The Kansas City Blades are a changed team since they last met the Golden Eagles, having acquired new players who've given them an attitude Coach Doug Soetaert likes. Six wins in seven games will make a coach very happy. The Eagles are also a changed team, having lost their top scorer in a trade last week that gave them a new attitude, too. "Now that we don't have all the offensive players, everybody decides to tighten up on defense," says Rich Chernomaz. The club won two weekend games at San Diego by defense.
Tuesday night in the Salt Palace it was a defensive struggle between these new-look rivals until two Blade errors gave Chernomaz two goals and the Eagles a 4-2 victory, their third in a row since Marc Bureau left for Minnesota."We got better as the game went on," said Eagle Coach Bob Francis.
"I thought we played well the entire game," said Soetaert. "We had lapses but came back and tied (twice). I think we ended up putting it in our own net."
That was Chernomaz's first goal, the Eagles' third, the game-winner, at 12:23 of the third period.
Eagle defenseman Darryl Olsen took the puck up right wing and hit Chernomaz in the slot as he was getting a step on a backchecking Ed Cristofoli. As Chernomaz shifted from forehand to backhand, he was pulled down and slid toward the net. The defender fell, too, crashing into his goal, swiping the puck past handcuffed goalie Bruce Hoffort.
"I didn't see it happen," admitted Chernomaz, who got the story of his 32nd goal of the season from teammates.
"Good things happen when you go to the net," said Francis.
Chernomaz's second goal was an empty-netter with :28 left. It occurred 11 seconds after the Eagles had killed a penalty. The Blades were still in a power-play setup, 6-on-5, as pointman Cam Plante tried to pass to left point Lee Giffin, who'd just turned for the bench for a personnel change.
Plante's pass angled over the blue line in Giffin's direction, but the only man with a chance at it was Chernomaz. "I was the safety valve at the blue line. When I saw Giffin go toward the bench, it was just a matter of getting to the puck," he said.
It was clear sailing for the victory-assuring empty-net goal. "I could have scored," said ex-NHL goalie Soetaert.
Soetaert took the loss calmly, seemingly just glad to have a team whose work ethic lasts the whole game. Dan Woodley, whose ninth goal tied the game 2-2, defender Darren Stolk, Hofford and a 10-game addition (Brad Aitken, who's since gone to Edmonton) helped bring on a new perspective for a team with little chance of making the playoffs.
"We're a long shot, but we still have a shot," said Soetaert, whose Blades try again for the first-ever Salt Palace win Thursday at 7 p.m.
"For a team that's out of it, they're sure playing inspired hockey," said Francis.
His team has some of the same characteristics, seemingly locked into second place in the IHL West. "The most important thing is to improve every game so come playoff time we can give it our best shot," Francis says.
Chernomaz says that when the Eagles lost defenders Ken Sabourin and Brian Glynn to trades earlier in the season and then Bureau, too, "Everyone's thinking, `What's the scoring production going to be like?' " Two things happened: Others like Andrew McKim, C.J. Young, Richard Zemlak and Paul Kruse came forward, said Chernomaz, and everybody buckled down defensively. "A blessing in disguise," he said.
Kruse scored the game-opener at 19:01 of the first period. That was tied on a 5-on-3 power play by Giffin at 17:28 of the second. Tim Sweeney made it 2-1 on a rush at 1:02 of the third before Woodley tied it again at 6:22.