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Eskimos look to add depth

IROQUOIS FALLS - The clock is ticking as Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League teams attempt to complete transactions prior to Friday’s noon trade deadline.

Abitibi Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne is among those working the phones in an effort to fine tune his roster prior to the freeze, although he is not losing any sleep over the process.

“We are not pursuing things at 100%, but if something comes up, we might do it,” he said.

“It would be the best player possible, if we can get them, just to add depth on our team.

“If it doesn’t happen then that’s OK, too.”

The process of making a trade can involve other teams letting the Eskimos know that certain players are available, or Gagne or his assistant, Dan Dube, calling another team to check on the availability of a certain player.

“If a player is on the market, let’s say … just for example … (Shane) Hiley, I would let all the teams in junior hockey know that he is available and see if they are interested,” Gagne said.

“That happens a lot, too (and not just near the trade deadline).”

“That’s constant, throughout the season.”

The Eskimos current have 22 players on their roster, including injured forwards Ryan Wildman and Hiley.

Wildman, a 20 year old, suffered a fractured finger during the first period of the Jan. 4 game against the Soo Thunderbirds and may require surgery.

Hiley, a 19 year old who has been nursing a hand injury for some time, played in Tuesday night’s victory over Kirkland Lake but his injury has been getting worse and he has left the team to seek treatment.

“He has been injured for just over a month now,” Gagne said.

“He played the one game and he is not progressing. The hand is worse than it ever was. He is regressing and that is not good.

“We told him to go and see his doctors, see a physiotherapist and we will go from there. Hopefully he will come back 100%.”

Even with the two injured players included on the roster, the Eskimos have room to add one more player.

“After Jan. 10, 23 cards is the maximum number you can have on your roster,” Gagne said.

“On Dec. 1, we had to be down to 25 cards.

“The only way you can make as transaction after Jan. 10 is if it is a free agent, a player who does not belong to anybody and is not protected on another team’s 23 cards.

“For example, Wayne Gretzky from North Bay, if he is not protected, yes you can sign him, or a player who has never been protected, such as a college player.”

There have already been a number of transactions in the past month, or so, as teams moved to avoid the last-second rush.

“A lot of times if you wait until the last minute it can backfire on you,” Gagne said.

“You bring in a player and you find there is no chemistry, or whatnot, so it’s nice to have players who have been with your program for a few months before the playoffs start.”

The Eskimos, for example picked up forward David Becker from the Elliot Lake Bobcats on Saturday and he had an immediate impact, scoring a goal in his first game with his new teammates on Tuesday night.

Earlier, the Eskimos picked up forward Landon Hiebert from the Flin Flon Bombers, of the SJHL, in exchange for forward Peter Poulin-Roy.

Other key in-season acquisitions have included goalie Brody Wagner, picked up from the Assiniboia Southern Rebels of the PJHL, and Hiley, picked up from the Kemptville 73s of the CCHL.

Even if the Eskimos stand pat at Friday’s trade deadline, Gagne is happy with the 22 players on the team’s roster.

“Absolutely, it’s nice to add depth,” he said.

“We have been playing really well the last 15 games, or so, and we are a team that with a little bit more depth could go a long way.”

The Blind River Beavers added 20-year-old forward Tim Perks, from the Yarmouth Mariners, of the MJAHL, on Monday.

In December, the team picked up Timmins native Brandon Major in a swap with the Espanola Rivermen and goalie Jessie Morin in a trade with the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners.

In addition to dealing Becker to the Eskimos, the Bobcats added 18-year-old forward Torrin Grange, from the Fort Frances Lakers, of the SIJHL.

They were busy in December, as well, acquiring 19-year-old forward Jason Berube, from the Lakers, and 17-year-old right winger Christian Lea, from the Lindsay Muskies of the OJHL, while dispatching 18-year-old forward Zachary Renfrew to the Cornwall Colts, of the CCHL, and 19-year-old right winger Eric Masters to the English River Miners, of the SIJHL.

The Espanola Rivermen traded 20-year-old defenceman Joe Echelmeier to Yarmouth Mariners, of the MJAHL, on Jan. 2.

In December, they picked up 19-year-old forward Blake Peavey and 17-year-old defenceman Brett Storr from the North Bay Trappers in exchange for 20-year-old forward Duane Wainman.

Earlier in the month the Rivermen sent 16-year-old left winger Colton Samson and 17-year-old defenceman/forward Kyle Patterson to the Trappers in a separate transaction.

The Trappers were also busy in December, sending 19-year-old goalie Dustin Hummel to the Perth Blue Wings, of the EOJHL, and 18-year-old defenceman Alex Dajia to the Portage Terriers, of the MJHL.

In addition to shipping Morin to the Beavers, the Gold Miners added 19-year-old left winger Damon MacEachern, from the East Hants Penguins of the NSJHL.

The NOJHL-leading Soo Thunderbirds and the Sudbury Nickel Barons were the only teams that had not made a transaction in January, or December, as of Thursday afternoon.

The Eskimos were active in the days and weeks leading up to the trade deadline last season.

The biggest deal, of course, saw the Eskimos send their captain and leading scorer, Richard Therrien to the Nepean Raiders, of the CCHL, in exchange for then 18-year-old defenceman Wyatt Trumbley.

Prior to the start of this season, the Eskimos traded Trumbley to the Osoyoos Coyotes, of the KIJHL.

The Coyotes in turn shipped the Campbell River, B.C., native to the Penticton Vees, of the BCHL.

One day before last year’s deadline, the Eskimos dealt disgruntled defenceman Simon Desrosiers to the Lakers.