Thunderbirds soar over Eskis

The race for second place got a little more interesting.   With only one game left in the regular season for the Abitibi Eskimos of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League, losing 6-1 to the Soo Thunderbirds on Saturday at the Jus Jordan Arena wasn’t part of the game plan in their bid for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.   “This happens. It’s hockey,” said Paul Gagne, head coach and general manager of the Eskimos. “Look atBoston. They get on a roll, then all of a sudden they lose six or seven games in a row. They’re the same players. The bounces aren’t going their way, there’s something psychological going on. It happens and tonight the emotions weren’t as high as they were Friday and we played against a good team.”   The Thunderbirds made a case for being the best team in the league, as they used their speed and crisp passing to thwart the Eskis at almost every turn.   “As soon as we had a little momentum, we would take penalty, make a mistake, then they would score,” said Gagne. “Then the momentum was gone. Unfortunately, it was one of those games.”   J.P. Fecteau got the start in net for the Eskis for the second game in a row and faced 50 shots. Fecteau was replaced with more than one minute left in the game after getting hit in the side of the head with the puck.   The Thunderbirds neutralized Eskis star forward Marc-Alain Begin, holding him to only one assist despite giving him two clear-cut breakaways which came in the second and third periods.   “They have an offensively talented team, especially with Marc-Alain Begin,” said Preston Mizzi, head coach of the Thunderbirds. “One of our goals was to take him away and I thought we did a really good job with that. It was just a matter of taking away his time and space and making it hard on him.”   The Eskis tried to use the stretch pass in the third period, but with nearly 12 minutes in penalties being assessed to the home team, it became difficult for the Eskis to establish any momentum.   “Our tactic in the third period was to use the stretch pass,” said Gagne. “We did have chances, but we took penalties and we couldn’t really rely on that play anymore.”   Mizzi said, “We just played them last week, so we watched the video from the game and figured out what their tendencies were. For the most we stayed out of the penalty box where they can be very dangerous. Everything we had planned came together all at once and we got the job done.”   The Eskis are travelling toKirklandLaketo take on the Gold Miners on Tuesday to wrap up the regular season. With a two point lead on the Trappers, the Eskis are hoping for a win on Tuesday and a loss for the Trappers on Wednesday when they take on the Eastern Division leading Sudbury Cubs.   “We’re going intoKirklandLakeon Tuesday after a couple of days off and try to get that victory,” said Gagne.   Karl Spenard was held out of the Eskis line up on Saturday because of a lower body injury he sustained in Friday’s tilt against the Trappers. Ryan Kerr was called up to play for the Eskis on Saturday to replace the injured Spenard. Kerr has played two games for the Eskis this season and hasn’t registered a point for the junior ‘A’ club.