the Jus Jordan Arena to host the Soo Thunderbirds.

Game time is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

Heading into Wednesday’s game against the Nickel Barons, Gagne isn’t concerned about the Eskimos adapting to Sudbury’s game.

“I really don’t care what they do,” he said.

“Our strategy is not to play against their system.

“We have to clean up our house. We have to do our program and I am sticking to that.

“You can’t contradict yourself. I don’t what to go to practice and say ‘Sudbury is doing this,’ let’s do this.

“I think we should have an identity … our program … and then we can modify that, playing against other teams.

“The whole emphasis is Abitibi Eskimos hockey, right now.

“That’s all I’m thinking of.”

It is difficult to gauge how much of the system the players have been able to grasp to this point of the season.

“There could be eight players who have grasped the system, 100%,” Gagne said.

The Eskimos have struggled to find offence so far this season and the team will be without forward Aaron Kerr Wednesday night in Sudbury.

Kerr scored his first two goals of the season Saturday night against Blind River, but will be serving a suspension.

“Here’s a 15 year old who scores two goals and is just getting his feet wet in the league here, just starting to feel comfortable, he had some power-play time and it’s unfortunate,” Gagne said.

“He had to fight. He had no choice.

“He was just coming around and we will miss him. He is a kid who just scored two goals and he was full of confidence. That’s what you like to see in the lineup.

“But somebody else will have to come up and fill in his skates.”

Prior to Tuesday’s practice, Gagne was not about to announce who that player will be for the Sudbury contest.

The line of Kerr, Zach Innes and Ben Miller started Saturday’s game as the Eskimos third line, but it didn’t play like a third-line unit.

“They really played well,” Gagne said.

“They were playing power play. They were clicking, making things happen.

“It was nice to see.”

Kerr will return to the lineup on Saturday night.

Putting more pucks in the net is not necessarily the only answer to the Eskimos woes.

“You have to generate some offence, yes, but we have got to play a tight hockey game defensively,” Gagne said.

“And then when we do capitalize on one or two chances that we have, you are confident defensively and right now we are not confident defensively, or offensively.

“It’s part of the game and it will get there. I know that.”