IROQUOIS FALLS - The Soo Thunderbirds flew off with a 5-2 victory over the Abitibi Eskimos Saturday night at the Jus Jordan Arena.
The final outcome on the scoreboard didn’t reflect the effort put forth by the two sides, however, as the Eskimos gave the visitors everything they could handle.
“We competed, I like the way we competed,” said Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne.
“The effort was there. We worked hard. We just weren’t able to capitalize when we had the chances.”
The Thunderbirds, on the other hand, were able to capitalize on their changes.
Tyler Jones (power-play), Matt Zalewski and Gavin Burbach (short-handed) scored second-period goals to put the Thunderbirds in front 3-0, following a scoreless first period.
“Those three goals were gifts that we gave them,” Gagne said.
“I don’t like to consider them mistakes, but we are going to treat them as experiences. Those three experiences, we are going to learn from them and hopefully (next time) we will capitalize on our chances.”
Soo head coach Jordan Smith was a lot happier for the Thunderbirds’ effort Saturday night than he was with Friday’s 3-0 loss in Kirkland Lake.
“I thought we got out of the gate slow, but we challenged the guys in the first intermission and they responded and I am very happy with the outcome,” he said.
“I thought the work ethic was there tonight. I thought we competed much more for pucks and the compete level was higher.
“There is a lot of parity in this league and if you don‘t come to play every night you are going to be in tough.”
The Thunderbirds were content to play a solid game and not try to force the scoring chances.
“Our system is very simple,” Smith said.
“We like to keep it simple and we feel if the kids buy in and we can get everybody on the same page we can go a long way.”
The Thunderbirds have a tradition of icing strong teams and Smith sees no reason why this season should be any different.
“I think every season your goal should be to win and ours is definitely to win the league championship and move on from there, but there is definitely a lot of work to do and like I said there are a lot of good teams and it is going to be a battle every night and we just hope we can get the guys playing together.”
Clearly confidence, or the lack thereof, has been a big factor in the last two home games, with the Eskimos spotting the visitors to a 3-0 advantage in each of them.
“You saw the spirit out there when we scored our first goal, the level on the bench … everything just rises … the confidence level,” Gagne said.
“But it’s to get that (first) goal, absolutely, I am hoping to get that first goal tomorrow night. But I like the way we are playing. We have got to capitalize on our chances, but that will happen sooner, or later and when they come, I hope they come in bunches.”
One area the Eskimos clearly need to improve upon, however, is the power play — a unit that surrendered a two-on-none breakaway that resulted in the third Soo goal.
“Absolutely, we even changed our little tactic on the power play going into the third period,” Gagne said.
“We were putting a little pressure on our defence up on top, so we have to work it a little bit more down low.
“It is definitely something to work on.”
Gagne was pleased with the continued strong play of some of the team’s younger players, especially 16-year-old centre Brenden Locke and 16-year-old defenceman Jamey Lauzon.
“And they are only going to get better,” he said.
“They come from playing midget last year and you can see the progresss.
“The young Locke got a lot of ice time again tonight and young Lauzon played really well, he likes to take the body, he likes to hit, so they are really progressing and we are really happy with that.”
The Eskimos finally got on the scoreboard 9:25 into the final period when Jacob Kenney put the puck behind Soo goaltender Joel Horodziejczyk, with Ben Miller and Tommy Labrecque earning assists on the play.
“The boys did all the right things,” Kenney said.
“We stuck to our systems. We got it down low, moved the puck around and it came out front and I was able to put it in.
“It was just a team effort.”
The assistant captain agreed momentum played a big factor in the game.
“Fortunately we have a good group of guys and the goals that they got were the result of very small mistakes,” Kenney said.
“It cost us big, but the boys have good energy and good spirit, so what we did was just keep at it and keep battling and it worked out for us for a couple of goals.”
Kenney feels persistence will be the key to turning some of the team’s positives into victories.
“Just as long as we keep at it, keep to our systems and simplify our game, we should be all right,” he said. “Like I said, we have a good group of guys and a lot of energy. If we can put it together, like we did against Sudbury in our first game, I think we can do it again.”
Kenney, not known for his goal scoring prowess, is happy to contribute to the team any way he can.
“It takes a team effort and we have a great group of guys to work with,” he said. “As long as I have them backing me up I think I should be fine to do that (score a few more goals).”
And momentum the Eskimos gained from Kenney’s goal did not last long, however, as Zalewski scored his second goal of the game to put the Soo in front 4-1 1:02 later.
Brady Clouthier’s power-play goal with 7:21 to play gave Eskimo fans another flicker of hope. Steven Petitte and Ryan Wildman earned assists on the play.
Eric Hillock then closed out the scoring for the Soo, with 1:02 to play, to make the final 5-2.
ESKIMOS NOTE — The Eskimos were without the service of winger Aaron Kerr, who is in camp with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, of the QMJHL, on a tryout basis … Official attendance was 548 … Horodziejczyk made 32 saves, while Sylvain Miron, of the Eskimos, stopped 31 shots … The Eskimos host the first-place Kirkland Lake Gold Miners at the Jus Jordan Arena Sunday night. Game time is 7:30 p.m.