ESPANOLA - The Soo Thunderbirds defeated the Abitibi Eskimos 4-2 Saturday afternoon to record their 17th-straight NOJHL victory.
The neutral site game was part of the NOJHL’s College Showcase.
“We were right in there going into the third period,” said Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“It was a tie game and I thought we played better than we did on Friday (a 6-1 win over the Beavers in Blind River), that’s how well we played.
“It was a tight-checking game.”
The only area where the Eskimos struggled Saturday night was getting off shots when they had quality scoring opportunities.
“We worked so hard to get those chances and we didn’t get a shot on net on some of our better chances,” Gagne said.
“We would try to do a little tick-tack-toe and try to get too pretty.
“That’s not hockey, not in a tight-checking game like that.
“You have got to keep it simple. Our game could have changed around (if we had taken more shots). It would definitely have changed the momentum.
“We should have shot the puck more, that’s the whole point.
The Eskimos held the Thunderbirds to just 30 shots, but they were only able to generate 18 shots on Thunderbirds goalie Brian Kment.
“We played well defensively,” Gagne said.
“Even offensively we played well. It was a tight-checking game, but we let our best opportunities slip by, that was the difference.
“Other than that, it was a good game, nothing to be ashamed of.”
The Eskimos actually struck first, as defenceman Brennan Roy beat Kment with a power-play goal midway through the first period.
It proved to be the only goal of the opening frame and the Eskimos went to the dressing room for the first period up 1-0.
The Thunderbirds got back on even terms when Jaren Bellini beat Eskimos netminder Sylvain Miron early in the second period.
“Sylvain did really well,” Gagne said.
“There were a couple of situations we should have avoided on the goals against, but it is even hard to say they were mistakes.
“It was just the game of hockey. That’s the way it works sometimes.”
Brett Jeffries then put the Soo in front 2-1 when he beat Miron midway through the period.
Roy’s second power-play goal of the game a minute later pulled the Eskimos back to even terms before the end of the period, however.
Eric Hillock’s power-play goal just over a minute into the third period put the Thunderbirds in front for good and proved to be the game-winning marker.
The Soo added a little insurance about six minutes later when Gavin Burbach scored an unassisted goal to make the final 4-2.
Kment made 16 saves while picking up the victory and Miron stopped 26 shots as he was tagged with the loss.
The Eskimos were 2-3 on the power play, while the Thunderbirds were 1-3 with the man advantage.
“On the power play, Mr. Roy took a couple of pretty good shots from the (left) point,” Gagne said.
“The first one was a real beauty. He got a lot of wood on it and it was a good hard shot.
“He scored them both on similar situations, from about five feet inside the blue line, and we had traffic in front of the net and the goalie didn’t see anything.”
Brenden Locke and Erik Robichaud each scored a pair of goals to pace the attack for the visitors as the Eskimos kicked off their three-game road trip with a 6-1 win over the Beavers in Blind River Friday night.
Landon Hiebert and Ryan Kerr also scored for the Eskimos who took a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes of play and increased their advantage to 3-0 in the middle frame.
Three more Eskimos tallies in the final frame made it a 6-0 game before Matthew Neault scored to ruin Brody Wagner’s bid for a second-straight shutout midway through the third period.
Wagner made 38 saves to preserve the victory for the Eskimos.
Jessie Morin turned aside 27 shots while taking the loss for the Beavers.