The Golden Eagles had 11 penalties called against them Tuesday night, which isn't that many for a hockey game. The problem was, Peoria only had five whistled against them and the discrepancy almost cost the Eagles the game.
As it turned out, Salt Lake held on for a 5-4 victory at the Salt Palace, their eighth in a row at home. But the Eagle penalties allowed the Rivermen back in the game after Salt Lake had taken a seemingly comfortable 5-1 lead in the first 25 minutes.The Rivermen, who have been the top overall team in the IHL all season, also happen to be the best power-play team. That means they have the best percentage for scoring goals while the other team has a man in the penalty box. On Tuesday, three of their four goals came on the power play.
Only two penalties were called in the final period. The first, halfway through the period on Corey Lyons for roughing, led to a goal by Peoria's Michel Mongeau. The second came with just 15 seconds left in the game when Kevin Melrose was called for cross-checking behind the Eagle net. But the Rivermen, who already had a man advantage with their goalie pulled, couldn't punch in the tying goal with a two-man edge.
The Rivermen didn't have any penalties called in the final period and only one non-fighting penalty the whole game, which didn't make the Eagles too happy.
Coach Bob Francis, never one to get involved in anything controversial, preferred not to talk about the officiating, although he obviously wasn't thrilled with referee Derek Martin.
However, Eagle goalie Warren Sharples wasn't shy about commenting on Martin.
"Maybe Marty was getting paid a commission tonight. Maybe he had a quota to fill. He's a good referee, but he seemed to be catching us a lot tonight. It was a little uneven."
As for Melrose's cross-checking penalty, Sharples said, "Normally with 15 seconds left you have to kill a person to get a penalty."
But Melrose figured he deserved the penalty, saying, "I might have landed a stick on him . . . I got a good piece of him. Marty called the game as he saw it. I didn't have any problem with the officiating."
Over on the other side, Peoria Coach Bob Plager was also complaining about the officiating. But he thought the Eagles should have had more penalties called. He felt the referee, after giving the Rivermen a few power-play chances, laid off calling more when he should have.
"That's my team out there so maybe I see things differently. I've only been in hockey for 29 years, what do I know?"
Peoria only had 15 players available, three less than the 18-player limit, because of trades, call-ups and injuries. "I have to be proud of my team. They didn't quit and they haven't quit all year."
Salt Lake jumped out to a quick start against goalie Tom Draper, who has been with the Rivermen for just a couple of weeks. Tim Sweeney and C.J. Young both scored in the first six minutes, Lyons added another goal at the 17:12 mark and the Eagles were cruising. Peoria's first power-play goal came in the final minute of the period as Jim Vesey shoved in a rebound shot.
In the first five minutes of the second period, the Eagles scored twice more. Darryl Olsen stuck in a deflection off a shot by Sweeney, who had a wide-open net from the left side, but hit the right post. Sweeney redeemed himself a minute later with a more diffcult shot, slipping one under Draper from the left side.
"I had a lot of chances tonight and I'm glad I cashed in on a couple of them," said Sweeney, who felt he should have had a hat trick.
The win moved Salt Lake's record to 45-27 on the year, but the Eagles still trail the Rivermen by 16 points in the IHL West Division. They play again Thursday in the Salt Palace in their last regular-season meeting, although they could meet again in the second round of the playoffs.