IROQUOIS FALLS - All the Abitibi Eskimos want for Christmas is an end to their current three-game losing streak.
Tristen Hazlett scored three goals to lead the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners to an 8-3 win over the Eskimos at the Jus Jordan Arena Saturday night, handing the squad its fifth loss in the past six games.
“We had a little bit better effort tonight in the first and third periods,” said Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“Again though, the amount of shots … mistakes … they are goals and all of a sudden it is 4-1.
“It is unfortunate, but it is just the way it is. You get into a little bit of a slump and we find ways (to lose). It is from the defence, to the goalies, to the forwards. There is always something.
“We have got goal scorers who normally they score, but they don’t score. We have got great defensive defencemen, and I like our team, but they make a defensive play which normally is a good defensive play but in these times it’s a bad read and it’s a goal. The goalies should have the shot and it’s in.
“That’s why they call it a slump and we are in a slump, because it is always a little mistake here or there.
“It is hard on the morale, so right now I think this is the best thing, for us to have some time off, get away from it, recover from all of this here and then come back fresh.”
The Gold Miners scored three-straight goals in the first 7:19 of the game to chase Eskimos starting goalie Ryan Ferguson.
Zach Pease got the ball rolling at the 3:59 mark of the period and Steven Babin made it a 2-0 game less than three minutes later.
It took Luc Soares just 31 seconds to increase the advantage to 3-0 and spell the end of Ferguson’s night.
Chet Tooker, who had gotten the hook early in Friday night’s loss to the Crunch, came on in relief and finished the game.
A Brady Clouthier power-play goal cut the Kirkland Lake lead to 3-1 and gave Eskimos fans a brief flicker of hope, but an Ethan Strong power-play goal four-and-a-half minutes later restored the Gold Miners’ three-goal lead before the first intermission.
Things didn’t go much better for the Eskimos in the second period, as the Gold Miners expanded their 4-1 lead to 7-2.
Soares, with his second of the game, and Hazlett with the first two of his three goals took care of the scoring in the middle frame for the visitors.
Brenden Locke replied for the Eskimos.
“We were disappointed in the second period,” Gagne said.
“They were jumping in on the play and we weren’t backchecking. We were not playing within our character.
“We played much better in the third period. We had more commitment in the third period and we had our chances, too.
“If we had scored goals on those four or five good chances we had it would have been a different game.”
Adding to the frustration for Gagne and his staff is the fact that the Eskimos’ current roster is not that much different than the one that defeated the Gold Mines at the Jus Jordan Arena back on Nov. 28.
“You get on a roll and there is no thinking,” Gagne said.
“You are just playing on instincts. Even tonight in the third period, out body language was so much better. You just have to believe and go in there and work hard and good things will happen.
“We just need to commit to playing well defensively. Even our defence, the young (Nick) Hautanen, (Kevin) Walker, (Michael) Rancourt and (Josh) DeJulio had great games and (Kealey) Cummings and (Brennan) Roy.
“We weren’t terrible and the score did not indicate the friggin’ game but that’s the way it is. The hockey gods are just not on our side. That’s hockey. It happens.”
Hazlett’s third goal of the game increased the Gold Miners lead to 8-2 early in the third period.
Clouthier’s second power-play goal of the night, an unassisted effort, closed out the scoring for the Eskimos and made the final 8-3 in favour of the Gold Miners.
Gold Miners assistant coach Tom Sinclair was not totally happy with his team, despite the five-goal victory.
“We played pretty well on the offensive side of the puck,” he said.
“On the defensive side we were brutal and it was a good thing (goalie Josh) Erickson was hot in the first period because we were up 4-1 but it easily could have been 4-4.
“We just had total defensive lapses.”
It is a problem that has plagued the Gold Miners from time to time, throughout the season.
“At times, we play poor defence,” Sinclair said.
“Little things like getting pucks out of our zone, playing the puck along the wall and getting it deep in the other team’s zone have been an issue.
“We throw too many pucks in the middle.
“Sure, we got eight goals and we won 8-3 but it is not going to do us well in the playoffs, that type of play.”
Even in the offensive zone, the Gold Miners were not their usual efficient selves.
“Our forecheck was a disaster a lot of the time,” Sinclair said.
“We didn’t have guys in position, where they should have been.
“Sure, we got away with it but they didn’t have a good night and we got away with stuff. That was the game.”
Erickson made 39 saves to earn the victory.
“He has been solid,” Sinclair said.
“He calms things down back there and I think he probably had his best stretch in the first period tonight that he has had to play. Like I said, it shouldn’t have been 4-1.”
Sinclair was also happy with the play of one of the team’s dependable veterans.
“I look at a guy like Zach Pease,” he said.
“He works up and down the walls. He chips pucks out. He gets in guys faces. He is good on the defensive side. He gets his numbers, too, but he is a little bit of an unsung hero for us.”
Ferguson, who stopped just three of the six shots he faced in his brief time in net, took the loss for the Eskimos.
Tooker made 39 saves in relief of Ferguson.
ESKIMOS NOTES — The Eskimos went 2-5 on the power play, while the Gold Miners were 1-4 with the man advantage … The official attendance for Saturday night’s game was 550 … The Eskimos are off until Friday, Jan. 2, when they will return to practice in preparation for the start of the second half of their season on Saturday, Jan. 3, when they host the Powassan Voodoos at the Jus Jordan Arena. The Gold Miners will also start their second half on Saturday, Jan. 3, when they travel to Cochrane for a game with the Crunch at the Tim Horton Event Centre.