IROQUOIS FALLS - The Abitibi Eskimos played their best game of the season on home ice, but had to settle for a 2-1 double-overtime loss to the NOJHL-leading Kirkland Lake Gold Miners.
Steven Babin’s goal 1:44 into the second overtime frame gave the visitors the victory and a 5-0 start to their 2013-14 campaign.
Babin took a cross-crease pass from Jeremy Picard-Fiset and slipped the puck behind Eskimos goalie Sylvain Miron before he could get across to make the save with the two teams playing three-on-three hockey.
“You know what, we have been playing some pretty good hockey,” Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne said.
“Today was really tight and the kids were, again, following the program. There were not too many turnovers in the neutral zone, we were working it in deep … you know what, it seems like I am repeating the same clichés, but that’s what we are working on.
“It was excellent hockey and just two mistakes and two goals and that’s the name of the game.
“It’s unfortunate, because we deserved two points tonight.”
Kirkland Lake, sporting a record of 4-0 and coming off a victory on home ice against the Soo Thunderbirds, may have taken the Eskimos for granted.
“The last couple of times we played against them they were working it down low and they were getting some great chances in front of the net and tonight we minimized those chances,” Gagne said.
“Our goalie kept us in the game when it was time to make a big save. Other than that, we gave them a lot of shots from the outside and he could see the puck coming all the time.”
The solid effort by the Eskimos gives the fans hope for the future, but seeing another game slip into the loss column is tough on the players.
“It is hard on the players because they deserved two points, not just one,” Gagne said.
Clearly the Eskimos gave the Gold Miners everything they could handle and they held a 1-0 advantage late into the third period — thanks to captain Kevin Walker’s first goal of the season.
Kirkland Lake got the tying goal when Austin Rust beat Eskimos goalie Sylvain Miron with just 3:12 remaining in regulation.
The Eskimos played the Gold Miners to a standstill, proving they can play well against any team in the league.
“And we are just getting better,” Gagne said.
“I like the way we are playing. The kids are focused. They are sacrificing towards our program. It’s coming around and I like the progress.
“I like what I see and eventually we are going to get our victories. I know we will.”
The Eskimos lineup received a boost Sunday night from the addition of centre Erik Robichaud, who spent the last two seasons in the QMJHL after beginning his junior career with the Eskimos during the 2010-11 season.
Robichaud showed the heart of a champion just by being in the lineup after a 12-hour car ride to make it to Iroquois Falls.
“He wanted to be here, he wanted to play, so that is a great feeling to know that a guy of his calibre wants to play,” Gagne said.
“He came in in the second period and he is going to add so much to this team. He set up a couple of plays and he is going to be a dominant player on our team and in our league, for sure.”
Robichaud was playing on pure adrenalin and he was dominant in the first overtime, despite having tired legs.
“As soon as he got the puck you could see what he did with it,” Gagne said.
“He set up two or three players and he wasn’t even up to par, with all the travel and all that.”
The centre wasn’t making any excuses following the loss, but you could clearly see he was one tired individual.
“I left about 6 a.m. , so I drove a little over 12 hours and got out once on the way here, then I got out right away, got dressed and got on the ice,” Robichaud said.
“My legs were stiff, because we had two games in the past two nights in Guelph. And when you sit in a car all day your legs get heavy. I didn’t have my feet under me tonight, but that’s understandable, I didn’t have a warm up, or anything.
“I wasn’t expecting to play much, but I played a little bit more than I expected. I tried to get something going, but we missed a few good chances.”
He was impressed with the heart shown by his new teammates against the top team in the NOJHL.
“The boys battled hard, but I guess it will take some time to get everyone playing together,” Robichaud said.
Robichaud was with the Eskimos through training camp, before trying to crack the roster of a couple of OHL teams, so he has an idea of what kind of team Abitibi has this season.
“The guys have got to get used to playing with each other. Lines have got to form and players have got to learn how to play together, but I am sure we can do very well this year.”
Morin, who has played every minute of every regular season game so far, made 51 saves for the Eskimos, but gave much of the credit to his teammates.
“We all played hard, we fought throughout the whole game, but it just didn’t go our way at the end,” he said.
“I think we surprised them. They probably thought it was going to be an easy game, but we gave it to them. We worked hard throughout the whole game.”
Morin is clearly becoming more comfortable the more he plays in the NOJHL.
“After about four, or five games I am getting more confident and feeling more comfortable with the league,” he said.
Gold Kings goalie Kenny Fitzgerald stopped 29 of the 30 shots he faced to pick up the victory.
ESKIMOS NOTES — The Eskimos have a new goaltender in camp. Simon-Pier Chamberland, a 20-year-old native of Thetford, Que., comes to the Eskimos from Woodstock. The 6-1, 170 lbs. goaltender watched the games on Saturday and Sunday, but was not eligible to play in either game … The official attendance Sunday night was 343 … The Eskimos next game will be on Saturday, Sept. 21, when they host the Elliot Lake Bobcats. Game time is 7:30 p.m.