IROQUOIS FALLS - The Abitibi Eskimos ended the 2013-14 NOJHL regular season the same way they started it — with a victory.
Saturday’s 6-2 victory over the visiting North Bay Trappers at the Jus Jordan Arena came a little easier, however, than the come-from-behind 3-2 win over the Nickel Barons in Sudbury that signaled the start of the campaign.
The Eskimos got goals from six different players as they cruised past a flat Trappers team that was obviously thinking ahead to its first-round playoff matchup with the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners.
The game plan for the home side heading into Saturday night’s game was to get shots on net and lots of traffic in front of 16-year-old Trappers goalie Evan Cormier.
“They have two big goaltenders and it’s important to crash that net and to get those garbage goals,” said Eskimos assistant coach and general manager Dan Dube.
“I think we really did that tonight and especially the first three goals were a result of following the game plan to the letter.”
It took Eskimos 16-year-old forward Brenden Locke just 57 seconds to bury his 27th goal of the season behind a screened Cormier and put the home side up 1-0.
Ryan Wildman made it a 2-0 game in favour of the Eskimos less than five minutes later, as he also drilled a shot past a screened Cormier for his 15th goal of the season.
Zach Innes’ goal, his 13th of the season, scored in similar fashion closed out the scoring in the opening frame and sent the home side to the intermission enjoying a 3-0 advantage.
Erik Robichaud scored the only goal of the second period, his 32nd of the season, to increase the Eskimos lead to 4-0 heading into the final period.
Marc Dube, left all alone in front of Cormier, took a pass from behind the net and drilled a shot into the North Bay net to make it a 5-0 hockey game 3:44 into the final period.
That goal seemed to wake up the Trappers and C.J. Nicholson beat Eskimos goalie Sylvain Miron just over a minute later to finally get North Bay on the scoreboard.
Nick Grose then cut the Eskimos lead to 5-2 when he beat Miron just past the midway point of the period.
Any hopes North Bay had of a comeback were dashed less than three minutes later, however, as Andrew Green deflected a Locke pass past Cormier to make the final 6-2.
“It was a textbook hockey game,” said Dube.
“We all followed the game plan and we adapted as the game went on.
“Tonight’s game was a great warm up for the playoffs. Our guys stayed disciplined. That is something we told the kids to do and they did a really good job of staying disciplined throughout the whole hockey game.”
The Eskimos, who finished the regular season with a record of 30-22-0-4, good for fourth place in the NOJHL standings will host the fifth-place Elliot Lake Bobcats (Cochrane Crunch) in a best-of-seven first-round playoff series scheduled to open at the Jus Jordan Arena Friday night.
“You always want to enter the playoffs on a high,” Dube said.
“It is always good to play a game like this heading into the playoffs. As a coaching staff, we did not have to say much to the kids tonight. They were doing their jobs out there.”
The game got a little bit chippy in the second half of the third period, but Dube was pleased with his players discipline.
“We talked to them and told them that we didn’t want any of that stuff,” he said.
“We told them to stay disciplined because we knew the game didn’t mean anything in the standings, but we also knew that it was an important game heading into the playoffs from the perspective that we didn’t want any suspensions.”
That was especially important given that the Eskimos have six players — forwards Brady Clouthier (concussion-like symptoms), Landon Hiebert (lower body), Shane Hiley (lower body) and David Becker (lower body), as well as defencemen Steven Pettite (lower body) and Jamey Lauzon (hand) — out with injuries.
To compensate, the Eskimos dressed three affiliate players — forward Kezmin Madden, defenceman Brady Clouthier and defenceman Josh Dejulio — Saturday night.
It was the fourth game in the lineup for Madden, while the other two were making their NOJHL debuts.
The former Kapuskasing Flyer nearly had a breakaway after stealing the puck from a Trappers defenceman, but a penalty call ruined the chance.
“I was looking to see if Greener was open for a two-on-oh, but unfortunately he took a penalty, Madden said.
“I was hoping I would get a chance to get the first point of my junior career, but stuff happens.”
The Iroquois Falls native hopes that the experience he is gaining late in the season with the Eskimos will boost his chances of cracking the lineup next season.
“This league is a lot faster paced,” Madden said.
“It is hard to adjust and there are more systems that you have to learn. It is a more physical game and overall better hockey.”
Trappers coach Zane Neily admitted his team came out flat.
“We definitely got off to a slow start,” he said.
“We just had some missed assignments and then we kind of collapsed on each other.”
The only real bright spot for the Trappers was how they played in the final frame.
“The third period we kind of bonded,” Neily said.
“It was 2-2 in the third period. We wanted to go out there and try to win a period. We definitely showed some heart, we didn’t give up.”
The coach knows that if the Trappers start the playoffs the way they started Saturday night’s game they will be in trouble.
“If we go into Kirkland Lake flat, they are just going to walk all over us,” Neily said.
“They are a run-and-gun team, so we are definitely going to have to stick to our assignments. Everyone is going to have to trust in each other and play for each other. The boys had been working hard all week, so maybe that is why they came out flat today.”
Cormier, who was named to the NOJHL’s second all-star team earlier this week, did not look as sharp Saturday night as he had in earlier visits to the Jus Jordan Arena, but he clearly didn’t have much help either.
“Evan was hung out to dry,” Neily said.
“For him to stand there like he does day after day is remarkable really. He knows himself that he let in a few tonight that were unlike him, but you can’t ask him to stop everything.”
Miron made 24 saves while picking up the victory for the Eskimos, while Cormier turned aside 29 shots while suffering the loss.
The North Bay coach also had praise for veteran forward Duane Wainman, who played his final regular season game in a Trappers uniform.
“He put his heart of the line and didn’t give up,” Neily said.