ELLIOT LAKE - The Abitibi Eskimos closed out a three-game road trip with a 5-2 win over the Wildcats Sunday night.
The victory gave the Eskimos a record 2-0-0-1 for the trip and vaulted them into a first-place tie with the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners atop the NOJHL East Division standings, although Abitibi has played one more game.
“It was a great weekend,” said Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“It wasn’t perfect, but it was an excellent weekend.
“You always want perfection, obviously, but five out of six, is a successful weekend, to be sure.”
There was no shortage of intensity in the first ever meeting of the Eskimos and the Wildcats.
“The first period, it was like a playoff game,” Gagne said. “It was incredible. You could just feel it during the warm-up. Everybody was pumped.”
There was no fatigue factor on the Eskimos’ part, even though it was their third game in three nights.
“There was no such thing from any player,” Gagne said. “It was a fast-paced game and it was certainly nice to finish off the weekend with a great victory.”
Kealey Cummings’ power-play goal 1:01 into the second period proved to be the game winner for the Eskimos.
It took the Eskimos just 42 seconds to get on the board Sunday night, as Ryan Attwood beat Wildcats goalie A.J. Smith.
Cameron Etherington made it a 2-0 game less than two minutes later, but the Wildcats responded with a pair of goals before the end of the opening period.
David Chiarelli cut the Eskimos’ advantage to 2-1 when he scored a power-play goal and then Shane Woolsey added the tying goal, also with the man advantage.
After Cumming put the visitors back in front, Blake Cudmore added a power-play goal just over four minutes later to send the Eskimos to the second intermission with a 4-2 lead.
The Wildcats pulled Smith following the fourth Eskimos goal and Allan Menary was able to keep the visitors off the scoresheet the rest of the way.
Scott Peng closed out the scoring, firing his first goal as an Eskimo into an empty net with one second remaining in the game after the Wildcats opted to pull Menary in favour of an extra attacker.
Eskimos goalie Chet Tooker made 38 saves to pick up the victory, while Smith took the loss for the Wildcats.
“It was one of those games where we capitalized on our chances, we capitalized on our power play and basically took care of business,” Gagne said.
The road trip started with a 5-4 double-overtime loss to the Thunderbirds in Sault Ste. Marie Friday night and continued with a 3-2 win over the Beavers in Blind River Saturday night.
“Even the first game against Sault Ste. Marie, we had the bus legs and we try not to find excuses, like being on the road for half the day to go and play at 7:30 p.m., but we had every opportunity to win that game, too,” Gagne said.
“Then, the next night, against Blind River, I feel it could have been a 9-2 hockey game. Their goalie kept them in the game. He was awesome. He was incredible. We just couldn’t capitalize.
“I feel like we played a great game in Blind River, from a coach’s perspective.”
David Radke’s goal 2:20 into the second overtime period lifted the Thunderbirds to the 5-4 win over the Eskimos Friday night.
Brady Clouthier’s goal with less than five minutes to play in regulation had tied the game at 4-4 for the Eskimos and earned the visitors a single point.
The two teams exchanged first-period goals, with Brennan Roy’s power-play goal giving the Eskimos a 1-0 advantage and Jaren Bellini’s even-strength marker getting the Thunderbirds back on even terms.
Joey Miller put the home side in front 2-1 early in the second period, but Roy’s second power-play goal of the night, just over a minute later, tied it up at 2-2.
Kyle Levis added a power-play goal to make it 3-2 for the Eskimos, but the Thunderbirds got goals from Nicolas Tassone and Joey Miller before the end of the period to give the Soo a 4-3 lead heading into the second intermission.
Briant Kment made 34 saves to pick up the win for the Thunderbirds, while Tooker turned aside 42 shots while taking the loss.
Saturday night against the Beavers, Ryan Tront’s second goal of the game midway through the third period snapped a tie and lifted the Eskimos to the 3-2 victory.
Brenden Locke scored the lone goal of the first period to lift the visiting Eskimos to a 1-0 lead.
Former Mattawa Blackhawk Kyle Kuhn scored the second period’s only goal, however, to get the home side back on even terms after 40 minutes of play.
Tront’s power-play goal 5:05 into the final period had put the Eskimos in front 2-1, but Nathan Johnson tied it up for the Beavers at the 9:20 mark.
Tront then netted his game winner just 1:15 later.
Braddock Baalerud went the distance in net for the Eskimos, making 28 saves, to pick up the victory, while Zach Mills of the Beavers took the loss, despite stopping 45 of the 48 shots he faced.
The Eskimos did not suffer any new injuries on the weekend, although defenceman Michael Rancourt, who was attempting to return from a lower body injury was limited to a couple of shifts during Friday night’s game against the Thunderbirds.
Defenceman Jamey Lauzon did return to the lineup and played in all three games on the weekend.
“It took him a little while to get into it on Friday,” Gagne said.
“His conditioning was good, because he always keeps himself in good shape, but his timing was off, so it took him two periods to get going. But then he competed strongly for the next two games. It was incredible.”
The Eskimos will play a two-game home-and-home series with the Cochrane Crunch this weekend.
The first game of the series will be played at the Tim Horton Event Centre in Cochrane, with the second set for the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls.
Game time for both contests is 7:30 p.m.