Shutouts aren't that common in hockey, at least not in the International Hockey League. Last year, there were only 12 shutouts the entire season with Salt Lake getting just one in its 82 games.
It didn't take the Eagles long to match last year's total as Wayne Cowley shut down the San Diego Gulls 2-0 Wednesday before 6,958 at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake's 1990-91 home opener.Cowley, who was a surprise starter for an ill Steve Guenette, was happy to have the chance to redeem himself after a poor performance in the season opener Friday night in San Diego. In that game, Cowley gave up four goals in the first period and was replaced by rookie Warren Sharples, who didn't allow any goals the rest of the way.
"I wasn't ready for the first game. I didn't answer the bell," said Cowley. "The way I played the other night, it was like playing myself out of a job."
Cowley said he was warned by Guenette at the end of the morning practice Wednesday that he might have to play that night. But it wasn't until about an hour before the game that Coach Bobby Francis officially gave him the word.
"Wayne Cowley was exceptional. He made the saves when we needed them," said Francis, who wasn't at all surprised Cowley came back strong after Friday's poor performance. "Wayne's a fierce competitor."
San Diego Coach Mike O'Connell was pleased with his team's performance, despite the loss. "That was a good solid hockey game on both sides. Their goalie was excellent."
Unlike the first game between the two clubs when seven goals were scored in the first period, this one started slowly.
Left winger Bryan Deasley, who had 16 goals for the Eagles last year, took a pass from rookie Todd Harkins on the right side, beat the San Diego defenseman and slipped a shot past Gulls goalie Scott Brower at the 12:21 mark.
No one scored in the second period as San Diego outshot Salt Lake 10-5 and Cowley made several superb saves. The most memorable to him was a hard shot by Jim McGeough that he gloved at the 13:35 mark.
The Gulls tried to tie it in the final period, but Randy Bucyk's shot from the right circle off passes from C.J. Young and Brian Glynn made it 2-0 Eagles with just over eight minutes left. Cowley took one more hard shot from McGeough with about three minutes left and after that he knew he had the shutout.
For Cowley his fine play is more than just a matter of winning. It's also survival.
"I can't give them any reason to move me," he said. "In a situation like this with three goalies, something's got to happen. I love it here and want to stay around as much as the next guy. I'm doing my best not to be moved."
The Eagles come back Friday to face the Milwaukee Admirals, who come to town with an 0-2 mark. The Eagles and Admirals will play again Saturday night in the Salt Palace. Both games begin at 7 p.m.