LEWISTON — Friday night’s Lewiston Maineiacs game against Chicoutimi had all of the makings of a divisional rivalry — one year early.
Matthew Bissonette had a goal and an assist against his former team and three other 17-year-old skaters netted goals to lead the Maineiacs to a 5-3 win over Chicoutimi in front of 2,813 at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, evening Lewiston’s home record at 15-15-0-1 and putting the Maineiacs in firm control of their own playoff destiny.
“We had some adversity tonight, and we fought through it,” Maineiacs’ coach J.F. Houle said. “We took some bad penalties at bad times, but we came back and fought through that … it’s a good thing that our 17-year-olds are our best players right now, they’re on the board a lot. That’s great for the future.”
The one goal-scorer for Lewiston who isn’t listed at 17 was Lewiston native Eric Bonawitz, who, playing his first game as a forward, scored his first-ever QMJHL goal in the first period.
Chicoutimi, meanwhile, had trouble controlling Lewiston’s speed up front. Two of the Sags’ three goals came courtesy of the power play, both times on a 5-on-3.
“It was a very physical game,” Chicoutimi bench boss Richard Martel said. “Lewiston is a good team. They have a lot of speed, and it was hard for the defense to keep up.”
The win lifts Lewiston’s overall record to 23-38-0-3, putting the Maineiacs five points ahead of Baie-Comeau in the race for the final playoff spot.
Lewiston’s first goal came from an unlikely source. Bonawitz, the Lewiston-born 19-year-old defender who just recently returned from a fractured collarbone, slotted in as a forward for the first time this season. He took a feed through center from linemate Oskar Orrpars, split a pair of defenders and shoveled the puck on net as he was being hauled down. Before officials could blow their whistles, Bonawitz knocked the puck through Gibson’s pads and it trickled over the goal line.
“Somehow I beat the defense,” Bonawitz said. “I was going down and they lifted my stick so I missed the puck the first time, but I saw it out to my left and reached around to poke at it.”
With Lewiston on its first power play of the game, Marc-Andre Levasseur picked Matt Boyle’s pocket at the blue line, drove into the Lewiston zone and fired the puck past Lemay to even things at 1-1.
In the second, on another power play, Bissonette made his former team pay, firing a wrister through traffic from the left point position into the top left corner of the cage. Gibson never saw it.
“The guys coming at me came in low, and he gave me a shooting lane,” Bissonette said. “I saw the goalie peek out to his left, so I shot it to his right.”
After Bissonette set up defenseman Sam Carrier to put Lewiston on top by two, former Maineiac Eric Gelinas struck for the Sags to pull his team back within one, following his own power play rush to put a rebound past Lemay on the backhand.
Jess Tanguy notched his 15th of the season at 15:10 of the middle frame, batting the puck in out of the air on a rebound in front to put Lewiston back on top by two.
Chicoutimi’s Antoine Roussel netted a power-play goal in the first minute of the third to again pull the Sags to within a goal, but Lewiston held on from there, and Michael Chaput added an empty-netter for his team-leading 27th of the season to finish things off.
“I was especially happy with the third period,” Houle said. “When you have the lead, that’s how you have to play, get the puck deep, kill the clock.”