A second-straight Copeland Cup won’t be in the Abitibi Eskimos’ future.
The 2009-10 Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League champions were eliminated from this season’s playoffs with an 8-3 loss to the Sudbury Junior Wolves in Sudbury on Sunday night.
The Wolves, who had entered the post-season as the Eastern Division’s top team, won the division finals 4-1.
“It’s unfortunate, but life goes on,” said Eskimos head coach and general manager Paul Gagne. “A good team beat us. A better team beat us. That’s the bottom line.”
Sudbury took a 2-1 lead into the second period where they scored three more times to take a 5-1 advantage. Though the Eskimos opened up the third with back-to-back goals, the deficit was too much to overcome.
Jayce Douskey, Luc Comtois and Nick Esposto all scored twice for the Wolves. Zach McGillis and Mathieu Lecours were their other goal scorers.
Tallying for the Eskis were Maxime St. Pierre, Joel Roy and Erik Robichaud.
Sudbury outshot Abitibi 66-38 and never had less than 20 shots on net in a period. Eskis goalie J.P. Fecteau made 58 saves, but was in net for each of the Wolves’ goals. Alex Laino stopped 35 shots.
“They were good,” Gagne said. “To get that many shots … we had some penalties and they scored their goals on the power play, right away. That made a difference. It changed the momentum.”
Abitibi scored two quick goals at the beginning of the third period to make the score 5-3. Just as quickly, however, the Wolves got both goals back plus one. Douskey, McGillis and Comtois all scored in a span of 1:34 to ice the Eskimos.
“It’s all over. We’re a little disappointed and it’s unfortunate,” Gagne said. “You hate for it to come to an end, but you have to think about the positive. We had a pretty successful season. It’s been good.
”We were a little shaky at the start of the year and then we progressed. The word is progression.”
The Eskis started the season with a record of 1-6-0. The championship hangover had them last in the East to begin the year. They steadily improved and finished the regular season second in their division at 26-23-1.
As is always the case in junior hockey, the end of the season leaves questions marks in the future of graduating players. St. Pierre, Roy, Josh Clancy, Gary Rai, Shane Innes and Eric Carrier will no long be able to play junior.
“Some players are 20 years old and this is their last season of junior hockey,” Gagne said. “Their last kick at the can, basically. Some of them might go on to play hockey, but some of them might be finished, at a competitive level that is.
“Some of these kids have been with us the last four years. It’s tough to say goodbye. You hate to do it. They’re in the same position. It’s tough to say goodbye. It’s been a big part of their lives here with the Eskimos.
“It’s not all bad. The overall picture has been great. They won a championship. Tonight, they lost a series, it’s not the end of the world.”
The Eskis entered Sunday’s game fresh off the high of beating the Wolves 3-2 in overtime on Saturday in Iroquois falls. It was the Wolves’ only loss of the playoffs.
Sudbury will now move on to the NOJHL championship series. The winner of the Soo Thunderbirds-Soo Eagles series will represent the Western Division in the finals. The Eagles currently lead the T-Birds 3-1.