IROQUOIS FALLS - Heading into Saturday night’s game against Elliot Lake, the Abitibi Eskimos were averaging less than two goals a game on offence.
And they were without top offensive threats Erik Robichaud (awaiting a trade), Aaron Kerr (promoted to Acadie-Bathurst, of the QMJHL) and Peter Poulin-Roy (quit the team to return home).
The only player on the team to score more than two goals so far this season, centre Brady Clouthier, was ejected from the game after receiving a penalty for checking from behind 3:01 into the first period.
And head coach and general manager Paul Gagne and assistant coach and general manager Dan Dube were away, leaving goalie coach Steve Hamel in charge of the bench.
Oh, and the visiting Bobcats had knocked off the previously unbeaten Gold Miners 3-1 Friday night in Kirkland Lake.
So, just how badly did the Eskimos lose and were they able to put at least one puck into the Elliot Lake net?
They didn’t lose and, in fact they scored a season high six goals en route to a 6-2 victory to even their record at 2-2-0-1.
Ben Miller paced the attack for the Eskimos, netting his first two goals of the 2013-14 season.
“We had a quick transition out of our end and (Marc) Dube skated up with the puck and made a nice pass to me in the slot and I just put it upstairs,” Miller said, describing the second of his two goals.
“The first one, (Tommy) Labrecque made a nice pass to me off the boards behind the net and I got a fortunate bounce. It landed on my stick and I put it in.”
Miller came close to netting a third goal in the third period, as he spun in front of the Elliot Lake net and lifted a wrist shot over the shoulder of Bobcats goalie Shaun Gerbinski, but the puck sailed over the crossbar.
“I knew I had two goals already, but we were looking for the victory,” he said.
“That was more important.”
The unit of Miller, Dube and Labrecque was almost unstoppable Saturday night, with Dube and Labrecque each scoring a goal.
“I think we moved the puck well,” Miller said.
“We played it down low, like we were supposed to, we made nice passes and we played defensively well.”
Kealey Cummings and Zach Innes also scored for the Eskimos, while Dustin Cordeiro and Jacob Irwin replied for the Bobcats.
Innes’ goal was scored into an empty net, as he came out of the penalty box, took a pass and went in all alone to slide the puck into the empty cage.
Trailing 5-2, the Bobcats had pulled the goalie with the power play to give them a two-man advantage, but the Eskimos were able to kill off Innes’ penalty and add to their advantage when he left the box.
Hamel was all smiles following the game, after recording the victory in his first head coaching opportunity.
“It was just teamwork, keeping it simple and getting the guys to work as a team,” he said, when asked to explain how a goalie coach was able to get a normally low scoring squad to put six pucks in the net.
He feels the confidence gained by the Eskimos snipers Saturday night could give them momentum.
“We have had a lot of chances, but we just haven’t been capitalizing on them,” he said.
“We did tonight and hopefully we can keep that going.”
The Eskimos spotted the Bobcats a 1-0 lead when Cordeiro scored midway through the first period, but they got back on even terms a couple of minutes later when Dube scored a power-play goal and then took a lead they would never surrender, as Labrecque scored with less than a minute to play in the opening frame.
“That was a confidence booster,” Hamel said.
“It’s never good to give up the first goal of the game, but we came back and we got six in a row.”
As the Eskimos goaltender coach, Hamel was pleased with the effort of Sylvain Miron, who was once again sharp between the pipes.
“He has been a rock for us back there,” he said.
“He is confident. He is calm. He is always ready to play, every game, and that is all you can ask from a goaltender.
“He plays like a veteran. You can’t say enough about him.”
Miron stopped 46 of the 48 shots the Bobcats fired his way.
He was backed up Saturday night by Simon-Pier Chamberland, who dressed for his first NOJHL game after the Eskimos acquired his rights from Woodstock.
Former Eskimo Etienne Roy got the start in net for the Bobcats, but he was given the hook after allowing four goals on 24 shots.
He was replaced by Gerbinski, who was in training camp this year with the Eskimos, who gave up one goal on 18 shots.
Elliot Lake coach and general manager Ryan Leonard was not as happy with his team’s efforts as he had been with Friday night’s 3-1 win in Kirkland Lake.
“It was disappointing tonight,” he said.
“We didn’t come to play. We couldn’t get the stops early in the game.
“You know what, we came out a little flat. We need some consistency on the ice and the first period showed we were a little flat.
“We didn’t get the consistency from some of the older players , we are looking for every night.”
Clearly the Eskimos had the momentum after fighting back from the 1-0 deficit and taking a 2-1 lead later in the first period.
“Every time we got some momentum, there was another setback,” Leonard said.
“We started that second period down 2-1 and it should have been 5-0, then we give them a goal … put it right on their stick and it’s in the empty net to make it 3-1 and it’s hard to battle back when we are giving up easy goals that should be stopped.
“At the same time, the guys have got to put a better effort in from the start of the period to the end of the period.
“This is a tough trip to play on. We were running off a high last night and then sitting around all day today, but at the end of the day it’s a loss and we have to move forward.”
Leonard feels the final score isn’t a good indication of what happened out on the ice.
“I think today we deserved a better fate,” He said.
“We fired 48 shots on their goaltender and he showed up to play and obviously the better goaltender won tonight.”
Leonard knows the Bobcats will have to play better if they hope to gain two points on their next visit to Iroquois Falls.
“I think, overall, we are going to need a better effort and we are going to have to come to play,” he said.
“Tonight was a total lack of effort. We didn’t wake up until there were about eight minutes left in the game … so we played 16 minutes of hockey tonight.”
ESKIMOS NOTES — The three stars were No. 1 Miron, No. 2 Miller and No. 3 Joel Warkentin, of Elliot Lake … The Eskimos were 2-8 on the power play Saturday night, while the Bobcats were 0-4 … Saturday’s other NOJHL contest saw the Blind River Beavers blank the Sudbury Nickel Barons 4-0. Dylan Knox made 40 saves to pick up the shutout … The next game for the Eskimos will be Saturday, Sept. 28, when they host the Beavers at the Jus Jordan Arena. Game time is 7:30 p.m.