TIMMINS - The Abitibi Eskimos spotted the Wildcats a 3-0 lead, but stormed back to score a 6-5 win over the visitors from Elliot Lake Friday night at the Archie Dillon Sportsplex.
The Wildcats, fresh off a 4-3 double-overtime win over the Cochrane Crunch Thursday, jumped out to a 2-0 lead Friday night before the game was two minutes old and Eskimos fans had time to settle into their seats.
Trayvon Henry beat Eskimos goalie Chet Tooker with his first of three goals on the night 23 seconds into the game, when an Eskimos defenceman attempted to play with the puck in front of his own net instead of dumping it out of the defensive zone.
Adam Baxter’s power-play goal, with the same defenceman in the penalty box for high sticking 1:11 later made it 2-0 for the Wildcats.
Henry’s second goal of the game just over seven minutes into the opening period increased Elliot Lake’s lead to 3-0 and silenced the crowd of 539 mostly Eskimos fans.
The Eskimos finally showed some signs of life when Ryan Attwood beat Elliot Lake goalie Allan Menary with a power-play goal midway through the period.
That is the way the score remained as the two teams headed to the dressing room for the first intermission.
Former Fort Frances Lakers forward Jake Holland, playing his first game in an Eskimos uniform, cut the Wildcats’ lead to 3-2 just over three minutes into the middle frame.
“I was really nervous the first period and I came out a little bit slow, but we had a good crowd and I fed off the energy in the building,” Holland said.
“The first period, we had a bad forecheck, but the second period, we picked up our forecheck a bit. Guys were going and getting pucks in deep, hitting guys and putting pucks on net.”
When the Eskimos picked up Holland from the Lakers, they were looking for him to bring a little bit of toughness to the team, but he proved Friday night that he has some offensive upside to his game.
“I am a big guy and I like to throw my body around, but I am also a goal scorer and that is what I like to do first,” he said.
“I like to get the puck in deep and use my size to create chances, driving the net with my body, get pucks on net.”
Holland feels his transition from a Laker into an Eskimos will be smoother because he has a couple of teammates also making the move.
“Salesse is one of my buddies,” he said.
“I am living with him right now and I lived with him in Fort Frances. It is nice having a familiar face around.”
It appeared Elliot Lake had the momentum back, however, when Alec MacKenzie scored a power-play goal at the 7:51 mark of the period, but the wheels fell off the Wildcats’ bus shortly thereafter.
Goals by Ryan Tront, his first of two on the night, and Cameron Etherington got the Eskimos back on even terms and then goals by Tront and Holland 1:05 apart put the home side in front 6-4.
That signalled the end of Menary’s night, as Elliot Lake coach Nathan Hewitt opted to go with A.J. Smith, who earned the win in Cochrane the night before, the rest of the way.
Smith shut the door on the Eskimos, allowing his team a chance to get back in the game.
Henry completed his hat-trick midway through the third period, but try as they might, the Wildcats could not get the equalizer, even with a power play in the dying minutes of the game and Smith on the ice in favour of an extra attacker.
“You know what, we found a way to win,” said Eskimos assistant coach and general manager Dan Dube.
“That is what I am most proud of today. We weren’t happy after the first period and the players weren’t happy after the first period, either, but for them to find a way to get the W is the positive out of tonight. Obviously, the negative is the first period.”
The middle frame, on the other hand, was much more to Dube’s liking.
“The second period, I thought we our cycling was really good and we put a lot of pressure on their defencemen and we got shots on net and we were crashing the net,” he said.
“It was nice to see everyone contributing tonight, also. Cameron Ethington got that nice goal to get us going and Tront and Jake Holland got a couple, too, tonight.
“All four lines were contributing out there and it was nice to see.”
Dube was happy with the play of all three of the former Fort Frances Lakers (Holland, Tristan Salesse and Ryan Reeves) who made their debuts with the Eskimos in the victory.
“They played really well,” he said.
“After just a week of practice with us, they are already adapting to what we want to do and put an emphasis on.”
Reeves and Wildcats defenceman David Chiarelli were ejected from the game early in the third period after they dropped the gloves and threw a few punches.
To say that Hewitt was less than impressed with his team’s play Friday night would be putting it mildly.
“It was a disgraceful effort, a disgraceful effort,” he said.
“We were losing puck races, nobody wanted to take a hit to make a play, we wanted to stick handle through them instead of chipping it deep.
“It was just awful hockey.”
Clearly, the Wildcats did not bring their A game to the Archie Dillon Sportsplex.
“The fans saw the best of us for maybe five minutes, of a 60 minute hockey game,” Hewitt said.
“Penalties hurt us last night in Cochrane and they hurt us again tonight.
“We talked about it, we talked about it, we talked about it, but we didn’t execute, we didn’t adjust.”
Tooker turned aside 25 of the 30 shots he faced to pick up the victory for the Eskimos.
Menary made 20 stops while being tagged with the loss and Smith blocked all 11 shots he faced in relief.
ESKIMOS NOTE — The Eskimos went 1-6 on the power play, while the Wildcats were 2-7 with the man advantage … Scott Peng (broken leg), Kyle Levis (healthy scratch), Kezmin Madden (healthy scratch) and Josh DeJulio (healthy scratch) did not dress for the Eskimos … The Eskimos will host the Soo Thunderbirds at the Jus Jordan Arena Saturrday night. Game time is 7:30 p.m.