IROQUOIS FALLS – Will a visit from the Soo Thunderbirds on Saturday night cure what ails the Abitibi Eskimos?
Fans of the the Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League squad sure hope so.
Wednesday night’s 4-1 loss to the Nickel Barons in Sudbury dropped the Eskimos record to 0-4-0.
“We are going to have our hands full, that’s for sure,” said Eskimos coach and GM Paul Gagne.
“One of the things they (the Thunderbirds) do have is a little bit more experience than we do at this time of year.
“I believe they have seven or eight 20 year olds, so it certainly makes a big difference … especially at the start of the season, like that, you will have less mistakes.
“But you know what, I like the way we have been playing. There’s nothing wrong with progression and the kids are buying into a program and it’s working.”
There was plenty of evidence of that during Wednesday night’s loss, as the Eskimos held the Nickel Barons to a 2-1 advantage well into the third period — focusing on limiting the number of Sudbury opportunities.
The Thunderbirds, who won the league championship last season, are off to another fast start, with two wins and a tie in their first three games.
They sit in third place in the league, but only because unbeaten Sudbury and North Bay are off to even better starts.
Getting their first win of the season at home against the Thunderbirds on Saturday night would go a long way to boosting the confidence level of the Eskimos.
“Confidence is a big factor,” Gagne said.
“As a coaching staff, that’s what we are doing right now is building their egos and self-esteem and giving them confidence.
“That’s what we are trying to do at the start of the season, for sure.”
The Eskimos have struggled to put the puck in the net and generate quality scoring chances in all four of their games.
Having to play Wednesday without 15-year-old forward Aaron Kerr, who scored his first two NOJHL goals in last Saturday’s loss to Blind River, did not help.
Kerr was suspended for the Sudbury game after being ejected from the Blind River game late in the third period for fighting.
“We are going to be happy to have him back in the lineup,” Gagne said.
“As a 15 year old, he is coming along slowly, but surely and to get a couple of goals was a confidence builder.
“It is nice to see a breath of fresh air like that in the lineup.”
It took Kerr a few seconds to realize that he had scored his first goal during Saturday night’s loss.
“I actually didn’t realize that it had gone in,” he said.
“My teammates just gathered around me, so I was pretty excited.”
The forward didn’t have to wait to be told he had scored his second goal, however.
“I got a nice drop pass from my teammate and put it five hole,” Kerr said.
Kerr was still sporting the remnants of a black eye in practice this week following his bout with the Beavers’ Luke Dmytro.
The fight took the Timmins native off guard, as he has never been involved in an altercation on the ice in his minor hockey career.
Kerr’s brother Ryan, a defenceman on the Eskimos, didn’t have too much advice to offer his younger sibling.
“No, not really,” Kerr said. “We just joked around a bit.”
If he gets his way, Kerr will stick to playing hockey, while avoiding any fisticuffs on Saturday night.
“I really want to get back out there and score goals and help the team,” Kerr said, in anticipation of getting back on the ice Saturday night.
“Obviously I am more confident now, playing with the older guys, I am able to keep up.”
While the Eskimos have not filled the net with pucks this season, the coaching staff can be encouraged by the fact that what scoring they have had has been fairly balanced.
“We would like to be a little bit better offensively, and that’s a matter of confidence and experience,” Gagne said.
Another player who might be able to provide a boost to the Eskimos attack in forward Eric Martineau.
The Timmins Majors grad, who has been out of hockey for the past couple of years, played in Sudbury on Wednesday after making his NOJHL debut on Saturday night.
“After being off the ice for two years, my legs were kind of hurting, from practices, but come game time it felt pretty good out there,” Martineau said.
The Timmins native likes to play a physical game and prides himself in being able to set up plays.
“I just have to find my legs and get to know the way the guys, how they play, the style,” Martineau said.
In his limited experience, he has seen a definite difference between the NOJHL and the Great North Midget League.
“It’s a grittier style,” Martineau said.
“There are a lot more hits. There is a lot more roughing along the boards.
“It’s also a lot quicker than midget hockey, but it’s fun. I like it.”
• ESKIMOS NOTES: Corey Dubbeldam, a defenceman/forward from Maple Ridge, B.C., made his debut with the Eskimos in Sudbury and recorded his first shot on goal. Dubbeldam split the 2011-12 season between the Ridge Meadow Flames and the Port Moody Black Panthers, of the PIJHL, scoring two goals and adding five assists … Defenceman Cody Parker, who has missed the past two games while serving a suspension picked up for fighting during the season opener against Sudbury, returned to the lineup … The Eskimos have a number of other players in camp who had, as of press time, not signed yet. They include 20-year-old forward Taylor Porrier, who spent the past two seasons with the WSHL Boulder Jr. Bisons and 18-year-old goaltender Etienne Roy, who played in Cranston, R.I., last season. Porrier, a Rutland, Vt., native, scored 25 goals and finished with 52 points in 36 regular season games for the Bisons in 2011-12.