An ineffective power-play and a costly penalty late in overtime cost the game for the Eskis.
The Abitibi Eskimos of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League had a disappointing home-and-away series against the Kirkland Lake Blue Devils this past weekend, as they only managed to pick up one point out of a possible four.
This was the squad’s first week without their star forward Marc-Alain Begin, who was promoted to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Begin had 21-goals and 67 points through 22 games with the Eskis.
“This loss hurts,” said Paul Gagne, head coach and general manager of the Abitibi Eskimos. “I mentioned to the guys before that we’re going to have a lot more pressure on us now that Begin is gone, and the guys have to play their game and not expect to be like him.”
The Eskis had a 3-0 lead after the opening 20 minutes of play in Saturday’s contest, but were done in because of penalties and individuality, ultimately losing 4-3 to the Blue Devils who currently sit last place in the Eastern Division of the NOJHL. Following Saturday’s game, the Eskis share the top spot in the east with the Sudbury Cubs.
“Tonight we had our better players taking penalties even when we’re four on four at the end there and there’s no reason for that,” said Gagne. “It’s all individuality, it’s unfortunate and shouldn’t have happened.”
The Eskis started the game as the aggressors, but quickly lost their mojo in the second period to a determined Blue Devils squad who have undergone major changes to their roster recently.
“We are on the road, so we had to keep the tempo up,” said David Gillespie, head coach and general manager of the Blue Devils. “We had chances, but we just couldn’t finish on our chances. We really needed to concentrate on moving the puck and I think in the second period we really started to show signs of doing that. We wanted to get pucks deep and make them scramble like they’ve made us scramble in the past.”
Gagne blamed the Eskis inability to capitalize on the power-play due to a recent change to their system, which h was brought on by the players.
“They guys wanted to change the power-play and they did change it on their own,” said Gagne. “It’s all individual stuff and I was not happy with it. To play that way, it’s losing hockey and obviously we saw it. Our power-play and penalty killing cost us. All in all I felt we dominated, we were always in control, we played well and we didn’t really have a hard time in the defensive zone. We kept them to the outside and didn’t give them a lot of good shots. I was happy with the way we played, but the individual stuff at the end I didn’t like.”
The Blue Devils bit into the 3-0 deficit with a goal in the second period, which switched momentum from the home side to the visitors. The Blue Devils kept up the pressure in the third period, coming to within one goal of tying the Eskis.
The tying goal came as the game was nearing a close. With the face-off in the Eskis zone, Gillespie went with his gut-feeling and decided not to pull his goalie, which would of given his squad a man-advantage. The result was a quick goal scored off the face-off, which sent the game into overtime.
“I’ve done that before,” said Gillespie “My goalies know that I run on gut feeling. I know teams expect us to pull goalies, but in the third period, while we were down deep in their end, if we could keep it deep we’d have a chance. I’m not a big goalie pulling fan. I just went with my gut and it worked out well.”
In the overtime period, the Eskis took a reactive penalty, which provided the Blue Devils with the opportunity to win.
“I’m not happy with only coming away with one point in this home and away series,” said Gagne. “We’re going to back to work on Tuesday. We have individuals and we don’t want individual part of our club. We’re going to weed it out, meaning they’re going to learn to come back and play our style of hockey not their way. The pressure was on the individuals and in the end that made the difference. They’re going to have to adapt to that.”
Gillespie added, “These guys come to work four days a week and they really worked hard tonight. It feels great to take four points from the Eskimos, more so for them in the dressing room because I know there’s still a long way to go. These four points are a huge deal for us. I’ve never seen guys so happy in the dressing room like they were after coming back and winning against the top team in the division.”
Eskis defenceman Kevin Walker scored his first goal of the season in the first period.