IROQUOIS FALLS - Brady Clouthier’s second goal of the game, with 19 seconds to play in regulation, lifted the Abitibi Eskimos to a 4-3 lead over the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners at the Jus Jordan Arena Wednesday night.
The visitors appeared to have all the momentum going their way after battling back from a 3-0 deficit, but Ryan Scherer’s penalty, for goaltender, interference with 1:51 to play proved costly.
Gold Miners coach and general manager Marc Lafleur was far from happy with the turn of events and the whole his players had dug for themselves early.
“It’s frustrating, because we knew they would come out strong,” he said.
“They have been on a hot streak recently (Wednesday’s victory was the Eskimos’ eighth in their past 11 games) and we came out flat.
“We picked it up in the second and the third, but you have to give them credit. They have been playing very good lately and their record shows it.
“They got the two points … they got a lucky bounce at the end, but they were working hard and good things happen to people and teams that work hard.”
The Eskimos jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Brenden Locke and Clouthier and they increased their lead to 3-0 on Ryan Wildman’s goal early in the second period.
The Gold Miners got that one back before the end of the middle frame when Andrew Bertrand beat Eskimos goalie Brody Wagner with a short-handed goal.
Special teams again proved important for the Gold Miners in the third period when they got power-play goals from Ethan Strong and Samuel Wilbur less than two minutes apart to tie the score at 3-3.
“Power play,” said Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“You know what, a couple of penalties that should never have happened … unfortunately a check from behind and a high stick after they score.
“We have to be aware of the situation and we didn’t take care of that situation.”
That set the stage for Clouthier’s last-minute heroics.
Overall Gagne was pleased with the Eskimos effort Wednesday night and thrilled with the end result.
“I thought we played excellent hockey,” he said.
“We have been playing some excellent hockey the last 10 games, or so, and tonight I would have to say we did raise our level of play.
“It was awesome. We had good goaltending, especially in the first period. He was outstanding. He made some incredible saves. He kept us in there and the next thing you know it’s 2-0.
“He made a big difference and then, after that, what I was really impressed with was the last five minutes of play.
“I thought we dominated in the last five minutes. We didn’t give them too many opportunities. We forechecked. We got it out, we did everything we could to get two points and that’s what we did.”
Playing against a team that had only lost three times in regulation, the Eskimos drive to finish off the Gold Miners was impressive.
“We have got a lot of young guys and we have got some 20 year olds who make a difference,” Gagne said.
“They are logging some ice time and the end of a great situation. We definitely could have folded, but we didn’t and the reason for that is that we have been on a roll. The players are really playing within our program.
“They are even playing above their potential, which is nice, because that is what you want to achieve.
“This team has a great level of confidence right now.”
One of the 20 year olds who has really contributed since joining the Eskimos is forward Landon Hiebert.
Playing on a line with Ryan Wildman and Zach Innes, Hiebert picked up two more assists Wednesday night to give him four goals and four assists in five games.
“I am just going out there and playing within myself,” the Red Deer native said.
“I’m not trying to do too much. I am just going out there and the chances are coming thanks to my linemates. We are working hard together and I feel like we have gelled.
“I feel like I read the plays well and I am a little bit grittier. I get into the areas pretty quick with my speed and I am not afraid to shoot the puck.
“That’s part of the reason for my success recently. Maybe before I didn’t shoot the puck as much with my old team (the Flin Flon Bombers).”
The chemistry that the Eskimos have found in the past dozen games helped them to weather the storm Wednesday night.
“We just got up on the bench and stayed positive for the most part,” Hiebert said.
“We really just played within our system. Against a good team like that, they came back pretty quick in the third and we just had to play within our system and we showed tonight that playing simple against a good team like that goes a long way.”
From the Gold Miners’ perspective it was a matter of far too many mistakes.
“Defensively, I thought our forwards made some major mistakes on the back check and they got two quick goals out of it,” Lafleur said.
“I thought we played a very good first five minutes. I would say the first five minutes was terrific, then one bad back check, followed by another bad back check and they capitalized.
“At the end of the day, we showed a lot of heart coming back from 3-0, but the fact is we shouldn’t have gotten down 3-0. But give credit to Abitibi. They played well.”
Despite sitting in second place in the NOJHL standings and only having three regulation losses prior to Wednesday night, the Gold Miners had made a number of roster moves recently.
Those moves likely are not finished, based upon Lafleur’s comments after the game.
“I think some guys right now are too comfortable on this hockey team,” he said.
“We have picked up a few guys and unfortunately they are out of the lineup right now, but we still haven’t finished making moves.
“Guys who think they have a spot on a set line … I will not tolerate it. It won’t happen. It is survival of the fittest, the best players play. Those who produce are those who are going to play.
“Since Day 1 I have always said I am going to be fair with ice time, but if some guy right now thinks he has got his spot guaranteed on a certain line, he is wrong.”
ESKIMOS NOTES: Wagner made 29 saves for the Eskimos to record the victory, while Gold Miners goalie Jeremy Pominville, a Mattice native, stopped 27 shots to take the loss … The Eskimos went 1-5 on the power play, while the Gold Miners were 2-5 with the man advantage … Attendance was 322 … Wednesday’s other NOJHL game saw Sudbury edge North Bay 6-5 in double overtime.