IROQUOIS FALLS - The Abitibi Eskimos pounded the North Bay Trappers 8-1 at the Jus Jordan Arena Tuesday night, but it could prove to be a costly victory.
With the Eskimos enjoying a 2-1 lead midway through the second period, star forward Brady Clouthier was levelled just inside the Trappers’ blue line with a bone-jarring check.
Clouthier was lifted three or four inches off the ice by the apparent shoulder-to-head check delivered by the Trappers Zachary Shankar.
As Clouthier crashed head first into the ice after the check he suffered cuts to his face and had to be taken off the ice on a stretcher and transported to hospital following a lengthy delay as he was tended to by the Eskimos training staff and ambulance personnel.
Shankar was assessed a five-minute major for a hit to the head, as well as a game misconduct.
Players on both sides were noticeably shaken by the play and subsequent injury.
“First things first, you want to make sure your teammate is OK,” said Eskimos forward Erik Robichaud.
“I thought everyone responded really well. We all put our heads together and nobody got dirty, we just got to work and won the game.
“He (Clouthier) was always in the back of our minds. It is unfortunate to see something like that happen. You never want to see something like that happen, no matter where you are.
“I thought we came back well. It is unfortunate that he is not here with us right now, but hopefully he is OK.”
There was no official word on Clouthier’s condition as of press time, but team officials are hoping the injury is not quite as bad as first feared.
There is no question the Trappers were not the same after the hit, as their play from that point on can best be described as tentative, at best.
“We played a good game up until that point,” said Trappers coach Zane Neily.
“And then that penalty kind of killed us. We fell apart. We played undisciplined hockey. We kept taking penalties and we weren’t playing our systems.
“We played afraid. There is no way around it, we played afraid after that. We weren’t focused on our game, or the task at hand.”
The two teams exchanged first-period goals, with Ryan Wildman giving the Eskimos a 1-0 lead and Eric Champagne netting the tying goal for the Trappers.
Robichaud’s first of three goals on the night put the Eskimos back in front 2-1 just 1:09 into the second period.
“My first goal was just a nice pass from Lauz (Jamey Lauzon) and then it was just a one on one and I went to my backhand,” Robichaud said.
“My second goal, (Ryan) Wildman made a nice pass. We were on the power play and I was driving to the net. He made a nice tape-to-tape pass. He really did most of the work.
“My third goal, (Ryan) Tront threw it across and it bounced up and hit me in the face and went in the net. I was pretty fortunate and happy about it.”
The Trappers defenceman assigned to cover Robichaud on the play was not too pleased with the goal, however.
“I don’t really remember,” Robichaud said.
“I guess I got a little excited about scoring, so I just tuned him out. I was just excited that we got the win.”
The Eskimos made the most of Shankar’s five-minute major, scoring three power-play goals to take a 5-1 lead.
Robichaud, Tront and Zach Innes all found the back of the net behind 16-year-old North Bay goalie Evan Cormier.
The Eskimos didn’t take their foot of the gas in the third period either, with Brenden Locke scoring a pair of goals in the first 2:13 of the period to spell the end of Cormier’s night.
Lucas Paulsen came on in relief of Cormier and held the Eskimos to one goal — Robichaud’s third — the rest of the way.
The decision to pull Cormier didn’t have anything to do with his play according to Neily.
“Evan got hung out to dry on a few of the goals,” he said.
“There were a couple of cross-crease passes that even a professional goalie wouldn’t have stopped.
“He has been remarkable for us this year. He stands on his head every single day. He made all the saves he needed to today and even some of the ones we didn’t expect him to.”
Eskimos assistant coach Dan Dube was pleased to see how Clouthier’s teammates responded to his injury.
“You could have heard a pin drop in that arena tonight when he went down,” he said.
“It is the kind of thing that is hard to see, but the guys came out strong after that. We scored a couple of goals on the power play and the guys stayed composed.
“They found that inner strength after seeing Clouthier on the ice.
“The guys knew what was at stake here to see one of our star players go down like that. Everyone knew what we were doing and who we were doing it for, so we didn’t really have to say anything in the dressing room.”
The power play was deadly for the Eskimos, as they went 3-7 with the man advantage.
“We got pucks on net and we got all of our goals from in front of the net,” Dube said.
“It is no secret. We have been saying for the last couple of games that we need to get shots on the net and good things will happen.
“We got shots on net tonight and we got rewarded for it on the power play.”
The Eskimos also had a player ejected from Tuesday’s game, as forward Landon Hiebert received a two minute minor penalty for checking from behind and a game misconduct after he took a North Bay defenceman into the boards behind the Trappers’ net during the first period of play.
Eskimos goalie Sylvain Miron made 22 saves while picking up the victory.
Cormier also blocked 22 shots while taking the loss for the Trappers. Paulsen made nine saves in relief.
Eskimos goalie Brody Wagner did not dress for the game after learning that he has a fracture in his foot. It is not known how long he will be out of the lineup.
Miron was backed up by Jaedon Giguire, of the Timmins Midget Hockey League’s Iroquois Falls Stingers, on Tuesday night.
With the victory, the Eskimos were able to lengthen their lead over the Espanola Rivermen for third place in the NOJHL standings to four points.
The Rivermen, however, now have three games in hand on the Eskimos.
Next up for the Eskimos will be a meeting with the first-place Soo Thunderbirds on Saturday at the Jus Jordan Arena.
Game time is 7:30 p.m.