It was a sad night in the Salt Palace Thursday. No, not because the Golden Eagles lost. Actually they defeated the top team in the IHL East, the Kalamazoo Wings, by a convincing 7-1 margin.
The reason for the Eagles' sadness was the calendar. It marked the last day of February, which has been very, very good to Salt Lake, to say the least.The Eagles finished February with a sparkling 13-0-1 mark, their only blemish being an overtime loss to Muskegon last Thursday.
"We've had a great February - unfortunately there are only 28 days in February," said Eagle Coach Bob Francis. "We'll just have to make the most of March."
There's no reason to think the Eagles, who play the Wings in Kalamazoo tonight, won't.
In Thursday's win the Eagles used the same formula they've used throughout their successful month - strong defense, balanced scoring and superb goaltending.
Seven different Eagles scored goals and 12 of the 17 players contributed to the scoring. The defense limited the Wings to just 23 shots (compared to 43 for Salt Lake), and goalie Warren Sharples made several nice saves when they were most needed.
"The encouraging part to me," said Francis, "was we saw them generate a lot of offense and we still played well defensively."
The Eagles jumped to a 4-1 lead after one period and coasted home with two more goals in the second and one in the third.
Sergei Priakin, the Soviet player who was sent down by Calgary last week, scored his third goal of the season, just four minutes into the game, and a minute later, Tim Sweeney, who also spent most of the year with Calgary, added a goal.
Gary Emmons' goal made it 2-1 just 39 seconds later, and it looked like it might stay that way the rest of the period. But the Eagles scored two quick goals in the final minute and a half.
Todd Harkins fired a shot from the corner, nearly parallel to the goalmouth, and the puck hit a Wings defenseman's skate, bounced up in the air over the head of goalie Larry Dyck, who never saw it. Then Kerry Clark, who had a 3-point night, added his 13th goal of the year.
"When you work hard, bounces tend to come your way, and I know we worked hard in the first period," said Francis.
Kalamazoo Coach John Marks said Harkins' fluke goal was the turning point. "That killed us," he said. "A few seconds later they come back and score again and bang, the game is over."
Bryan Deasley and Rich Chernomaz added goals in the second period, and Kevan Melrose hit the lone goal of the third. For Chernomaz, it was his 30th goal of the year and the 161st of his career, which moved him past Lyle Bradley into second place on the all-time Eagle goal-scoring list behind Doug Palazzari.
After another game against Kalamazoo, the same team they beat two of the last three nights by a combined 14-4 margin, the Eagles move up to Milwaukee for a game Saturday night. Then they'll have a few days off before playing a pair in San Diego next weekend.