The largest crowd of the season turned out at the Salt Palace Friday night to see the first visit of season by one of the IHL's newest teams, the Albany Choppers.
Well, that, and a couple of dozen people parading around in their bikinis between periods.The Golden Eagles gave those among the 9,380 fans who weren't hockey fans a reason to come back before next year's Bikini Night as they skated to a solid 5-1 victory over one of the hottest teams in the IHL.
Albany had come into the game with six wins in its last seven games, including three on the road. But the Eagles never let the Choppers into the game, scoring two first-period goals and keeping the nets clear thanks to goaltender Warren Sharples and sharp defense.
"I'm pretty happy with the effort tonight," said Eagle Coach Bob Francis, who is letting his trademark mustache grow back after shaving it recently to pay off on a bet with a player. "Albany probably has been the hottest team in the league and they had the third best road record in the league."
The win was the fourth in a row for the Eagles who had lost four straight before that. It solidified their hold on second place in the IHL West especially since third-place Phoenix lost at home to Milwaukee. The Eagles have 60 points compared to 55 for Phoenix.
Tim Sweeney, who has scored in all five games since being sent down by Calgary last week, put the Eagles on the board quickly with a flip shot in traffic just 2:01 into the game. He added another in the first 21 seconds of the second period to make it 3-0 following a goal by Rich Chernomaz late in the first.
Albany's only score of the night came a few minutes later when Joe Stefan beat Sharples with a long slapshot.
At that point, Francis felt the Choppers had his team back on its heels a bit, but the Eagles recovered and went ahead later in the period as defenseman Rick Lessard slapped in a left-handed shot from near the blue line to make it 4-1.
For Lessard it was a 4-point night as he assisted on Sweeney's two goals and on goal by Marc Bureau in the third period.
"The big crowd helps a lot," said Lessard. "The crowd gets you right into it. They ought to have Bikini Night every night."
The Eagles and Choppers go at it again tonight in the Salt Palace - minus the bikinis.