Aaron Corbiere, head coach of the visiting Mattawa Blackhawks, will be anxious to see how his players perform against an actual opponent.
â€œFor me it has been a big change, stepping into a brand new roster of 21 guys that I had not seen play ever in my life,â€ said Corbiere who was hired to coach the Blackhawks shortly before the start of training camp, when the organization parted ways with Zane Neily, who coached the team last year.
Last season he coached the Dallas Jr. Stars, of the NA3HL, his fifth season of coaching at the junior level.
â€œWe are looking pretty good. We have had two-and-a-half hours of ice, but we havenâ€™t really found our niche together yet,â€ Corbiere said.
â€œWe are looking forward to going to Cochrane. Guys are going to be put into positions where they may not be comfortable at first. It is a trial and error type of thing.â€
The Blackhawks, who operated as the North Bay Trappers last season before the team moved to Mattawa, have a handful of NOJHL veterans.
They include goalie Dustin Hummel, defencemen Jake Ibbitson and Nick Grose, as well as forwards Christian Sgroi, Henry Yawit, C.J. Nicholson, Tyler Brodersen and Colton Sanson.
In addition, Alex Hulford spent 25 games with the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners during the 2013-14 campaign.
The Blackhawks goaltending picture should become a little clearer after this weekendâ€™s games.
â€œWe have four goalies in camp and every goalie is going to play this weekend,â€ Corbiere said.
â€œIt could be one of those things where you are a great practice goalie, but you canâ€™t stop a puck in a game. It is going to be hard to play at this level.â€
The return of Ibbitson and Grose will give the Blackhawks some stability on the blue-line, but the coach has a clear idea of what he wants his D to look like this season.
â€œI think the strength of our defence is going to be size,â€ he said.
â€œWe are trying to bring in a few more guys. We have a few guys who have not reported yet because they have to finish work, but in the end I think we are going to be big, we are going to be physical.
â€œI think that is going to be our team motto this year. We want to play hard, physical hockey and we want people to know that they are playing against us.â€
At this point, the Blackhawks do not appear to have a lot of offence, which would suggest the team will have to work for its goals, forechecking and capitalizing off the breaks.
â€œI think, right now, that is what we are going to be, but like I said, we have only been on the ice for two-and-a-half hours, so it is really hard to see if we are going to be a breakout team, with a lot of goal scoring,â€Corbiere said.
â€œWe have a few guys who we think are going to be able to put up some decent numbers, but I like that North American League style of hockey. I want us to be in your face, I want us to go to the dirty areas of the ice. I think we are going to be a team that grinds out wins, chips the puck deep, goes and gets pucks.â€
While evaluating his players in game situations is the primary focus for Corbiere during the two games in Cochrane against the Crunch, he feels it is important for the Blackhawks to establish a winning tradition early.
â€œExhibition, or not, you always want to win, but we are going to make mistakes,â€ he said.
â€œIt will just be a matter of learning from our mistakes quickly. Cochrane is going to be a very well-coached team. I have known Lenny (Ryan Leonard) for a long time. He does a very, very good job with his organization and I am mindful that his guys are going to be ready to come at us with everything they have got and we are hoping to be able to throw everything we have got at them.â€
Crunch coach, general manager and owner Leonard is anxious to see his squad in action against an actual opponent for the first time, as well.
â€œWe are getting excited,â€ he said.
â€œWe still have two spots open right now and we are going to have some players in the lineup trying out for those spots.
â€œWe will see if they are going to take them now, or if we are going to wait for some older players to become available.
â€œThis weekend we were really impressed with the big (Zach) Lund kid from Iroquois Falls. He wasnâ€™t really a kid that was in our plans, but for the game on Sunday we put him with the top guys and he was really crashing and banging for us, making some room for them.â€
While Leonard is anxious to see how the Crunch stack up against the Blackhawks, he realizes that it is just a pair of exhibition games.
â€œIt is still pretty early,â€ he said.
â€œGuys are still getting to know each other, guys are still trying to work on their timing together. Thatâ€™s what these exhibition games are for, to get everybody ready for the regular season, see where guys fit in, see who is going to play on the power play, see who is going to be on the penalty kill.â€
The Crunch still have five full lines of forwards, so they will likely sit one out on Thursday, then insert them on Friday and sit out a different line.
In net, the Crunch are down to just two goalies, with veteran Matt Young and newcomer Troy Paquette looking to stake their claim to the top job.
â€œPaquette has been solid the whole training camp,â€ Leonard said.
â€œMatt struggled the first day-and-a-half, but he stepped up last scrimmage and in the game on Sunday. He looked like a veteran again.
â€œI think our goaltending will be fine, as long as we can get some consistency.â€
Leonard is hoping to see good crowds out for both of the exhibition games against the Blackhawks.
â€œOur Saturday night scrimmage saw about 150-160 people here, and then for the game on Sunday ... a beautiful Sunday afternoon ... we had about 140 people,â€ he said.
â€œPeople were coming out all weekend and watching, so it was good.â€
Game time for both Thursdayâ€™s game and Fridayâ€™s rematch at the Tim Horton Event Centre is 7:30 p.m.