IROQUOIS FALLS — Trailing 5-2 in the third period is becoming habit forming for the Abitibi Eskimos.
Last Thursday, the Eskimos trailed 5-2 in the third period before rallying to force overtime in a game they eventually lost 6-5 to the Trappers.
On Saturday, they trailed the Sudbury Cubs 5-2 before coming up one goal short in a 5-4 loss at the Jus Jordan Arena.
Tuesday night, the Eskimos spotted the Kirkland Lake Blue Devils a 5-2 advantage before storming back to post a 7-5 victory.
“We made some mistakes, but we put ourselves under pressure because we had so many chances and that young (Ken) Appleby, he’s the one who kept them in the game,” said Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“When we were down by two goals, we should have been up by five. That’s the difference in hockey. We couldn’t capitalize.”
The Eskimos outshot the Blue Devils 15-5 in the first period, but trailed 1-0 heading into the dressing room.
Former Great North Midget League scoring sensation Jordan Turbide had the lone goal, beating Eskimos starting netminder Martin Bilodeau.
Things went from bad to worse in the second period, as Abitibi held a 17-9 advantage in shots, but trailed 5-2 heading into the third period. Mitchell Moulton put the visitors in front 2-0 at the 1:48 mark.
The sparse crowd of 323 finally got something to cheer about less than two minutes later when NOJHL scoring leader Marc-Alain Begin scored a power-play goal to cut the Kirkland Lake lead to 2-1.
“He had been getting all these chances,” Gagne said. “He makes a lot of passes, but once in a while he likes to be compensated by a goal, just to keep the confidence level up.”
A pair of goals from Shayne Jackson and Brad Holman increased the Blue Devils’ lead to 4-1 and sent Bilodeau to the bench in favour of J.P. Fecteau.
The goaltending change seemed to spark the Eskimos, as Corey Hamel scored his second goal in as many games to cut the deficit to 4-2.
Jackson’s second goal of the game, however, with just under four minutes to play, made it 5-2 heading into the third period.
And Abitibi defenceman carried the puck around the net and then lost it right in front of Fecteau, who made a sprawling save, but was not in position to be able to stop the rebound.
The Eskimos looked like a different team, however, when the puck dropped to start the third period.
“As soon as we scored that one goal, in the first minute, on the power play, the confidence level just rose,” Gagne said.
“They believe that they could do something and they did.”
The coach said there was no inspirational speech between the second and third periods to account for the Eskimos’ improved play.
“No, there was nothing, really,” Gagne said.
“We just changed our tactics. There were some players who brought their A game, some players didn’t have their A game. Some of them had their Z game and it cost us goals.
“And when you have that, you can’t really get mad or anything. The players knew they were making mistakes.
“So, what do we do? We just change our tactics a little bit and then stuck to it and obviously there was a snowball effect and we came out with two points.
Defenceman Justin Kord got the ball rolling in the third with the power-play goal.
Captain Richard Therrien then added a pair of goals to tie the score 5-5.
That set the stage for defenceman Daniel Villeneuve’s game-winning goal.
Villeneuve’s wrist shot beat Appleby, with just over two minutes to play in the third period, to send the fans to their feet. Villeneuve was one of the defencemen Gagne singled out for playing well and rewarded with extra ice time in the third period.
“The young Villeneuve and (Kevin) Walker rose to the occasion,” he said. “They stepped in there and even got a little power-play time.
“And credit goes to Mr. Villeneuve, because he made a difference in the game tonight in the third period.
“He made a nice play, a nice drop pass to Begin and Begin gave it back to him, he went in and bang, goal.
“Little things like that, normally that’s not his style, but we told our defecement to jump into the play.
“It was nice to see, it was good hockey in the third period.
The Blue Devils pulled Appleby with just over a minute to play in the game in favour of an extra attacker, but Fecteau and the Eskimos playing in front of him kept them at bay. Eskimos’ fans screemed at referees Paul Allair and Cory Hofferd after Appleby left his goal stick laying in front of the goal line in an obvious attempt minimize chances of Abitibi scoring into an empty net.
The stick didn’t prove to be too much of an obstacle, however, as Delmer Moses fired the puck dead centre into the empty cage, with authority, as the clock ticked down to 28 seconds to play.
Next action for the Eskimos will be Saturday when they host the Soo Thunderbirds.