IROQUOIS FALLS - Eric Hillock’s goal 3:43 into overtime gave the Soo Thunderbirds a 3-2 win over the Abitibi Eskimos at the Jus Jordan Arena Saturday night.
“The puck went into the corner and I was actually looking for Anthony Miller backdoor, but I kind of just brought it around the net and tucked it short side underneath his blocker,” Hillock said.
“I try to go low blocker a lot. I was just trying to put it towards the net and get a rebound, but it just kind of went in for me.”
The victory allowed the Thunderbirds to avoid a second three-game winless streak following a loss on home ice to the Gold Miners that snapped their 25-game winning streak and a 3-3 tie in Kirkland Lake Friday night.
“Oh man, it was huge,” Hillock said.
“It sucks losing three in a row. It kills your momentum. So to get this win is a great feeling for the team.”
Eskimos assistant coach Dan Dube was disappointed to see his team allow an important point to slip away, but was pleased with the overall effort against one of the top junior hockey teams in Canada.
“You know what, that was a great hockey game,” he said.
“It was a high temp game and we were ready for it. I would kind of compare it to the last Canada vs U.S. game (at the Olympics).
“It was fast paced, back and forth hockey. It was hard hitting.
“You can’t even give these guys (the Thunderbirds) an inch because they have a great hockey club.
“I thought we did well. We were with them the whole game. The only thing we lost tonight was the one point, which is kind of unfortunate but that’s hockey.
“We were expecting they were going to come out hard after yesterday’s game, so the boys were really prepared tonight.
“It is unfortunate that we did not get the victory, I thought we earned it, but you can’t make mistakes against a hockey club like the Soo.”
Thunderbirds coach Jordan Smith was pleased to see his team pick up three of a possible four points during the first two games of their current three-game road trip.
“They were two very tough games,” he said.
“They were definitely playoff-style hockey games. There is a lot of parity in this league. Abitibi is a great team and they gave us a real good game tonight, especially without one of their key guys, Brady Clouthier.
“We are really happy and fortunate to come out with two points.
“We wanted to dictate the pace of the game. We feel that we have four solid lines that can all play and skate. I thought we did that for the first period and then we got away from it in the second, but no doubt we had a strong third and we found a way to win.”
Smith was again pleased with the play of goalie Joel Horodziejczyk.
“He is a great goalie and Brian (Kment) has done a great job for us this year, as well,” he said.
“All we ask of our goalies is to give us a chance to win and most nights Joel has done more than expected.
“We are just fortunate to come out with two points.”
Miller staked the Thunderbirds to a 1-0 lead in the first period Saturday night, as he beat Eskimos goalie Sylvain Miron from in close just 3:25 into the game.
The Eskimos were able to get back on even terms, however, when rookie centre Brenden Locke scored his 23rd goal of the season.
The home side then took a 2-1 lead in the second period of play, as Erik Robichaud beat Horodziejczyk for his 27th goal of the season.
That lead held up until the 13:23 mark of the third period.
With Eskimos forward Andrew Green in the penalty box serving a tripping penalty, Miller scored his second goal of the game to get the Thunderbirds back on even terms.
“I think we played a really good game, but we made a few mistakes and they proved costly, but we definitely showed we could compete with these guys,” Green said.
The Eskimos can take some consolation from the fact that they were able at least secure one point during Saturday’s overtime loss.
“We want third place really badly and we are working hard in practices and doing everything we can to get third place,” Green said.
With the point they gained Saturday night, the Eskimos now lead Espanola by three points in the standings, but the Rivermen have three games in hand — one of which they will play against the Beavers in Blind River Sunday afternoon.
The game almost didn’t make it to overtime, as Robichaud and fellow Eskimo Ryan Tront both had excellent scoring chances in the third period and Gavin Burbach came close to giving the Thunderbirds the win in the dying seconds of the third period.
Dube said: “Especially when it’s a 2-2 hockey game, you want to get the puck on net. You never know what can happen. I thought both goaltenders played well.
“Sylvain Miron was stellar back there. He made the key saves when he had to and just got a back break at the end, but all in all it was a great game. The fans who came to the game tonight really got their money’s worth.”
Miron made 38 saves while suffering the loss for the Eskimos and Horodziejczyk blocked 25 shots to record the victory.
The Eskimos lost forward Landon Hiebert during the second period.
He had to be assisted off the ice by two of the Eskimos trainers and was walking with a noticeable limp after the game.
The Eskimos were missing three players for Saturday night’s game — Clouthier (concussion-like symptoms), goalie Brody Wagner (fractured foot) and defenceman Steven Petitte (lower body).
Next up for the Eskimos will be a game against the Rivermen at the Jus Jordan Arena on Saturday.
Game time is 7:30 p.m.