IROQUOIS FALLS – For the second time this week, the Abitibi Eskimos filled Sudbury Junior Wolves’ net with eight goals, sealing a win against the NOJHL Eastern Division-leading team.
Down by two on Saturday night, the Eskis battled back scoring five-unanswered goals to defeat the visiting Wolves 8-5 at Jus Jordan Arena.
Eskimo Gary Rai had a four-point night with two goals and two assists.
The win comes on the heels of an 8-3 victory over the Wolves on Wednesday.
Sudbury’s frustration was evident in a penalty-filled third period, which saw more than half-a-dozen players ejected and a couple of fights started when Wolves jumped Abitibi players and began pounding away.
One of those fights led to an aggressor penalty and a game misconduct for the Sudbury’s leading scorer Evan Daciuk. That provided a seven-minute power play for the Eskis though the home team failed to capitalize on it.
While not a big fan of all the on-ice fisticuffs, Eskis head coach and general manager Paul Gagne admitted after the game it was gratifying to see an opponent get so unraveled playing against his team.
“We had 16 goals in two games against them. I can understand why they’re frustrated,” he said. “But it’s not my style at all. It’s not my philosophy. We have the least amount of penalty minutes in the league. It’s been like that for the last three or four years.”
Sudbury opened the scoring about four minutes into the first period when Mathieu Lecours banged in a cross-crease pass from teammate Zach McGillis.
The Eskis tied it later in the period when Shane Innes notched his ninth goal of the season on a power play.
Early in the second period, there was a seesaw exchange of three goals netted in a span of 22 seconds.
Sudbury started that spurt when Joel Gagnon — who would come away from the evening with a hat trick — notched a powerplay marker about two minutes into the period.
Fifteen seconds later, a Sudbury defender lost control of the puck after it bounced off the endboards and he tried directing it towards his own goaltender. Eski Michael Fink skated in and banged the puck home.
Immediately after that goal, Sudbury was back on the power play and didn’t waste any time as Gagnon scored his second of the game to give his team a 3-2 lead.
There would be seven goals scored in the second and, at one point, it looked like Sudbury would take control of the game when it cushioned its lead with a short-handed marker.
On the play, Eskis netminder J.P. Fecteau did the splits to make a pad save and Gagnon was there to tap in a juicy rebound and complete his hat trick.
However, instead of collapsing under a two-goal deficit, Abitibi battled back.
The turnaround started with a blast from the point off the stick of Eskis defenceman Cameron Carns. The puck bounced like a pinball through traffic in front of the Sudbury crease, deflecting off a Wolves defenceman and ricocheting off netminder Brendon O’Neil’s helmet into the net.
The Eskis tied the game on a goal by Eric Carrier before taking the lead with less than a minute in the period on a controversial goal by Rai.
Sudbury argued to no avail that its goalie had been bumped and the net had been dislodged on the play, but the referees counted the goal.
For his part in arguing with the refs, O’Neil was assessed a minor for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Rai put salt into the wound by scoring the Eskis’ next goal early in the third period — his second of the game. That was followed by an Abitibi power-play marker netted by Richard Therrien.
The Wolves and the Eskis traded power-play goals at about the midway point of the period — Sebastien Leroux scoring for Sudbury and Michael Cave notching his first goal of the season for Abitibi.
After that, all hell broke loose with boarding penalties, several fights and some Wolves players trying to go after the Eskis.
Gagne was happy with his team climbing back after being down by two goals.
“They really persevered, they really worked hard and we never put our heads down,” he said. “That’s the type of team we’ve had most of the year and that’s why we’re winning more games than losing right now.”
As a result of their participation in the fights, the Eskis will be without the services of Therrien, Maxime St. Pierre and Jeremiah Coon-Come for the next game.
With six games left in the regular season, the Eskis are looking to keep winning and stay ahead of the North Bay Trappers in the Eastern Division standings.
Barring any dramatic collapse by either team, the Eskis will face North Bay in the first round of the playoffs with Abitibi enjoying home-ice advantage.
Gagne is mindful of his team establishing winning habits and entering the playoffs with a full head of steam.
“Momentum is a big word,” he said. “If you can carry that into a game and then into a series, it’s important to keep it going.”
The Eskis’ next game is in Iroquois Falls where they face off against the Temiscaming Royals. It will be an opportunity for Abitibi to avenge the 5-3 loss against Temiscaming on Friday.
The puck drops Wednesday at the Jus Jordan Arena at 7:30 p.m.