SUDBURY - Brady Clouthier’s goal with just under three minutes to play lifted the Abitibi Eskimos to a 3-2 win over the Sudbury Nickel Barons Wednesday night.
The game, played at the McClelland Arena, was the first game of the Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League’s 2013-14 regular season.
Kealey Cummings and Brennan Roy earned assists on Clouthier’s first NOJHL?goal.
“It’s such a good feeling,” said Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“I can’t remember the last time we won our first game here in Sudbury, so it’s kind of nice.
“The first period was a little nerve wracking, I guess you could call it.
“We didn’t play as well as we should have, but then in the second period we were a little more relaxed.
“And then the third period, I thought we really played well. The effort was there and we were a little more composed. We didn’t take as many chances. We didn’t commit as many giveaways.
“The first period we had so many giveaways it was incredible, but the third period we limited those mistakes.”
The Eskimos headed into the final frame training 2-1, but got back on even terms when Ryan Tront scored a power-play goal 4:50 into the final frame.
He lifted the puck up and over Sudbury goalie Andrew Lefebvre.
Zach Innes earned the lone assist on the play.
Khadyn Butterfly scored a power-play goal just five seconds after Eskimos defender Kealey Cummings was banished for tripping early in the second period to put the home side in front 2-1 in the middle frame.
Former Eskimo Guillaume Rheault got Sudbury on the board first when he beat goalie Sylvain Miron for a power-play goal 8:12 into the first period.
Zach Innes got the Eskimos back on even terms at the 12:31 mark of the period when he put the puck past Lefebvre.
Cummings and Roy also assisted on Innes’ goal.
The Eskimos actually had an opportunity to tie the score a few minutes earlier, when Aaron Kerr was awarded a penalty shot, but Lefebvre was up to the challenge.
Meanwhile, Ryan Punkari earned assists on both of Sudbury’s power-play goals.
Gagne was not too sure what kind of a game to expect, with both teams seeing their first regular-season action on Wednesday.
“When you play your first game, you are not sure where your game is at and it is hard to predict,” he said.
“But now we can gauge our next game on the way we played (Wednesday). I was really happy with our defence … not in the first period, when we took a lot of penalties … but in the second and third period they played really well.
“We gave them a lot of shots, but from the outside.”
The Nickel Barons out shot the Eskimos 14-11 in the first period and 11-7 in the second period of play and 13-9 in the final frame.
Miron stopped 36 of 38 Sudbury shots to earn the victory, while Lefebvre blocked 24 of 27 Abitibi shots.
“Tonight, Sylvain played solid,” Gagne said.
“He never lost any of his composure. He just hung in there. He was tested a couple of times … really good chances … and he stood tall.
“He did his job and that’s what we are paying him the big bucks for.”
The Eskimos escaped Wednesday’s game without any injuries.
Neither team proved to be particularly effective on the power play, with the Eskimos going 1-6 and the Nickel Barons 2-7.
It took the Eskimos five games to record their first NOJHL victory last seasson, as they started off the 2012-13 campaign with four-straight losses.
“Even the guys who were here last year, it’s kind of nice,” Gagne said.
“Now they have a feeling of being in first place.”
There are four games on the NOJHL schedule for Friday night, with the Espanola Rivermen visiting Kirkland Lake to play the Gold Miners, the Blind River Beavers making a trip to Elliot Lake to faceoff against the Bobcats and the North Bay Trappers venturing to Sault Ste. Marie for a showdown with the Thunderbirds.
The Eskimos, meanwhile, will return home to host the Rivermen at the Jus Jordan Arena Saturday night.
Game time is 7:30 p.m.
ESKIMOS NOTES — Defenceman Ryan Kerr sat out Wednesday night’s game, serving the second game of a two-game suspension he received for an incident in the Aug. 24 exhibition game against the Gold Miners.