TIMMINS – The Abitibi Eskimos will have its hands full in Timmins this Friday, facing off against the Soo Thunderbirds who are in a battle for first place.
The Thunderbirds currently sit two points behind the league-leading North Bay Trappers.
The Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ hockey League matchup will be a home-away-from-home game for the Eskis who are hosting the Thunderbirds at the Archie Dillon Sportsplex.
“We know that we’re playing against a great team,” Paul Gagne, Eskimos’ head coach and general manager. “But we’ve had a couple of good outings against them. Even though they weren’t victories, we were happy with our play. Now, what we want to do is build that confidence level.”
The Eskis have struggled to get on a roll in the midst of changes in personnel.
“We’re in a little phase right now where everybody has to step up their game,” said Gagne.
“We’re going to have to change our style of play a bit because of our captain (and leading scorer Richard Therrien) leaving. That creates a big hole for us in offence.
“We addressed this with the players: It’s very important to realize we have to play a little more patient, we have to tighten up playing defensively, and when you do have offensive opportunities, you have to capitalize on them. That is pretty much going to be our objective this Friday at the Sportsplex.”
The Eskis are expected to have their newest addition to their blueline –Wyatt Trumbley – in the lineup for Friday’ s game.
“He’s coming from Nepean where he played junior hockey,” said Gagne. “He’s a stay-at-home defenceman. He’s got two-and-a-half years left of junior hockey. He’s going to be a great acquisition. He’s going to bring stability back there. He’s a big tall kid, he’s got a long reach and most of the games you don’t see him – and that’s a compliment for a defenceman.
“When you don’t see them, it means they haven’t made any mistakes.”
Trumbley essentially replaces Simon Desrosier, who was traded in a cash deal this week to Fort Frances Lakers in the Superior International Junior Hockey League.
Gagne said the team is still in the market to replace their former captain and leading scorer Therrien, who recently joined the Nepean Raiders in the Central Canada Hockey League. However, he admits it will be a tall order to find a player who can fill those skates.
“What we’re looking at filling right now is one more position if we can. We do need is a high-end forward” to replace the loss of Therrien. “That’s what we’re looking for. But it’s going to be difficult.”
The Eskimos are currently sitting in fifth place in NOJHL but Gagne said the team avoids focusing too much on standings.
“It’s been pretty much our philosophy. We don’t have objectives to say, ‘Okay let’s finish in fourth place or third place.’ I’ve always emphasized our play and the task at hand, just concentrate on what we’re working on this week and what we’re improving on and the rest will take care of itself.”
The puck drops for Friday’s game against the Thunderbirds at Archie Dillon Sportsplex at 7:30 p.m.