The Abitibi Eskimos gave close to 800 screaming fans more than enough to cheer about in their home opener Saturday night at Jus Jordan Arena.
They out-skated, out-worked and out-hustled the Kirkland Lake Blue Devils in a see-sawing 6-4 victory.
It was the Eskis’ second game of their Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League season.
The Eskis opened the scoring at 4:10 of the first when Marc-Alain Begin skilfully manoeuvred around two Blue Devil defenders and fired a rocket into the top corner of the net, cleanly beating Devils goalie Tye Greschuk. It was Begin’s first goal of the season.
Eski Justin Kord gave his team a 2-0 first-period cushion at 11:35, when he beat Greschuck.
The team’s head coach is confident the quick start was exactly what they needed.
“Our first period was flawless. The boys stuck to the game plan really well,” said Paul Gagne.
However, the Devils made the first six minutes of the second period hell for the Eskis scoring two quick goals to tie up the game.
“We let in a couple of weak goals that should have been stopped, so we changed goalies,” said Gagne. “We didn’t want to lose momentum. We brought in (Martin) Bilodeau and he played really well after that.”
Eski Greg St. James gave his team the lead again, at 7:07 of the second on a powerplay marker, but the Devils tied it up at three shortly after.
In the final minute of the second, Eski Jacob Kord scored to put his team the lead again going into the dressing room for the second intermission.
In the third, Begin notched his second of the game at 7:56 on the power play. That ultimately proved to be the clinching goal for his team though his teammate Chris Gartneradded some insurance at 12:19, again on the powerplay following the Devils’ fourth goal.
Eskis coaches and players were equally pumped about the win, but know the team still has a lot of work to do before it reaches its full potential.
“Mistakes happen at this time of the year,” said Gagne, “like in the third period. We let up a few more goals and almost let up the lead. We just need to make sure these things don’t happen twice in a row.
“It was good to see the boys fight back after losing the momentum and score a goal.”
Gagne also believes the team is really buying into what they’re being taught and things are moving in the right direction.
“We’ve been working a lot on our powerplay and penalty kill in practice,” said the coach. “We got three goals with the man advantage tonight. That’s the stuff that matters in hockey. The tactical stuff.
“We have lots of work to do for now. I want to start focusing on our forechecking, faceoffs and defensive zone coverage. It’s a work in progress. A win is good, but you’re always looking for perfection and we’re going to get it.”
Eskis’ players also have faith in this year’s team.
“Tonight was a 100% better compared to Wednesday,” said Begin, referring to Abitibi’s 9-5 to the Sudbury Cubs. “Our defence were making great plays and it helped the forwards a lot. We were getting out of our zone a lot quicker. Not many turnovers today. All the passes were going forward.
“We also stayed disciplined for 55 minutes, which we didn’t do in our first game.
“We need to keep getting the puck to the net to create offense. We saw it really works tonight.”
The Eskis are at home next against the North Bay Trappers on Wednesday and then hit the road to play three games in three days against the Soo Eagles, Soo Thunderbirds and Blind River Beavers.