IROQUOIS FALLS - The Abitibi Eskimos will be looking to hand the NOJHL East Division-leading Kirkland Lake Gold Miners their second loss Tuesday night at the Jus Jordan Arena.
The Eskimos succeeded in shutting down a “sleepy” Gold Miners squad Friday night while posting a 2-1 win over Kirkland Lake at the McIntyre Arena.
The Gold Miners awoke from their slumber with a vengeance the following night on home ice, however, to pound the Mattawa Blackhawks 13-4.
And you can bet they will be looking for a little payback when they visit the Jus Jordan Arena Tuesday night.
If the Eskimos are able to once again contain the Gold Miners’ high-powered attack, they may be able to double Kirkland Lake’s loss total.
If not, they could be in for a long night.
“We are going to have to be careful”, said Eskis’ Head Coach/GM Paul Gagne.
“They can be explosive, so we are going to have to play some Eskimos hockey.
“We are going to have to be aware and play tight defensively.”
Shutting down the Gold Miners’ attack isn’t as easy as assigning a checking unit to shadow their top line.
Kirkland Lake has a number of players who can put the puck in the net and their list of weapons includes Steven Babin (5, 2-9-11, 6) and Tristen Hazlett (5, 6-5-11, 0), who are tied for the NOJHL scoring lead, as well as Jeremy Dumont (5, 2-7-9, 2), Luc Soares (5, 4-4-8, 8), Ryan Swain (5, 4-4-8, 2), Joel Fortin (5, 4-2-6, 2), Timmins native Tyler Romain (5, 2-4-6, 7), Jeremy Picard-Fiset (5, 1-4-5, 8) and Charles-Ettienne Bruneau-Crete (5, 3-1-4, 2).
“We have to be aware of who is on the ice at all times, but we have to play our program,” Gagne said.
“The more we perfect our program, the harder it is for other teams to play us. If we can do that, we will find a way to win, absolutely.”
Picard-Fiset, an NOJHL all-star last season, anchors a strong blue-line that also includes Ethan Strong (5, 1-2-3, 4), Chris Pearson (5, 1-2-3, 2), Dylan Rosen (5, 2-0-2, 8) and Timmins native Nicholas Hautanen (5, 0-0-0, 6).
The Eskimos have gotten most of their offence this season from their big line of Brady Clouthier (5, 6-2-8, 6), Brenden Locke (3, 2-1-3, 5) and Ryan Attwood (5, 1-4-5, 2).
No other player on the team has more than one goal.
The Eskimos offence may get a boost Tuesday night from the debut of Dalton Bruce (14, 8-4-12, 56, Timmins Majors, GNML).
Bruce who underwent off-season surgery after suffering an injury with the Majors, has been practicing with the Eskimos but is awaiting clearance from doctors to take part in games.
The Eskimos’ other injured players — forward Ryan Tront and defenceman Michael Rancourt (2, 0-0-0, 0) remain at least a week away from returning to action.
The Eskimos have often been forced to use a blue-liner up front this year, but thankfully the squad has an abundance of steady defencemen, including captain Kevin Walker (5, 1-2-3, 8), Jamey Lauzon (5, 1-2-3, 10), Ryan Kerr (5, 1-2-3, 8), Kealey Cummings (5, 0-1-1, 2), Brennan Roy (5, 0-3-3, 8), Joshua Dejulio (5, 0-1-1, 0), Nick Minerva (2, 0-0-0, 2) and Rancourt.
Braddock Baalerud (120:00, 1.00, .971), who beat the Gold Miners Friday night, and Chet Tooker (186:54, 3.53, .913) have given the Eskimos solid goaltending.
A return to the Jus Jordan Arena and its larger ice surface should allow the Eskimos to take full advantage of the trap they employed with great success against the Gold Miners Friday night and then the Cochrane Crunch Saturday night.
“It is nicer to play in a big arena,” Gagne said.
“You have more time with the puck. Puck possession is going to be a big factor for Tuesday night.”
Beating the Gold Miners Friday night should give the Eskimos a little extra confidence, but Gagne is hoping not too much confidence.
“Watching the video, I notice there were more checks being finished,” he said.
“We were dumping the puck in, making good passes, taking great shots on net, our assignments were being done more often than not.
“We have our feet on the ground, but hopefully we will not be over confident.”
Last weekend’s success also goes a long way toward illustrating to the players that good things will happen when they adhere to Gagne’s program and play Eskimos hockey.
“That’s where the confidence comes in,” he said.
“These players have been together for a little while now, but it is a different philosophy, different coaches, different programs and it takes a while for them to play with instincts and stuff, so I hope that we continue to progress.
“We have been playing some pretty good hockey, as of late.”
After entertaining the Gold Miners Tuesday night, the Eskimos will travel to Sudbury on Wednesday for their second meeting with the Nickel Barons.
Sudbury took the first game of the series 5-4 in double overtime at the Jus Jordan Arena on Sept. 13.