IROQUOIS FALLS - Boris Katchouk scored two goals and added two assists to lead the Soo Thunderbirds to an 8-3 win over the Abitibi Eskimos at the Jus Jordan Arena Sunday afternoon.
The victory allowed the Thunderbirds to sweep their three-game road trip through the NOJHL’s East Division, after they earned a 5-2 win over the Crunch in Cochrane Saturday night and a 4-0 victory over the Gold Miners in Cochrane Friday night.
“It was kind of a funny game,” said Thunderbirds coach Jordan Smith.
“In the first period, I felt the teams were feeling each other out a little bit and there wasn’t much pace.
“We looked fatigued. We looked tired, but I have to give our guys credit for sticking with it throughout the game.
“Abitibi is a hard team to shut down with guys like (Brady) Clouthier and (Brenden) Locke, but we are happy, obviously, to come in here today and get the win in the fashion we did.”
For the Eskimos, it was their second-straight loss — one each against the NOJHL’s two division leaders — after a streak in which they won five of six starts.
The Eskimos actually drew first blood Sunday afternoon, when Dalton Bruce scored his fourth goal of the season at the 5:46 mark of the opening period.
The Thunderbirds drew even at 1-1 prior to the end of the frame, however, on Katchouk’s first of two goals.
Katchouk’s second goal of the game, a power-play marker, put the Thunderbirds in front 2-1 but it took the Eskimos just 23 seconds to tie it up at 2-2, as Brady Clouthier netted his 37th goal of the season.
The Thunderbirds regained their one-goal lead 25 seconds later on a Jaren Bellini goal and then went in front 4-2 on a goal off the stick of defenceman David Radke.
Brenden Locke scored his 32nd goal of the season to once again cut the Thunderbirds’ lead to one goal.
That would be as close as the Eskimos would come to getting back in the game, however, as the Thunderbirds added goals from Caleb Bowman and Nicolas Sicoly before the end of the second period to increase their advantage to 6-3 heading into the final frame.
“That is something we have been working on over the last little while, is doing a better job of playing with a lead and closing teams out,” Smith said.
“We did it Friday, we did it last night and we did it here today.
“We are really proud of the way the guys stuck with the game plan.”
The Thunderbirds employed the same game plan that work so well against the Crunch at the Tim Horton Event Centre in Cochrane Saturday night.
“We try not to think about winning hockey games,” Smith said.
“We just try to execute our game plan. We feel that when we do that the winning aspect takes care of itself.”
Smith was pleased with the play of the line of Bellini, Sicoly and Katchouk Sunday afternoon.
“David Radke was solid on the back end and our goalie (Mario) Culina made some big saves, especially early on and throughout the game when we had some defensive lapses … which you are going to get during a three-game road trip,” he said.
“Culina stood tall for us and we actually got good goaltending throughout the whole weekend.”
Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne was a little disappointed his team could not come up with a better effort Sunday afternoon.
“It was the second period that hurt us,” he said.
“Our compete level was not there, except for our first line. They worked hard. They were hitting. They were backchecking. They were forechecking.
“Today, we didn’t have our other three lines doing that at the highest level.
“Those things can happen throughout the season, but they shouldn’t happen at home when the other team is playing its third game in three nights. We were only playing our second game, which is nothing.
“There is no excuse. We didn’t come out and compete.
“On the other hand, yes, we were playing against the Soo. Yes, they have a fast club. Yes, they move the puck well. They defend really well, but to have any success we have to come out and play as a team. We have to compete as a team. We have to play our program as a team and we didn’t do that.”
What did the Eskimos do well in the early stages of the game?
“Basically, we contained them in the defensive zone,” Gagne said.
“Their forechecking is relentless in the corners. If we keep them to the outside, then we are always under control.
“We made fewer turnovers, which is a positive, and the one area that we tried to work hard on was getting the puck deep behind their defenceme. Any time we did that, we were successful.
“We had chances. The puck would come to the point and we would get shots on net, something good would happen, but then we stopped doing that. We only had one line doing it and that was our No. 1 line.”
Matt Pinder added a power-play goal and Nicolas Tassone scored an even-strength goal to make the final score 8-3 in favour of the visitors.
Thunderbirds captain Anthony Miller was pleased with the outcome of his team’s three-game road trip.
“We played as a team this weekend and we came together as one,” he said.
“It was a business-like trip and we did some good work.
“Everyone is clicking. We had a little bit of a shakeup and changed up some lines, but everyone is playing a team game right now, from the goalies out to the defence and from the defence out to the forwards.
“We are just chipping in pucks, getting some good chances and finishing them off.”
Miller was part of a Thunderbirds team that excelled during the regular season last year before being knocked off by the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners in the NOJHL finals.
“We are just going to have to bear down,” he said.
“If we work hard every night I think it will pay off for us this year.
“Every team is good, right from the East Division to the West Division. It’s a balanced league.
Thunderbirds goalie Culina stopped 22 of the 25 shots he faced to earn the victory, while Eskimos goalie Chet Tooker made 33 saves and was tagged with the loss.
ESKIMOS NOTES — The Eskimos, who have six regular-season game remaining, now trail the Cochrane Crunch by five points in the NOJHL East Division standings. The Crunch have eight games remaining. Barring an unforeseen change it appears the two teams will meet in the first round of the playoffs … The Eskimos were 0-1 on the power play Sunday afternoon, while the Thunderbirds were 2-4 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the Jus Jordan Arena was 422 … The Eskimos were without the services of starting goalie Logan Ferrington (illness), defenceman Kealey Cummings (undisclosed) and forward Ryan Tront (upper-body injury) … The Eskimos will travel to Powassan for a game with the Voodoos Saturday night and to Mattawa for a game with the Blackhawks Sunday afternoon.