TIMMINS - The Sudbury Nickel Barons stunned the Abitibi Eskimos 5-3 in front of 570 fans at the McIntyre Arena Friday night.
The Eskimos had picked up at least a point in four-straight games and had been razor sharp in practice all week. The Nickel Barons, on the other hand, had won only two games all season and had been decimated by injuries.
It looked like the perfect recipe for an Eskimos rout of a wounded team — especially with Erik Robichaud returning to the team.
“It was a total flat line, that’s what went wrong,” said Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“We never showed up to play. We never put out any time or effort.”
Nickel Barons coach Trevor Blanchard had a big smile on his face following the game and understandably so.
“It was nice to finally get a W, especially on the road,” he said.
“And the way we got it, battling back and forth all game … I thought it was a great game, by both teams … we traded goals back and forth and we got the better half of the third period and we are more than happy to get our third win of the year and hopefully turn the tide and start putting a few more in the win column.”
With a record of just 2-8-0-0 prior to Friday night’s game, it was a victory the Nickel Barons needed badly.
“For the most part, I think this was our best 60 minutes of keeping a system in place, which is a simple system, like I touched on before,” Blanchard said.
“And I thought the boys did a great job. A couple of the goals against us were created maybe by veering away from that system, but I was proud of them and they were rewarded by getting two points on the road.”
Given the way the season has gone, it would have been easy for the Nickel Barons to fold once the Eskimos battled back to make it a 2-1 game.
“We have got a lot of character guys who are slowly making their way back in the lineup from injuries and to have Marty Jolicouer back and to have Justin Bell sitting on the bench … there for moral support … encouraged us to stay positive even though we went down 2-1 and it looked like the norm of us blowing a lead early on,” Blanchard said.
“I think we stayed positive and we encouraged each other. We stuck to the game plan and we got rewarded with a few goals late to get the two points.”
Blanchard realizes that the Eskimos team the Nickel Barons beat on Friday night did not bring its A game.
“Abitibi has always been a quick, fast hockey club,” he said.
“They have a lot of skilled forwards and Paul has got them playing a really good system. They had a few defensive letdowns that we took advantage of late in the game that we were fortunate enough to capitalize on, but they are always going to be able to be that team to hem us in our zone.
“I think the second period they gave it to us pretty good and towards the end of the first, so we are going to have to make sure the next time that we come back here to play them that we remember that.
“They took it to use for a good 10 to 12 minutes at different times of the game, where they took over and they worked hard.
“Their speed is definitely their top attribute.
The Nickel Barons struck first Friday, as Giovanni Foschia beat Eskimos goalie Sylvain Miron just 1:37 into the opening frame.
The Eskimos were able to get that one back before the end of the first period when Brenden Locke scored a power-play goal to make it a 1-1 hockey game.
Robichaud put the Eskimos in front 2-1 when he scored the only goal of the second period, at the 3:25 mark.
Ryan Punkari scored 31 seconds into the third period, however, to tie the score at 2-2 and give Sudbury the momentum.
August Jarecki then put the visitors in front 3-2 when he scored just over three minutes later.
Dylan Callaghan increased the Sudbury advantage to 4-2 near the midway point in the period.
Eskimos fans were given a little hope when Brady Clouthier netted his team-leading fifth goal of the season to cut the Nickel Barons advantage to 4-3 at the 12:47 mark, but Callaghan’s second goal of the period provided the visitors with another two-goal advantage, one they would not surrender.
Perhaps, given that the Nickel Barons hold down last place in the eight-team NOJHL, the Eskimos were looking past them to Sunday night’s encounter with the first-place Kirkland Lake Gold Miners.
“If that was their train of thought, they shouldn’t be playing here at all,” Gagne said.
“We didn’t work with them all week to prepare them for tonight’s efforts. Not a chance.
“You know what, we are going to have to bring our skates with us because we didn’t have our skates with us tonight.”
Gagne was quick to praise the effort put forth by his opponents Friday night.
“They kept it simple and they worked hard,” he said.
“They dumped it in and they went in the corners. The puck belonged to them tonight and they didn’t want to give it away. The fought for it and that is the opposite of what we did. We didn’t fight for it and we gave it away. It was not our time to play the game tonight.”
Playing away from the friendly confines of the Jus Jordan Arena may have contributed to the Eskimos coming out flat, but Gagne was not about to make excuses for his team’s poor play.
“It was different,” he said. “It’s not your normal game at home and you get away from your routine. That could be one of the reasons, but we were flat. We played well last Sunday. We played well last Saturday and had a great week of practice, but we have to go back to the drawing board, although I shouldn’t say that. It’s about right here, heart and character.
“I know we have it, but we just didn’t have it tonight.”
One of the few players Gagne praised for his effort against the Nickel Barons was 16-year-old defenceman Jamey Lauzon.
“I think we just didn’t show up in the first period,” Lauzon said.
“The first three shifts we saw there were guys breaking hard, but it wasn’t working. It wasn’t connecting.
“I think every player needs to tell themselves to play for the team and to play with heart and we will win our next games.”
Lauzon had a sense, as the game progressed, that things were not going to go the Eskimos way Friday night.
“Honestly, from the first period, the first goal that went in, I had a clue,” he said.
“Then we got back in the game and when we came out for the third period it happened again and I thought maybe we were going to get back in the game, but it doesn’t look like we did.”
Lauzon, who normally likes to play a physical game, got into a fight with Callaghan in front of the Eskimos goal in the third period.
“This was my first time fighting in my life,” he said.
“I never fought before, but I thought it might boost up the team and it was the right thing to do, but it didn’t really help, although I did my part.”
Playing a physical style of game is a little more difficult for Lauzon in the NOJHL than it was with the Kapuskasing Flyers of the Great North Midget League last season.
“I have to get use to being physical with bigger players,” he said.
“I am not use to playing against bigger players. I am younger than everybody else.”
The Eskimos will have Saturday off to forget about their lack of effort Friday night against Sudbury and hopefully be in a better frame of mind for Sunday’s game in Kirkland Lake.