For quite awhile, the Salt Lake Golden Eagles have been pointing to this week's games with the Peoria Rivermen. At least in the back of their minds.
Not only would they be at home for the first time in 18 days, they would be playing a team in the midst of a professional hockey record winning streak.The big games with Peoria (tonight 7 p.m. and Thursday at the Salt Palace) took a strange turn over the weekend.
After setting a record with 18 straight victories, the Rivermen finally lost, twice, in fact, Friday and Saturday to Milwaukee.
Meanwhile, the Eagles were surprise double winners in their last two games of a seven-game road trip, defeating Phoenix 7-4 and 6-2.
So now instead of giant underdogs, you'd have to call the Eagles the favorites this week, right?
Eagle Coach Bob Francis isn't so sure, but he is feeling much better about his team than he was Nov. 9 when the Eagles embarked on their long road trip.
"We've started to realize what's going to make us successful," said Francis. "Against Peoria, we'll need a total effort from everybody. They're a quality team and they'll come in here hungry after losing two straight."
One of the big changes for the Eagles, has been their improvement on the power play. At one time this season, the Eagles were converting on only 8 percent of their power play opportunites. But in the last five games, they've converted 33 percent of their attempts (9 of 27), compared to their opponents' 11 percent (4 of 34).
Peoria features the top four scorers in the IHL in Nelson Emerson, David Bruce, Dave Tomlinson and Steve Tuttle. They also have the second best goaltender in Guy Hebert, who allows just 2.43 goals per game.
The Eagles' Steve Guenette is allowing 2.45 goals per game, but has played in one game too few to qualify for the league statistics.
Marc Bureau leads the Eagles in scoring with 27 points, despite missing seven games. Rich Chernomaz, who has broken out of an early-season scoring slump, stands second on the team with 18 points, followed by Martin Simard with 17. Simard, who sat out the first eight games, leads the Eagles with 13 goals.
In their only meeting this year, the Rivermen took a 4-3 overtime shootout win over the Eagles in Peoria.