IROQUOIS FALLS - For the second-straight game the Abitibi Eskimos dug themselves a first period hole, but unlike Friday night they could not climb out of the one they dug Saturday night against the Thunderbirds.
After spotting the visitors an early 2-0 advantage on goals by Eric Hillock and Anthony Miller, the Eskimos found themselves trying to play catch-up the rest of the way en route to a 7-3 setback against the NOJHL’s top team at the Jus Jordan Arena.
“We can’t take any shifts off, or any periods off,” said Eskimos assistant coach and general manager Dan Dube.
“They came at us to start off the period with speed and we were on our heels a little bit, but I thought we hung in there for most of the game and then the third period was a tough one.
“The guys know it and we are going to work hard in practice this week and look at some videos to see what stuff we can get better at, because this weekend was not only all negative.
“We learned from the win and we will learn from this loss, also.”
Dube acknowledged it is hard for the Eskimos to stick with the program when they are having to play from behind so much of the time.
“The guys try to do individual stuff and they try to do everything on their own and try to make that game-breaking play, but it doesn’t work.
“The program works and they have to buy into it, even if we are a couple of goals down.
“It is a learning curve, and we are going to address it.”
The Eskimos did manage to battle back to tie the score at 2-2 on goals by Kevin Walker and Brenden Locke, only to surrender three-straight goals to the Thunderbirds.
Travis Campbell, Matt Pinder and Boris Katchouk all scored for the Soo to make it a 5-2 game.
The Eskimos were able to pull within two goals when Locke netted his second goal of the game, but that would be as close as the home side would come to pulling off a come-from-behind victory as they did Friday night against the Elliot Lake Wildcats at the Archie Dillon Sportsplex in Timmins.
Jaren Bellini scored to put the Thunderbirds in front 6-3 causing the Eskimos to resort to desperate measures.
With more than four minutes remaining on the clock and the Thunderbirds a man short, the Eskimos pulled goalie Chet Tooker in favour of an extra attacker, giving the home side a two-man advantage.
The move did not pave dividends, however, and short after the Thunderbirds killed off the penalty, Hillock put the nail in the Eskimos coffin by scoring his second of the night into an empty net.
With the win Saturday night, the Thunderbirds have now picked up five of a possible six points in the first three games of their current four-game road swing.
“We are definitely happy,” said Thunderbirds coach Jordan Smith.
“We are not too happy with the Wednesday night game in Sudbury where we blew two three-goal leads, but we challenged the boys on Thursday and so far we are really happy with the way they have responded.”
The Thunderbirds defeated the Crunch in Cochrane Thursday night and got off to a fast start against the Eskimos Saturday night.
“We jumped out to an early lead, but Abitibi showed good character to tie it up,” Smith said.
“We knew they would be tough to play against today and they always seem to play well at home.”
The Thunderbirds did not deviate from the game plan when the Eskimos got back on even terms and they were eventually rewarded for their hard work.
“We were really happy with the way the boys responded,” Smith said.
“At that time it would have been kind of easy to get down and lose your focus, but we managed to stick with our game plan over the course of the game and we got two points out of it.”
The Thunderbirds were the class of the NOJHL during the 2013-14 season, even though they were eventually knocked off by Kirkland Lake in the playoffs, but this year’s squad might be even better.
“We have four solid lines,” Smith said.
“The difference from last year, I think, is that we are a little bit younger, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“We are trying to play four lines and we are trying to make that our identity. We do feel that when we have the four lines going strong we are going to be very tough to beat.”
Thunderbirds goalie Brian Kment made 29 saves, to record the victory, while Tooker turned aside 34 shots and was tagged with the loss
ESKIMOS NOTES — The Eskimos went 0-8 on the power play, while the Thunderbirds were 0-4 with the man advantage … Defenceman Ryan Reeves (one-game suspension), forward Tristan Salesse (upper body), forward Scott Peng (lower body) and forward Shawn Nobes (healthy scratch) did not dress for the Eskimos … The Eskimos will be on the road next weekend, as they will travel to Powassan for a game with the Voodoos Friday night and then to Mattawa for a game with the Blackhawks Saturday night. The next home game for the Eskimos will be on Saturday, Nov. 22, when they host the Crunch in the second game of another home-and-home series at the Jus Jordan Arena. The first half of that series will be played at the Tim Horton Event Centre in Cochrane on Friday, Nov. 21.