COCHRANE - Chet Tooker make 46 saves to lead the Abitibi Eskimos to a 4-2 win over the Crunch in Game 3 of their NOJHL East Division semifinal series at the Tim Horton Event Centre Monday night.
“My defence were clearing the lanes so I could see the puck,” he said.
“If I can see every puck, that’s all the game. It is when I can’t see them that they tend to trickle in.”
Tooker is normally one of the quietest players on the Eskimos roster, but he was screaming from the top of his lungs and pumping his goalie stick in the air as he led his teammates off the ice after the final buzzer had sounded.
“When the buzzer went, I was in awe,” he said.
“I couldn’t think, I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t do anything. I was just so excited that we had won the game and that Lockey (Brenden Locke) and (captain Kevin) Walker had gotten those goals.
“I couldn’t believe it. I was just so proud of the guys. Everyone worked so hard and we needed that win, especially coming off that overtime loss.”
Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne was more than pleased with the play of Tooker Monday night.
“Chet Tooker was incredible,” he said.
“He made some saves tonight that were spectacular. You just can’t describe them, he was just incredible.
“He was way up on top of that blue area (crease) all the time and challenging the shooters. He got hit a couple of times by their players. He got hit a number of times, but that is the way you have to play goal and he did it.”
Gagne was just as emotional as his players when the final buzzer sounded.
“It was satisfying, it really was,” he said.
“Tonight, we had heart and we had skills. It is not easy coming in down 2-0. Our morale after the last game was down.”
That quickly changed once the puck dropped for the first period, however.
“That first period was out best period of the series and it carried on,” Gagne said.
“The way we played that period was 100% better than the way we had played the last two games.
“We had everybody competing. It was awesome.”
With less than five minutes remaining in the third period, the Eskimos trailed 2-1 and appeared on their way to being down 3-0 in the best-of-seven series.
But Walker, who started the game on the blue-line and then moved into Brady Clouthier’s spot on the wing of the Killers Bs line, took a feed from Brennan Roy and drilled a wrist shot past Crunch goalie Brett Young to tie the game at 2-2 at the 15:27 mark.
“He is just another player who competes every night,” Gagne said.
“You can put him at forward. You can put him on defence. He was excellent tonight.”
The soft-spoken captain was just happy to get an opportunity to contribute.
“We just wanted to get the puck deep in their zone and work it around, make something happen,” Walker said.
“I can’t take much credit for it. Roy just got it to me and I put it in the net. He is a pretty good hockey player and he has good vision.”
Walker played up front for a number of games during the regular season, but on most of those occasions he started out playing the position and did not make the switch during the game.
When you are playing up front, “ you are skating a lot more,” he said.
“You are always going 100 miles an hour and you can throw the body around and make stuff happen.”
As captain of the Eskimos, Walker realizes just how big it was for his team to get the victory Monday night.
“It was huge,” he said.
“We talked about it before the game. This was the biggest game of the season. We said that everybody had to go out there every shift and give everything they had and I think that is what we did tonight and we came out on top.”
Clouthier’s spot on the line had come open after he was assessed a two-minute minor penalty for checking from behind and a game misconduct midway through the period.
With overtime looming, the third member of the Killer Bs —Locke — netted the game winning goal less than a minute-and-a-half after Walker had tied things up.
The Crunch had an excellent opportunity to tie things up and force overtime, as Eskimos forward Ryan Tront was assessed a five-minute major penalty for checking from behind and a game misconduct with 1:35 remaining in regulation.
Crunch coach and general manager Ryan Leonard opted to pull Young in favour of an extra attacker to create a two-man advantage for his squad.
The move almost worked, as Cochrane forward Dustin Cordeiro — one of the hottest players in the playoffs — walked out from the corner and tried to stuff the puck past Tooker.
Cordeiro lost control of the puck at the last second, however, and Tooker swiped the puck away from the front of his net with his goalie stick.
The puck went to Locke and he banked it off the boards, down the ice and into the wide open Crunch net to make the final score 4-2 in favour of the visitors.
Tooker received the only assist on the play, demonstrating that his offensive game was almost as impressive as his defensive effort.
After a scoreless first period, the Crunch jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a goal from Stavros Soilis midway through the second period.
Clouthier tied things up late in the frame, however, when he scored a power-play goal.
Henry Berger then put the home side back in front by a goal eight minutes into the final period, setting the stage for Walker’s heroics.
Leonard was happy to see players like Soilis and Berger contributing, but he is still not pleased with the lack of offence in the series from his No. 1 line of Cody Gratton, Josh Racek and Daniel Stagg.
“Our top guys didn’t show up to play, as you can see,” he said.
“Again, our third-line guys got the goals. Soilis was playing with (Dylan) Sakatch and (Jason) Berube. They got the first one and Berger got one, which is good, but he is playing on our second line.
“We are still getting no production from Gratton, Racek and Stagg. Racek got a lucky tip the other night and he has scored one goal in the three games but that is all we have gotten from our first line this whole series.
“I don’t think their focus is there right now. Their (Eskimos) first line of Locke, Clouthier and Roy, you know they are on the ice every shift.
“Right now we are playing with a second and third line that are carrying a lot of energy and getting things done, but our first line hasn’t shown up for the playoffs yet.
“Even our fourth line, with (Alex) Goulet, (Ryan) Fletcher and (Ian) Skinner, even though they only had about seven shifts, gave us energy all night when they did get a shift.”
What do the Crunch have to do to get back on track for Game 4 Wednesday night in Iroquois Falls?
“We have to get back to what we were doing in Game 1 and Game 2, but I think some lines have got to change and some guys have got to take some reality checks and get focused here,” Leonard said.
“The focus needs to be there for this team to win, because right now our second, third and fourth lines, our D and our goalie have all be stepping up to the plate and doing their jobs.
“The guys who are supposed to be getting the job done haven’t stepped up to the plate yet.”
Leonard was pleased with the play of Young in his net and impressed by the continued strong play of Tooker.
“Brett was a backbone out there for us tonight,” he said.
“He did a good job back there. You can’t blame him for any of the goals tonight.
“We have to go back and look at the tape of the second period. There were about five minutes there where Chet Tooker robbed us point blank about nine times. We could have easily been up 6-0 or 7-0, but he stole the show and they fed off his momentum.”
Tooker made 46 saves to earn the victory for the Eskimos, while Young turned aside 33 shots and was tagged with the loss.
NOJHL NOTES — The Crunch went 0-6 on the power play, while the Eskimos were 1-5 with the man advantage … Leonard confirmed after the game that defenceman Connor Lovie, who was hurt in Game 1 of the series, is likely out for the season with an ankle injury … Official attendance Monday night at the Tim Horton Event Centre was 540 … Game 4 in the series will be played Wednesday night at the Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls … Monday night’s only other game saw the Elliot Lake Wildcats blank the Sudbury Nickel Barons 8-0. The Nickel Barons still lead that series 2-1.