SUDBURY – The Abitibi Eskimos dropped their third-straight Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League contest Wednesday night, falling 5-2 to the Sudbury Nickel Barons.
The game was sweet revenge for a Nickel Barons squad that was thumped 7-0 by the Eskimos in Cochrane on Dec. 1.
Sudbury has not lost a game since that setback, running off a string of five-straight victories including Wednesday night’s decision.
“Coach (Dave) Clancy wanted us to give it our all tonight,” said Barons forward Martin Jolicoeur, who scored twice and set up another goal.
“We didn’t play good against them last time and we wanted to make sure we put in a better effort tonight.
“We kept them out of our zone for the most part. And by doing so, we kept them away from our net, which is where they got most of their goals last time.”
Jolicoeur and his linemates — NOJHL goal-scoring leader Darcy Haines (two goals and an assist) and league-leading scorer Sebastien Leroux (two goals and two assists) — were in on all five Sudbury goals.
“It was a win we really wanted,” Leroux said. “Especially after that last game against them, we didn’t want that to happen again. We knew we had to play our ‘A’ game. We were pissed after that last game (against the Eskimos), and I feel like we dominated this game, so it definitely feels good to get the two points.”
One of the reasons for the Sudbury line’s big night might have been the fact that two-thirds of the Eskimos checking unit — Brandon Windsor and Shane Borden — did not dress because of the flu.
Clancy was pleased with the effort of the Nickel Barons Wednesday night.
“Obviously, I would love to see everyone getting points,” he said. “But if all the points are going to come from the top line, that’s fine with me. As l ong as we’re winning hockey games, I don’t care where the points come from.”
The Eskimos were also without first-line right winger Peter Poulin-Roy, who was serving the second game of a suspension he picked up after being given a game misconduct in Saturday night’s 10-6 loss to the Soo Thunderbirds, and 16-year-old rookie sensation Aaron Kerr, who was also suffering from the flu.
In addition, a number of the Eskimos who did take to the ice and coach and GM Paul Gagne are also under the weather.
“We are cancelling practice tonight,” Gagne said.
“Just too many guys have been ill and there’s a flu bug going around in the dressing room.
“I don’t think we are going to benefit from one practice.”
The Eskimos actually jumped out to a 1-0 first-period lead, as Nick Fountain converted a pass from Philip Sweeney at the 8:20 mark.
Jolicoeur got the home side back on even terms before the period ended, however, and the two sides went to the dressing room tied 1-1.
Jolicoeur and Leroux set up Haines for his 27th goal of the season in the second period, as the Nickel Barons pulled in front 2-1.
Sudbury put the game out of reach, scoring three-straight goals to begin the third period.
Jolicoeur netted his second of the night to make it 3-1, 2:21 into the final period.
Haines then potted his second of the night and 28th of the season 36 seconds later to make it 4-1.
“It was penalties,” Gagne said.
“The penalties were good penalties, but it’s two sided. We need momentum and we just couldn’t get momentum.”
“The difference was power play and momentum, for sure.
“They scored and then there was a little altercation between two players and we get the roughing penalty after the goal, so we are shorthanded right away. Right after they just scored a goal.
“It’s hard to get momentum that way.”
Leroux then got the line’s fifth goal of the night at the 8:45 mark of the final period to make it 5-1.
The Eskimos were able to pull a little closer when defenceman Ryan Kerr scored with 2:02 remaining to play, making the final 5-2.
Michael Muzyka, of the Nickel Barons, stopped 29 of the 31 shots he faced, to pick up the win, while Jeremy Laux of the Eskimos blocked 37 of the 42 shots Sudbury fired his way.
“He (Muzyka ) gave us a chance to win,” Clancy said. “We were getting outshot, but he played a steady game, which he has all year.”
Laux got the start for the Eskimos because Jackson Winkler, who had started the previous nine games, “sort of sprained his ankle” in practice.
“He played well in the first two periods,” Gagne said.
“The third and fourth goals were a little questionable, but he did play well, he did play well, you can’t deny that.”
Winkler may, or may not, be back between the pipes on Saturday night when the Eskimos host the Elliot Lake Bobcats at the Jus Jordan Arena for the their final game before the holiday break.
“It’s hard to get things going, to get on a roll here, because we have injuries, we have suspensions and illness,” Gagne said.
“So I am looking forward to getting something going here.”
Getting a win Saturday night will prevent the Eskimos from going into the break riding a four-game losing streak.
“It’s no fun losing hockey games,” Gagne said.
“We work so hard, so it will be good to get some time off at the Christmas break.”
Saturday’s game will feature the annual Teddy Bear Toss, so fans are urged to bring teddy bears to toss on the ice in support of charity.
There will be hockey action at the Jus Jordan Arena on Friday night, as well, as the Eskimos Alumni Game will bring back dozens of the top players who have appeared in an Abitibi uniform over the years. Game time for that contest is 7:30 p.m., as well.
The Nickel Barons, meanwhile, will be looking to run their win streak to six games when the travel to Sault Ste. Marie for a game against the league-leading Thunderbirds on Friday night.
— With files from Keith Dempsey