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Thunderbirds blank Eskimos 4-0

IROQUOIS FALLS – The Soo Thunderbirds showed why they’re at the top of the Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League with a 4-0 win over the Eskimos Saturday night at the Jus Jordan Arena.

Last time these two teams met, the Eskimos edged the Thunderbirds 5-4 on Sept. 22.

The Soo dominated the play practically from the opening faceoff, but it was the work of Steven Dombrowski between the pipes that kept the Thunderbirds in the game, turning aside all 39 shots he faced.

“He’s played as well as he’s played all year and this was probably his best outing,” said Thunderbirds coach Kevin Cain. “Without him the game has a entirely different ending. We were up 2-0 and very easily it could have been the other way around. We had a bunch of penalties for undisciplined crap in the third period.”

The Thunderbirds are ranked ninth in the country by the Canadian Junior Hockey League and it showed.

Abitibi outshot the Soo 29-17 through the first two periods, but the Eskimos was unable to find a hole in Dombrowski’s armour.

“I wasn’t happy with the mental mistakes in the first and second, but I like the way we played,” said Eskimos coach and general manger Paul Gagne. “Mistakes are costly against a good team.”

The Soo got scoring from four different players in the contest with Dallas McLaughlin firing the first salvo, followed by Tyler Jones, Brandon Warminton and A.J. Kapcheck rounding out the attack.

Abitibi gave the Thunderbirds four powerplay opportunities and the Soo capitalized twice. Although the Eskimos found themselves with a man-advantage nine times in the contest, the club was unable to score. The intense, sustained pressure of the Thunderbirds resulted in some poor decision-making for the Abitibi defence.

“I expected a better third period then we got into powerplay situations and all of sudden there was some nerves,” said Gagne. “It was awful.

“Prior to that we had been doing well on the powerplay, making things happen. There was no reason to make high-risk passes. I’m not pleased and they’re not pleased. It was one of those night where whoever had the puck didn’t seem to want it.”

The Thunderbirds subdued the Eskimos using a combination of high pressure tactics and forcing Abitibi deep into the defensive zone. The strategy paid off for the Soo, as the club was able to negate the stretch pass.

“They can score a lot of goals,” said Cain. “Mr. Therrien is a machine, but the one thing that makes it difficult to score goals is when you’re playing in your own end of the rink. You try to put as much pressure as you can and you try to sustain zone pressure, which doesn’t bode well for the stretch pass that the Eskimos try and use on you.”

Jackson Winkler got the start in net for the Eskimos. It was his first start for the club since being acquired from the Fairview Flyers of the North West Junior Hockey League last week where he posted a 3.50 goals against average and a save percentage of .894 through two games.

Winkler played a strong game despite displaying some nerves in the first period. However, he settled down in the second and third. When it was all said and done, Winkler turned aside 35 out of 39 shots through 60 minutes.

“He played well,” said Gagne. “The first goal he didn’t have much of a chance and the second goal was kind of odd. He kept us in there making some big saves.”

Winkler added, “A couple of bounces could have gone differently, but overall, I’m not upset with it. I was a little nervous in the beginning, but I think it’s good. It gets you ready to play.”

With the loss, the Eskimos remain in fifth place with a record of 6-12-0-1, one point ahead of the Blind River Beavers. Abitibi will host the Beavers at the Jus Jordan Arena on Saturday.

Eskimos notes: The last time the Eskimos were shutout was a 3-0 loss at the hands of the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners on Sept. 9. Defenceman Kealey Cummings made his return to the lineup after missing seven games with a lower body injury. Forward Ryan Wildman was held off the scoresheet only for the second time since joining the club in October. Forward Peter Poulin-Roy had his five-game point streak halted. He recorded 10 points over that span.