IROQUOIS FALLS - Brenden Locke scored three goals to lead the Abitibi Eskimos to a 7-2 win over the Sudbury Nickel Barons at the Jus Jordan Arena Saturday night.
The Eskimos scored early and often to route a Sudbury team that dressed just 13 skaters and two goalies for the contest and lost forward August Jarecki to an upper body injury.
Eskimos assistant coach and general manager Dan Dube was all smiles following another home-ice victory.
“Our first shift was unbelievable,” he said.
“We set the tone right from the first shift and we fed off that off the bench.
“We had a game plan before heading into this game and it was to get a fast start. First shift we got it going and I could tell on the bench that the guys were all excited and everyone was buying in right from the get go.
“So, I think the good start was the key to today’s hockey game.”
Locke beat Sudbury starting goalie Michael Muzyka twice before the game was five minutes old, as the Eskimos took a 3-1 lead in the opening period of play.
“I just try to work as hard as I can with my teammates and put myself in the right places at the right time,” Locke said, explaining his good fortune.
“I have good linemates (Zach Innes and Andrew Green) and we have been successful.”
Brady Clouthier also had a first-period goal for the Eskimos, while Giovanni Foschia replied on the power play for the Nickel Barons.
“Tonight we stuck to the game plan, finished our assignments, worked it down low and got pucks in front of the net,” Locke said.
“We finished just about every chance we had.”
After losing three straight games to the Nickel Barons — one on home ice and two in Sudbury — Locke and his teammates were relieved to finally get a win.
“It feels good, because we have a little rivalry with them,” he said.
“They took a couple lately, but we stayed strong and took it tonight.”
Dube was also pleased to see the Eskimos finally enjoy a little success against the Nickel Barons.
“We had something to prove against these guys,” he said.
“They had our number the last few games.
“We knew they had a short bench over there, so we knew that we had to be aggressive with them, especially after they played last night against Kirkland Lake (a 7-5 loss).”
Muzyka was given the hook by Sudbury coach Trevor Blanchard after the first period of play and replaced by Andrew Lefebvre.
It didn’t have much effect, however, as the Eskimos got four goals past Lefebvre to emerge from the frame up 7-2.
Ben Miller, Ryan Kerr, Locke and Clouthier scored for the Eskimos, with former Eskimo Guillaume Rheault replying for Sudbury.
Blanchard sounded a little frustrated following Saturday night’s setback.
“It was our second game on back-to-back nights with a severely depleted lineup,” he said.
“Our guys got a little tired and made some crucial mistakes. Abitibi took advantage of them and they got a good lead on us and then our being tired was multiplied considerably. After we got down a couple of goals it was a tough night all around.”
During Friday night’s 7-5 loss to the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake, Sudbury scored the final three goals of the game.
“The message between the second and third period of that game was let’s try to win the third period and focus on the small things that make us successful and get back to basics,” Blanchard said.
“I thought we did a great job of doing that in the third period in Kirkland Lake, but while doing so I think we really burned ourselves out and the quick turnaround came back to bite us and we ended up losing another player early on tonight.
“There is only so much you can do when you are playing guys huge minutes that aren’t used to playing big minutes and losing a lot of your offensive output and your leaders to injuries is tough.
“But I give the guys credit. They battled again tonight in the third period and didn’t let a goal in, so I was proud of them.”
Dube continues to be impressed by the strong play of Locke.
“What can you say?” he said.
“He found a way to get the puck to the back of the net tonight and he does all the little things right. He is really turning into an excellent junior player.
“I have seen him grow up through minor hockey and he has always played with kids a lot older than him, so he is really mature off the ice. I think that helps him on the ice.”
Brody Wagner, of the Eskimos, turned aside 26 of the 28 shots he face to pick up the win. Muzyka stopped nine of the 12 shots the Eskimos fired his way while taking the loss and Lefebvre made 19 saves in relief.
The Eskimos have now won five of their last seven games.
“We are all just starting to click now,” Locke said.
“We are working as a team, no selfish plays like at the start of the season.
“We have been going all out every game, because points are key. We need points at this time of the season.”
The three goals Locke scored Saturday night give him nine on the season, to go along with 12 assists, in the first 26 games of his NOJHL career.
“Confidence is key,” Locke said.
“I have been starting to play a bit better lately, so I have more confidence with the puck. I am not as nervous as I was at the start of the season and playing with linemates like Green and Innes is helping me find the back of the net.”
ESKIMOS NOTE — The Eskimos were 0-4 on the power play, while the Nickel Barons were 1-8 with the man advantage … Saturday’s other action saw the Trappers beat the Beavers 4-1 in Blind River and the Thunderbirds beat the Bobcats 4-2 in Elliot Lake … Forward Landon Hiebert picked up a pair of assists in his first game as an Eskimo … The Eskimos will be on the road for three games next weekend, Friday night in Sault Ste. Marie, Saturday night in Blind River and Sunday night in Elliot Lake.