Eskimos win, Eskimos winnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn!
The crowd of 440 fans jumped to their feet and clapped for more than a minute after Ryan Kerr found a loose puck sitting in the crease behind North Bay Trappers goalie Dustin Hummel and slid it into the wide-open net 53 seconds into overtime.
That game-winning goal produced the Abitibi Eskimos first victory in 12 tries and left the visiting North Bay Trappers grumbling about their fate.
Hummel, who was taunted by the home fans all night long, as they derisively chanted his name, complained following Kerr’s overtime goal that the whistle should have gone.
The referee ruled correctly, however, that the puck was laying there in the open and had not been smothered by the North Bay puck stopper.
Hummel was not happy about the Eskimos’ game-tying goal either, as Aaron Kerr and a North Bay defender slammed into him a split second after Kerr deflected the puck up over the goaltender’s shoulder.
Nick Fountain had the puck behind the North Bay net and slid it in front for a bang-bang play with just over four minutes to play in regulation.
Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne was all smiles following the effort and had plenty of praise for every member of his squad.
“It was awesome, a great effort and this was over a team that is ranked sixteenth in the nation,” he said.
“We had a frigging huge piano on our backs and when you play hockey with all that weight on top of you, it’s not easy. So they are enjoying it. They can take another 45 minutes to enjoy it. Normally it’s 20 minutes and then it’s get ready for the next game, but this has been a long time coming.”
Centre Ryan Tront was a fine example of the determined effort the Eskimos put forth Saturday night.
Wearing a full-face mask after twice being hit in the face by the puck earlier this season, Tront took a slap shot off his leg after sliding into the path of the puck on a penalty kill, got to his feet hobbled to the front of his net to clear the puck, then hobbled off the ice.
After making his way to the hallway in front of the team’s dressing room, he was able to walk off the pain before coming back up and heading out to the ice for his next shift.
“And (Nick) Fountain got an elbow on the power play in the head and, you know what, he didn’t even know where he was for Christ sake,” Gagne said.
“He came down stairs and shook it off and went back to his regular shift. Tront the same way. “
The coach saved his greatest praise, however, for forward Justin Holliday.
“You know what, he was incredible,” Gagne said.
“He was working hard, skating, shooting, back checking, helping out.
“It’s nice to see at this time of year. They are really believing in what we need to do and Holliday has been playing like that for the last four or five games, so it’s nice.”
As far as Holliday was concerned there was not great secret to why the Eskimos earned the victory Saturday night.
“Hard work,” he said. “We had not passengers. Everyone was working hard and everyone went hard and finished their checks, got pucks to the net. That’s how we scored the last three goals.”
That effort was the key to overcoming a 2-0 North Bay lead and bouncing back after North Bay made it 3-2.
“It was just morale, everyone pushing each other,” Holliday said. “We had a great week of practice and everyone pushed each other hard. We did a lot of battle drills in practice this week and that forced everyone to push each other.”
Gagne could feel something different on the bench Saturday night.
“It seemed like we were more patient, meaning we were dumping it in and dumping it out, making the smaller plays … less high-risk plays,” he said.
“And you know what, we had less mistakes that way. We really were a little bit more patient. That’s what I saw.”
The Eskimos exhibited much better defensive zone coverage as a five-man unit than they had at any point during their 11-game losing streak, as well.
“Our forwards really helped out down low,” Gagne said. “We played a box and the forwards were helping down low if there were any mistakes being made down low, then we were there to support them.
“And it happened maybe five or six times tonight. Our wingers would come in down low and pick up the puck. It was good support.”
In the offensive zone, the Eskimos also did a much better job of getting to the areas of the ice where they were able to generate good chances.
“There was more drive to the net,” Gagne said.
“There was more going wide and driving to the net. There were more shots to the net and in the dirty areas.
“Where did we score our goals? All from in front of the net. It makes a difference.”
North Bay jumped out to a 2-0 first-period lead on goals by Cole Klippenstein and Beau Orser, both on the power play.
Orser’s goal could have been a back breaker, since it found the back of the net with just four seconds remaining in the first period.
The Eskimos did not panic, however, and remained patient.
Ben Miller got the home side on the scoresheet, as he scored an unassisted marker – the lone goal by either side during the second period.
“We made a play up the boards and dumped it in (to the North Bay zone),” Miller said.
“The goalie made a pass and he put it on my tape and he wasn’t in the net, so I was able to capitalize and put it in the open net.”
Like Gagne and Holliday, Miller had a big smile on this face after the game.
“It feels pretty good,” he said.
“We are just about to go into the playoffs in two weeks, so it’s a good time to beat the first-place team and hopefully we can keep the energy going and carry it into the next few games and then into the playoffs.”
Miller, an 18-year-old rookie, was happy one of the Eskimos best efforts of the 2012-13 campaign came on home ice.
“The way we have been playing lately, I think we wanted to show the fans that we are still a good team and that we can still play and beat teams like North Bay,” he said.
The Eskimos hard work continued into the third period of play and they were rewarded when Fountain netted the equalizer on a nice feed from Aaron Kerr to tie the game at 2-2.
Eskimos fans had barely settled back into their seats after celebrating that goal, however, when the Trappers retook the lead 31 seconds later.
Orser’s second goal of the game appeared to surprise Eskimos goaltender Jackson Winkler, who had played a strong game up until that point.
“On that third goal, wrist shot, top shelf, in that corner,” Gagne said.
“I don’t know if he really saw it, or not, and we had just scored, so it was a let down, but obviously not.
“We just persevered and continued on. We had a great performance by everyone. Not one player, but every one of them.”
That set the stage for the heroics of the Kerr brothers.
ESKIMOS NOTE: Eskimos goaltender Jackson Winkler stopped 40 of the 42 shots North Bay fired his way to earn the win. Hummel made 33 saves for the Trappers … The Eskimos were without defenceman Corey Dubbeldam and forwards Ryan Wildman and Zach Innes … The Eskimos were zero-for-10 on the power play, while the Trappers netted two power-play goals in 10 chances … Attendance was 440 … The Eskimos next game is Sunday in North Bay when they take on the Trappers in the second game of the home-and-home series.