By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
KIRKLAND LAKE - The Kirkland Lake Gold Miners edged the Abitibi Eskimos 4-3 at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex Thursday night in the exhibition finale for both NOJHL squads.
The loss leaves the Eskimos with an exhibition record of 1-3, while the defending NOJHL champion Gold Miners finish 3-1.
“The way I explained it to the players, we played like a junior team last night,” said Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne Friday morning.
“We played patient, the forechecking was there only when asked for and we employed a really good trap zone. We were steering them in the direction we wanted to steer them.
“We were under control in the defensive zone all night. We had our opportunities. We had our power plays.
“Things were working really well. For the players that we had, and we only had 13 players, I was really pleased with the way we played. Our goaltending was excellent and our defencemen obviously did their job.
“That’s why we have exhibition games. The players are improving and improving.”
The Eskimos’ manpower situation should be at least partially addressed prior to the regular-season opener on Saturday, Sept. 6, against the visiting Powassan Voodoos.
Gagne is hopefully that forward Brady Clouthier, the Eskimos leading scorer during the 2013-14 season, will be able to resume skating at practice on Tuesday.
“Hopefully, he can get on the ice,” Gagne said.
Clouthier is still suffering the effect of a check from behind that sent him crashing head first into the boards late in the third period of the first exhibition game in Kirkland Lake last Friday.
In addition, the Eskimos should know by then whether or not two players they have in Ontario Hockey League camps will be returning.
Forward Brenden Locke is in camp with the Barrie Colts, while defenceman Jamey Lauzon is in camp with the London Knights.
“We wish them all the best,” Gagne said.
“If they come back, good for the organization, but if they stay there, well, good for them.”
Timmins native Tyler Romain’s goal at the 14:01 mark of the third period proved to be the game winner for the Gold Miners.
The two sides exchanged two goals each during the first period of play.
Sixteen-year-old rookie Kyle Levis and newcomer Harrison Jacobs scored even strength goals for the Eskimos, while Steven Babin and Travis Hall replied for the Gold Miners.
While the paperwork has yet to be finalized, the Eskimos are looking to sign Jacobs.
“He scored a goal, but not only that, anything that we ask of him, he has been comprehending,” Gagne said.
“He is only 17 years old and he is not even in game shape yet, he hasn’t skated a whole lot, so I am expecting good things from him.”
Levis, who is only 16 years old, continues to impress the Eskimos coaching staff, as well.
“He got a nice goal,” Gagne said.
“It was our first shot on net and he got it through. He got himself in a good position. It was an excellent forecheck, we got a turnover and it paid off in a nice goal.”
Neither team could find the back of the net during the second period of play.
Alexi Rivet’s short-handed goal put the Gold Miners in front 3-2 13:27 into the final period of play.
Romain’s goal 34 seconds later made it a 4-2 game.
Ryan Tront scored a power-play goal with just over three minutes to play in regulation, but that would be as close as the Eskimos would come to getting back on even terms.
Timmins native Devon Debastos played the first two periods for the Gold Miners, allowing two goals on 11 shots, to pick up the victory.
Kenny Fitzgerald played the third period and gave up one goal on six shots.
Chet Tooker, of the Eskimos, went the distance and stopped 25 of the 29 shots the Gold Miners fired his way.
The Eskimos still have three goaltenders in camp, including Tooker, Braddock Baalerud, who backed up Tooker Wednesday night, and Alex Chandler, who played in the second and third exhibition games, but they will likely get down to two before the start of the regular season.
“We are probably going to be making a decision in the next couple of days,” Gagne said.
With the exhibition season now complete, the Eskimos will take the weekend off before beginning practice on Tuesday in preparation for the regular-season opener against the Voodoos.
Again shorthanded, the Eskimos dressed just 13 skaters and two goals for the game.
The Eskimos will open the NOJHL regular season at the Jus Jordan Arena on Saturday, Sept. 6, when they host the Powassan Voodoos.
The Gold Miners will play their first game of the regular season one night earlier, when they host the Mattawa Blackhawks at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex.
Game time for both contests is 7:30 p.m.