IROQUOIS FALLS - The Abitibi Eskimos overcame a 2-0 first-period deficit and went on to edge the Elliot Lake Bobcats 3-2 at the Jus Jordan Arena Saturday night.
Marc Dube’s sixth goal of the season, 7:50 into the third period, proved to be the game winner, as the Eskimos moved back into third place in the NOJHL standings, one point ahead of the Espanola Rivermen who dropped a 7-3 decision to the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake Saturday night.
The Rivermen still have two games in hand on the Eskimos, so the battle for this place may go down to the wire.
“We got a shot off the wing from (Zach) Innes and I went to the net and I saw some room on the left side and I shot it there,” said Dube, describing the game-winning goal.
The Bobcats jumped in front 2-0 in the first period on goals by Jacob Erwin, his eighth on the season, and Dustin Cordeiro, his 19th on the season, as the team picked up where it left off the night before during a 4-3 overtime win over the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake.
The Eskimos were able to get on the board before the end of the first period, however, when defenceman Kealey Cummings lobbed a shot at the Elliot Lake net that took a funny bounce and skipped behind Bobcats goalie Alex Bitsaskis for his seventh goal of the season.
“We had a few breakdowns there at the start, but we picked it after the intermission,” Dube said.
“We got a good speech and after that everything went well … the little things. It got the boys going and we came out strong after that.”
It helped that the Eskimos began to play within their system a little better in the second and third periods.
“We got pucks deep, did the little things and got more shots on net,” Dube said.
“And we started going to the net and burying it.”
The Eskimos tied it up at 2-2 on Brady Clouthier’s team-leading 29th goal of the season, a power-play marker 1:31 into the second period.
That set the stage for Dube’s game-winning goal.
Eskimos assistant coach Dan Dube, Marc’s older brother, was pleased with the play of all the Eskimos, not just his sibling.
“We got off to a slow start, with a couple mental breakdowns, a couple of mental mistakes in the defensive zone, from guys not having their men, but the guys really showed some character to battle back from a 2-0 deficit,” the older Dube said.
“We pulled it together and made it 2-1 at the end of the first and we ended up getting two more after that.
“The guys played with a lot of character and heart and it was a good two points.”
The strategy, for the Eskimos, was to get the forecheck going early and put a lot of pressure on the Elliot Lake defence and while it took some time for that to develop, it proved to be effective once they were able to get it going.
“That’s our game, getting the cycle working for us,” Dan Dube said.
“It’s no secret. We have to get pucks on net. If you don’t shoot the puck, it is not going to go in.
“It was important for us to get pucks on net and to crash the net to get those garbage goals.”
The 31 shots the Eskimos were able to generate against Bitsakis were a big improvement over the 17 they were able to generate on Wednesday night during a 3-2 loss to the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake.
Eskimos goalie Sylvain Miron made 27 saves, many of them big stops at key points of the game, while picking up the victory.
“He was awesome, he was fantastic,” Dan Dube said.
“He was really composed. He stopped a couple of breakaways and came up big when we were killing a couple of penalties.
“He was stone cold back there after those two goals he gave up in the first period.
“Everybody on the bench got momentum from that and the crowd got pumped up from that.”
Even though the Bobcats came up on the short end of the score Saturday night, coach and general manager Ryan Leonard was happy with the way most of his players played.
“You know what, we just weren’t getting the bounces after we got that 2-0 lead,” he said.
“After they got that first goal, kind of a fluky goal, the way it bounced off the ice and came up like a knuckle puck, our goalie had no chance.
“That was the back breaker because it got them into the game and gave them a little bit of energy.
“We hit a crossbar, a couple of posts, we had lots of good chances to score, but their goalie played really well, our goalie played well.
“We had a couple of missed assignments tonight and they buried them, while we didn’t on the chances we had.
“That’s the way the hockey game went. I thought we were the better team tonight, overall, but at the end of the day we weren’t getting the bounces once we got ahead 2-0. On the power play we hit one post and it bounced off the other post and then one went post to post.
“Overall though we are content. I am happy with the way we played.”
The Bobcats did get a break in the third period, though, when Bitsaskis skated to his team’s bench anticipating a penalty call against the Eskimos.
Neither referee had his hand up, however, and the goalie had to race back to his net as the play progressed up the ice toward the Elliot Lake net.
“They clobbered our guy from behind into the boards, so I think everybody thought they were going to get a hitting from behind penalty,” Leonard said.
“But nothing happened. Our guy lost his stick. He lost his gloves, so the goalie thought for sure they can’t let that go. He came to the bench thinking there was going to be a penalty, but I guess they missed it.”
The one area of concern for the Bobcats as the playoffs draw near is the lack of production from their top line.
“We need our first line to step up and start scoring some goals in games like this,” Leonard said.
“Our first line has been shutout now in the last three games. We need our first line to be scoring.
“Guys like Brett Wagner need to step up. He is our leading scorer and in the last five, or six games he has quieted right down.
“He is getting a goal here and there, but five on five he has got no goals. Guys like (Mike) Gambino, who we brought in, has got to step up and start scoring some goals … Aviv Milner. Those are all guys who have got to score goals for us. If those guys don’t score goals it’s hard to win hockey games.”
While he wasn’t enthused about the play of his top line, a number of other Bobcats stood out for Leonard Saturday night.
“Bryan McFarlene played a really good game tonight and I was very happy with the play of Jacob Irwin again,” he said.
“He was hustling tonight and Dustin Cordeiro was really given her tonight.”
ESKIMOS NOTES: Forward Ryan Tront took a slap shot off his leg in the dying seconds of the game and had to be helped off the ice after the final buzzer. He went straight to the medical room. No indication was given Saturday night as to the severity of the injury … The Eskimos were 1-6 on the power play, while the Bobcats went 0-3 with the man advantage … The Eskimos next game will be on Monday night when they travel to North Bay for a game with the Trappers … The next home game for the Eskimos will be on Friday night when they host the Sudbury Nickel Barons at the McIntyre Arena.