COCHRANE - Jackson Winkler made 36 saves to backstop the Abitibi Eskimos to a 7-0 win over the Sudbury Nickel Barons at the Tim Horton Arena on Saturday night.
The netminder was quick to share the credit for the victory with his teammates, however.
“The defence backed me up the whole game, keeping the shots from the outside,” Winkler said.
“Everyone on the team did their job and it made mine easy.”
And he received plenty of offensive support from his friends — including captain Richard Therrien who scored three times to retake the NOJHL scoring lead and rookie Aaron Kerr who notched a pair of goals including his 10th on the season — as the Eskimos scored four times in the first period and never looked back.
Ryan Wildman got the ball rolling when he scored what would prove to be the game-winning goal at the 10:40 mark of the first period.
Therrien followed that up with his 22nd goal of the season less than a minute later to tie the Nickel Barons Darcy Haines for the most goals in the league.
Kerr kept the momentum going when he scored his ninth of the season a minute and a half later and when he added his 10th of the season before the end of the period the route was on.
Sudbury starting goalie Michael Muzyka was given the hook after Kerr’s first goal, with his replacement Alexander Laino fairing no better.
Therrien scored his 23rd of the season just over seven minutes into the middle period to increase the lead to 5-0.
Defenceman Simon Desrosiers then notched his first goal of the season to make it 6-0.
Desrosiers, who had picked up an assist on Therrien’s first goal of the game would then complete his “Gordie Howe hattrick” by getting tossed from the game for being the third man in a fight in which one of his teammates was being pummelled by a Nickel Baron.
Therrien closed out the scoring when he notched his third goal of the game and 24th of the season with just under five minutes to play in the second period.
Winkler got a big boost from his teammates early offensive outburst.
“It’s a little easier to focus because the pressure is way off when you have a comfortable lead like that,” he said. “You can just play your game.”
While most of the shots Winkler faced were from the outside, there were a few chances that did test him.
“The most difficult chance, I would say, was probably when that guy got a little breakaway on me and I just kind of poke checked him with my stick, just enough to knock it off him as he was getting around me there,” he said.
That is a move perfected by former Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Johnny Bower.
Unlike Desrosiers who is familiar with Howe, Winkler not only had never seen Bower play but had no idea who he is.
“Obviously, it’s always huge when you beat somebody ahead of you in the standings, but with me being a little bit newer I don’t have that sense of a rivalry with them yet,” Winkler said.
“But the boys are excited, so everything is good.”
Eskimos coach and general manager Paul Gagne was smiling from ear to ear following Saturday night’s game.
“It was incredible,” he said.
“We had a good start ... the first period we buried our chances ... those three attempts that we had and right from there the confidence level was raised on every part of our game.
“I know we scored seven goals, but I was really impressed with our third line tonight. They really shut down the Darcy Haines and Sebastien Leroux line. That was their assignment when they were on the ice at all times tonight and I was really impressed with that.”
And it wasn’t just two lines putting the puck in the net, or one line shutting down the other team’s top unit.
“(Corey) Dubbeldam played excellent tonight, he was awesome out there,” Gagne said.
“And our goaltender made 36 stops. We gave them a lot of outside shots, which was great, and all around there was not one star, we were all stars tonight.”
Nickel Barons coach Dave Clancy, however, was hard pressed to find a lineup full of stars on his bench.
“I just think our team isn’t ready to play the games,” he said.
“We got off, the first couple of shifts, to a good start and then we started to watch the play.
“The bottom line is they won the battles around the net and our guys stood and watched them.”
Even with Saturday night’s loss, the Nickel Barons have still won three out of their past five games.
“I am happy with about how about 50% of our guys are bringing it every night,” Clancy said.
“The other 50% we have to get to the bottom of it and find out why they can’t show up every game.”