TIMMINS - Earning a spot on the Abitibi Eskimos defence might be one of the toughest challenges heading into the 2014-15 NOJHL campaign, but Matt Wilson took a positive first step in that direction on the opening day of the team’s tryout camp at the Whitney Arena Tuesday night.
Wilson, an 18-year-old Ottawa native, was one of 30 players on the ice for the start of the Eskimos’ three-day tryout camp.
The Eskimos will have at least four veteran defenders — captain Kevin Walker, Kealy Cummings, Brennan Roy and Ryan Kerr — back on the blue-line and possibly five, the outcome of Jamey Lauzon’s tryout with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.
That leaves just two to three spots for newcomers, like Wilson.
If he continues to demonstrate the confidence and skill that he did on Day 1, however, it would be tough for the Eskimos not to give serious consideration to signing him.
“He looked very impressive,” said Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“He has a lot of skill and his demeanor out on the ice is so cool. He carries the puck very well and he sees the play very well, little things like that. We are impressed, for sure.”
The only thing Wilson had trouble seeing Tuesday night was an opponent’s stick that accidentally caught him in the mouth.
“I love it here,” he said, still dripping blood from the cut on the mouth.
“It’s a great atmosphere. It is my first day here, but I have already been welcomed in pretty good and I am looking forward to the season.”
Wilson played for the Almont Thunder, of the Eastern Ontario Junior ‘C’ Hockey League, last season and also played some Junior ‘C’ in the Ottawa area.
He is an offensive-minded defenceman, who should see time on the power play if he cracks the Eskimos roster.
“I like to make plays, score and rush the puck,” he said.
The chance to play for Gagne is one of the things that attracted Wilson to the Eskimos.
“It would be awesome to play for him,” he said.
“Paul has played at a very high level and has been through it all. I know he would be able to help me with my career.”
Another newcomer who was impressive during Tuesday’s tryout was Taylor Bowman, a 19-year-old centre who hails from North Vancouver and arrived in Timmins just three hours before stepping on the ice.
“We picked him up at the airport today at 4:30 p.m. and he had been up since 6 a.m. (B.C. time),” Gagne said.
“You can’t really evaluate him that much, but he was impressive. You could see he was handling the puck well. He is a good skater and he sees the play really well, little things like that. It’s only one day, but still, you see it.
“When you see good things like that, it’s a sign of better things to come.
“He made a couple of passes in the slot for goals. He was calm with the puck and he did really well in the offensive zone.
Bowman was pleased with how well his first on-ice session with the Eskimos went Tuesday night.
“It was pretty good,” he said.
“The guys out there were good. It was fast paced.”
Bowman views himself as a two-way centre.
Playing for the Comox Valley Glacier Kings of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League during the 2013-14 season, he scored five goals and added 13 assists in 41 regular season games. He also accumulated 17 minutes in penalties.
In 10 playoff games, he added one assist and served eight minutes in the sin bin.
Not wanting to put the cart before the horse, Bowman’s lone goal at this point is “making the team.”
Gagne does not have a set number of players he plans to take from the tryouts to the team’s main training camp at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls.
“It is difficult to say at this time, right now,” he said.
“I have been impressed with a couple of players already. So, if we can get two players, three players, four players who come out of here it will all be a bonus, definitely.”
A couple of months removed from seeing his team swept by the Soo Thunderbirds in the second round of the NOJHL playoffs after an emotional win over the Elliot Lake Bobcats in Round 1, Gagne can’t wait for the new season to start.
“You know what, it was nice to see the players get back on the ice,” he said.
“Some of them hadn’t been on the ice at all, so from a coaching standpoint there was not much of an evaluation being done for the first day, because it is unfair. Some of the players have been skating for weeks, some of them haven’t.
“We basically just wanted them to get a good feel of it.”
While not all of the players trying out for the Eskimos will make the team, there were four players on the ice Tuesday who were just out there for a little extra ice time before heading off to either OHL or QMJHL training camps.
That is the case with Iroquois Falls natives Brody Silk (Sudbury Wolves), Ryan Kujawinski (Kingston Frontenacs), Olivier Chabot (Guelph Storm) and Aaron Kerr (Acadie-Bathurst Titans).
The Eskimos tryouts at the Whitney Arena continue on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, from 7:45-9:30 p.m.