TIMMINS - Will it be Alex Chandler and Braddock Baalerud, Chandler and Michael Tooker, Chandler and Todd Sherwood, or some combination of Baalerud, Tooker and Sherwood?
The Eskimos goaltending picture for the 2014-15 Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League season should begin to come into focus this weekend with a pair of exhibition games against the Gold Miners — Friday night at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex in Kirkland Lake and Saturday night at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls.
Game time for both exhibition tilts is 7:30 p.m.
“We are going to give them all equal opportunity here to get the ice time in games,” said Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“It makes it a lot easier to evaluate, because there is pressure. We will see how they communicate with the other players on the ice, with their defence, and how they stop the puck.
“It is a different point of view when they are out there in a game situation.”
The Eskimos signed Chandler, who spent the 2013-14 NOJHL season with the Espanola Rivermen, prior to the start of the team’s tryout camp earlier this month.
The 20-year-old Scarborough native got off to a fast start with the Rivermen, but suffered a knee injury and missed the rest of the season.
Baalerud, a 17-year-old Detroit native who played for the Bracebridge Phantoms, of the Greater Metro Hockey League, last season, has been with the Eskimos since the start of the four-day tryout camp.
Tooker, a 20-year-old Rumson, N.J., native who sent the 2013-14 campaign with the Central Wisconsin Saints , of the Minnesota Junior Hockey League, joined the Eskimos for the start of the team’s main camp on Tuesday night.
Sherwood, who played Midget AAA in Barrie during the 2013-14 season, arrived in camp on Wednesday night.
Two of the best players on the ice for Day 2 of the Eskimos training camp at the Whitney Arena will likely not see any action in the weekend exhibition games.
Iroquois Falls natives Ryan Kujawinski (Kingston Frontenacs) and Brody Silk (Sudbury Wolves) were just out getting a little extra ice time before heading out to their Ontario Hockey League training camps.
“They have permission to skate forms, but I doubt it very much,” Gagne said, with a chuckle, when asked if either forward would be on the ice either Friday, or Saturday.
The three 16-year-old players the Eskimos have in camp — Raphael Lecours, Dillan Bruce and Kyle Levis — continued to make a strong impression Wednesday night, although there have been a few growing pains.
“The young guys, it’s harder for them, because it’s habits and all of a sudden you have new coaching and you are teaching them a couple of things and you think they have it, but then the next drill they are doing the opposite,” Gagne said.
“So you have to keep reinforcing it. It is difficult at this time of year, because it is new for them, but it is going to come around. It was only the second practice.”
For the Eskimos veterans, the comprehension level is a lot higher.
“The teaching has already been done, now it is just a matter of resetting the program and have them get back in the routine, of the discipline and commitment,” Gagne said.
“That comes slowly, but surely, it will not be a problem.”
Lecours, at 6-4 and 205 pounds, is one of the biggest Eskimos in camp.
“I have learned that it is important to protect the puck, it is important,” said the Kapuskasing Flyers grad, when asked what he has learned so far at camp.
“I knew I would get far, because of my size. It is a big advantage. It is not every day you see a 6-4 16-year-old kid.
“I think I play a pretty good physical game. I have good speed, although I have trouble with my first three steps.”
The Hearst native has a simple goal heading into the two exhibition games on the weekend.
“I just want to make sure I don’t make too many mistakes, keep my head up and do good,” he said.
“I want to stay calm and not get so stressed that I make mistakes.”
Lecours knows that he will have to work hard if he plans to make the Eskimos as a 16-year-old.
“It would be a very good accomplishment,” he said.
While Gagne would like to see the Eskimos record a pair of victories against the Gold Miners on the weekend, the outcome of the game is not the critical issue.
“Any time you play a game, you play for pride and you want to win the game, that is what your objective is, but as a coaching staff, we just want to evaluate the players and see what they can comprehend of what we want them to do,” he said.
“I don’t care if you have all the skills in the world, if you can’t comprehend what the coaching staff is asking for you don’t belong in hockey.
Line combinations and defence pairings for the two exhibition games will likely be quite fluid.
“There are going to be a few changes,” Gagne said.
“It’s experimental, nothing is carved in stone yet.”
Defenceman Kealey Cummings is entering his fourth season with the Eskimos and he can remember when the team used to dominate the Blue Devils/Gold Miners, although victories over Kirkland Lake were a little rare the past two seasons.
“All we have to do is take the body and be hard on them,” he said.
“If do that everything else will come naturally.”
During the past few years an intense rivalry had developed between the Eskimos and the Gold Miners.
“There is a lot more intensity when we play them,” Cummings said.
“Come Friday night it will be good and come Saturday night it will be even better.”