The Abitibi Eskimos dominated Game 1 of their best-of-seven Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League series with the North Bay Trappers on home ice Sunday.
Coach and GM Paul Gagne doesn’t expect things to be that easy when the two squads square off in North Bay Friday, however.
“We are off to a good start, but now we have to go play the same type of game that we play on the road, and that’s a patient game,” said Eskimos coach and GM Paul Gagne.
“We don’t have to put on a big show … just play smart hockey and keep it simple.
“We just have to worry about our assignments and our game plan, that’s it.”
The coach expects the Trappers to put forth a much better effort on their home ice on Friday.
“We, as a team, have to realize that … that we are not that good,” Gagne said.
“We are a good team when we play together, as a team, and that’s what we did on Sunday.
“What we have to do is make sure that we are ready mentally here and not take things for granted.
“Just because we won 5-0, that doesn’t mean anything.
“We are playing against a good hockey club.
”That will be the message … to have our feet on the ground here and continue doing our program.
“It’s very important not to think you are good and then get a big surprise … that’s playoff hockey, you lose a little bit of momentum and you never know what can happen in a game.”
To ensure the Trappers do not get off to a good start, the Eskimos will “attack when it’s time to attack.
“But when it’s not there 100% we will just retreat, basically, and get into our defensive mode and wait for counter attacks,” Gagne said. “That’s hockey, when you play on the road you have to be careful.
“They are going to try and put on a big show. They are going to be jumping on the puck.
“They will be putting a lot of pressure on the puck carrier because they are at home and it’s normal.
“But we have to be careful and by doing so we will always be in good position.”
It will be key for the Eskimos to try and weather the first five to 10 minutes of the game, to keep the Trappers from gaining any traction.
“You have got to maintain your composure, your game plan, stay with it, stay with it, stay with it,” Gagne said.
“That’s what we are going to have to do … weather the storm, but not on our heals.
“We are going to go force against force and be patient when it’s time.”
An advantage the Eskimos have in their battle with North Bay is their ability to roll four lines against the Trappers.
“The key to our success here is that throughout the year we almost had perfect games … from a coach’s point of view … whenever we had contributions from our third and fourth lines,” Gagne said.
“The third and fourth lines had just as much ice time as our first and second … by penalty killing and forechecking and just playing regular five on five.
“When they are confident that way, they make things happen and they get rewarded with ice time.
“And the first two lines are there for a little bit more offence and they have the energy because they didn’t have to do all that work in penalty killing or defensive zone coverage.
“It makes it a lot easier when you have all four lines rolling.”
The Eskimos third and fourth lines have also helped out on offence this season, chipping in with goals on many occasions.
“It’s a bonus for their hard work to get compensated by getting a goal here or there,” Gagne said.
“Last game, both the third and fourth line scored and it makes a big difference.”
After playing Game 2 on Friday the two teams return to Iroquois Falls for Game 3 on Sunday at 7 p.m., then travel back to North Bay for Game 4 on Monday night.
According to the coach, however, the three games in four nights is not even in their picture at this point.
“Even in that situation, though, we have worked hard all year and we are really strong mentally and physically, we are in great shape.
“I shouldn’t say we are not worried, but we are worried about that first game, Game 2, right now.”
“We’re not looking at the tail end of this best-of-seven.
“It’s an old cliche, but it works, one game at a time.”