IROQUOIS FALLS - Zach Innes’ goal 2:33 into the first overtime lifted the Abitibi Eskimos to a 5-4 win over the Elliot Lake Bobcats Saturday night.
The Eskimos spotted the visitors a 3-0 lead in a game that was delayed 45 minutes after a pane of glass behind the Bobcats’ goal shattered on the first shot of the warm up.
The game was delayed even longer when referees Matt Davie and Bob Byers ruled that Eskimos goalie Brody Wagner, making his first start since joining the team earlier in the week, would have to change his face mask.
“His mask has what are called cats’ eyes,” explained Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“They are allowed in the United States, but Canadian rules say you can’t wear a mask with them because the puck could go through the screen. It’s dangerous. That’s why they are not allowed.”
Most goalies are sensitive about their equipment and they like to break it in in practice before using it in a game, but Wagner showed no hesitation after putting on Sylvain Miron’s mask.
“It’s very difficult, especially if it’s not your helmet,” Gagne said.
“But he was cool and nothing phased him. He just went out and did his job, so we are pleased for him to get the victory.
The coach was not overly pleased with how the Eskimos started the game.
“It was hard on the morale when we were down 3-0,” Gagne said.
“The compete level was not at 100% when you get behind like that. It’s hard to get back into it, but as soon as Erik Robichaud got one in there it just gave us a little bit of life.
“The second one went in and you believe. It’s just like a piano was lifted off our back. The players were believing in what we were doing and the effort was raised 80%.”
Robichaud, whose natural hat-trick allowed the Eskimos to pull even at 3-3, agreed with his coach’s assessment.
“A comeback win is always the best win,” he said.
“It is not easy to do, so when you do it you feel good … especially after the last two games (a 9-3 loss in North Bay and a 12-5 loss in Sudbury). We had poor performances and we weren’t happy with that. We wanted to come out with a big game tonight.
“We came out a little flat, then the boys recuperated and we battled together to get the W tonight.”
Aviv Milner beat Wagner 5:22 into the opening frame to give Elliot Lake a 1-0 lead.
Brett Wagner netted a pair of goals in the second period, with the second coming on the power play, to increase the Bobcats advantage to 3-0.
The Eskimos finally got on the board 23 seconds after Wagner’s second goal when Robichaud scored his first goal, also on the power play, to cut the visitors’ lead to 3-1.
Robichaud’s second goal of the game, late in the second period, sent the two squads to the dressing room for the second intermission with Elliot Lake up 3-2.
Robichaud completed his natural hat-trick 6:47 into the third period to tie the game at 3-3.
Brady Clouthier then gave the Eskimos their first lead of the game when he beat Elliot Lake goalie Alex Bitsakis with just under seven minutes to play.
“We played some great hockey in the second period and the third period,” Gagne said.
Robichaud and Clouthier have developed a chemistry that has endured regardless of who Gagne puts on the line with them.
“There is chemistry there,” Gagne said.
“You don’t want to separate those two. They have the same instincts. They like to drive to the net. They are always going near the net. They score their goals 10 feet in front of the net. They like to give and go, so it makes it difficult for the opposition defencemen.
“It doesn’t matter who we put in there they are happy to be playing with those two.”
Robichaud certainly appreciates what Clouthier brings to the line.
“Clouts is a hard worker,” he said.
“He skates well. He always has his head up and his stick on the ice, so it’s easy to play with someone like that.
“And tonight (Ryan) Tront was with us for his first game and he did really well. He put up some assists (four helpers, including an assist on the game-winning goal). He is good at getting the puck out of the zone and me and Clouts got a lot of opportunities from that.
“Tront is more of a grinder, so it’s a good combination and I think we can do good things together.”
The Bobcats were not about to roll over without a fight, however, as Wagner beat Wagner for the tying goal — his third of the game.
That set the stage for Innes’ game-winning, overtime goal.
“Everyone was working hard,” Robichaud said.
“Our passes and little things weren’t clicking at the start, but we knew we could give them a good run if we all worked hard together. That’s how you win hockey games.
Even though Wagner surrendered three goals, he impressed his coach with his play.
“Wagner did his thing,” Gagne said.
“He came in and relieved a little bit of pressure on the goalie situation and got a victory out of it.
Bobcats coach and general manager Ryan Leonard was not too happy with the way his squad played, especially late in the contest.
“I give them full credit, we were a very undisciplined hockey team,” he said.
“We took some undisciplined penalties and it cost us the game.
“They got that first goal and they gained some momentum and after that they came at us the rest of the night.”
The Bobcats stopped doing the little things that allowed them to build up the 3-0 lead.
“We had been getting lots of shots on net and we were crashing the net hard, then we stopped crashing the net,” Leonard said.
“Our defence wanted to be forwards and they were rushing the puck, resulting in a lot of odd-man rushes, two, or three on one and that cost us the game.
For the Eskimos, Saturday night’s victory should go a long way towards helping to boost their confidence.
“This was huge,” Robichaud said.
“Confidence is the No. 1 thing in hockey, especially when guys start playing together and feeling good together. Things start clicking and that’s what we showed in the second and third period and even when they tied the game. There was no stress. We knew we could do it.”
The Eskimos will be looking to add to the victory column when they host the Blind River Beavers at the Jus Jordan Arena Sunday at 2 p.m.
The Beavers dropped a 5-4 decision to the Gold Miners in Kirkland Lake on Saturday night.