Eskimos open season Saturday

IROQUOIS FALLS – The puck is set to drop on the Abitibi Eskimos 2012-13 season at the Jus Jordan Arena Saturday night.   Following two weeks of practice, a pair of exhibition games and a number of player additions and deletions, the Eskimos are ready to kick off their Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League regular season against the Sudbury Nickel Barons — formerly the Cubs and before that the Jr. Wolves.   Assistant coach Marc Cashmore will be behind the bench for both Saturday night’s home opener and Sunday’s first road game, in Kirkland Lake against the Gold Miners.   “I am kind of nervous myself, since (coach and general manager) Paul (Gagne) is not going to be here for our home opener,” Cashmore said.   “This will be my first time for a home opener. I coached four games last year and I think it was a 50/50 split, two wins and two losses.   “I don’t know if the boys will be nervous.   “We just don’t know what to expect from them right now.   “We know Blind River beat them (Sudbury) in exhibition and they have basically the same roster as they had last year … they have a couple of returning vets.   “But I think we will be all right. We have some new players, compared to the ones we had during our exhibition games (8-2 and 4-1 losses to Kirkland Lake.”   The biggest change for the Eskimos is in net, with the addition of Marc Audet, from the camp of the OHL Sarnia Sting, and Darren Cave, who played midget hockey in Cochrane in 2011-12.   Neither puck stopper was with the Eskimos for the exhibition losses against Kirkland Lake.   Martin Bilodeau, who was with the Eskimos last season, and Nick Heimer, a 20 year old from Minnesota, were both released following those two games.   “All I am really trying to accomplish is helping my team to make it to the playoffs,” Audet said, prior to joining his new teammates for his first practice.   “I am hoping to bring some confidence to the team and hopefully the guys will have confidence in me, too.”   A 15th-round selection of the Sting, the 16-year-old Thunder Bay native played in Colorado last season.   “I gained a lot of knowledge and that bit of experience at the OHL level,” Audet said of his time at training camp earlier this year with the Sting.   “I got to play with some great guys.   “We have a great group of guys here, too, and I think we are going to have a really great season.”   Audet is a big fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins Marc-Andre Fleury and tries to pattern his game after the big puck stopper.   “That style really allows you to cover a lot of the net,” he said.   “You have to have really quick legs and be able to move quickly down low.”   Like Fleury, Audet is a big goaltender, who plays a technically sound game.   The defence, anchored by returning vets Kealey Cummings, Daniel Villeneuve and Kevin Walker, should be solid, with newcomers Simon Desrosiers, Jordan Ste-Marie, Cody Parker and Bryce Robert bringing additional skill, size and toughness to the roster.   “I am expecting it (Saturday’s home opener) to be hard hitting,” Walker said.   “We had a bit of bad blood with them last year and it’s really going to be a big game for us, because it’s the first game of the season.   “We are going to come out and try to set the tone for the rest of the year.”   As a veteran, Walker knows the importance of getting off to a good start.   “We have to make sure other teams know it’s not going to be easy, or a walk in the park, when they come into our building,” he said.   Walker, a stay-at-home defender, plans to keep his game simple this season.   “I just want to make the smart plays and do my job and make sure they don’t put the puck in our net,” he said.   Up front, the Eskimos will be without the services of Corey Hamel, who centred Abitibi’s top line last season and played in the first exhibition game in Kirkland Lake.   Hamel, a Rouyn-Noranda native, has opted to return to Thunder Bay, because of school.   In his place, the Eskimos have added forward Jesse Paul, who spent the 2011-12 season with the Stoney Creek Warriors of the Greater Ontario Jr. B Hockey League.   “I think our team has improved since our exhibition games,” Cashmore said.   “We have a game plan, just our basic game plan, right now and we have got to get this game plan down so that they don’t have to think about it … so it comes naturally.