TIMMINS - The Abitibi Eskimos goaltending picture for the 2014-15 NOJHL season is beginning to take come into focus.
Prior to the start of this week’s tryout camp at the Whitney Arena, the Eskimos signed 20-year-old puck stopper Alex Chandler, who saw limited action last season with the Espanola Rivermen, due to a knee injury.
Chandler, now healthy, split the net for Team Black during tryout sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday with 17-year-old American Braddock Baalerud, while at the far end of the ice Team White employed Thunder Bay native Jordan Carlson and Iroquois Falls Singers netminder Jaedon Giguere between the pipes.
Baalerud, from Troy, Mich., split last season between the Bobcaygeon Bucks and the Bracebridge Phantoms, of the Greater Metro Junior Hockey League.
“I was really impressed with him tonight,” Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne said following Tuesday’s tryout session.
“I was also impressed with the midget goalie from Thurnder Bay, Jordan Carlson.
“And Jaedon was an affiliate with us last year and dressed a couple of times.
“It was just the first night, so it (evaluating them) was tough.”
Baalerud continued to make a positive impression during Wednesday’s tryout session, as well.
“He played his angles well, he challenged the shooters and he made some big stops,” Gagne said.
Baalerud posted a 5.53 goals against average and a .866 saves percentage with the Phantoms, after starting with an 18.00 goals against average and .714 saves percentage with the Bucks.
In five playoff dates with the Phantoms during the playoffs, Baalerud posted a 4.56 goals against average and a .917 saves percentage.
He was pleased with his first on-ice session with the Eskimos.
“It was great,” Baalerud said.
“We got in some hard work out there and had a good scrimmage. I tried to play the best I could and it was fun.
“The Eskimos seem like a good team and they have a great organization, with Paul Gagne being the coach. They have a great arena and it looks like it will be a fun place to play.”
Baalerud plays a butterfly style.
“I also depend a lot on reaction time,” he said.
“When starts start coming faster, you have got to react and make the adjustment.”
That will be even more important if Baalerud makes the Eskimos, as the speed of play in the NOJHL will be faster than he experienced last season in the GMJHL.
“I am going to have to rely on more skill, more often,” he said.
Baalerud doesn’t really pattern his game after any one NHL goaltender.
“I kind of like Jonas Hiller, but I kind of like to mix goalies together to find the best style,” he said.
“I like J.S. Giguere because of the way he blocks and I always liked Mikka Kirprisoff, because of how quickly he moved, and Jonathan Quick, because of how fast he moves.
“I just like to try to combine the styles of all NHL goalies, the best ones I can find.”
As you might expect, Baalerud was a little bit nervous at the start of Tuesday’s tryout session.
“In a new environment, it is always a little bit nerve wracking,” he said.
“After the first 10 minutes, or so, I was comfortable though. It feels like home.”
Speaking of home, Baalerud is no stranger to playing far from home as he pursues a hockey career, even though he is only 17 years old.
“I have been playing away from home for the past five years, or so,” he said.
“I went to a boarding school for two years and after that I played two years of junior, as a 15 year old in Bobcaygeon and then the next year in Bracebridge.”
Carlson, playing for the Thunder Bay Kings, of the North Lakes Hockey League (Midget AAA), posted a 4.29 goals against average and .818 saves percentage in five starts, earning a won-loss record of 2-3-0-0.
Unlike Baalerud, Carlson has not played away from home before but does not think that would be an issue if he makes the Eskimos.
“This is a new experience,” he said.
Like his netminding competition, the Thunder Bay native was impressed with what he saw Tuesday.
“It is good hockey, fast speed,” he said.
“We have a lot of good guys and I had fun out there.”
Carlson feels his attitude is his biggest asset as a goaltender.
“I keep battling, I never give up and always try my hardest,” he said.
Carlson does not pattern his style after any particular NHL goalie, although he is a fan of a Toronto Maple Leafs puck stopper.
“I really like James Reimer,” he said.
“I like the way he plays and try to follow after him, but that is pretty much it.”
Giguere is coming off a successful run with the Stingers that saw the team advance to the provincial championships.
“Today’s session was quick, it was faster, but I found my rebound control wasn’t as accurate as it was Tuesday,” he said, following Wednesday’s practice.
“The skated today was faster, because the players were more used to the ice.”
Although he was an affiliate of the Eskimos last season, Giguere did not attend either the tryout camp, or main training camp with the squad.
“I went out for about 15 practices with the Eskis, so I was used to the shots,” he said.
Giguere also dressed as a back up for a couple of games during the 2013-14 NOJHL season, although he did not see any game action.
His favourite NHL goalie is Carey Price, of the Montreal Canadiens, and that is who he likes to pattern his game after.
“He is big and his style is to make himself look big,” Giguere said.
The Iroquois Falls native has two years of midget eligibility remaining and if he does not make the Eskimos he will likely suit up with the Timmins Majors of the Great North Midget League.
The Eskimos tryouts at the Whitney Arena continue on Thursday and Friday, from 7:45-9:30 p.m.