Richard Zemlak says he's never been known as a scorer during his hockey career. The usual role for the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder is to "protect the little guys" by putting his big body on opposing players.
Saturday at the Salt Palace, Zemlak became the Golden Eagles' latest "scorer for a night" as he registered his first professional hat trick to lead Salt Lake to a 6-3 win over Albany.The win was the fifth straight for the Eagles, who are pulling away from Phoenix in the fight for second place in the IHL West. Phoenix lost at home to Milwaukee for the second straight night, leaving Salt Lake seven points ahead.
"I'm not really known for putting points in the goal, but it felt kind of nice tonight," said the 27-year-old Zemlak, who celebrated by calling his mother in Saskatchewan afterward with the news.
Zemlak's big night, which included an assist along with his three goals, was in keeping with Coach Bob Francis' plan to spread the Eagles' scoring around.
"It's encouraging because it's somebody different every night," said Francis. "We've said all along we needed balance and we're getting it."
One of the Saturday's scorers who wasn't unexpected was old reliable Rich Chernomaz, who assisted on all three Zemlak goals and scored off Zemlak's assist in the second period. Cherno and Zemlak were put on the same line by Francis about 10 days ago and it's paid off well.
"Rich keeps telling me to go to the net and we communicate well," said Zemlak. "Tonight things fell in to place for us."
Zemlak was signed as a free agent by Calgary in early November and assigned to Salt Lake. Going into Saturday' game he ranked just 11th on the team in scoring with 22 points.
It took until the 4:00 mark of the second period for either team to score as Emanuel Viverios scored for the Choppers on a power play.
Salt Lake defenseman Kevin Grant evened the score thanks to some deft passes by Corey Lyons and Paul Kruse. Then Zemlak scored his first goal after receiving a crossing pass from Chernomaz.
Just before the end of the second period, Zemlak fed Chernomaz, who circled in from the left side to the right, only to find a surprisingly clear shot from the middle of the circle. That made it 3-1.
Albany cut the lead to 3-2 early in the third, when Bob Bodak slipped one between Steve Guenette's pads, while falling down. But the Eagles responded with three goals in the final seven minutes.
Zemlak scored on a no-look shot through a crowd at the 13:28 mark. Then Bryan Deasley deflected in a long shot by Marc Bureau. Finally Zemlak drew a few hats on the ice when he deflected a shot from Chernomaz off his knee pads.
It wasn't a fun trip for Albany and its Coach Dave Allison, who came more than 2,000 miles only to lose 5-1 and 6-3 on consecutive nights.
"They beat us. They scored more goals. Salt Lake is a good team and played well," said Allison, tersely.
The Eagles will try to extend their winning streak next week when they go to San Diego for a pair of games Tuesday and Wednesday (the latter televised live on Channel 14). The hardest thing for Francis these days is deciding who to play each game since he is three players over the 18-man limit.
"It's tough finding time for everyone, but it shows we have a lot of depth," said Francis. "I like the chemistry of our team right now."