IROQUOIS FALLS - Ryan Attwood and Jake Holland each scored a pair of goals and assisted on a third as the Abitibi Eskimos knocked off the NOJHL East Division-leading Kirkland Lake Gold Miners 8-5 at the Jus Jordan Arena Friday night.
The win pulled the Eskimos to within six points of top spot in the division, with the second half of the home-and-home series set for the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex in Kirkland Lake Friday night.
“The offence was there tonight,” said Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“We got a lot of shots on net. It’s guys like (Tristan) Salesse, Holland and (Brady) Clouthier, Attwood, (Brenden) Locke, they drive to the net and they take shots, but they commit. They are 200-feet players.
“We competed tonight at every frigging aspect of the game tonight. We really did. And I am not just saying that because we won. I would have been saying the same thing if we had lost the game.”
There wasn’t much that wasn’t working well for the Eskimos Friday night.
“In the defensive zone, we competed more in the second and third period, trying to get it out and if you look at the last eight minutes of the game, they were really forechecking, but we were keeping them on the outside,” Gagne said.
“I was really happy with the way we competed.”
There were not a lot of big hits in the game, but just about every Eskimo made a point of finishing their checks.
“You get one or two guys who start taking the body and then it gets infectious,” Gagne said.
“They start competing out there and then it becomes a confidence builder. They finish their checks and they are in good position and their opponent isn’t. It is not just a matter of taking the man, there is a little strategy behind finishing your check.
“If you do that you are going to be in good position defensively and good things will happen.”
The Gold Miners took 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 leads in the first period Friday night, but each time the visitors went ahead the Eskimos answered quickly.
Tristen Hazlett, Hearst native Ryan Aubertin and Jeremy Dumont scored for the Gold Miners in the opening frame, while the Eskimos got a single goal from Tristan Salesse and a pair from Holland.
“Every time we had a goal scored against us, that first line, with Clouthier, Holland and Salesse, really stepped up big time,” Gagne said.
“They jumped on it. They had opportunities and they capitalized on their opportunities.
“We just kept coming back, coming back and then, when we took the lead,
Mr. Locke came through, scoring the big goal to make it a two-goal difference.”
Clearly the trade the Eskimos made with the Fort Frances Lakers that brought Salesse and Holland to Abitibi, along with the now-departed Ryan Reeves, in exchange for defenceman Nick Minerva, provided a significant boost to the team’s offence.
“They have added a lot of depth,” Gagne said.
“It makes a big difference.”
Holland (7, 4-10-14, 4) is averaging two points per game for the Eskimos since the trade and Salesse (6, 2-8-10, 2) is not far off that pace.
“Our line was getting the puck in good tonight,” Holland said.
“We were working hard, battling in the corners and winning the little battles along the wall.
“Me and Salesse have been playing together for a couple of months now. It is really easy to play with him. He is a smart player and goes to the net and works hard. Clouthier’s another good guy, who is always in the right spot.”
What was the secret the Eskimos success against the Gold Miners Friday night?
“We didn’t try to play it safe and lay back,” Holland said.
“We kept working hard and doing the same things we had been doing all night.”
Attwood’s first goal of the game staked the Eskimos to a 4-3 second-period lead, but Connor Thie scored for the Gold Miners to tie it up at 4-4.
Brenden Locke’s first of two goals on the night put the Eskimos back in front 5-4 and Brennan Roy’s attempted cross-crease pass deflected in off a Kirkland Lake defender to put the Eskimos in front 6-4 before the end of the second period.
Locke’s second goal of the game, a power-play marker, increased the home side’s advantage to 7-4 with just under seven minutes to play in the third period.
Ethan Strong scored a power-play goal for Kirkland Lake just over a minute later to cut the Eskimos lead to 7-5.
Attwood’s second goal of the game, into an empty net, iced the victory for the Eskimos, however.
Eskimos goalie Chet Tooker made 38 saves to earn the victory.
Josh Erickson, of the Gold Miners, turned aside 20 of the 25 shots he faced and was tagged with the loss.
Timmins native Devon Debastos came on in relief of Erickson following Locke’s first goal and made 13 saves
Gold Miners coach and general manager Marc Lafleur was not happy with any aspect of his team’s play Friday night.
“Soft, period, six even-strength goals,” he said.
“When you are playing soft, everything against you … when you are playing soft, your opponent is going to look great. They (the Eskimos) played a great game, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying anything about how they played, but when you play soft, the forecheck is going to work against you. The pressure is going to work against you and you are always going to come out of the battle without the puck.
“That is exactly what happened. There is no compete right now.”
The Eskimos outworked the Gold Miners at just about every aspect of the game.
“Definitely,” Lafleur said.
“We got outworked by Powassan (a 4-1 loss on the road, last Saturday), as well.
“There are guys (on the Gold Miners) who think they battled, but they don’t know what battling means.”
What do the Gold Miners have to do to get back on the winning track against the Eskimos Saturday night on home ice?
“As coaches, the only way you can get through to players often is through ice time and that’s what is going to happen. It doesn’t matter what team they got selected to in the last month or so, it doesn’t matter who it is. We are not going to look the other way with no one.”
ESKIMOS NOTES — The Eskimos went 1-4 on the power play, while the Gold Miners were 3-5 with the man advantage … the official attendance was 344 … Friday night’s only other NOJHL game saw the Elliot Lake Wildcats edge the Sudbury Nickel Barons 2-1 … Game time for Saturday’s contest at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex is 7:30 p.m.