Fresh — well, maybe not that fresh — from a seven-game conquest of Elliot Lake Bobcats in the opening round of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League playoffs, fourth-seeded Abitibi Eskimos will get their shot at the top-ranked Soo Thunderbirds.
The second-round series between the Eskimos and Thunderbirds will begin this weekend with Games 1 and 2 slated for Essar Centre in the Soo on Saturday and Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
Abitibi heads to the Soo after winning back-to-back elimination games against Elliot Lake, both by 3-2 scores.
Led by the dean of NOJHL coaches, the peerless Paul Gagne, Abitibi may not have the overall depth of the Soo but the Eskimos do have a number impact players.
Veteran forward Erik Robichaud — who has played in both the Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Jr. Hockey League — is a game-breaker who had 4 goals, 4 assists, 8 points for Abitibi in the seven-gamer against Elliot Lake.
Robichaud has select company that includes forwards Brady Clouthier, Landon Hiebert and Ryan Tront and defencemen Ryan Kerr and Brennan Roy and goalie Brody Wagner.
And for good measure, there is 1997 birth-year forward Brenden Locke, a homegrown product who scored 27 times during the regular season and who had 2 goals, 7 assists, 9 points in the playoff series against Elliot Lake.
“We’re expecting a very-tough series,” said Thunderbirds coach Jordan Smith. “That is a well-coached, tough team to try to play against.”
The Thunderbirds have been off since Sunday after eliminating the Blind River Beavers in five games in that opening-round series.
Of note, Smith said he expects backup goalie Brian Kment will make his fifth-straight start for the Soo in the series opener against Abitibi.
The Thunderbirds no. 1 goalie, Joel Horodziejczyk, has been affected by a lower-body injury.
Horodziejczyk was named the NOJHL’s most valuable player for the 2013-2014 season.