TIMMINS - The North Bay Trappers are riding a three-game losing streak heading into Saturday night’s game against the Abitibi Eskimos at the Jus Jordan Arena.
Sounds like a team ripe for the pickings, but the Eskimos would do well to remember what happened the last time they faced a team on home ice that was struggling to find success.
During an interview this week, Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne stopped just short of guaranteeing that the Eskimos would defeat the Trappers Saturday night, but he did promise that — win, or lose — fans would see a much better effort from his squad than they did when the Sudbury Nickel Barons defeated them 5-3 at the McIntyre Arena on Oct. 4.
“I can, honest to God, say that we are back from the last game we played against Sudbury,” he said.
“We were flat lined and it was just terrible.”
That loss was followed by a loss in Kirkland Lake on Oct. 6, but the Eskimos gained four of a possible six points on a three-game road trip this past weekend.
“If we play the way we did this past weekend fans are going to see a better club, that’s for sure,” Gagne said.
The Trappers have proven to be a streaky team so far this season, losing five straight, winning two straight, losing three straight, winning two straight and losing three straight.
“If the pattern continues, maybe, possibly (the Trappers will win both games against the Eskimos),” Trappers coach Zane Neily said, with a chuckle.
“But I thing it just comes from our inexperience in the locket room. We only have one returning player from last year, Dustin Hummel, our goalie.
“We are young right now, but at the same time we are very hard working and we like to get to the dirty areas to make plays.
“We don’t have a lot of experience, but the boys are learning and I think we are playing better than expected.”
A name is about the only thing this year’s North Bay Trappers squad shares with the team that hosted the Dudley Hewitt Cup.
The old Trappers franchise moved to Espanola to become the Rivermen, and this year’s Trappers are a resurrection of the former Soo Eagles franchise.
“I think it is just a matter of stability,” Neily said.
“It is slowly starting to come. You can see it. We are not losing games, other than against the Soo, we are not losing games by much. We are losing one-goal games, mostly in overtime.”
That is just what happened when the Trappers travelled to Kirkland Lake recently and dropped a 2-1 decision to the Gold Miners, one of the elite squads in the NOJHL.
Saturday night’s game will be the first meeting between the Eskimos and the Trappers, either at home or in North Bay this season, but the two teams will clash again on Monday, back in North Bay.
That shouldn’t matter, however, if the Eskimos stick to playing Eskimos hockey.
“Right now we are working on our program,” Gagne said.
The majority of the Trappers scoring so far this season has come from four players — Ryan Demyen (nine goals), Kyle Baril (eight goals), Jake Staples (seven goals) and Zach Turner (five goals) — but the Eskimos will not worry about paying special attention to any individual Trappers.
“We are going to roll our lines and we are going to come out to play,” Gagne said.
“We are not going to change our program to shadow any of their players, but I can definitely tell you they will know they are playing in the Igloo, that’s for sure.”
When the Eskimos are playing their game, fans should be treated to an up-tempo, aggressive squad that forechecks well and creates offensive opportunities off solid defensive positioning.
“We want to play in the offensive zone, so we are going to gain every zone we can and then move to the next zone,” Gagne said.
“If we can play the majority of the time in the offensive zone, to me it spells a good defence.”
Like Gagne, Neily prefers to focus on his team rather than worrying about what kind of system an opponent is trying to employ.
“It’s early in the season and right now we want to get some stability going and we are going to go out and focus on what we have to do to win,” Neily said.
“We have shown that can work against teams like the Espanola Rivermen, or Kirkland Lake that if we play our game we can play with some of the top level teams. So we are going in playing how we want to play.
“It is a very big game on both ends and playing them back to back will give us a test.
“Both games are huge for both teams.”
The return of centre Erik Robichaud (6, 4-4-8, 6) and the addition of wingers Shane Hiley (7, 4-3-7, 14) and Andrew Green (7, 2-4-6, 2) has provided a boost to an Eskimos attack that also boasts Brady Clouthier (12, 7-6-13, 10), Ryan Wildman (12, 5-7-12, 6) and Brenden Locke (12, 2-7-9, 4).
The Eskimos should be healthy heading into Saturday’s game against North Bay, with forward Ben Miller returning to practice this week after missing a handful of games.
“There are a couple of players who have had a little soreness and they took a couple of days off, but returned to practice on Thursday,” Gagne said.
“We just wanted to give them a little bit of rest because we had three games in three days.”
The only roster change for the Eskimos is the return of back-up goalie Julien Deschenes, who returns following the departure of Simon-Pier Chamberland.
“We are looking for a 20 year old, but Julien is good about it,” Gagne said.
“He knows going in that he is here on an interim basis and he is going to help us out.”
Sylvain Miron, who started who has started 11 of the Eskimos 12 games so far this season will be back between the pipes Saturday night, however.
“We like the way he (Miron) is progressing,” Gagne said.
“It’s his first year and so far he has done really well. He played great again this weekend. He is reliable. He is back there he makes big saves and getting lots of minutes, so that gives him a lot of confidence.
“We are really happy with him.”
Miron leads the NOJHL in minutes played (666:44) and has faced the most shots (412) of any goalie in the league so far this season. In fact, he has faced almost 100 shots more than Griffin Strain (315) of the Espanola Rivermen.
“He is really a committed individual,” Gagne said.
“He comes to the rink early, he does a lot of stretching, a lot of warm ups … all the goalie exercises.
“He is benefitted from it (the minutes) and he is taking advantage of it, obviously.”
A few years back, the Eskimos had a goalie named “Every Day” Eddie Davey, but if Miron continues to play so much and so effectively fans might start calling him “Every Minute” Sylvain Morin.