ELLIOT LAKE - Ryan Tront scored two goals and added a pair of assists to lead the Abitibi Eskimos to a 6-2 win over the Elliot Lake Bobcats at the Centennial Arena Friday night.
The victory evens their NOJHL best-of-seven quarter-final series at 2-2 heading back to Iroquois Falls for Game 4 at the Jus Jordan Arena Sunday night.
“The difference in this game (over Thursday’s 7-1 loss in Game 3) was that our compete level wass 100% better,” said Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“And the reason for it was that we were shooting the puck. When you shoot the puck good things will happen.
“It was the key to give us life, to give us momentum.
“We put the puck on net and we drove to the net. We had deflection goals, we had rebounds, great power-play goals. Why? Because we were shooting the puck, that’s why.
“In hockey, it is no secret, get it on net and good things will happen.”
In addition to increasing the number of shots they were taking, the Eskimos also cut down on the number of shots they were letting the Bobcats get off.
“They like to shoot from all over the place,” Gagne said.
“So we played more in the neutral zone and the offensive zone than we did in our defensive zone, so obviously they were going to get fewer shots.
“We had a good cycle going. We got the puck in deep and we had fewer turnovers in the neutral zone.
“We did a better job of forechecking and we let them make the mistakes and then we buried our chances.”
Bobcats coach, general manager and owner Ryan Leonard was not a happy camper following Game 4.
“We didn’t show up to play tonight,” he said.
“They beat us at our own game tonight. They got to the pucks first. Their goaltender stood on his head. They outplayed us at every position tonight, from the net to up front.
“They were ready and we weren’t.”
Leonard didn’t mince his words in describing what went wrong for the Bobcats.
“It was 1-1 and we took an undisciplined, stupid roughing penalty after the whistle right in front of the referee,” he said.
“That made it 2-1 and then in the second period we put all kinds of pressure on them for about seven minutes and then they come in and take a wrist shot from the blue line, no screen, nothing and I don’t know how it went in the net.
“That just deflated the hockey club. That was it. As soon as that happened, they scored three goals in like two minutes.”
While the Bobcats victory on Thursday was a total team effort, there were few Elliot Lake players on Friday whose efforts pleased Leonard.
“From the net, right up to our forwards, nobody showed up to play tonight,” he said.
“It was one of those games where nobody wanted to play and everybody wanted to chirp. Nobody wanted to do the job and get it done.
“Hopefully, we will learn from it, because if we continue to play like we did tonight we will be out of here on Monday night.
“We can’t play like that in the playoffs.
“We have got to try to figure out a way to play hockey and stick to playing hockey. If we do that, we will be fine. Everybody needs to be focused and ready to play. Tonight we weren’t ready. It was like a regular-season game for some of these guys, like exhibition season. There was no effort tonight.
“It is pretty sad when in your own barn you don’t get any effort and play like that.”
Brady Clouthier also had a pair of goals for the Eskimos who scored five-straight goals to chase Bobcats goalie Alex Bitsakis after they had spotted the home side to a 1-0 lead.
Torrin Grange beat Eskimos goalie Sylvain Miron 7:49 into the first period.
Clouthier’s first goal and a power-play market by Erik Robichaud put the Eskimos in front 2-1 before the end of the first period, however.
“Clouthier was going down on the left side and the puck was scrambling, a little bit of a knuckle ball and (Ryan) Wildman just tapped it over, almost like a baseball swing,” Gagne said.
“He swung at it and the puck went right on his stick and he shot the puck and scored.”
Clouthier’s first goal came less than a minute after Grange had put the Bobcats in front 1-0.
“It gave us back the momentum,” Gagne said.
“Then Robichaud scored on the power play, a beautiful shot from the slot area. Normally he would try to pass it, but he took the shot. He has such a good shot and he buried it.
“So, all of a sudden it was game on. We had momentum and we kept going at them.”
The Eskimos struck for three-straight goals in the second period — including markers from Clouthier and Brenden Locke 48 seconds apart — to chase Bitsakis.
Tront’s power-play goal, his first of two on the night, proved to be the final straw.
Matt Young came on in relief of Bitsakis and held the Eskimos off the scoreboard for the remainder of the period.
“Tront had a little bit more zip behind him tonight, compared to last night,” Gagne said.
“When you get assists on the first couple of goals you feel better about yourself and then he scored the fifth and sixth goals.
“He got involved and he was compensated for it.”
And it looked like the Bobcats had a little momentum, as defenceman Max Glashauser netted a power-play goal before the end of the frame, to send the home side to the dressing room trailing 5-2 after 40 minutes.
That momentum did not carry over into the final frame, however, and Tront’s second power-play goal of the night made the final 6-2 in favour of the visitors.
Gagne was pleased with how well the Eskimos played defensively in Game 4, as well.
“The offence comes natural, but you have got to work hard on the defence,” he said.
“We competed better and we got more opportunities because of it and we buried them.”
Miron stopped 30 of the 32 shots he faced to pick up the win.
“Sylvain had a great game,” Gagne said.
“The word is great. Tonight he made some great glove saves. They were shooting high on him and he was taking care of business. He was controlling his rebounds and our defencemen were there if there were any rebounds.
“He did an excellent job. He saw the puck well all night.”
Bitsakis, who was tagged with the loss, turned aside 18 of the 23 shots the Eskimos fire at him before he was yanked from the net. Young stopped all 14 of the 15 shots he faced in relief.
The Eskimos went 3-4 on the power play, while the Bobcats were 1-6 with the man advantage.
Game 4 will be played at the Jus Jordan Arena Sunday, at 7:30 p.m.