KIRKLAND LAKE - Abitibi Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne was livid following Sunday’s 3-2 double-overtime exhibition loss to the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners.
“It was a mistake off the boards, coming up the middle, and bang, they tied the game,” he said, describing Alex Hulford’s goal with 2:05 to play in regulation.
“And there was no reason for it.
“And then, after that, in OT, all you have to do is push the player, take your man. We didn’t take our man.
“I am very disappointed in those two plays.”
Andrew Bertrand seemed to have all day in front of the Eskimos net as he stick handled the puck in and out of the feet of an Eskimos defender, prior to drilling a wrist shot past goalie Shawn Gerbinski for the game-winning goal at the 3:27-minute mark of the second five-minute overtime period.
Those two mental lapses spoiled what had been a workman-like effort on the part of an undermanned Eskimos squad that was missing forwards Ryan Wildman (sister’s wedding), Peter Poulin-Roy (family issue), Aaron Kerr (OHL training camp), Brendan Locke (OHL training camp), Cameron Etherington (OHL training camp), Jacob Kenney (finger injury), as well as defencemen Ryan Kerr (suspension) and Jamey Lauzon (hand injury).
And forward Erik Robichaud, who remains in camp while seeing if he will be picked up by another QMJHL team, or perhaps an OHL team, has not yet been signed.
On top of that, forward Braeden Etherington suffered an elbow injury during the game.
“We were short of manpower and I have to say we played 100% better than yesterday,” Gagne said.
“It was awesome.
“They are disappointed and I am very disappointed about those two plays I just talked about.
“(Up until then) it was perfect hockey. We worked hard. We introduced a couple of different things and we played the system. We worked hard. We did everything we could. We kept it simple and then a couple of mistakes.
“So we nipped it in the bud right away with the mistakes because last year we didn’t nip it in the bud right away. This year, it’s a little more serious and we don’t want to tolerate any of these little mistakes.”
Any Eskimos player who failed to get the message would have to be deaf, as even players not dressed for the game who were standing outside the dressing room could clearly hear Gagne’s words of disappointment through the closed door.
Even though his team won both exhibition games, Gold Miners coach and general manager Marc Lafleur wasn’t too happy with the play of his team, either.
“It was an exciting ending to what I thought was a so-so game,” he said, following the victory.
“The puck bounced around a lot and I thought both teams had difficulty executing, but all-in-all it was an exciting end, so the fans got what they came for.”
The Gold Miners appeared to have fresher legs in the third period and both overtime periods, perhaps due to the dry-land training they have employed, although the Lafleur felt they were a little flat footed for most of the contest.
“We didn’t have a lot of spring in our legs,” he said.
“I am giving these guys a day off tomorrow, because they are really hurt and battered right now.
“I would say from the third period on last night our guys were out of gas.”
Lafleur was pleased with the fact that the Gold Miners kept coming, even though they were down in the game.
“We kept coming at them, we kept working hard,” he said. “We kept pouncing on them and we didn’t get discouraged and we ended up getting the tying goal and then the overtime winner, as well.”
The Gold Miners got on the board first again Sunday night, with veteran Kyle Bishop pouncing on a puck that was centred from behind the net to drill a shot behind Eskimos starting goalie Julien Deschenes.
Both Deschenes and Gerbinski acquitted themselves well in the road game.
“They both played a pretty good game,” Gagne said.
“It was interesting to see that. It will make our decisions tougher again.
“You know what, I am very satisfied. A loss is a loss, but the way we played, I loved it.”
Like Saturday night’s loss in Iroquois Falls, the Eskimos’ goals Sunday were scored less than two minutes apart.
Ben Miller scored a power-play goal, with the Eskimos enjoying a two-man advantage, to tie it at 1-1 midway through the second period.
Shayne Borden, who started his NOJHL career in Kirkland Lake, then scored to put the Eskimos in front 2-1 1:37 later.
The Eskimos played a much more physical game Sunday than they did on Saturday.
“I don’t know if it was the nerves at home last night, but tonight even our defence looked 100% better with the puck,” Gagne said.
“We were moving it, making things happen with it. The puck was not a live grenade for us.”
The Eskimos seemed to tire by late in the third period and did not seem to have much gas left in the tank by the time they took to the ice for the two five-minute overtime frames.
“There is no excuse, because we worked hard all last week,” Gagne said.
“I know it’s two games in a row, but the guys who play a lot more were (Ryan) Tront and Miller, because I went with two centres tonight, but it’s still no excuse. We are not in excellent shape yet, but …”
The Eskimos will continue to practice in preparation for their regular season opener against the Nickel Barons in Sudbury on Wednesday, Sept. 4.
They will play their first home game on Saturday, Sept. 7, when they host the Espanola Rivermen at the Jus Jordan Arena.
Game time is 7:30 p.m.