NORTH BAY — The Abitibi Eskimos definitely did not want to go back home to play a Game 7. The North Bay Trappers desperately wanted to do just that.
Erik Robichaud and Preston Lacasse settled the debate. And the series.
Lacasse buried Robichaud’s feed from the corner with 4:18 remaining to break a scoreless tie and give the Abitibi Eskimos a 1-0 win in Game 6 to clinch their NOJHL East division semifinal series over the North Bay Trappers.
Eskimos goaltender J.P. Fecteau stopped all 36 shots he faced for his third shutout of the series, but scoring chances were few and far between in a defence-first game between two fatigued teams playing their fourth game in four nights.
That is, until Robichaud beat his man to the corner on a dump-in and found Lacasse in the slot.
“Lacasse was driving the net like he always does, so when I grabbed it and looked up, he was yelling my name, so I gave it to him and it just went in perfectly,” Robichaud said. “We really wanted to win so we could get a two-day rest instead of just one day and just get some bodies back and get ready for Sudbury, because that will be a tough series.”
While the game was scoreless through 40 minutes, the Trappers seemed to be in a good position to send the series back to Iroquois Falls for a Game 7, holding a 28-19 edge in shots against an Abitibi club with a shortened bench and forwards Richard Therrien and Shane Innes moved back to help on defence.
“We had to score in the first period tonight,” said Trappers head coach Dan West. “We felt they were a little flat, but we were sloppy in the first, too, and it turned into one of those games that was just a grind and the kids just had nothing left to give. They gave everything they had.”
t was the Eskimos who came out flying in the third, with the line of Robichaud, Lacasse and Josh Clancy generating their share of scoring chances and forcing Trappers goalie Michael Codina-Lucia to make several big stops.
“I don’t know where we got that in the third, but in talking to the captain (Clancy), he said, ‘Paul, we didn’t want to play tomorrow night,’” said Eskimos head coach Paul Gagne. “All game, we were going with 20- and 30-second shifts and I really don’t know where where we got the energy. It was incredible. To outshoot them 21-7 in the third period when we were shortstaffed . . . we just persevered.
“It could have went either way. It was a great hockey game. If you’re a fan, you would have loved to watch this game here tonight. It was great hockey.”
Knowing they had another chance at hosting Game 7 back at home, Gagne said it was important his team remained patient and took care of the defensive zone, a task made easier with Fecteau on his game.
“He kept us in there and he’s been stellar all year,” Gagne said. “That’s the way he is.
“For North Bay, it’s unfortunate. They came out at us and put everything into trying to tie this game, but the hockey gods were with us tonight and our players are really happy.”
The Eskimos advance to the NOJHL East final against the Sudbury Junior Wolves, while the Trappers’ season is finished after the first round for a second straight season.
West said he struggled with how to address his team at game’s end.
“They’re obviously upset,” he said. “We certainly didn’t expect to lose in the first round. The schedule hurt us, I think, but they absolutely gave everything they had. There was nothing more left from our team.
“I just thanked them for their hard work and thanked them for giving me and this organization absolutely everything they had.”
West took over as head coach with 11 games remaining in the regular season, helping the team finish 7-4-0 heading into the playoffs. He said there is some good character on the club and was appreciative of their effort.
“We crammed a lot of things into six weeks and the kids came through in flying colours,” he said. “We did an absolute overhaul and crammed a whole season into six weeks. So, maybe with a full season, it might have been different, but it’s tough.”
Three Trappers — top goal-scorer J.P. Kascsak, Patrick Provencher and Colton Allan — are done with junior hockey following Wednesday’s loss and the entire team will have a few days to reflect before packing up the dressing room.
“I was disappointed — you never want your season to come to an end, but I’m so proud of the guys in that room right now,” said forward Jon Aubertin, who had the best scoring chance on the night, but was tripped up while trying to deke Fecteau. “Our coach came in six weeks ago and he had to do what he could with what he had.
“He just came in and we bought in and did what we could. I have no regrets and I’m proud of every guy in the room.”
— North Bay Nugget