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T-Birds end Eskimos’ streak

IROQUOIS FALLS - One streak was extended while another ended Saturday night at the Jus Jordan Arena.

Unfortunately for Abitibi Eskimos fans it was the Soo Thunderbirds win streak that was extended to 15-straight games, while their team’s run of 10-straight wins on home ice came to an end with the visitors’ 4-1 victory.

The NOJHL-leading Thunderbirds looked to be a little bit more polished after shaking off any Christmas-break rust during a 1-0 victory over the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake Friday night.

“I thought we carried over our strong play from last night in Kirkland Lake and it showed,” said Thunderbirds coach Jordan Smith.

“We challenged the guys and wanted to use this weekend as a kick start to the second half and really get off on the right foot and so far we have really done that.”

The last time the Thunderbirds made a three-game trek through Kirkland Lake, Iroquois Falls and North Bay the only point they obtained came from a 3-2 overtime loss to the Eskimos on Nov. 9.

Despite the loss, Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne was not too disappointed with his team’s play Saturday night.

“We were a little behind the eight ball in the first period,” he said.

“We were out of sync, almost playing like Team Canada at the World Junior Championships. I hate to say it, but that’s the way we looked in the first period.

“They (the Thunderbirds) had an advantage. They played last night, so they had their timing and their forechecking. They were really on top of their game.

“Scoring their first goal and then getting a lucky break off two legs, or whatever, for their second goal, they just had momentum and we couldn’t find it, but I was really happy the way we played in the second period and even in the third period.

“You could see we were generating some offence and we had a little bit more jump. You could see that we were getting better.

“We lost, but sometimes it’s a matter of circumstances.”

Part of the reason that Gagne was not too upset with Saturday’s loss to the Thunderbirds is that it came against a pretty good hockey club.

“I have to give a lot of credit to their forwards, they came back and put some pressure on us,” he said.

“They were backchecking and making things miserable for the puck carrier all the time. I have to give them credit for that, for sure, but we did have some good opportunities. We had some great chances and if we could have scored one (earlier in the game) you never know.

“Even in the first period we had a couple of good opportunities, but their goaltender made a difference.

“It was nice to finally break the bubble at the end there.”

The Eskimos had Erik Robichaud, who re-signed with the team earlier this week after being released by the OHL’s Sarnia Sting, back in the lineup, but they were without winger Landon Hiebert who is fighting a flu bug.

“And (Ryan) Wildman hurt his finger in first period,” Gagne said.

“I don’t know if he dislocated it, or broke it, but we had to take him to the hospital.”

The Thunderbirds jumped out to a 1-0 lead near the midway point of the first period when Darcy Haines beat Eskimos goalie Sylvain Miron from in close.

Haines finished second in the NOJHL in points during the 2012-13 season while playing for the Sudbury Nickel Barons and he has provided a big boost to the Thunderbirds offence since being picked up in a trade with the CCHL’s Pembroke Lumber Kings earlier this season.

“He is a great player,” Smith said.

“He has got offensive instincts that you just can’t teach. He loves to score and he also loves to set up his teammates, so he has been a great addition.

“He has bought into our system and he has been a team player. We are fortunate to have him.”

It appeared the Eskimos would escape the first period trailing just 1-0, but the Thundebirds struck for another goal in the final minute of the frame.

Tyler Jones managed to get one past Miron on a lucky bounce.

The visitors increased their advantage to 3-0 early in the second period when Nicolas Tassone picked a corner high over Miron’s shoulder on a two-on-one break.

That would prove to be the only goal of the second period, as the Thunderbirds blanked the Eskimos any time they managed to get over the Soo blue line and put pressure on the home side in the Abitibi end of the rink.

“We tried to play a complete game and I think we did that,” Smith said.

“I didn’t think we had a weak link, from our goalie right out to our forwards. I thought our D played solid and our forwards got the job done, as well.”

Grant Syrette made it a 4-0 hockey game when he beat Miron with less than five minutes to play in the final period.

The Eskimos were finally able to get on the board when Shane Hiley scored a power-play goal with 44 seconds remaining in the game.

Eskimos defenceman Jamey Lauzon was originally given credit for the goal, which would have been his first of the season.

The 16-year-old rookie was just as happy to earn an assist on the play, however, and more eager to talk about a couple of thundering hits he delivered during the first period.

“I was just trying to set the tone out there,” Lauzon said.

“When I have the chance to hit someone I take the chance, but try to keep it clean.”

The key to defending against the Thunderbirds, according to Lauzon, was to minimize the amount of time they were in the Eskimos zone.

“We wanted to keep the puck out of our zone, so they wouldn’t get too many shots on our goalie,” he said.

“We wanted to keep everything simple and make little plays, get the puck out. That was pretty much it.”

Hiley’s goal ruined Thunderbirds goalie Joel Horodziejczyk’s bid for a second-consecutive shutout.

“I thought Joel was great tonight and he was great last night,” Smith said.

“He has been great for us all year and I think he is easily said the best goaltender in the league and we are very fortunate to have him.

“Every night all we ask of our goalies is to give us a chance to win and he did that for us tonight.”

Horodziejczyk made 22 saves to pick up the victory for the Thunderbirds, while Miron stopped 33 shots while being tagged with the loss for the Eskimos.

ESKIMOS NOTES: The Eskimos went 1-6 on the power play, while the Thunderbirds were 0-1 with the man advantage … Official attendance was 437 … Saturday’s other NOJHL games saw the Bobcats beat the Beavers 5-3 in Blind River and the Gold Miners beat the Nickel Barons 6-1 in Kirkland Lake … The Eskimos next game will be on Tuesday night when they host the Gold Miners at the Jus Jordan Arena. Game time is 7:30 p.m.