Friday nights at the “Mac” were always special in years gone by – whether it was because the Abitibi Eskimos were in town to take on the T&S Flyers, or the Columbians were meeting Schumacher Bears – it was always a night out in small town Northern Ontario.
Fans relived the experience last Friday as the NOJHL version of the Eskis put on dazzling display of disciplined hockey and beat the Espanola Rivermen – a team that already had 15 wins on the season, six more than the Eskis going into the game.
The final score was 4-3 – but with a little luck the Eskis might have made it a runaway.
They seemed to be in complete charge, both offensively and defensively, as the outshot the Rivermen 37-28, and were even in control during the last minute of play when the Rivermen pulled netminder Marc Terriault for an extra attacker.
Two games, over two weekends, against the best the NOJHL has to offer – the Sault Thunderbirds and the Rivermen – and the Eskis were up to the challenge.
Fans might have felt they had reason to be worried about a letdown against the lower-echelon Elliot Lake Bobcats last Saturday – but Ryan Tront put those fears to rest early, with a quick opening goal at 3:52 as the Eskis went on to beat the Bobcats 6-4.
On Friday, the good-sized crowd at the Mac was antsy, the music was loud (some were complaining that it was too loud) but the action on the ice was fast and furious, with the Eskis holding a large edge in the play for the first 10 minutes. The home team jumped into an early 1-0 led when Shane Hiley scored at 1:22 – he was playing on a line with Brady Cloutier and Ryan Tront, the newest addition to a position vacated by Erik Robichaud when he was summoned as an emergency replacement to a depleted Sarnia Sting (OHA) lineup. After a scrap that saw two players, including Eski Jacob Kenney, booted from the gamer for fighting, the Rivermen recovered somewhat – Alex Martin tied the game at 14:24 , firing the puck from the corner behind a screened Brody Wagner.
The Eskis started the second period the way the started the first – dominant in both the offensive and defensive zones The Eskis regained the lead when Clouthier scored his 15th goal of the season, and when Steven Petitte took a cross-checking penalty at 5:46 of the second, Espanola coach Tom McCarthy sent out what might be one of the most powerful power-play line-ups in the league – with Brandon Janke, Brennen Dubchak, Brad Edwards, Corbin Bean and Duane Wainman.
The Eskis, though, maintained their composure – and complete control – Brady Clouthier had a clear shorthanded breakaway but was stymied by Terriault in the Espanola net. The Eskis penetrated the sloppy Espanola defense at 8:39 of the second period and went up 3-1 on Brenden Locke’s fourth goal of the season.
The Eskis composure slipped a bit when Espanola’s Kyle Patterson was called for hooking at 12:52 – the Eskis could be forgiven if they were looking for a blowout – but Corbin Bean scored a shorthanded goal, but the Eskis got that one back at 15:27 when big Ben Miller scored his third of the season. In the third period, Dubchak made things interesting when he narrowed the gap to 4-3 at the 1:20 mark, but it was pretty much a “kitty bar the door’ scenario for the rest of the period. The Eskis killed off a penalty to Hiley at the 5:01 mark, and weren’t really challenged the rest of the way, winning the game 4-3.
Saturday’s game didn’t have the discipline of Friday’s encounter – but The Eskis, although they suffered a pair of defensive lapses that allowed the Bobcats to claw back to within a goal in the third period, stayed focused and rode a last-minute empty-netter by Andrew Green to cap a four-point weekend with 6-4 victory.
In most cases, an empty-net goal isn’t much of a cause for celebration, but Saturday night, after he had played nearly a full three periods of excellent hockey, Green’s last-minute goal brought joy to the Jus Jordan Arena crowd – but none greater than to his parents, who were making their first visit to see the Long Island, N.Y., native play in Iroquois Falls.
Sylvain Miron started the game in goal for the Eskis – his first start in four contests – and played well as the Eskis were badly outshot over the first half of the game. At one point in the first period, they were being outshot 12-4 – but still held a 2-1 lead. The Eskis never trailed in the game.
Alex Bitsakis started in goal for the Bobcats on Saturday but was yanked after 11 minutes in favour of former Eski Etienne Roy.
For the Eskis, Ryan Tront scored twice, and linemates Brady Clouthier and Shane Hiley also scored, and defenseman Kealey Cummings added another before Green iced the result with his empty net goal. The line of Hiley, Clouthier and Tront picked up seven scoring points overall.
The Friday game at the McIntyre Arena attracted 580 fans while Saturday’s attendance at the Igloo was 434.
The Eskis don’t play at The Igloo again until Nov. 30, when the will entertain the Sudbury Nickel Barons. The team faces a gruelling road trip this coming weekend – Friday In Elliot Lake, Saturday in Sudbury and Sunday in North Bay.