THE OFFICIAL SITE OF THE NORTHERN ONTARIO JUNIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE

Eskimos’ leadership in good hands

IROQUOIS FALLS – Even though the Abitibi Eskimos have only seven veterans returning from the 2011-12 squad that was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the North Bay Trappers, leadership is one area the team does not have to worry about.   “Our captain, Richard Therrien, was a great captain last year,” said Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.   “He took over the dressing room and took a lot of the younger guys under his wing.   “He’s a really positive individual and he knows, himself, to be successful you have to play within a program, so he really preaches it.   With so many new players, the captain will be preaching louder than ever in 2012-13.   “It’s going to take a couple of weeks, but after we get under Paul’s system I think we are going to be okay,” Therrien said.   “I am going to try and do my best with all the new rookies, all the new guys coming in to try and explain to them that when the coach explains something and they don’t quite get it that I will explain it to them before they have to go an ask Paul.   “That’s going to take a lot of pressure off Paul … that’s one of my jobs I have, as captain, along with our other veterans.”   He will be relying upon some of the other returning vets to help get the message across.   “I look at Kealey Cummings and Kevin Walker playing a huge role this year, as a couple of our good defencemen coming back,” Therrien said.   “And Jason Forward, too, and (centre Corey) Hamel being seasoned vets, those guys are going to be my backbones in the locker room.”   Hamel joined the Eskimos from Thunder Bay during the regular season and brought with him some leadership, as well.   “Corey works hard in the dressing room and works hard on the ice, in practice and even off the ice,” Gagne said.   Cummings, while only 17 years old, will also be counted on to assume a leadership role this season.   “It’s his second year and he feels comfortable out there and he has a great, positive attitude,” Gagne said.   “He loves the game and guys like that are going to show leadership.”   Cummings plans to be hands on, as he helps shepherd some of the younger players through the coming year.   “With what I learned last year, I can help some of our younger defencemen, explaining how they can do things and give them a different way of looking at it,” he said.   One of the best forms of leadership, of course, is to set a good example with your own play and Cummings is confident heading into 2012-13.   “I try and make the smart plays, the right plays, the safe plays,” he said.   “If I see an opportunity to go rush the puck, I will, but if it means giving my team a chance to get the puck out of a corner, I will take the body.”   It hasn’t taken long for some of the younger players to turn to Cummings seeking advice.   “Even in the prospect camp, my defensive partner was asking me, ‘how can I do this?’ and I would explain to him the style of play that we use and even in prospects camp it looked like he was getting it,” he said.   “There are still people talking to me, asking how they do this, or how they do that, so I think some of the younger guys will look up to me.”   Cummings doesn’t mind helping the younger players because a number of Eskimos veterans took him under their wings last season when he was only 16 years old, away from home and entering his first training camp with an NOJHL squad.   “Justin Kord, my D partner, and Therrien really helped me a lot last year, getting me comfortable with everything,” he said.   “He (Therrien) was serious, but he made it more relaxing, so that I wouldn’t be too uptight.   “There were a few other guys, too, like (Marc-Alain) Begin helped a bit, and (J.P.) Fecteau helped … most of the returning guys, people who have played here before, and Moses, he was a good one, too, he did a lot to help.”   The coach feels it’s also possible that some of the new guys will take on a leadership role, as well.   “A lot of times the first-year players are not sure what the program is all about, but Corey was new to us last year and it didn’t take long for him to show leadership and to be right in there and help out,” Gagne said.   Delmer Moses is another first-year player who assumed a leadership role with the Eskimos in 2011-12, but unfortunately he is too old to play this season.   “He came in and worked hard in practice and he was friendly,” Gagne said.   “Everybody liked him. He had a great attitude and he showed leadership.”   Having strong leadership is going to be important on a team like the Eskimos that will have so many new faces in the lineup for the 2012-13 season.   “It makes a difference,” Gagne said.   “It really does. We emphasize it all the time and so when your leaders are backing you up and they understand what they need to do, to make it better, it makes a difference.   “It enhances your program, 100%.”   Therrien figures the Eskimos should have a good season in 2012-13.   “I think if we aim to be above .500, it would be a good place to start,” he said.   “We have the potential to do it.”