Abitibi Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne has not stopped smiling since the team re-acquired forward Marc-Alain Begin from the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies.
And after a weekend in which the scoring star picked up 12 points in a pair of victories for the Iroquois Falls-based Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League team, who can blame him?
Even after falling behind 2-0 to the visiting Sudbury Cubs Saturday night at the Jus Jordan Arena, the Eskimos had a swagger that fans had not seen since the Hearst native departed for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
It would have been easy for the Eskimos to fold their tent, especially given the fact that Brandon Scott’s goal to increase theSudburyadvantage to 2-0 was scored with the Cubs two men short.
“We weren’t panicking, but there was a sense of urgency,” Begin said.
“We had a five-on-three and they scored. That was a momentum builder for them.
“But we came out in the second period and did a great job, scoring some goals.
“If you fall down by three it’s not a good feeling … especially against that team. They have a so much power up front.”
Gagne was pleased with the way the entire team played — both Friday and Saturday.
“He brings so much, that there is an enthusiasm from the rest of the players,” the coach said.
“They were committed. They were working hard defensively.
“And it’s not just because we scored goals, but when he (Begin) scores a big goal and Therrien scores a big goal, it puts us in that comfort zone that there is a sense of commitment now.
“The other two lines, they raise their level to play better hockey … that’s what Begin brings to us.
“Everybody raised their level of play and that puts a smile on our faces.”
Begin’s 22nd goal of the season cut theSudburylead to 2-1 and got the home fans onto their feet.
The Cubs quickly grabbed the momentum back, however, when Drew MacMillan scored just over a minute later to make it 3-1 in favour of the visitors.
Begin’s 23rd goal of the season just over a minute later shifted the momentum back in Abitibi’s favour and the home squad never looked back.
Captain Richard Therrien’s first of three goals tied the score 3-3 and Karl Spenard’s power-play goal — his eighth of the season — put the Eskimos in front 4-3 before the end of the second period.
Richard Therrien’s second goal of the game, just 27 seconds into the third period gave Abitibi a 5-3 advantage.
Begin then notched his 24th of the season midway through the third period to complete his hat trick and make it 6-3.
Therrien put Abitibi up 7-3 with his third goal of the game, his 32nd on the season.
Jordan Carroll, who currently leads the NOJHL in scoring, had given the visitors a 1-0 lead early in the first period.
After racking up 12 points on the weekend, Begin was asked how long he thought it would take him to overtake theSudburystar.
“I’m not worried about that,” Begin said.
“The important thing is to just keep winning and hopefully overtake them for first place.”
The Eskimo star andSudbury’s Jamie Haines both have 79 points and are tied for second in scoring behind Carroll’s 92 points.
Saturday’s victory allows the Eskimos to pull within five points of the Cubs for top spot in the NOJHL’s Eastern Division, althoughSudburyhas two games in hand.
“Two years ago, my buddy Bouts (former Eskimo Felix Boutin) won it (the scoring title), and it was good for him, but I think if he could choose, winning the Dudley Hewitt Cup, or winning the scoring title, he would choose the Dudley Hewitt Cup,” Begin said.
“We just want to keep winning as a team and grow as a team.”
It should be noted that Boutin’s 99 points edged out Begin’s 98 points for the scoring title in the 2009-10 season.
When he stepped onto the Jus Jordan Arena ice Saturday night, Eskimos fans gave Begin a warm welcome.
“It was a good feeling,” he said.
“I had two great years here and a half year this year.
“They are the best fans in the league, for sure. I missed playing here.
“When I play here, it’s like the puck goes in.”
Begin was confident when he pulled his Eskimos jersey on Friday night, but he had no idea he was going to rack up so many points so quickly.
He had played together with Therrien earlier this season, so there was some chemistry between the two, but not the third member of the Eskimos top line, Corey Hamel.
“Hamel came when I left, but I knew him from playing midget,” Begin said.
“He is a hard worker who gets the dirty jobs done. He gets the puck and passes it to us and he does a great job when he goes in front of the net.
Hamel picked up two assists during Saturday’s game, to go along with Begin’s seven points and Therrien’s three points.
J.P. Fecteau stopped 37 of the 40 shots he faced to pick up the victory, whileSudbury’s Jeremy Pominville blocked 37 of 40 shots.
“Fecteau made some great saves tonight,” Gagne said.
The Eskimos once again used a pair of affiliate players — Timmins Majors defenceman Ryan Kerr and New Liskeard Cubs forward Trevor MacDonald.
“The affiliate players, both games, played a regular shift and they got a lot of ice time,” Gagne said.
“Young Kerr, we played him on the power play. Young MacDonald, he was playing on the third line and he was still getting lots of ice time.
“They helped us tremendously. They were doing exactly what we asked for and then some.
“The other players acknowledge their efforts after the games.”
The Eskimos may have a new player in the lineup in time for their next game.
Defenceman Chris Green has been acquired from les Loups de La Tuque.
The 6-foot, 180 lb., blue liner has one assist in five games this season with the QJAAAHL squad.
He was also held pointless in three games with the Central Canada Hockey League’s Smiths Falls Bears.
The 19-year-old Dallas-born Green spent the 2010-11 campaign with Midlothian High of the USHS.
The Eskimos next game will be at the McIntyre Arena inTimminson Thursday night when they play host to the Cubs in a game scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m.