IROQUOIS FALLS - And then there was one.
The Abitibi Eskimos are now alone in last place following a 5-4 overtime loss to the surging Elliot Lake Bobcats.
Elliot Lake picked up two points with the overtime win, putting them into sole possession of sixth place, while the Eskimos sit one point back in seventh in the Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League standings.
Brad Holman scored for the Bobcats with less than five minutes left to play in regulation to force overtime and Steve Gaul was the hero for Elliot Lake at 3:35 in the extra frame.
“I want to give full credit to Abitibi tonight, they showed a lot of heart, they way they worked considering what happened Wednesday,” said Bobcats head coach and general manager Ryan Leonard. “They showed a lot of character tonight, but I think we were the better team over the whole course of the game.”
The clubs split the first period, each scoring twice, with the Bobcats striking first.
Kyle Rowe and Gaul scored for the Bobcats 20 seconds apart near the midway point of the first, chasing Eskimos’ netminder and lone 20-year-old Jackson Winkler from the net after letting in two goals in as many shots.
“We gave two gifts on Winkler and we lost by one,” said Eskimos head coach and general manager Paul Gagne. “We can’t do that. It’s not peewee hockey where one of the best players can go an dominate the game in the third period.
“We need some goaltending and we need some goaltending. Goaltending has to come through.
Laux played well, he made some great saves and you can see a difference in confidence, but again there were three goals on the shortside. He knows he could have got them, but it’s just the way things are going.”
On the flip side, Cory Simic kept the Bobcats in the game, turning aside 35 of 39 shots.
“An A+ for effort from the team tonight and this was hard to do after we played the last two games like we did,” said Gagne. “We had fire in our eyes, we were going hard and we were a different team. I was very pleased with the way we came out. We fought, fought and fought, and that’s the old Eskimos that I know.”
Gaul led the Bobcats with two goals, while the Eskimos got balanced scoring with markers from Peter Poulin-Roy, Nick Fountain who was returning from suspension, Ryan Wildman and Zach Innes.
The combo of Ryan Tront, Fountain and Wildman each had two points in the game.
It wasn’t for lack of effort on the part of the Eskimos.
They looked hungry from the get-go, but the same problem that’s been plaguing the team all season reared its ugly head, leading the Eskimos to their ninth straight loss.
“If you’re in the defensive zone and you’re alone without a man, that’s a mistake,” said Gagne. “By now it shouldn’t be happening, but it’s happening.”
On top of the missed assignments, the Eskimos squandered two five-on-three’s by taking penalties early on in the powerplay, effectively negating the extra man advantage.
“There was undisciplined penalties tonight,” said Gagne. “We were on the powerplay, you cannot go and take a penalty. You can’t do that. They tied the game.”
The Bobcats played an aggressive style on Saturday, activating their big defenders in the offensive zone, however, the tactic did come back to bite them in the butt, leading to three of the Eskimos’ four goals in the contest.
“We have some big bodies back there and they help with our offence a lot, but all three mistakes happened on the backend and led to the Eskimos scoring their first three goals,” said Leonard. “We pinched, gave up three-on-ones and didn’t give our goalie a chance. We have to tone that down if we want to have success in the playoffs.”
The Eskimos take on the first-place North Bay Trappers at 2 p.m. on Sunday at the Memorial Gardens.