TIMMINS - The Abitibi Eskimos increased their lead over the Espanola Rivermen for third place in the NOJHL standings to four points Friday night, thanks to a 4-2 win over the visiting Sudbury Nickel Barons.
Smarting from a 6-3 loss to the Nickel Barons in Sudbury Wednesday night, the Eskimos jumped on the visitors early and had built a 3-0 lead by the first intermission.
“We got a big shift from (David) Becker, (Jacob) Kenney and (Ryan) Wildman to get it started off,” said Eskimos assistant coach Dan Dube.
“They put a lot of pressure on Sudbury and they set the tone for rest of the game.
“I thought that first shift was very important for our hockey club.
“It was really nice to come back after losing two in a row on the road and win the second game of the home-and-home against Sudbury.
“It was a great team effort tonight.”
Goals by Zach Innes and Ryan Kerr less than two minutes apart staked the Eskimos to an early 2-0 advantage.
And Landon Hiebert added what would prove to be the game-winning goal when he beat Sudbury goalie Michael Muzyka on the power play before the end of the period.
“We started in the D zone, with a quick little pass up the wall to the middle and Robi (Erik Robichaud) was cutting hard, grabbed it, beat a guy to the net, got a good shot off low and I was just going hard to the net with my stick on the ice and tapped her in,” Hiebert said.
“I felt we really gelled as a group tonight, kept it simple and chipped in pucks, took hits to make plays and we finally started shooting the puck.
“We got them on their heels early and then we could just stick to the game plan.”
The Eskimos out shot the Nickel Barons 18-7 during the opening frame, indicating just how slow the start was for the visitors.
The Eskimos game plan was to get off to a quick start and put the pressure on the visitors and it could not have worked much better in the first period.
“That is when we are most successful, when we get the forecheck going,” Dube said.
“We put pressure on them in their defensive zone and we got a lot more shots on net in this game than we did in the last game in their building.
“We were crashing the net and we got rewarded for it with four goals tonight.”
The Nickel Barons managed to shake off their bus legs in the second period and Dylan Callaghan’s power-play goal cut the Eskimos lead to 3-1.
Callaghan, one of the Nickel Barons better players on the night, was ejected from the game just over five minutes later, however, as he got into a fight with Eskimos forward Jacob Kenney, who was also ejected from the game.
The altercation started after Eskimos forward David Becker was knocked to the ice in front of the Sudbury net with a stick to the face that went unseen by referees Dan Ouellet and Dan Clermont, as well as linesmen Chris Gauthier and Darren Thib.
“We don’t promote the fighting stuff,” Dube said.
“But it was nice to see Jacob come to the aid of his teammate. He had all the right reasons to stick up for him.
“It was a controversial hit and he took care of the guy who hit Becker. It is always nice to see guys sticking up for each other out there.”
The Eskimos added another power-play goal with just over four minutes to play in the third period when defenceman Jamey Lauzon, back from a concussion, beat Muzyka for his second goal of the season.
That insurance would prove timely, as Kyle Fransen, of the Nickel Barons, intercepted a pass from an Eskimos blue liner and beat goalie Sylvain Miron less than two minutes later to cut the home side’s lead to 4-2.
The Nickel Barons pulled Muzyka in favour of an extra attacker with just over a minute to play, but they were unable to get the two goals they needed to get back on even terms.
Miron’s play, especially in the second period when the Nickel Barons started to find their legs, was a big reason for the Eskimos victory Friday night.
“He made some big saves for us when he had to,” Dube said.
“He faces a couple of odd-man breaks and he made some key saves, making sure the rebounds were kicked out wide enough so that they would not come out in front of the net.
“He was calm back there and he was really focused tonight.”
Nickel Barons assistant coach Bryan Clouthier was also impressed with how well Miron played.
“I thought their goalie played pretty well,” he said.
“He made some good saves when he had to make some saves and they capitalized on the power play. That was the difference in the game, really.
“We were flat in the first period. We came off the bus, I guess we had bus legs, I don’t know, but the guys were flat.
“The guys weren’t skating and we couldn’t get pucks in deep. They had us pinned in our end for the majority of the first period.
“One thing we did better in the second period was we got pucks out of our end quicker, had speed through the neutral zone and got it in deep. We got our cycle game going in the second period.
“Once again though, we were taking a lot of trips to the penalty box and it just ruined our momentum.
“When we would get something going we would end up having to kill penalties. It was a tough night that way.”
ESKIMOS NOTES: The Eskimos were 2-7 on the power play, while the Nickel Barons were 1-4 win the man advantage … Attendance at Friday night’s game was 631, third-larges for an Eskimos home game this season … Friday night’s other NOJHL action saw the Soo Thunderbirds beat the Rivermen 3-1 in Espanola and the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners beat the Bobcats 4-1 in Elliot Lake … The next game for the Eskimos will be on Tuesday when they host the North Bay Trappers at the Jus Jordan Arena. Game time is 7:30 p.m.