TIMMINS - The battle for second place in the NOJHL’s East Division standings will go down to the final regular season game Saturday night.
Ryan Attwood’s goal with point 6 seconds to play in the first overtime period lifted the Abitibi Eskimos to a 5-4 win over the Sudbury Nickel Barons at the Archie Dillon Sportsplex Friday night.
That result, combined with a 6-1 win by Cochrane over the Mattawa Blackhawks at the Tim Horton Event Centre, leaves the Eskimos and the Crunch tied with 58 points — although the tie-breaker, most wins, would go to Cochrane since the Crunch have one more victory than the Eskimos.
The Eskimos will host the Blackhawks at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls Saturday night, while the Crunch will travel to Powassan for a game with the Voodoos.
The Eskimos and the Crunch will meet in one of the East Division semifinals, with home ice in the best-of-seven series still up for grabs.
Brady Clouthier’s 40th and 41st goals of the season, the second scored on the power play, staked the Eskimos to a 2-0 first-period lead Friday night, but the Nickel Barons battled back to tie things up before the end of the frame on a pair of Christopher Rossi goals, the first coming on the power play.
Late in the opening period Sudbury defenceman Sheehan Kirkwood took Clouthier hard into the boards just inside the Nickel Barons’ blue line.
Clouthier’s linemate, Brennan Roy, took exception to the check and dropped the gloves with the Sudbury defender.
While that fight was going on Nickel Barons starting goalie Kevin Labelle and Eskimos starting netminder Logan Ferrington dropped their gloves and face masks and started throwing punches at centre ice.
Roy and Kirkwood each received five-minute fighting majors and game misconduct penalties for their part in Round 1, with Roy also getting an instigating minor and Kirkwood a checking from behind minor and an additional game misconduct to go along with his checking from behind penalty.
Labelle and Ferrington each received five-minute majors for fighting, game misconducts and minor penalties for leaving their creases.
The pair of puck stoppers are also facing additional discipline for being involved in the second fight in the same stoppage in play.
Eskimos assistant coach and general manager Dan Dube was pleased to see the Eskimos battle back secure such an important victory.
“We were winning 2-0 and then we took a bad penalty and they scored on the power play,” he said.
“That changed the momentum over to their side. After that we had a couple of brain lapses with those two incidents that happened during the same stoppage in play. That kind of hurt the morale of the team, but in the third period the guys put all the negative stuff behind them. They turned the page and moved on to positive hockey.”
Dube was at a loss to explain what might have been led to the fight between Labelle and Ferrington.
Nickel Barons coach Jason Young, on the other hand, summed up the motivation for the fight between the goalies in one word.
“Stupidity,” he said.
“Stupidity is what I am going to call it, because both of those guys are probably going to end up sitting for eight or nine games.”
Jessie Morin came on in relief for the Nickel Barons, while Chet Tooker assumed Ferrington’s duties for the Eskimos.
The score remained tied at 2-2 until late in the second period.
Jacob Bonin beat Tooker with an unassisted goal to put the Nickel Barons in front 3-2 at the 16:54 mark of the frame.
Brett Whitehead’s power-play goal 40 seconds later increased the visitors’ advantage to 4-2 heading into the final frame.
Defenceman Joe Olson, who assisted on both of Clouthier’s goals, one-timed a pass from fellow Maple Ridge, B.C., native Jake Holland past Morin from the slot for his fourth goal on the season to cut the Sudbury lead to 4-3 1:47 into the third period.
Dube was impressed with the big defenceman’s offensive touch.
“He joined the rush and made it a four-on-two and then Jake slid it over to him for the one-timer,” he said.
“The guys on the bench were really excited and we got a little bit more of an energy boost after that goal.
“That was a big key to our success.”
Then Brenden Locke netted his 38th goal of the season for the Eskimos to deadlock the score at 4-4.
Young was not happy to see the Eskimos come back in the third period, but he was pleased his team was able to take the game to overtime and earn a point.
“I tell you what, I have got five ’97s in my lineup and four ’98s, so I am not going to complain ever about how we play against a veteran-laden team,” he said.
“We are going to get some reinforcements tomorrow (Saturday).
“I kind of thought the guys played pretty good. We had a good second period, but we just ran out of steam in the third, that’s what it boils down to.”
The Nickel Barons coach was pleased with the effort of a number of his players Friday night.
“I really liked the play of Jacob Bonin, I really liked Joel Lemay and Eric Paquette, who is a midget player, played pretty well for us, Brett Whitehead, I thought, played well,” Young said.
“Besides that, I really didn’t like many of my defencemen tonight. I only had five in the last half of the game or the last three-quarters of the game and there were at least four of them that I didn’t like their game.”
Neither team could find the go-ahead goal in regulation, but the Nickel Barons had an excellent opportunity 1:41 into the first overtime period when Locke was assessed a minor penalty for illegal equipment.
Sudbury was not able to score on the power play, however, and the score remained tied with the final seconds ticking off the clock.
The Nickel Barons had the puck behind their net and Young was screaming at his defenceman to hold the puck there and let time expire.
The defender either did not hear his coach or chose to ignore his instructions, however, and he lost the puck as he attempted to move it out of the zone.
“Obviously I think he didn’t hear me,” Young said.
“It doesn’t help when you lose a defenceman (Whitehead) early in the game like that. Guys were playing a lot of minutes and the first thing to go is your head when you get tired, so I am going to chalk it up to maybe being a little bit tired and not thinking straight.
“It is what it is and we got a point.”
Attwood pounced on the loose puck and drilled a wrist shot past Morin on the goalie’s glove side for his 14th goal of the season.
“I was surprised he tried to move it out,” Attwood said.
“Clouthier and (Kevin) Walker were pressuring their defence hard and the puck just happened to bounce towards me.
“I was thinking in the back of my mind ‘shoot low,’ because I remember (Josh) DeJulio was telling me beforehand to just put it over his pad, so I shot it low and it went in.”
Attwood knew time was running out, but he had no idea how many seconds were left on the clock when he pulled the trigger.
The forward feels the key to the Eskimos comeback was getting back to the game plan that they had strayed away from a little earlier in the game.
“We started to get pucks deep again,” Attwood said.
“We weren’t doing that in the first and second periods. That’s all we had to do, was start to get the pucks deep again and then work it down low.”
Tooker stopped 49 of the 51 shots he faced in relief of Ferrington to pick up the victory for the Eskimos.
Morin made 43 saves after coming in for Labelle and was tagged with the loss.
ESKIMOS NOTES — Friday night’s victory gives the Eskimos a perfect record of 5-0-0-0 in their five games played in Timmins during the 2014-15 season … The Eskimos went 1-5 on the power play, while the Nickel Barons were 2-5 with the man advantage …The Eskimos healthy scratches Friday night were Blake Cudmore and Kyle Levis … The Eskimos play their final regular season game at the Jus Jordan Arena Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. when they entertain the Blackhawks.