IROQUOIS FALLS – The Eskimos played one of their best games of the season, but NOJHL rookie of the year Joel Horodziejczyk turned aside all 51 shots he faced to give the Thunderbirds a 3-0 victory.
More than 100 shots were taken in 60 minutes, but what mattered for the Soo was the two powerplay goals and an empty net marker in the final minute that sealed the Game 3 win at the Jus Jordan Arena.
Abitibi Eskimos netminder Jackson Winkler was solid between the pipes turning aside 50 of 52 shots he faced, while Horodziejczyk was stellar, stopping all 51 shots he saw.
“The kids continued to work hard,” said Thunderbirds head coach Kevin Cain. “Winkler played well and made some big stops. It was strarting to get a little worrisome because when you make that many stops sometimes it’s just your night.”
In the end, it was the Thunderbirds who capitalized on the chances they had.
The opening 20 minutes belonged to the Soo, although the Eskimos came out of the gate hungry, looking to build on the momentum they developed in the third period of Game 2.
“We got 110% from everyone of them,” said Marc Cashmore. “I don’t think we had any passengers today. Yeah we made some mistakes tonight, but thats the game of hockey.”
Michael Caruso got the Thunderbirds on the board with less than two minutes left in the second period.
His shot from the point found its way past Winkler who was screened on the play.
The goal came at a critical point in the game, as the Eskimos were working the puck deep into the offensive zone for most of the second period.
“We had to battle,” said Cain. “We were fortunate to get that powerplay goal there and that was big for us.”
At times, the game got out of hand, as officials scrambled to keep the playoff matchup under control.
Penalties were assessed inconsistently including one to Eskimos call-up Jonathan Hardy in the second period.
Hardy was assessed a head contact penalty in the second, making a seemingly clean check near the penalty box.
The problem was the Thunderbirds player collided with the stanchion at the end of the Soo bench when Hardy finished his check.
The spectators in the arena let the officials have it at the start of the third periods, as a chorus of boos rang out when they stepped on the ice.
“I think it was a little too overwhelming for a couple of the officials out there,” said Cashmore. “Not all of them, but a couple of them.”
But the officials can’t take all the blame for the loss.
The Thunderbirds finished second in the Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League for a reason.
They weathered the Eskimos’ attack and buried their chances.
“In game 2, we got away from things we were suppposed to do,” said Cain. “It was a big thing for us to get back to doing the little things right.”
Abitibi had two partial breakaways in the second period, but couldn’t bury it.
Justin Holiday had his shot stopped and Ryan Wildman was hauled down on his way to the net.
“Full marks for them,” said Cain. “Being as short as they’ve been and having guys out because of injury, they came out and battled and i give them credit.”
Gavin Burbach extended the Thunderbirds lead early in the third period when his powerplay goal went high glove side on Winkler.
Adam Ritchie then put the game out of reach with an empty net goal with 25 seconds left in regulation.
The Eskimos are facing elimination Sunday when they take on the Thunderbirds at the Jus Jordan Arena for Game 4.
“The biggest thing is the discipline,” said Cain.”Ii thought we were pretty disciplined and stuck to the gameplan.”
Cashmore said, “We encouraged the kids today. They know they played their best game of the year. We have to win four straight now. It’s going to be hard, but they can do it.”
Puckdrop is set for 2 p.m.