IROQUOIS FALLS - The Abitibi Eskimos hopes of finishing third in the NOJHL standings were dealt another severe blow by the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners Monday night at the Jus Jordan Arena.
One night after the Gold Miners dumped the Eskimos 4-1 in Kirkland Lake, they travelled to Iroquois Falls and handed their hosts a 4-2 setback.
Like Sunday night’s game, the contest played at the Jus Jordan Arena was much closer than the final score would indicate.
“It’s not going to be easy (to catch the Espanola Rivermen),” said Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“It’s in their hands now, but I like the way we played both games.
“Obviously the 9-6 game (Saturday’s victory over the Rivermen) we didn’t like the way we played. It was just chaos out there, but I really did like the way we played (Sunday and Monday).
“It’s unfortunate. We made mistakes and they were costly, but to play against a good team like they are, well disciplined, we had our opportunities, we had power plays, especially in the second period.
“We had it going. We had a lot of shots on net and we were creating a lot of chances in front of the net, we had good rebounds.”
Playing three games in three nights — two of them against the second place team in the NOJHL standings —was even more challenging given the talent the Eskimos had sitting in the stands.
Forwards Brady Clouthier, Landon Hiebert and Shane Hiley all missed Monday night’s game, as did one of the team’s top defensive defencemen, Steven Pettite.
“I don’t want to make excuses,” Gagne said.
“We competed tonight and the players who substituted for the injured players did an excellent job and we are proud of them, for sure.”
The Gold Miners struck first Monday night, with Austin Rust beating Eskimos goalie Brody Wagner seven minutes into the opening frame for his 32nd goal of the season.
The Eskimos battled back, however and Brenden Locke notched his 26th goal of the season to tie the score at 1-1 heading into the first intermission.
Samuel Wilbur’s goal, his 25th of the season, put the Gold Mines back in front 8:55 into the second period.
That would prove to be the only goal of the middle frame.
It took Andrew Green just 22 seconds into the third period to get the Eskimos back on even terms, as he buried a cross-crease feed for his 11th goal of the season.
It didn’t take the Gold Miners long to retake the lead, however, as Everett Thompson netted his 20th goal of the season just 1:25 after Green had tied it.
The Eskimos kept battling in hopes of equalizing the game again, but Rust’s second goal of the game and 33rd of the season took the wind out of their sails with just 4:52 remaining in regulation.
Gold Miners captain Dan Morin was pleased to see Kirkland Lake win back-to-back games against the Eskimos.
“We really wanted to win our battles up by the red line,” he said.
“They like to do the stretch run and gun game, so we shut that down and we were really focusing on winning the battles and getting the puck deep from the red line in to their zone.
“(Erik) Robichaud is one of the guys you have to pay attention to. They have a couple of slippery guys there who can really get around you if you are not careful. We have a good D corps though and I think we took care of them pretty good tonight.”
Morin deliver a solid, clean body check at the Kirkland Lake blue line that jarred the Eskimos forward pretty good.
“I was out for about a month and I have just been able to get back in and use a little of the energy I had stored up for a little while to throw some hits like that,” he said.
“I lined him up good and I was lucky enough to catch a guy like Robichaud off guard and hit him good.
“He is pretty hard to set up, but I was happy with that hit for sure.”
Morin is pretty confident that the Gold Miners will be able to carry the momentum from a strong regular season that will see them finish second in the standings into the playoffs.
“We are a real tight knit group and we are starting to roll a little bit here, so we just have to focus on what our coach (Marc Lafleur) has for us. If we all buy into it, I think we should have a really good run.”
Eskimos rookie defenceman Jamey Lauzon got to see first hand just how persistent the Gold Miners can be on offence.
“In our defensive zone they are really aggressive,” he said.
“All of our defencemen did a good job to get the puck out tonight. That’s why it was such a close game. Our goalie played a good game, so we were just trying to get it out high off the glass and everything was working out pretty good for us, but it was a tough loss.”
Lauzon manned the point on a number of Eskimos power-play opportunities and it is a role he relishes.
“I like being on the power play, especially on the point because you get a lot of opportunities to take some shots on net.
“Tonight all our forwards were really doing their jobs in front of the net. They were all crashing the net. That is why we had some good chances on the rebounds.”
The Eskimos managed to control the play fairly well on the power play once they gained the offensive zone, but they were only able to convert one of the seven opportunities they had.
The Gold Miners, meanwhile, were 1-4 win the man advantage.
Kirkland Lake goalie Kenny Fitzgerald made 29 saves while recording the victory and Wagner blocked 35 shots for the Eskimos while suffering the loss.
The Eskimos close out their regular season on Saturday when they host the North Bay Trappers at the Jus Jordan Arena and Gagne is hoping that they can close out the campaign on a winning note and carry some momentum over into the playoffs.
“That is what we brought into the room after tonight’s game,” he said.
“We have got the day off tomorrow. Normally we do have practice, but we are going to take the day off to just recuperate and get ready for North Bay.
“That’s all we can do right now. We have to play that next game and win that next game.”