The Eskis opened the final month of the season with a loss, and with a player setting a new record.
Despite having gone 6-2 in January, the Abitibi Eskimos of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey failed to overcome the high pressure attack of the Soo Eagles, which resulted in a 9-5 loss on Saturday at the Jus Jordan Arena.
The Eagles currently occupy second place in the Western Division, while the Eskis will be fighting to hold on to second place in the Eastern Division as the North Bay Trappers currently sit six points back with three games in hand.
Both goalies were peppered with a multitude of shots for the entire 60 minutes of the contest. The Eagles hit the net 41 times, while the Eskis fired 44.
J.P. Fecteau started the game for the Eskis, but was pulled after the first period after letting in three goals on 14 shots. The younger Martin Bilodeau started the second period.
The Eskis and Eagles came out flying in the first period, but it was the Eagles scoring first on a shot from the point.
“Those three goals were gifts in the first period,” said Paul Gagne, head coach and general manager of the Abitibi Eskimos. “That’s three goals that we gave them. Two deflections, where the goalie was going the other way, and the shot from the point.”
Two of the three Eagle’s first period goals came on the powerplay as the Eskis were pinned deep in their own end.
“We emphasized getting the puck deep and tried to use our speed for a hard forecheck,” said Bruno Bragagnolo, head coach and general manager of the Eagles.
However, the Eskis won the second period as they outscored the Eagles 3-2, bringing the deficit to two goals after 40 minutes.
At about six and a half minutes into the second period, the crowd witnessed history being made. Marc-Alain Begin assisted speedy forward Corey Hamel on his powerplay goal, which pulled the Eskis to within one goal of tying the game.
“It’s a nice thing to have 100 points,” said Begin. “Two years ago I had 98 and my buddy Felix Boutin had 99 points. To get a 100 is pretty cool to be honest. It would have felt better if we had won. Im happy with the 100th point, but I would have rather had the victory.”
It took Begin only 31 games to achieve the feat. The Eskis star player has amassed 27 goals and 73 assists in the season, which is good for third place in the league behind Jordan Carroll (115 points) and Jamie Haines (104 points) both of the Sudbury Cubs. As far as points per game goes, Begin leads all scorers with 3.23 points per game.
The Eagles utilized their puck movement and pressure to widen their lead to 5-3 only minutes later.
Delmer Moses brought the Eskis back to within one when he fired a laser beam of shot from the top of the slot, which Eagles goalie, Luis Puig had no chance of stopping.
Almost 10 minutes went by as both teams limited each others time and space, until Jake Ryan tied the game with a quick shot that went top shelf.
The final five minutes turned out to be a disaster for the Eskis as the Eagles netted four goals to put the game out of reach.
“To make it 5-5 was just a matter of being patient and we got there with five minutes left,” said Gagne. “All of sudden we have the puck and the defenceman, instead of making a nice pass he puts it on the guys stick, which resulted in the sixth goal. It was a bad goal. Then another mistake in front of the net. Our guy didn’t take his man, they outfought us for the puck, he shot and scored. Game over.”
Gagne explained, “The thing is two or three individual mistakes cost us the game. I have to give them credit though. To make it 5-5 after being down by two heading into the third period. Two break downs two goals. They had better goaltending. We had two goalies and we couldn’t be better than one of them. That made the difference in my books. Our goaltending was not up to par and we fought to make it 5-5, so I give my players the credit.”
Bragagnolo said, “We got traffic to the net and the boys worked really hard. They fought through a lot of tough situations and I think we just wanted it more than they did in the third period. They’re a great hockey club, they’re well coached and they move the puck well. I thought we did a good job of containing Begin for most of the game. Although he was able to penetrate the zone at times, I thought we paid a little more attention to him. If you don’t he’ll kill you.”
The Eskis travel toSudburyon Feb. 8 to take on the Cubs who currently occupy first place in the Eastern Division.