IROQUOIS FALLS - The Kirkland Lake Gold Miners scored three goals in the first 11:38 of their first period to hand the Abitibi Eskimos a 5-2 setback in the first exhibition game for both NOJHL clubs.
Goals by Casey Drolet, Alex McEwen and Austin Rust put the visitors in front before the visibly nervous Eskimos could get on the scoresheet.
“You know what, the first period I thought there were a lot of jitters,” said Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“With over excitement, a lot of times you tend to tighten up a little bit and you could see it, from our forwards, to our defence to our goalie, you saw it … which is normal. I am glad it happened. This is why we have exhibition games.
“Exhibition games are to see the little things that need to be worked on and to gain experience. We had a lot of rookie mistakes and stuff, but that’s normal, that’s normal.”
The Eskimos battled back with two quick goals before the end of the first period to head into the dressing room trailing just 3-2.
Former Kapuskasing Flyer Cameron Etherington got the home side on the board when he flipped a loose puck behind Gold Miners goalie Jessie Morin on a play set up by another Eskimos newcomer, Tommy Labrecque.
Eskimos veteran Zach Innis got the second goal 59 seconds later when he took a cross-crease pass and buried a wrist shot past Morin.
Defenceman Sheehan Moore and Brady Clouthier earned assists on the play.
Gold Miners coach and general manager Marc Lafleur was not happy with that stretch of the game.
“We had a mental lapse where we got puck focused and stopped playing defence,” he said.
“They scored two quick ones late in the first period.”
Any hopes the Eskimos had of getting back on even terms evaporated when Rust scored his second goal of the game, on the power play, seven minutes into the second period to put Kirkland Lake in front 4-2.
Andrew Bertrand closed out the scoring 10 minutes later when he beat Eskimos goalie Sylvain Morin to make it 5-2.
Even though the Gold Miners netted the only two goals of the third period, Lafleur was not happy about his team’s play in that frame, either.
“I was not happy with our third-period puck management,” he said.
“I thought we turned it over way too much and if you look at the game sheet that’s the period where they got the most shots on net.”
The Kirkland Lake coach was impressed by what he saw from the Eskimos.
“They are going to have a solid team this year,” Lafleur said.
“They had a few key guys not in the lineup, as well.”
The Gold Miners appear to have a bigger and faster team at this point than they did last season, a focus of Lafleur’s recruitment.
“Our problem last year was our most skilled guys were some of our slower guys on the hockey team,” he said.
“It posed a problem against the bigger squads, like North Bay and the Soo.
“The moment we got knocked out (of the playoffs), the very next day my goal was to get not only bigger and stronger, like everybody else tries to do at the start of the year, but to make sure our most skilled guys are some of the faster guys on the hockey team, as well.”
The Eskimos, who have been in camp for less than a week, have not had time to adapt to the system Gagne likes to employ and it was evident.
“For example, there was one line that was out there on the power play and they thought they looked really good and they came to the bench and they found out from the coaches that they had never done their assignments once (on the shift),” he said.
“They looked good though, but they know what their assignments were and they didn’t execute them. They thought they were doing a great job, stuff like that, they need to be programmed, so they are mentally prepared for our structure and systems.”
The coach reserved his greatest praise for the youngest player on the ice for the Eskimos, 16-year-old Brendan Locke.
“He looked so good tonight, it was incredible,” Gagne said.
“He is a nice little sparkplug. He has got a lot of skills, speed.
“He had nerves, also, but he didn’t show it. He just went and played. It was beautiful. And he was conscious of our program, also. He was really doing a job and to be a 16 year old and a centreman and to work it down low and play defensively, I thought he did really well.
“So, he is my MVP of the game.”
There is no secret to what the Eskimos will have to do to take the second game of the home-and-home series in Kirkland Lake Sunday night.
“In the defensive zone we have to play a little bit better structure,” Gagne said.
“In the offensive zone, our forechecking, in the third period tonight we were working it down low, working it down low, behind the net, coming out of the corners, we worked on that.
“That was our assignments in the first period also and that’s why we were happier in the third period, we were doing those little things. Even our face offs. We were doing assignments on the face offs. All the little things we talked about . The dump ins, we had better dump ins and our forecheck was better in third period.
“We didn’t forecheck once, I don’t think, in the second period. We were losing the puck at the blue line and at the top of the circle, trying to make passes that weren’t there.
“Little things like that, we need to work on.”
Morin went the distance in net for the Eskimos Saturday, while Julien Deschenes and Shawn Gerbinski are scheduled to split Sunday’s game in Kirkland Lake for Abitibi.
Morin played the first two periods for the Gold Miners, while former Timmins Major Devon Debastos played a scoreless third period.
NOTES: Eskimos defenceman Ryan Kerr was ejected from the game for checking from behind … Centre Ryan Wildman, winger Aaron Kerr and defenceman Jamey Lauzon were not in the lineup for the Eskimos … Forward Erik Robichaud remains in camp for the Eskimos, but has not yet been signed as he waits to see if he will be picked up by a QMJHL, or OHL team … Attendance was officially listed at 473.