COCHRANE - The Abitibi Eskimos’ Killer B’s stung the Crunch Friday night at the Tim Horton Event Centre.
Brady Clouthier, Brenden Locke and Brennan Roy combined for 12 points while leading the Eskimos to a 7-3 romp that pulled them to within two points of the Crunch, who currently hold second place in the NOJHL’s East Division.
“Playing with those two (Locke and Roy) is really easy,” Clouthier said.
“They are really smart hockey players. Whenever you get the puck you always have an option.”
Clouthier, who is now tied for second place in the NOJHL scoring race with Steve Harland of the Powassan Voodoos, realizes just how big Friday night’s win was with the playoffs so close at hand.
“We were talking in the room tonight that this was a statement game, cutting into the playoffs.” he said.
“It is going to be a good series.”
The Eskimos and the Crunch will meet in the first round of the playoffs, with only home ice advantage to be determined in the final weeks of the regular season.
At this time of year, team success trumps individual glory and Clouthier is firmly focused on the Eskimos catching the Crunch as opposed to him winning an NOJHL scoring championship in his final season of Junior ‘A’ hockey — even with current NOJHL scoring leader Cody Gratton sidelined for the rest of the regular season because of a six-game suspension he picked up as a result of the match penalty he was assessed for spearing at the end of the first period of Thursday night’s 4-2 loss to the Elliot Lake Wildcats.
“I heard about that spear, but I try not to think about it (winning the scoring title),” Clouthier said.
“Obviously, the thought crosses my mind but I just try to focus on getting goals to help us win.”
Harland and Clouthier each have 85 points following Friday night’s game, two back of Gratton’s 87.
The Eskimos jumped out to an early 1-0 lead when Locke beat Crunch starting goalie Brett Young 21 seconds into the first period for his 36th goal of the season.
Captain Kevin Walker then netted his seventh goal of the season to extend the Eskimos’ lead to 2-0.
“It is always important to get that first goal of the game and get momentum on your side,” said Eskimos assistant coach and general manager Dan Dube.
“Then we just made sure in the second period that we came out strong. We won the first period, so we figured if we could win the second period we would like our chances.
“The guys played the program tonight and we were happy to get the two points. It is a big two points at this time of the season and against this team.”
Dube was once again impressed with the play of his team’s first line, the Killer Bs.
“They are strong and they move the puck really well,” he said.
“They know how to find each other out there and they are starting to gel. It took them a little bit of time but after a couple of games they started gelling.
“It is nice to see and we are happy those guys are putting points up there.”
The Eskimos played their program to near perfection Friday night and stuck to the game plan.
“It was just a matter of being patient,” Dube said.
“We just had to wait for our opportunities. We know they like that stretch pass, so we wanted to take that stretch pass away from them.
“We also wanted to make sure we got shots on net and that we crashed the net. Guys were getting tips on shots and getting those backdoor goals. That was key to our success, for sure.”
Dylan Saktach beat Eskimos goalie Logan Farrington with a power-play goal, his second of the season, to get the Crunch on the board before the end of the first period and send the teams to the dressing room with the Eskimos up 2-1.
Dustin Cordeiro got the Crunch back on even terms less than five minutes into the second period, when he scored his 42nd goal of the season.
The Eskimos stormed back in front, however, with a pair of goals 38 seconds apart less than two minutes after Cordeiro’s goal.
Clouthier scored his 38th goal of the season to make it a 3-2 hockey game and then defenceman Joe Olson scored his third goal of the season to extend the Eskimos’ lead to two goals.
Those goals seemed to deflate the Crunch.
“Their first goal of the game was a weak shot from the blue-line that should never have gone in in this league,” said Crunch coach, general manager and owner Ryan Leonard.
“That really deflates a hockey team. We were already down, being without our leading scorer. It wasn’t even a scoring opportunity. It was just a shot on net.
“We managed to battle and claw our way back in and we made it 2-2 and then we made some mistakes.
“It was 2-2 and the next shift they have their top line out and I put my No. 5 and No. 6 D pairing on the ice and Clouthier went all the way down and our D was still standing there with their sticks on the ice and he went right by them and put it in. That’s a coaching mistake on our part.
“That was the turning point of the game. They got another quick one 35 or 40 seconds later the same way on the opposite side and it deflated the whole hockey team.”
Leonard feels the bounces have just not been going his team’s way the past couple of games and you might even argue the bounces were going the Wildcats’ way Thursday night and the Eskimos’ way Friday night.
“We are getting all kinds of opportunities, but the bounces just aren’t going our way,” he said.
“They are all going against us. It’s frustrating. What do you do?
“I can’t say it was a lack of effort tonight. Maybe towards the end, the last five minutes, we gave up a bit, once they went up 6-2.
“Everything is just going against us.”
Roy added his 28th goal late in the second period to increase the Eskimos’ lead to 5-2.
The normally steady Young received the hook following Roy’s goal, with Ben Auger coming on to finish the game in net for the Crunch.
Clouthier’s second goal of the game and 39th of the season, a power-play marker, scored midway through the third period put the Eskimos in front 6-2.
Cochrane fans finally got something to celebrate when Ian Skinner drilled a shot into the Eskimos’ net high over the shoulder of Ferrington, for his fourth goal of the season a little while later.
The Eskimos added insult to injury less than two minutes later, however, when Jake Holland scored his 17th goal of the season to make the final 7-3 in favour of the Eskimos.
Ferrington made 38 saves to pick up the victory for the Eskimos, while Young mad 20 stops and was tagged with the loss. Auger turned aside 10 shots in relief of Young.
NOJHL NOTES — The Eskimos went 1-6 on the power play, while the Crunch were 1-4 with the man advantage … Eskimos defenceman Michael Rancourt was ejected from the game after picking up a checking-from-behind penalty in the first period … Official attendance was 529 … The Eskimos will return home to play the Wildcats at the Jus Jordan Arena on Saturday, starting at 7:30 p.m. … The Wildcats got shutout goaltending from A.J. Smith and blanked the Gold Miners 1-0 in Kirkland Lake Friday night. Cole Hepler had the game-winning goal … The Crunch will travel to Sudbury on Wednesday night for a game with the Nickel Barons.