KIRKLAND LAKE - The Abitibi Eskimos learned the hard way Wednesday night that you have to play 60 minutes to win hockey games.
The Gold Miners scored four unanswered goals in a span of 12:06 during the second period at the Joe Mavrinac Community Complex en route to a 5-1 victory, to drive home that point for the visitors.
“The second period, we didn’t show anything at all,” said Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“Our strength is supposed to be in the back end, but we stunk the place out in the second period.
“We didn’t compete. We didn’t move the puck up to the forwards. We were terrible.
“Then in the third period, we competed. We started to take the checks. We started getting involved. We were moving the puck. We had some opportunities, but they had such a great lead that it was hard to play catch-up hockey.”
Gagne would not say exactly what he told his players between the second and third periods, but it is safe to say that some of the paint in the visiting dressing room may have melted off the walls.
“We had to wake up,” he said.
“You have to compete and we didn’t compete (in the second period). We didn’t do what needed to be done for assignments.
“Our egos were ahead of the game plan, they were ahead of team play. In the third period, we put that aside and just competed.
“That’s how you are going to win hockey games.
“I am not saying that we were better than them in the third period, but we competed and that is what you need to have a chance.”
Steven Babin, Charles-Ettienne Bruneau-Crete, Ryan Swain and Joel Fortin scored second-period goals to provide the Gold Miners with their winning edge.
A Ryan Kerr power-play goal had stacked the Eskimos to a 1-0 lead during the first period of play, before Jeremy Picard-Fiset got the home side back on even terms.
“I can’t give them (the Gold Miners) credit, they are a good team, but I am not going to give them credit, because we gave them the opportunities in the second period,” Gagne said.
“We gave it to them … meaning our lackadaisical play and not competing for the puck gave them all of the chances and goals against.
“If you make turnovers like that, you are playing losing hockey.”
Gold Miners coach and general manager Marc Lafleur was pleased with his team’s effort Wednesday night, although not the way they started the game.
“I thought Abitibi got off to a good start, the first three, or four minutes, which is starting to be a concern for us,” he said.
“That seems to be a tendency, since the exhibition season, we seem to be slow to come out of the gate, but after the first period, we made a adjustments.
“We killed off a few key penalties late in the first period, that I think gave us a little momentum and from there on, we played our style of game.
“Hockey is a game of momentum. When you gain it, you make sure not to lose it, because once you lose it, it is really tough to get it back.”
Babin, who collected an assist to go along with his goal, now has six points on the season, including five helpers.
“That’s his game,” Lafleur said.
“He is great on the power play. He is very opportunistic and offensively, his hockey sense is off the charts, considering the type of player he is.”
Babin is just one of many offensive weapons available to the Gold Miners, however.
“Yes, he is playing well, but there are quite a few other players who are playing well, as well.
“It (having two and some nights three lines that can score) is a good problem to have, but at the end of the day eventually what is going to happen is that players are going to identify their roles, but right now we have a balanced attack and I can’t complain.”
While the Gold Miners gave up just the one goal, Lafleur felt his squad could have been more responsible in the defensive zone.
“I thought we gave up too many chances,” he said.
“It is something where we will have to go back to video. I thought we gave up too many second opportunities, especially in close. They didn’t get the bounces. Had they gotten some of the bounces off some of their shots, it wouldn’t have been a 5-1 game.
“So, I want to go back to the video and address that issue.”
Gold Miners goalie Kenny Fitzgerald, who stopped 28 of the 29 shots the Eskimos fired his way, played another strong game to pick up the victory.
“You look at last year and he had some of the best numbers in our league,” Lafleur said.
“And he has come back with a lot of confidence. He played outstanding in the exhibition games and right now he is playing great in the regular season.”
Fitzgerald now has a goals against average of 0.50 and a saves percentage of .977, both tops in the NOJHL.
Chet Tooker, of the Eskimos, made 44 saves while taking the loss.
Among the few Eskimos who stood out, for positive reasons, Wednesday night in Gagne’s mind were converted defenceman Jamey Lauzon and rookie blue-liner Joshua DeJulio.
“Lauzon competes, he works hard,” he said.
“It was unfortunate he was assessed that penalty (a boarding call midway through the third period). It was such a beautiful hit.
“He competes whether he is playing forward, or defence.
“And I am going to emphasize again that we didn’t see young DeJulio out on the ice again tonight.
“He doesn’t make any mistakes. He just does his job. It is nice to see.
“Normally when you have mistakes, it is from first-year players, but this kid here has been stellar for the first two games of the season.
“You don’t see him out there and that is a complement for a defenceman.”
The Eskimos have one practice, Thursday night, to try and correct the things that went wrong during the second period Wednesday, before they host the Sudbury Nickel Barons at the Jus Jordan Arena Saturday night.
“The boys are going to be a little bit sour tomorrow,” Gagne said.
“This is not fun, losing hockey, this is not fun. So, we are going to work hard come up with a game plan of what needs to be done.
“They will have Friday off, to recuperate, then maybe some players will have a little morning skate.”
ESKIMOS NOTES — The status of rookie defenceman Michael Rancourt for Saturday’s game remains unclear. Rancourt suffered an upper body injury during the first period of Wednesday’s game … Forward Kyle Levis will return to the lineup Saturday after serving the one-game suspension he received for getting an instigator penalty in the 7-1 victory over Powassan last Saturday. Forward Brenden Locke will miss the game, serving the second game of his two-game suspension picked up on the same play … Forwards Blake Cudmore and Cameron Etherington made their Eskimos debuts in Kirkland Lake … The Eskimos went 1-7 on the power play Wednesday night, while the Gold Miners were 0-5 with the man advantage … Jacob Bonin and Moosonee native Khadyn Butterfly each had two goals and two assists to lead the Nickel Barons to a 7-4 win over the expansion Elliot Lake Wildcats in Wednesday night’s other NOJHL contest. Shane Woolsey had a goal and an assist for the Wildcats.