IROQUOIS FALLS - Joey Mavrin’s goal with 1:45 remaining in the third period snapped a 5-5 tie and the Cochrane Crunch went on to defeat the Abitibi Eskimos 7-5 in the first half of a home-and-home series at the Jus Jordan Arena Tuesday night.
The Crunch actually appeared to be in control of the contest earlier in the frame, as they extended a 3-2 second-period lead to 5-2 on goals by Dustin Cordeiro and Josh Racek, his third goal of the game.
“Our line (Cody Gratton, Henry Berger and Racek) has been working well together,” Racek said.
“The first goal was on the penalty kill and Grats just batted it out of the air, tossed it to me and I got a breakaway. It was kind of a good play by him in our defensive zone.
“The second one, I just came in and kind of got lucky. It was a great pass from Grats. He fed me right out front and I tapped it in.
“The third one, again I just kind of got lucky. We did some good work down low and we got some pressure, then just kind of fished it out and put it away.”
As happy as Racek was to score a hat-trick, he was even happier when Mavrin put home the game winner.
“We were all pretty pumped,” he said.
“When somebody puts it in with 1:40 left, you have got to know the game is ours. We just had to tighten up defensively. We had a one-goal lead, so we knew it was game over from there.”
The Crunch knew they would have to bring their A game if they wanted to beat the Eskimos Tuesday night.
“We knew they were coming off a big win,” Racek said.
“They beat Powassan after we had just lost. We went 0-2 last weekend, so we were trying to turn things around.
“We knew we had to get on them right off the bat, pressure their D and start hammering them. We knew we couldn’t let them get in the game right away, scoring wise.”
The Eskimos stormed back with three-straight goals including a pair from Tristan Salesse in the span 1:35 and one from Brenden Locke, however, to deadlock the game at 5-5.
“I think we get a little too comfortable out there,” Racek said.
“We got a big lead like that, 5-2, with 16 minutes left in the third period and we let them come back. We just got a little weak defensively and got a little too comfortable.”
Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne knows all about teams playing weak defensively — especially his.
“We can’t win hockey games like that,” he said.
“It was wide open. It was shinny hockey, that is what it was. There was no commitment defensively, no taking your man, finishing your check. There was none whatsoever.
“They all wanted to get some points. Our defence didn’t even want to play frigging defence.
“We were just soft, soft, soft. The way we played was embarrassing.
“At the 14-minute mark (of the third period) we went with six forwards. That is what we did. That is not hockey. You have got to have all of your frigging players, but we didn’t. We went with four defencemen at the 15-minute mark. You can’t have that. You can’t afford to have passengers. We need players.”
The Eskimos had a game plan heading into Tuesday night’s game, but you would never have guessed it based upon the way the team played on the ice.
“We didn’t execute at all,” Gagne said.
“We were soft. At one point, we were so soft we were melting. That’s how bad we were.
It appeared the game was headed to overtime, but Mavrin’s seeing-eye wrist shot found the back of the Eskimos net, over the shoulder of goalie Ryan Ferguson.
The Eskimos pulled Ferguson in favour of an extra attacker but after weathering a flurry of action in their own end, the Crunch were able to break in three-on-none, with NOJHL scoring leader Gratton dishing the puck off to Cordeiro for his second goal of the night.
“We had our opportunities when it was 5-5, but on that (sixth) goal the puck had eyes,” Gagne said.
“The goalie didn’t see it. You know what, it was not his fault, not a chance, but it was the goals prior to that that could have been stopped.”
Crunch coach, general manager and owner Ryan Leonard was a lot happier with his team’s play than Gagne was with his.
“It was nice to get a nice road win here and nice to score seven goals and have four difference guys scoring them,” he said.
“And even though they game back and tied it 5-5, it was nice to see that we didn’t lose our composure.
“We actually took the play to them after they tied it at 5-5. The momentum swung back our way in their end, which was nice to see, but we can’t be giving up big leads in the third period.
“We did that against the Soo. It was 3-0 with three minutes to go and we almost lost that game. We did it against Wildcats. We were up 6-1 and we gave up three goals in eight minutes in the third period in Elliot Lake.
“We can’t get too relaxed when we get those big leads. We can’t sit back, we have got to keep going.
“We have got to stop trying to change the style of play and keep doing what is working.”
The Crunch got on the board first Tuesday night, as Racek beat Ferguson to make it a 1-0 game.
The lead didn’t last long, however, as Cosimo Amore beat Crunch goalie Brett Young less than two minutes later and the two sides skated into the first intermission tied at 1-1.
The Eskimos took their only lead of the game, 2-1, when Jake Holland scored early in the second period.
Daniel Stagg’s goal midway through the frame got the visitors back on even terms and then Racek scored his second of the game to make the scored 3-2 in favour of the Crunch after two periods of play.
Young made 45 saves to earn the victory for the Crunch, while Ferguson turned aside 41 shots and was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — Neither team was able to score a power-play goal, as both the Eskimos and the Crunch went 0-3 with the man advantage. Racek’s first goal was scored with the Crunch playing short handed, however … The official attendance for Tuesday night’s game was just 319, the lowest crowd for an Eskimos game so far this season … Jaren Bellini had a four-point night (two goals and two assists) as the Soo Thunderbirds beat the visiting Blind River Beavers 10-2 in the NOJHL’s only other game Tuesday night … The Eskimos and the Crunch will play the second half of their home-and-home series Friday night at the Tim Horton Event Centre in Cochrane. Game time is 7:30 p.m.