By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
IROQUOIS FALLS – The Eskis 7-20-0-0 record in the team’s first season based out of the Jus Jordan Arena is a result of being consistently inconsistent.
You need look no further than the team’s recent two-game road trip for a clear illustration of that point.
Friday night, the team doubled the Wildcats (14-6-4-1) 6-3 in Elliot Lake and despite being outshot 45-26 looked like a squad that should be ranked among the upper echelon of the NOJHL.
One night later, they dropped a 7-2 decision to the Beavers (5-22-1-0) in Blind River.
Dr. Jekyll meet Mr. Hyde.
Will the Eskis team that hosts the Timmins Rock at the Jus Jordan Arena Friday night be the one that battled back four times from two-goal deficits in the first of meetings to post and 8-6 victory, or will it be the squad that has since dropped five-straight games to the visitors — all by one-sided margins?
Eskis coach and assistant general manager Corey Bricknell knows what he needs to see from his squad Friday night if it is to produce a positive result.
“Consistency for their entire 60 minutes, like we played in Elliot Lake and not forgetting about our routes and our plays supporting each other,” he said.
“We can’t play as individuals. We have to play a complete game.”
Eskis fans will get an opportunity to see the three newest members of their squad, forwards David Stickney (7, 0-0-0, 8) and Blake Holowaty (14, 1-2-3, 16), as well as defenceman Kyle Sutherland (14, 1-3-4, 28), who were obtained from the Dryden Ice Dogs.
“We have three new players in the lineup from B.C. and they bring a different look to our team,” Bricknell said.
“We got a little bit bigger and the new players are pretty vocal in the room. All of our guys are liking what they say and what they do.”
The three former Ice Dogs were picked up in exchange for Eskis captain Nathan Avery (21, 4-10-14, 46), arguably the squad’s best defender.
The team has also shipped second-leading scorer Brett Ouderkirk (25, 12-21-33, 6) to the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners.
“We have made (David) Osborne (27, 17-18-35, 31) our captain and he is doing a great job in the room and showing great leadership, saying the right things at the right time,” Bricknell said.
“Any lost offence from the trade of Brett has been made up with the addition of the B.C. kids. They are very talented and skilled and both of them are faster than Ouderkirk was. With those two guys coming in, they are going to balance out our scoring. They are good in their own end, as well.”
The coach is pleased with what Sutherland has brought to the Eskis’ blue-line corps.
“He good, stay-at-home, tough defenceman,” Bricknell said.
“He is a ’96 (birth year) and he is good in the dressing room, good on the bus.
“The three guys from B.C. have been a great addition to our squad. We are a different-look team.”
The Eskis, of course, have received a big boost from the return of goaltender Joe Sheppard (360:00, 1-5-0-0, 0, 4.83, .895) to the team.
“If you have great goaltending, you have good defence and if you have great defence, you have got good goaltending,” Bricknell said.
“As long as we are looking after our own end, regardless of whichever way it is, we will be fine.
“Again, one of the biggest things is consistency and having the care factor. We did a thing around the room asking players, ‘Why are you here, why are you in Iroquois Falls playing hockey, what are your intentions, what do you want to do?’ We call it the give an F factor. That’s a huge part and we remind the guys all the time. ‘Why are you away from your family? What do you want out of this game and how are you going to achieve it?’
“There is a lot of stuff that has changed in our room for the positive and we are a team that is not giving up, that’s for sure.”
The recent changes have the Eskis approaching Friday’s contest in a good frame of mind.
“We just got off the ice tonight (Tuesday) and everybody was loud and proud and passes were tape-to-tape, nice and crisp,” Bricknell said.
“All our routes were there and we only have one game to prepare for this weekend, so our main focus has been on Timmins.”
In addition to having won five-straight games against the Eskis, the Rock are riding a three-game winning streak heading into Friday night’s contest and have won four of their past five games.
“We have a lot of excitement right now in the dressing room,” said Rock coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“We were in a bit of a slide there for a while, especially with the goalie situation (lower-body injuries to both Logan Ferrington (810 :00, 8-5-1-0, 0, 3.41, .916) and Matthew Nixon (680:00, 6-5-0-0, 0, 3.88, .898), but now we are back to 100% with our goalies.”
Already the third-highest scoring team in the NOJHL, the Rock bolstered their attack with the addition of forward Aaron Kerr (13, 1-1-2, 6) from the Drummondville Voltigeurs, of the QMJHL.
“Bringing in another player of that calibre, our players are really happy,” Gagne said.
“We have (Zachary) Kercz, who is playing with (Jordan) Rendle and (Bain) Cunningham and he has found some new life.
“And now we have Kerr with (Tristan) Salesse and (Ryan) Theriault and I imagine they are going to have a little bit of life this weekend.
“These moves are generating lots of energy and the kids are having fun and working hard and that’s what it is all about.”
Gagne knows that eventually his squad is going to lose again to the Eskis, but he is more “concerned” about how is team is going to play Friday night rather than what the final score is going to show.
“We have to bring our A game,” he said.
“The last game we played against them, I think it was 2-1 for them going into the third period and it was just a matter of us capitalizing on our chances. We had played some pretty good hockey earlier in the game, but we couldn’t capitalize. Sometimes you just can’t score.”
Gagne is aware the Eskis, in Sheppard, have a goalie who is capable of going out and stealing a game just about any night.
“They went into Kirkland Lake the other night and he made 53 saves,” he said.
“If you run into a hot goalie it can be difficult at times. As long as you are getting the chances though, you don’t second guess yourself.
“Our kids have been getting their chances, so they know it is just a matter of time until they are putting the puck in the net.
Both the Rock and the Eskis are healthy heading into Friday night’s game.
Eskis defenceman Vasily Gogolev (1, 0-1-1, 0), who is out for the season with an upper-body injury is the only player on either squad who will not be available to suit up.
Game time for Friday’s match at the Jus Jordan Arena is 7:30 p.m.
The next home game for the Rock will see the team welcome the Soo Eagles to the McIntyre Arena for a Sunday contest, scheduled to start at 2 p.m.