A letdown in the second period put a stop to the Salt Lake Golden Eagles' four-game win streak and made for a very long bus ride to their next encounter in Fort Wayne, Ind., today.
The Eagles played the Muskegon Lumberjacks goal-for-goal in the first and third periods, but gave up three unanswered scores in the second to lose, 6-3.The loss drops the Eagles to 42-25 while the Lumberjacks moved to 34-34 The Eagles must now regroup for their 2 p.m. (MST) meeting with Fort Wayne.
That game, said Eagle mentor Bob Francis, won't be easy. The Eagles' lineup is riddled with injuries. Three hurt players - Tim Sweeney, Kevin Grant and Mark Osiecki - didn't even make this eastern swing. Then midway through the third period Saturday, the Eagles lost Darryl Olsen with a cut over his right eye. Then Kerry Clark went down with a charley horse and is questionable for today's game.
"We're short people. We're short of defensemen. But we can't make excuses. We just have to find a solution," Francis said after the game.
"I didn't like our frame of mind going into the second period because it seemed we were sitting back and waiting for something bad to happen instead of maintaining the same focus we had in the first period."
The Eagles played well in the opening period. Muskegon scored first after Mark Kachowski got his own rebound and put it past Salt Lake goalie Steve Guenette. The Eagles answered when Todd Harkins took the puck on the faceoff and fed it to Rick Lessard, who slapped it in from about three feet inside the blueline.
Then came the second. Muskegon scored three times. Salt Lake made six shots-on-goal, but didn't score.
In the third period, the Eagles were back in it. Muskegon's Perry Ganchar scored from short range, but Salt Lake answered when C.J. Young pushed the puck to Martin Simard who hit it in from the top of the circle. Then Young and Simard teamed up again with about seven minutes to play. Muskegon was able to stop the Eagles, however, and along the way scored a goal on a 2-on-2 break.
"We made a game of it," said Francis about the third period. "We were using some forwards back on defense when we lost Olsen. We played hard, but it was too little too late."
This was the last game between the two teams. Muskegon won the series 1-2 Following the game with Fort Wayne, the Eagles will return home for a two-game stand with Phoenix, which begins Wednesday in the Salt Palace.
With only 11 more regular season games remaining, and a firm hold on second place in the Western Division of the International Hockey League, Francis noted that his team "must maintain our same level of play regardless of what the score is. At this point we need to play hard, stay as sharp as possible and see what happens."