COCHRANE - The Crunch crushed the Abitibi Eskimos 9-3 at the Tim Horton Event Centre Friday night in the first half of a home-and-home series.
Four-straight second-period goals broke open what had been a 1-1 hockey game and lifted the home side to their first victory over a team with a winning record.
“That was a monkey off our back,” said Crunch coach, general manager and owner Ryan Leonard.
“We needed to get a win against one of the top teams and we sent a statement out tonight. We played hard and it was 9-3, but in the second period we could have had another four or five goals.
“We came out hard in that second period and I have to give the boys full credit.
“We lost (defenceman) Max Glashauser in the second period. It looks like he broke his ankle. We played without our captain and we scored five goals without him.
“Guys really stepped up as soon as they saw him get hurt. He blocked a shot for the team and the guys just really stepped up tonight.
“I can’t say there was one guy who took a night off tonight on our hockey club. It was nice to see a full team effort, from start to finish, and we finally got the results we deserved against a good team.”
Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne might be questioning just how good his team is following Friday night’s let down.
“I noticed that we weren’t focused on the bus coming to the rink today,” he said.
“We tried everything to get them focused, but we had more turnovers and more three or twos and two on ones against in one period than we did all of last weekend (three games).
“I was disappointed. I thought we could snap out of it, but it was downright embarrassing, mistake after mistake after mistake.
“That is not us, but now what I want to see is our true colours. We have some players here that when things don’t go right we hear things on the bench and I don’t like it.
“So now we need to build some character here and we do have some character, but we just need to tweak a little bit of it.”
Gagne banished a pair of the team’s veteran defencemen to the dressing room midway through the final period and employed a number of forwards back on the blue-line late in the final period.
The Eskimos’ lack of compete Friday night was a bit surprising given that they had five wins and a double-overtime loss in their previous six games.
“We were on a roll,” Gagne said.
“We were playing really well and I was really proud of them, but tonight the boys are not too proud of their game.”
Dustin Cordeiro paced the attack with two goals and a pair of assists, while defenceman Joey Mavrin scored once and added three helpers.
Daniel Stagg, playing his first game in a Crunch jersey, got the ball rolling for the home side when he beat Eskimos goalie Chet Tooker 4:14 into the first period.
The lead did not last long, however, as Dalton Bruce scored his first goal as an Eskimo 59 seconds later to get the visitors back on even terms and send the two sides to the dressing room knotted at 1-1.
The Crunch started reclaimed their one goal lead 2:25 into the second period when Jason Berube scored a power-play goal.
Consecutive goals by Aviv Milner, Mavrin and Josh Racek put the Crunch in front 5-1, giving the home side command of the game.
Brenden Locke scored with 22 seconds remaining in the period for the Eskimos, to cut the lead to 5-2 heading into the second intermission.
Any momentum the visitors gained from that goal was quickly lost in the final period, however, as Cordeiro struck for the first of his two goals 4:19 into the final frame.
Cameron Etherington’s unassisted power-play goal just under three minutes later cut the Cochrane advantage to 6-3, but that would be as close as the Eskimos would come to getting back in the game.
Goals by Reed Gregory, Cordeiro and Jacob Erwin would close out the scoring and add insult to injury for the bus load of Eskimos fans who made the trek from Iroquois Falls to Cochrane for the game.
“We were hungry tonight to show people it is not just weak teams that we are beating,” Leonard said.
“We were close every game (until tonight), one goal, one goal, one goal, but we weren’t getting the bounces. Tonight the bounces came to us. All of our hard work paid off.”
The Tim Horton Event Centre was packed to near capacity, with the official attendance listed at 804, although Leonard feels that number might be a little on the low side.
“It was nice to see a packed house like this,” he said.
“It was awesome. It was like a playoff game for us.
“The official count was 800, but we are thinking it was closer to 900 with all of our sponsor tickets and everything else. That is excellent for the community and it was a good way to raise some money here for Diane (St. Amount).”
The Crunch wore special pink jerseys that were auctioned off after the game in support of St. Amount, a local cancer patient, with $3,895 being raised, in addition to $425 in donations that were collected and $280 collected from the sale of popcorn by the local figure skating club.
Troy Paquette, of the Crunch, made 28 saves while picked up the victory and Tooker turned aside 33 shots while being tagged with the loss for the Eskimos.
NOJHL Notes — The Crunch went 1-4 on the power play, while the Eskimos were 1-6 with the man advantage … Other NOJHL action Friday night saw the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners double up the Powassan Voodoos 4-2 and the Elliot Lake Wildcats slash the Blind River Beavers 8-3 … The second half of the home-and-home series between the Crunch and the Eskimos will be played at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls Saturday night. Game time is 7:30 p.m.