TIMMINS - The boys are back in town and that should have Abitibi Eskimos fans encouraged about the NOJHL team’s prospects for the 2014-15 campaign.
Forwards Brady Clouthier (50, 30-36-66, 58) and Ryan Tront (56, 16-37-53, 46) — two thirds of the Eskimos No. 1 line — were on the ice for Day 1 of the team’s main training camp at the Whitney Arena Tuesday night.
Neither player was available for the tryout camp held earlier this month, but they certainly didn’t look out of place with the rest of their teammates during the hour-and-a-half session.
“They brought a little bit of a tempo out there with them,” said Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“One of the exercises that we have is to drive to the net and when you have your leaders driving to the net like that it is nice for the kids to watch.
“They tend to duplicate what they are doing, so it is nice to have them back.”
Tront was impressed by what he saw from some of the newcomers who are looking to lock down spots on the Eskimos roster.
“The guys are looking good and we had some good flow out there,” he said.
“I think our defence is going to be good. We have five guys coming back and we have two new defencemen, who looked pretty good out there, and I think the pick up of (Ryan) Attwood is going to be a plus on the offensive side of the game.
“A couple of the younger guys out there were really looking good, too. They were confident with the puck and I think they will be able to pull it together for this weekend.
“It was only the first practice, but I thought it was a good way to gear up for these exhibition games this weekend.”
Tront, a Thunder Bay native, arrived in training camp in pretty good shape.
“I have been working out all summer, between work and then heading straight to the gym right after that, doing my sprints and doing my weights,” he said.
“I tried to do that about four times a week. I am feeling good.”
Clouthier is coming off an impressive rookie campaign that saw him lead the Eskimos in scoring and finish ninth in the league in points and he also liked what he saw out on the ice Tuesday.
“There was a little bit of rust the first couple of drills,” he said.
“There were passes going to the corners and stuff, but as practice started to pick up we started making more crisp passes.
“During the scrimmage I saw a lot of good things out of some of the new guys.”
Clouthier made a couple of moves while driving to the net Tuesday night that suggest opposing goalies and defenders may be in for another tough year, starting with the defending champion Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake
“It would be really nice to prove ourselves against the defending champs,” he said.
“They do not have the exact same team, but they have the same core group of guys and they are going to be a tough challenge.
“It would be great if we could go into their rink on Friday and get a win and then come back home and get another one.”
Clouthier is hoping to build upon the success he and the team enjoyed during the 2013-14 season.
“Looking at some of the guys I was playing with today, I think that is possible,” he said.
“Hopefully we can try to get our team deep into the playoffs again.”
The Eskimos have a relatively small number of players signed at this point compared to a number of teams around the NOJHL, but that is by mainly by design as opposed to logistics, according to the coach.
“At this time of year you would like to have your full roster, obviously, but you can’t,” Gagne said.
“It is a domino effect, from the Q(MJHL) and from the OHL. There are always players who are not signing and we are in talks with a few players right now … nothing concrete, but it is out there.”
Things got off to a bit of a slow start Tuesday night, which was to be expected given the break between the tryout camp and the start of training camp.
“Some guys, I don’t think, had been on the ice since the last time we were on the ice 10 days ago, so it was good to get the legs going a little bit,” Gagne said.
“It allowed us to give a little introduction of our forecheck and evaluate some players, basically.”
While the Eskimos veterans are fully versed in the program Gagne teaches, it will take some time for the newcomers to become fully immersed.
“At this time of the year, it won’t be an overload of an introduction of our program. It will just be a few simple things to get us going,” he said.
“Then, in the exhibition games we can do some introductions to our program, also, but nothing too complicated.
“We are going to try to simplify things. The first thing we want to see is forecheck, forecheck, forecheck … position in the offensive zone. If they are in good position offensively, they are going to be in good position to put pressure on the puck.”
Although it is still early, it appears the strength of the Eskimos roster for the 2014-15 season may be the defensive corps.
Captain Kevin Walker, Kealey Cummings, Ryan Kerr, Brennan Roy are all back, while Jamey Lauzon may also return — pending an OHL tryout.
In addition, the Eskimos have signed Matt Wilson and agreed to sign Josh DeJulio.
“We are going to rely on our defence to start off with,” Gagne said.
“We want to have puck possession. We don’t want to play in the defensive zone, so if we have good defence they are going to take care of our own end and move the puck.
“If you play in the neutral zone and the offensive zone more often than the defensive zone then your odds of winning games are higher, so that is what we would like to do.”
The three 16 year olds — Raphael Lecours, Dillan Bruce and Kyle Levis — who impressed Gagne during the tryout camp got off to a strong start on Tuesday, as well.
“These kids are learning and this is just their first practice,” Gagne said.
“The younger guys, we are already teaching them about positioning, what to do out there, to face the puck and how to play in situations.”
The Eskimos currently have 24 players in camp and it is safe to say there will be additions and deletions as the team progresses through its four-game exhibition schedule.
“That’s the nature of the game,” Gagne said.
“Somebody asked me today, ‘is this your lineup?’ and I said well, Jan. 10, is the lineup, that’s junior hockey.”
The Eskimos have four goaltenders in camp including Alex Chandler and Braddock Baalerud, who both took part in the tryout camp held earlier this month.
They were joined on Tuesday night by 20-year-old Rumson, N.J., native Michael Tooker (19, 2.14, .917, Central Wisconsin Saints, MNJHL ).
“We got a call saying we have a pretty good goaltender here, he has been a winner no matter where he has played,” Gagne said.
“He has great numbers, so we jumped on the chance to take a look at him right away.
“He is a little bit unorthodox, you could tell, but that was the scouting report on him. He is a little unorthodox, but he stops the puck and that’s what you want.”
Jaeden Giguere, who was also at the tryout camp and will play for the Timmins Majors, was also on the ice Tuesday night filling in for Todd Sherwood who is expected to arrive in camp Wednesday.
Gagne expects Chandler, Baalerud, Tooker and Sherwood will all see action at some point during Friday night’s exhibition game against the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake and Saturday’s game against the Gold Miners at the Jus Jordan Arena.