IROQUOIS FALLS - Chet Tooker turned aside all 22 shots he faced to record the Abitibi Eskimos first shutout of the season Saturday night at the Jus Jordan Arena.
The Rumson, N.J., native got plenty of support from his teammates along the way, as the Eskimos pounded the Mattawa Blackhawks 7-0 in the NOJHL contest.
“The boys were clearing the lanes for me and I could pretty much see every shot,” Tooker said.
The Blackhawks’ best scoring opportunity came with 43 seconds remaining in the third period and the game well out of reach when a Mattawa player deflected a puck right in front of Tooker, but he was able to adjust and preserve his shutout.
“You always have to be sharp, all the way to the end,” he said.
“That’s what I am here for. I have got to support the boys. I have got to have their back.”
Tooker realizes just how important it was for the Eskimos to put an end to the four-game losing streak they had been enduring and get back on track.
“It was incredibly important, we needed to get that W,” he said.
“Now we can start a streak and get a couple of Ws under our belt.”
It didn’t take Tooker long to realize the Eskimos were going to be in for a much better fate Saturday night than they had been for the past four games.
“Right off the draw, you could just tell the energy was there,” he said.
“Even in the locker room before the game everyone was focused. Nobody was goofing around. Everyone had their game face on and it was a great sight to see.”
The Eskimos dominated the first period, outshooting the Blackhawks 20-8, but they were unable to get on the scoreboard until there was just 1:07 left in the opening frame — thanks to the stellar goaltending of Mattawa’s Joe Sheppard.
Eskimos forward Brady Clouthier finally put one past the big puck stopper, however, to allow the home side to head to the dressing room up 1-0.
The Eskimos jumped to a 2-0 lead just 55 seconds into the second period, when defenceman Brennan Roy streaked down the wing and redirected a cross-ice pass from Ryan Attwood behind Sheppard.
That goal seemed to take a lot out of both Sheppard, who lay sprawled on the ice as the Eskimos celebrated Roy’s goal, and his Blackhawks teammates.
Clouthier’s second goal of the game, less than four minutes later, increased the Eskimos’ advantage to 3-0.
Midway through the middle frame Brenden Locke scored to give the Eskimos a 4-0 lead heading into the second intermission.
Locke’s second goal of the night put the home side in front 5-0 less than three minutes into the third period.
Eskimos forwards Blake Cudmore and Dalton Bruce then each notched their second goals of the season to make the final score 7-0.
Eskimos assistant coach and general manager Dan Dube was relieved to see his squad finally put an end to the losing streak.
“I thought our worst period was the first period,” he said.
“After that, once the guys got their feet wet, we played really well in the defensive zone and moved the puck.
“We got our chances, we got shots on net and at the other end, Chet Tooker made the big saves when he had to and our defencemen got the rebounds, when there was one.
“I am really happy we were able to pull off the victory here, because the last four games were tough for us.”
Dube was not surprised that the Eskimos put forth a much better effort Saturday night.
“We competed hard in practice all week,” he said.
“And when you work hard in practice you usually work hard in a game. I am proud of the way our team played tonight.
“We didn’t let up tonight. We had our foot on the gas pedal all the way and we didn’t give up tonight until the final buzzer.”
While Clouthier and Locke, the Eskimos top two snipers, both had a pair of goals Saturday night, the team also got contributions for its other lines, as well.
“Credit goes to the third and four lines, also,” Dube said.
“When they were putting pressure (on the other team), they were drawing penalties and then the first two lines would work the power play.
“We moved the puck really well tonight on the power play.”
Shawn Nobes made his debut in an Eskimos uniform Saturday night after he was acquired from the Cole Habour Colts, of the NSJHL, he demonstrated some of the toughness for which he is known.
“He is a hard-nosed player and he gets into the corners, he finishes his checks,” Dube said.
“He had a good game tonight and we are happy to have him.”
Nobes didn’t register any points, but he did accumulate six minutes in penalties.
Blackhawks coach Aaron Corbier was disappointed that his team couldn’t follow up its 5-4 win over the Eskimos on home ice last weekend with a better effort Saturday night at the Jus Jordan Arena.
“I think the big thing was that we came in a little over confident,” he said.
“We played very well against them, like you said, at home, but we had a bad turnover late in the first period and when you give up a goal with under two minutes left, that is big thing that knocks the win out of your sails.
“Then the one early in the second was kind of the nail in the coffin.
“It was a broken play, our guy came down one on one and had him all the way to the net and then just right at the end … I don’t know if he lost him, or just couldn’t a stick on him.
“Like you said, when goals like that go in, it is a huge deflator.”
The Blackhawks have not shown a great ability to battle back from three- or four-goal deficits this season, but Corbier is not convinced it is a simple lack of offence.
“I don’t know if it is that, I think it is just a matter of trying to find the heart and the soul,” he said.
“It is tough when you go down, but good teams find a way to win. You look at the top teams in this league, teams like the Crunch and the Thunderbirds, they find ways to win because they continue to work hard and do the little things that make them successful.”
So how do the Blackhawks rebound to have a shot at beating perhaps an even better team in Cochrane Sunday afternoon?
“I think it is gut check time for a few guys on my roster,” Corbier said.
“I have a few guys who are pulling on the rope all the time and then I have guys who are not.
“It is time to take a long look in the mirror to see if they are doing their jobs.”
ESKIMOS NOTES — The Eskimos went 1-7 on the power play, while the Blackhawks went 0-9 with the man advantage … Official attendance was 455 … The Eskimos will host the Elliot Lake Wildcats at the Archie Dillon Sportsplex Friday night at the Soo Thunderbirds at the Jus Jordan Arena Saturday night. Game time for both contests will be 7:30 p.m. … Saturday’s only other NOJHL game saw the Thunderbirds defeat the Blind River Beavers 7-2.