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Eskimos seek stability

IROQUOIS FALLS - No goaltender in the Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League has played more minutes, or faced more shots than Sylvain Miron.

To put that in perspective, the 816:28 minutes the Iroquois Falls native has played already this season with the Abitibi Eskimos is just 233 minutes less than he played in the entire 2012-13 Great North Midget League season with the Kapuskasing Flyers.

And until the past couple of road games, his goals against average and his saves percentage were just as impressive as those statistics.

So the fact that the Eskimos have a new 20-year-old puck stopper in camp should not be viewed as any indication that the team has lost confidence in him.

Just the opposite, in fact.

The Eskimos are hoping the addition of Brody Wagner, who split last season between the Assiniboia Southern Rebels (3.46), of the Prairie Junior Hockey League, and the Trenton Habs (2.78), of the Northern States Junior Hockey League, will help their rookie goalie regain his form.

“Sylvain is a great hockey player and he has just hit a little bump along the road, which is not a big deal,” said Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.

“It is just part of the progression, part of hockey.”

The Eskimos have been trying to find a 20-year-old goalie to team with Miron since training camp opened, somebody who can push him on the ice and offer experience in the dressing room.

Simon-Pier Chamberland filled that role briefly, but he was eventually traded to the Summerside Western Capitals.

“He (Wagner) is a big kid, 6-2 and 180 lbs., and the boys were impressed with him yesterday,” Gagne said.

“We had a good talk and my first impression is that he is a great kid, well brought up, very polite. He was accepted in the dressing room right away, so that is a bonus right there.

“Now that this guy is in there is a bit of a challenge for Sylvain and both goalies are going to have to be on top of their game.

“Competition sometimes makes you a better person, a better goalie, a better hockey player.”

The Eskimos will host the Elliot Lake Bobcats at the Jus Jordan Arena on Saturday night and the Blind River Beavers on Sunday afternoon.

Gagne was not about to announce on Friday which goalie will be between the pipes for the first of those two games.

Fans will also have to wait and see whether or not Cory Dubbeldam will be back patrolling the blue line.

Dubbeldam (33, 4-10-14, 12), a 20-year-old Maple Ridge, B.C., native was with the Eskimos for the 2012-13 NOJHL season, but had not been playing this year.

“He worked out hard yesterday,” Gagne said.

“It’s just that his timing is a little off. He was practising with a midget team this year. For game situations he is not up to par, but it could be a last-minute decision to put him into the lineup.

“He knows the program. He knows the philosophy of the program, of the coaches, he brings experience and again competition will bring out the best of the players.

“You have to be sharp and if you are not then somebody else will be sharp and they will be in the lineup. I think it is healthy.”

Dubbeldam proved last season that he can play power play, take a regular shift and kill penalties.

The health of defenceman Steven Pettite, who has been nursing a lower-body injury, could factor into that decision, as the Eskimos currently have eight blue liners in camp.

Jamey Lauzon, who missed the Sudbury game while serving a suspension, is likely to be back on the blue line.

After struggling to put the puck in the net early in the season, scoring goals is now one of the Eskimos strengths.

“Even in the third period (of Wednesday’s 12-5 loss in Sudbury), when the game was over we came out flying,” Gagne said.

“It just shows the type of players we have and I am not talking just about individuals going to score goals.

“We had a little game plan for the third period and we worked hard at it and we persevered. We really did. We generated some offence and we stuck to the program. We were focused and that is what we want.”

Rookie centre Brady Clouthier (15, 10-7-17, 14) leads the Eskimos in scoring, followed by Ryan Wildman (15, 6-8-14, 8), Brenden Locke (15, 3-10-13, 4), Erik Robichaud (9, 5-7-12, 6) and Kealey Cummings (15, 3-7-10, 12).

The Bobcats and the Eskimos are tied for fourth place in the standings with 14 points, but Elliot Lake has two games in hand.

Like the Eskimos, they have struggled to find consistency all season, winning no more than two games in a row, but also losing no more than two straight. The Beavers, on the other hand, hold down last place in the eight-team league, with just four victories. They have lost their past two games.

“We have lost against teams that are behind us in the standings, so it is just a matter of playing our game and sticking to our program, working hard and trying to perfect that program,” Gagne said.

“If the players do play within our program, I think we will be on our way.

“We are really playing some good hockey. If we can put it together, I really like our team.”

After dropping back to back games, 9-3 in North Bay and 12-5 in Sudbury, it will be key for the Eskimos to get off to a good start Saturday night, to help restore their confidence.

“I just hope we have the same intensity that we had last night in practice,” Gagne said.

Game time on Saturday is 7:30 p.m., with Sunday’s contest set to start at 2 p.m.