COCHRANE – The Abitibi Eskimos finally got a victory over the Sudbury Nickel Barons the last time the Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League franchises clashed.
The Nickel Barons still hold a 3-1 advantage in the season series, however, and will be looking to gain their fourth victory over the Eskimos when the puck drops at the Tim Horton Arena in Cochrane Saturday, at 7:30 p.m.
“We seem to have found our stride a little bit after a losing streak,” Nickel Barons coach Dave Clancy said.
“The players are understanding that they have to play some type of system in order to succeed in this league.”
That’s something Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne has always stressed to his players.
“Paul has a very good system there and he has been coaching the same system for as long as I can remember,” Clancy said.
“I have coached against him for a lot of years.
“His teams are very defensive oriented and once they get the puck the wingers like to fly out of the zone, so we have to be careful not to be standing around at the blue line and watching them.
“We have to try to hem them up in their zone and play against their D more.”
The Eskimos skated off with an 8-5 victory the last time they hosted the Nickel Barons and Gagne is counting on more of the same on Saturday.
“We had role players and we had four lines going in that game,” he said.
“And, offensively, our first line and second line really contributed.
“We were conscious of our defensive play, which we have been working on this week again.”
The Nickel Barons are coming off a 7-2 home-ice triumph over the Blind River Beavers on Wednesday night, a game in which Sudbury’s Darcy Haines potted five goals.
That gives Haines one more than Eskimos captain Richard Therrien’s 21 goals.
“Darcy has been a real big surprise for us this year,” Clancy said. “He has always been a prolific scorer, even when he was a midget hockey player.
“He has been given an opportunity at this level and he is thriving.”
The offensive output generated by Haines (44 points) and his linemate Sebastien Leroux (45 points) has helped take some of the pressure off some of the Nickel Barons other lines.
“Every team has at least one big scoring line,” Clancy said.
“Abitibi has the Therrien line and we have Darcy’s line and that allows the rest of the team to concentrate on what they have to do.
“We only have the one big scoring line, but the rest of the lines contribute a lot to the team.”
Gagne is fully aware of how productive the Nickel Barons two big guns have been this season.
“We are going to have to make sure we are aware when Haines is on the ice,” Gagne said.
“Him and Leroux are two key players who make things happen. Whenever they go, that team goes.
“If we can eliminate them from getting all the good chances and keep an eye on them at all times it should benefit us.”
Both Clancy and Gagne are happy with their goaltending.
“We have two completely different goalies,” Clancy said.
“We have one older guy, Alexander Laino, who’s 20 and has been in the league for a couple of years now.
“He gives us some stability, with his age and experience.
“And then we have a 16 year old, Micheal Muzyka, who has played well.
“They have split games up until the last little while.”
Clancy has decided to switch things up, however, and ride the hot keeper.
That likely means Muzyka, who was between the pipes for Wednesday’s win over Blind River, will get the start on Saturday — although Clancy was not prepared to come out and say that during an interview with The Daily Press on Thursday.
“Goaltending makes a difference,” Gagne said.
“And right now I like the way our goaltender (Jackson Winkler) is playing.
“He is playing really well.
“And their goalies, we have got to explore them, whoever’s in net at the time.
“We have got to keep the puck in the offensive zone and keep shooting at them and go for the rebounds and generate some opportunities.
“You can’t score on them all, but the odds of scoring are greater when you have lots of shots.”
The Sudbury coach feels the Nickel Barons and the Eskimos are fairly evenly matched.
“We both have one big line that does a lot of scoring and we are both young hockey clubs, so I think it will come down to whoever can control the zone they are playing in will have success on Saturday,” Clancy said.
“And whichever goaltender plays the best will likely win the hockey game.”
Gagne also see similarities between the two NOJHL?squads.
“I think that’s a pretty fair assessment,” he said.
“Our first lines are probably in the high 40% of points scored on each other’s teams.
“Hopefully, we will have the last change Saturday, with it being a home game, and if we address the situation … which is those two guys … we will get a win.”
The Nickel Barons lineup Eskimos fan will see in Cochrane on Saturday will be very similar to the one that took to the ice in Iroquois Falls on Nov. 3. Forward Josh Patrick, a 20-year-old Sudbury native, will be the only newcomer in the Nickel Barons lineup, while Justin Bell will sit out with a knee injury.
For the Eskimos, there are no significant injuries to report but forward Aaron Sullivan has left the team.
Defenceman Simon Desrosiers who missed last Saturday’s victory over Blind River because of wisdom teeth woes, should be back in the lineup this Saturday against the Nickel Barons. Forward Ryan Tront, who picked up his first assist against the Beavers, will play his second game for the Eskimos on Saturday.
Tront is the fourth player to wear No. 10 (Marc-Alain Begin’s old number) for the Eskimos this season.
The Eskimos still have three goaltenders in camp, although Jeremy Laux — who has duel Swiss and U.S. citizenship — has yet to see any action with the team.