IROQUOIS FALLS – Two goals late in the game weren’t enough as the Beavers edged the Eskimos 4-3 on Saturday night.
Playing their first game without scoring leader and former captain Richard Therrien, the Abitibi Eskimos could have thrown in the towel before their game against the Blind River Beavers at the Jus Jordan Arena.
But they didn’t despite giving up three goals in the second and the game-winner early in the final frame.
Three points separated these two clubs in the Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League standings prior to the opening faceoff.
“We just try and keep the guys composed,” said Beavers head coach Doug McEwan. “When a team loses their star, it’s easy to get complacent and think they’re lacking firepower. But the reverse for them is they lost their star guy and they wanted to pick up the slack.”
With the win, the Beavers pull within one point of the fifth-place Eskimos.
The Beavers were coming off a win in Kirkland Lake on Friday night.
It was a battle from the onset as the Eskimos looked to establish themselves without Therrien.
Twenty-five seconds into the game, the Eskimos had a goal called back because in the referee’s judgement, the puck was punched past Beavers netminder Brock Crossthwaite.
The judgement call seemed to take the wind out of the Eskimos’ sails who came out of the gate looking gritty and hungry.
“The role players I have to give credit because they do step up,” said Eskimos head coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
The first period closed without any goals.
Travis Jones opened the scoring for the Beavers at the 12 minute mark of the second on an akward play.
Jones was coming down the right wing closely checked when his errant shot bounced off the end boards to the right of Eskimos goalie Jeremy Laux, popped out to the face off circle where the Beavers forward then slipped it past the Eskimos netminder.
Eskimos forward Aaron Kerr responded less than five minutes later, recording his 14th goal of his rookie campaign with the Jr. A club.
Kerr finished the game with two points, giving him 18 in 27 games.
“He tries to match up lines, but I’ve got a pretty balanced team and I’m not too concerned with who he puts on the ice,” said McEwan. “Overall I’ve got a lot of confidence in my team that they’ll be able to do the job no matter who Paul puts out there.”
Within the last three minutes of the second, the Beavers struck two more times on goals from Samuel Wilbur and Paul Muio, which put Blind River up 3-1 heading into the final 20 minutes of the contest.
“Tonight I thought we played a patient game except in the second when we had a two minute meltdown with two little mistakes,” said Gagne. “That happens. It’s hockey.”
Eskimos captain Kevin Walker said, “We need to make sure we stick to our assignments, stay focused, work hard and stick to our gameplan.”
The third period was a showcase of the Eskimos character and determination, as they found a way to strike two more times before the final buzzer sounded.
Beavers skater Jacob Boisvenue scored 6:14 into the period, but the Eskimos responded when Phillip Sweeney cut the Blind River lead to two goals with a powerplay marker at 16:37.
Five minutes later, Zach Innes recorded a powerplay goal to draw the Eskimos to within one.
“They played a gritty game and their goalie made some great saves,” said McEwan. “It was a good game for them, but for us, I think we showed a lot of character by holding a lead and coming out with a win tonight.”
A combinded 86 shots were thrown at each goalie.
Laux turned aside 39 of 43, while Crossthwaite stopped 40 of 43.
“Jeremy played a strong game,” said Gagne. “He was better with his rebounds and he’s reliable. There’s nothing wrong with our goalie right now.”
Heading forward, the Eskimos will look to find their identity without Therrien who provided a lot of offence for the club.
“We have to stay together,” said Gagne. “The message is we’re going to have to play better hockey collectively. It’s not going to be fancy. We have to do our assignments 100% and we have to be patient… and then capitalize on chances it if it’s there.”
Eskimos notes: Forward Peter Poulin-Roy served the fourth game of his four-game suspension and will be eligible to play on Jan. 11. Forward Brandon Windsor was scratched from the lineup because of the flu. Newest acquisition Wyatt Trumbley is expected to suit up for the next game. Defenceman Simon Desrosier is still awaiting a trade and Gagne confirmed that a deal is in the works and should be completed early this week.