Eskimos can’t be counted out just yet

TIMMINS – The Eskimos are down two games, but don’t count them out just yet.

Five goals over the final 40 minutes of Game 2, including a natural hat trick and shorthanded goal from Justin Holiday over a span of less than eight minutes in the third period, has the Abitibi Eskimos hungry for Game 3 at the Jus Jordan Arena.

The Soo Thunderbirds won the first two games at home, but steadily lost their grip on the Eskimos who seemed to find a spark near the tail end of Game 2.

All without two of the Eskimos’ biggest offensive threats; Peter Poulin-Roy who didn’t dress Saturday and Ryan Wildman who left the game before the third period.

On top of that, 20-year-old netminder Jackson Winkler made some “spectacular saves” to keep the Eskimos in the game.

The recipe remains the same for Games 3 and 4; good goaltending, dirty goals and push the Thunderbirds deep into their own end.

“It’s nothing fancy, but we need to get it out of our end, keep it deep in theirs and stay out of trouble,” said Eskimos head coach and general manager Paul Gagne. “Winkler came up big for us and you could feel it on the bench.”

The Eskimos will look to maintain the momentum they began to generate in the second and third periods of Game 2.

Victory in Game 3 is key for the Eskimos to have a chance to continue through the best-of-seven opening round.

Abitibi will have Poulin-Roy and Wildman back in the lineup for Saturday’s game, which should provide the Eskimos with some extra fire power, considering the Eskimos went 1-14 on the powerplay through the first two games.

“We were in total control with our powerplay, moving the puck well and not getting frustrated,” said Gagne. “But we weren’t able to capitalize. With the injuries in the third period and to make a comeback without them, we have to believe even more now with them in the lineup.”

Both Eskimos’ goalies split time in the net over Games 1 and 2, so whomever gets the starts over the next two contests will need to up their game in order to halt the Thunderbirds potent attack.

Winkler and Jeremy Laux gave up a combined 16 goals in the first two games, and they will be counted upon make timely saves.

“Goaltending makes a difference,” said Gagne. “We don’t have a 60-70 points player to make a difference for us.

“However, we have to give the Soo credit though, they didn’t finish in second place for no reason.”

Tic-tac-toe plays may not be the go-to tactic for the Eskimos as they proceed through this opening-round matchup.

It’s going to take hard work, dedication to the program and getting in the dirty areas to make something happen.

The Eskimos will be without pesky forward Nick Fountain, who was suspended by the Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League two games for fighting and instigating in the final seconds of Game 2.

However, call-ups Marc Dube and Brennan Roy could be in the lineup on Sunday depending on whether or not the Kapuskasing Flyers of the Great North Midget League can pull out a win against the Sault North Stars on Saturday in the league’s best-of-five final.

Also on a side note, the Eskimos have confirmed that Iroquois Falls native Kezman Madden and Jonathan Hardy from Hearst will suit up this weekend.

“I realize we’re down 2-0, but it’s pretty good hockey,” said Gagne. “The compete level is there, we found our mojo and it’s a lot of fun. The players are happy and they’re working hard. Anything can happen and victory is just around the corner.”

Game 3 gets underway Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Game 3 Sunday at 2 p.m.