KIRKLAND LAKE – The Abitibi Eskimos failed to translate a strong first period into a victory at the Joe Mavrinac Community Centre Friday night.
The Eskimos dominated the first 20 minutes of the home-and-home series with the Gold Miners, but Kirkland Lake skated off with a 4-2 victory.
The Gold Miners struck first, when Ethan Strong drilled a wrist shot high over the shoulder of Abitibi goaltender Marc Audet with 3:48 to play in the opening frame.
The Eskimos got back on even terms just over a minute later, however, as Dustin Jesseau scored his first goal in his first game in the Abitibi lineup.
Jesseau, an Aurora, Ont., native, was picked up from the Weeks Crushers, of the MJAHL.
“You can tell he’s got a lot of skills,” said Eskimos coach and GM Paul Gagne.
“It’s nice to see. “
The Eskimos were not able to carry any momentum from their strong opening frame into the second period of play, as the Gold Miners struck for a pair of goals to take a 3-1 lead heading into the third period.
“We couldn’t carry the momentum because we got goals against that shouldn’t have been,” Gagne said.
“We are working hard and then we turn around and we get a shot from somewhere and it’s a goal. If there’s a mistake, there’s a goal.
“And we didn’t cause too many mistakes. I would say three mistakes tonight and it cost us three goals.
“That’s the difference in the game. It really is.”
Connor McNally got the ball rolling for the home side when he beat Audet with 12:18 remaining in the middle frame.
Kyle Bishop made it 3-1 eight minutes later, when scored on a setup from McNally.
One of the Eskimos that impressed Gagne during Friday night’s loss was defenceman Kevin Walker.
“He’s good defensively,” he said.
“He plays the body. He moves the puck well. When he gets involved like that he doesn’t have to try and do everything, just play the system, play the program.
“He does his job and, you know what, Marc Cashmore (Eskimos assistant coach) plays him regularly and he even gets some power-play time sometimes.”
Walker has taken advantage of that ice time to become a rock on the Eskimos blue line.
“We had a little bit of a downfall in the second period, but we really picked it up in the third period,” he said.
“We finished strong. Everybody was doing their assignments, doing their jobs and just trying to come up with extra goals to get the W.
“We had a lot of bounces that didn’t go our way. A few of those little bounces, if they had gone our way, would have helped … if we would have put them in.”
Eric Martineau’s power-play goal with 7:01 to play in the third period cut the lead to 3-2 and gave the visitors some hope.
McNally’s second goal of the game, that beat Audet high on the blocker side on a breakaway with 3:44 remaining crushed that hope, however.
“He’s pretty feisty, but what we have to do is start sticking to our program and shutting guys like him down,” Walker said.
Chris Komma was solid in the Kirkland Lake net, stopping 23 of the 25 shots he faced, while Audet made 34 saves while taking the loss for the Eskimos.
Walker feels the rivalry between the Eskimos and the Gold Miners is a natural.
“Especially since we play them quite a bit and and it’s so close to home,” he said. “It’s really tough games when we play them.
“The game plan (Saturday night) is just to stick to what we were doing in the third … get lots of shots on net, drive to the net and do our assignments.”
Eskimos notes: The Eskimos will be without the services of Jesseau and defenceman Bryce Robert for Saturday’s second half of the home-and-home series at the Jus Jordan Arena. Jesseau was ejected from Friday night’s game for checking from behind, after slamming a Gold Miner into the boards, while Robert received an instigating penalty for starting a fight after taking exception to the way the Gold Miners Gordie Sinclair took one of his teammates into the boards. “He hit one of our players, Ryan Kerr, from behind and I didn’t like that,” Robert said. “I just wanted to tell him not to do that anymore and one thing led to the other.” Robert had a bag of ice on his left hand after the game, but he does not expect it to slow him down … The Eskimos will, however, have forwards Ben Miller and Peter Poulin-Roy back in the lineup Saturday. They were suspended after getting involved in fights late in the third period of the third game of last weekend’s three game road trip in Sault Ste. Marie … Forward Ryan WIldman also made his debut as an Eskimo during Friday night’s game in Kirkland Lake. Wildman is a Timmins native, who most recently had been playing for the Fort Frances Lakers, of the SIJHL … The Eskimos also have another forward in camp who has yet to suit up with the squad. Hudson, N.H., native Philip Sweeney was acquired from Swan Valley, of the MJHL.