ELLIOT LAKE - Landon Hiebert’s goal 7:30 into the first overtime period lifted the Abitibi Eskimos to a 3-2 win over the Elliot Lake Bobcats in Game 6 of their best-of-seven NOJHL quarter-final series Monday night.
“It was a little bit of a nail bitter,” said Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“Both teams played really well. It was a great game to watch.”
Facing elimination, the Eskimos fell behind 1-0 in the first period, as Aviv Milner put the home side in front.
The Eskimos fought back to tie the score 1-1 before the end of the period, however, on a Kevin Walker goal.
Neither team could find the back of the net in the second period, but the Eskimos appeared to have the game won late in the third period when Brenden Locke scored with 1:42 to play in regulation.
The Bobcats, like most felines, had a few lives yet to live, however, and Dustin Cordeiro tied it up with 49 seconds to play, setting the stage for Hiebert’s heroics.
“We definitely had the momentum going when we scored to make it 2-1,” Gagne said.
“And then the next thing you know they pulled their goalie and we lost the faceoff and they took a shot on net and it went in and tied the game — again.
“It is a couple of times that they have done that now.
“Our objective is to not have the faceoff in our defensive zone when they pull their goalie, but that is what happened. It shouldn’t have happened. We shouldn’t have had a faceoff in our defensive zone. We should have got the puck out, end of story.
“But they tied the game. We had a power play the last few seconds of the third period and then we went into overtime on the power play, but that didn’t work out.
“We had our opportunities, but then Mr., and I say Mr., Hiebert did a beautiful toe drag in the slot area and put it low glove side. It was a beautiful goal.”
Like Game 5, Monday night’s contest was a roller coaster of emotions.
“It was a downer when they tied the game, we were not too happy about the situation, but that overtime goal lifted our morale and we are going back to Iroquois Falls for Game 7,” Gagne said.
“Now we have to take advantage of our home-ice advantage. We need to put on a good show for Wednesday.”
The road team has actually been more successful to this point in the series, with both the Eskimos and the Bobcats gaining two victories in three games in their opponent’s building.
Eskimos goalie Brody Wagner made 52 saves to earn the win, while Alex Bitsakis, of the Bobcats, turned aside 50 shots to suffer the loss.
“I have to give credit to both goalies,” Gagne said.
“They got a lot of shots from the exterior, again and Mr. Wagner, a couple of times, made big saves that he had to make.
“I thought our shots (on their goalie) were better quality shots though and we were happy with that. Even though we got 54 shots against, we know they shoot from all over the place, so he (Wagner) was worked, but I don’t think he was worked as hard as their goaltender.”
Bobcats coach, general manager and owner Ryan Leonard felt Monday night’s game was very similar to Game 5 in Iroquois Falls.
“It was the exact same kind of game that you saw last night,” he said.
“Both teams went hard up and down the ice, played hard and either team could have won the hockey game.
“It shows how even both teams are. Tonight they got the break, while last night we got the break.
“We had a bunch of pressure in their zone and they came down on a little two-on-one and snuck one through the goaltender.”
Like Gagne, Leonard was impressed with the play of both goaltenders.
“Both goaltenders played well,” he said.
“It was a goaltenders’ game, for sure.”
To this point in the series, both teams have had difficulty carrying momentum from one game to the next and Leonard is hoping that trend continues into Game 7.
“We have just got to re-focus,” he said.
“We have a whole day to relax and then come back focused and re-energized for Game 7.”
Prior to the first puck drop in Game 1 of the series Leonard predicted that the series could go the distance and his observation has proven quite accurate.
Neither the Eskimos, nor the Bobcats had any fresh injury concerns to report following Game 6.
The Bobcats will be without defenceman Bryan McFarlane for the remainder of the playoffs, after he was injured in Game 4.
The Eskimos, meanwhile, will be without the services of defenceman Kealey Cummings, who was suspended following an incident at the end of Game 2.
Game 7 of the series will be played Wednesday at the Jus Jordan Arena, with the winner moving on to face the Soo Thunderbirds in Round 2 of the playoffs.
Game time is 7:30 p.m.