IROQUOIS FALLS – Veteran Eskimo and captain Richard Therrien carried the Abitibi Eskimos on his back with a four-goal performance as they triumphed 5-4 in overtime over the defending champion Soo Thunderbirds for their first win of the season.
“We just wanted that first victory and to win against the Soo makes me at a loss for words,” said Therrien. “We’re just so happy, we’re going to bask in it and be back at the drawing board Tuesday.”
The Eskis looked like a different team on Saturday at the Jus Jordan Arena.
“It’s hard when you’re 0-4, the guys are working hard in practice, they’re trying to do everything, but you can’t be that way,” said Eskimos head coach and general manager Paul Gagne. “You have to take it easy, be patient and play within the program.”
They seemed loose and confident despite being winless in their first four games of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League season and it translated on the ice.
It wasn’t more evident than when Therrien burst out of the penalty box after serving two minutes for hooking.
Defenceman Corey Dubbeldam hit the streaking captain with a crisp pass that sent the hulking power-forward in all alone on Thunderbirds goalie Steven Dombrowski and he didn’t miss, as he deked and slid the puck into the yawning net.
All the momentum shifted to the home side of the equation and Therrien would add another marker before the end of period, giving the Eskis a 2-0 lead heading into the second.
“We finally played as a team and we got rid of those individual mistakes,” said Therrien. “The guys were on board and we had the momentum.”
Despite the strong start, the Eskis fluttered a little in the second.
The crowd at the Jus Jordan was stunned when a pass out in front of the Eskimos’ goalie took an errant bounce and slid under Marc Audet’s pad cutting the Eskis’ lead to one less than three minutes into the period.
“For a 16 year old, he plays the puck so well, stands to the puck so well and he’s in good position,” said Gagne. “He’ll get a couple of bad goals against him here and there once a while, but I didn’t think they were bad goals against him.”
The goal came following sustained pressure the Thundrebirds were applying deep in the Eskimos’ zone.
“We lost a little bit of momentum in the second period and we didn’t play as well,” said Gagne. “We had a lot of individual mistakes and turnovers in the neutral zone, which had us playing a lot in the our the defensive zone.”
But there wasn’t any sign of giving up on the Eskis’ part.
Just over 10 minutes later Eskis defenceman Daniel Villeneuve extended his club’s lead when he flipped a backhand shot over Dombrowski’s outstretched pad, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
Less than 90 seconds later, Therrien added his third goal of the game while on the powerplay.
Simon Desrosiers and former Timmins Midget ‘AAA’ Majors and Great North Midget League defenceman of the year Ryan Kerr registered assists on the play.
After two periods the home crowd could smell a victory brewing as the Eskimos held a 4-2 lead.
However, it nearly slipped away as the Thunderbirds, who were coming off a 1-0 win in Kirkland Lake the night before, manufactured two goals in the final 35 seconds of the game to send it to overtime.
“We were going at them and whenever we had a chance we would capitalize and next thing you know we were in OT,” said Gagne.
But Therrien ended it just 46 seconds into the extra frame.
Kerr carried the puck into the zone and found his captain with pass.
Therrien didn’t miss and neither did the crowd who exploded into an arena-shaking roar.
“Tonight was one of those nights where everything was clicking and everything went our way and I’m just extremely happy with the outcome,” said Therrien.
Abitibi will be gearing up this week for their game against the undefeated North Bay Trappers (4-0-1) who bounced the Eskimos from the first round of the playoffs last season in five games.
“The hardest thing now – and I always say this to them and I’ll say it on practice on Tuesday – is that there was no pressure on them before when we were 0-4,” said Gagne. “Now they played great hockey… and now they have to maintain this level and that’s the fun part, so I’m looking forward to a good week of practice.”