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Eskis host home opener Saturday

The Abitibi Eskimos players will be hunting for their first win of the season Saturday at their home opener against Kirkland Lake’s Blue Devils, 7:30 p.m. at the Jus Jordan Arena.

The Eskis lost their first Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League regular season game 9-5 to the Sudbury Cubs Wednesday night, but things definitely look to be on the right track for the young club.

“We obviously didn’t have a great start to the season against the Cubs,” said Eskis head coach and GM Paul Gagne.

“There were some positive aspects to our play though. What stands out the most for me from the game was our play during the final 20 minutes,” continued Gagne. “Our guys were doing a lot less running around in our end and everyone seemed to relax.

“We maintained our composure and outscored the Cubs 2-0 in the third.

“I am very optimistic that players are buying into what we are teaching them and are going to adapt to our system from our play in the third.”

Eskis defenseman Karl Spenard and forward Richard Therrien each had a goal and two assists in the opener and currently lead the team scoring with three points each.

The Eskis won both of their exhibition games against the Blue Devils, but the team’s head coach knows that preseason play is always different in regular season games.

“We are going to have our hands full Saturday. The game will definitely be intense,” continued Gagne.

Kirkland Lake played their first regular season game last night against North Bay, so the back-to-back games will be a good test for their young team, as well.

Gagne believes the team has a lot of maturing to do this year, but he is confident the team will be successful.

 ”We only have four guys from last year,” he said. “The team is responding really well so far and players seem to be adjusting to the higher level of play so far. Everyone seems to be buying into the program, so I expect things will start blooming for us soon.”

More than 700 fans showed up to watch the Eskis final pre-season game.

Gagne believes the players are benefiting from the support and will step up their games in the near future.

NEW THIS SEASON

The league has adopted the NHL’s 4-man officiating system (2 referees – 2 linesmen) and the NHL’s penalty face-off rule (ensuing face-off is in the offending team’s defensive zone).

The 4-man system should allow officials to be in better “position” to make critical calls. It should also help reduce behind the play infractions.

The NHL penalty “no line change” rule was rejected by HockeyCanadafor due to player safety concerns. It has not been approved at the Major Junior level for the same reason. HC was concerned that tired players would be more susceptible to injury.