There are nearly 60 championship banners hanging from the rafters. The ice surface is a smooth concrete slab, and the music is blaring through the empty ice palace as though it’s a game night. The seats are empty, the cafeteria looks like it’s in recovery from a natural disaster . . . and the entire scenario is making the spine tingle and the skin crawl with anticipation.
It’s less than a month before the beginning of the 2013-2014 Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League season – and it’s almost as though the elegant and grand old gal on Synagogue Street is awakening, as though she knows, as though she senses deep in her concrete underthings that it’s time to get herself primped and ready for the dance.
She knows that hockey time is on the horizon, and she’s opening her arms to welcome her family – the fans of the Abitibi Eskimos – back into the heart of the greatest hockey shrine in the north.
One of the nicest aspects about having a home team in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League is having home-town players to help fill the arena on cold nights in January.
The Abitibi Eskimos are already looking forward to the opening game of the season on September 4 – but might be even more excited about the six-game home stand that follows the opening road game in Sudbury.
That’s because, for the first time in many a moon, the Eskis are likely to have at least five home-town players on the roster – former Kapuskasing Agrium Flyers, and Iroquois Falls natives, Brendan Roy, Marc Dubé and Sylvain Miron all signed up last week to begin the new hockey season with their home-town Eskis. In addition, three more local hockey hopefuls, Josh Dejulio, Brendan Locke and Kezman Madden will be given careful scrutiny – all three took part in Tuesday’s prospects camp at the Whitney Arena in South Porcupine. Both Locke and Dejulio still have Triple A Midget eligibility remaining – Locke has two years of eligible midget play left while Dejulio has another season to go – but both can expect call-ups as affiliates to the Eskis should the need arise. They’re both still planning a return to the Kap Agrium Flyers, while Madden, who played Double A midget last year in Hearst, will also likely return to the midget ranks – but will be considered as an affiliate call-up during the coming season.
Assistant Eski Coach Dan Dubé was at the Jus Jordan Complex last week for the signing of the three newest home-town Eskis, and he expressed confidence that the newest members of the team along with the returnees will be in good shape when the official training camp opens in Iroquois Falls on August 19. Most of the local contingent of players have been following a strict off-season training regimen with team trainer Hervé Leroux and fitness is not expected to be an issue as the full-dress training camp gets underway when the ice is back in at The Igloo.
Besides the addition of the three members of last year’s Kap Agrium Flyers Triple A Midgets, there are likely to be other personnel changes for the Eskis this coming season. The status of spark-plug forward Aaron Kerr is still up in the air – the talented winger will be attending the training camp of the Ontario Hockey League’s Owen Sound Attack, and has also been invited – as one of 15 NOJHL players – to take part in the Ontario Summer Select Showcase this coming weekend at Cornwall, Ontario. A total of 80 players from Canada’s Tier II Junior A hockey leagues will be taking part in the tournament, and players from this tournament will be selected to take part in the annual East-West Tier II Junior A tournament. Tanner Lafrance, Jeremy Picard-Fiset and Steven Babin of the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners will also be attending the camp.
The Gold Miners will be providing the first competition for the Eskis this season – the two teams will play a home-and-home pre-season series on August 24 at The Igloo and Aug. 25 in Kirkland Lake.
With the return of Espanola to the NOJHL fold, the teams in the eight-team league will be playing a 56-game schedule in 2013-2014 – up from 48 games last year –and Eskis President Scott Marshall is confident the four extra home games for his club will be financially rewarding to the Eskis – a team that saw its attendance drop last year. The fact that there are six home games in a row to start the season is expected to give the club a boost.
The Grand Old Gal on Synagogue Street. When she was built, she was the creation of loving hands and loving minds, the product of the largest volunteer construction effort ever undertaken in Canada. And in this, the August of her years, she still sits, not like a disgruntled old matron, but like a dance hall girl, waiting patiently – for the next dance to begin. She needs partners for the big dance – and she’s going to need them all season long. Buy your Eskis seasons tickets this week.