That team in the red, white and gold was hardly recognizable to the 3,583 fans at the Salt Palace Tuesday night.
Sure there were a few different faces since the last time they were town, some three weeks ago. The biggest difference, however, was the winning attitude of these new and improved Salt Lake Golden Eagles.Taking on the once-invincible Peoria Riverman, the Eagles skated to a comfortable 5-1 victory. It marked the fourth straight win for the Eagles and the third straight loss for the Rivermen, who last week set a professional hockey league record with their 18th straight victory.
"We're a different team than when we left here," said Salt Lake Coach Bob Francis. "We've come a long ways and we wanted to show our people here that we're a different team."
When the Eagles left on their six-game road trip Nov. 10, they had won just 6 of their first 15 games. They looked sluggish at times and were losing a lot of close games in the final period.
Then suddenly they went 4-1-1 on the road and came home with a winning record. With Tuesday's win they are 11-9-1 and creeping up on the Rivermen, who still have a league-best 18-3-1 mark.
"Our guys have started to believe in themselves and it's encouraging to see that they're starting to look ahead in the standings instead of behind," said Francis.
Marc Bureau, who earlier in the day was named IHL player of the week, scored two goals and Steve Guenette won again with another sterling job in the nets. Bureau and Guenette both spent some time up with Calgary this year, but have helped the Eagles immensely since their return to Salt Lake.
The Eagles jumped ahead quickly as Todd Harkins tipped in a shot by C.J. Young that got past the goalie, but sat just inches from the red line. Bureau made it 2-0 off a nice pass from Martin Simard at 10:11 of the first period.The Rivermen turned up their intensity a notch and controlled the puck for much of the second period, but couldn't crack Guenette.
Andrew McKim made it 3-0 in the opening minute of the third period as he first beat defenseman Rob Robinson and then flipped a short shot past goalie Guy Hebert.
Peoria finally scored when Richard Pion and David O'Brien teamed for a nice goal at the 1:53 mark. Seconds later, Guenette got into a fight with Peoria's Tony Twist, right behind the net. But it wasn't out of frustration for losing his shutout.
"The guy came in and elbowed me right across the ear for no reason," said Guenette. "I wasn't going to take that so I just sent him a message since we play them again Thursday."
Luckily for Guenette, Rick Lessard came to his defense shortly after he put a nice punch on Twist.
"If he'd (Twist) have gotten free, he'd have killed me," said Guenette. "They'd be picking me up off the ice piece by piece."
Two weeks ago in Peoria, the Eagles had a 3-1 lead in the final period and ended up losing 4-3 in overtime. This time, they put the Rivermen away as Bureau got another goal, his 14th of the year, and Bryan Deasley scored off a 2-on-1 breakaway with Paul Kruse getting the assist.
"I think it was just outstanding the way the team responded," said Guenette. "Earlier in the year we might have folded. We had that two-goal lead in Peoria, but tonight we proved we'd keep going and get as many as we can."
The two teams play again Thursday in the Salt Palace.