It didn't look like it, but that was the best team in the IHL getting blasted by the Golden Eagles 8-0 Thursday night at the Salt Palace. For Peoria, the same team that reeled off the professional hockey record 19-game winning streak earlier in the year, it was by far their worse loss of the year. However, you need to put an asterisk by the impressive Eagle victory as well as the 5-4 win over the Rivermen Tuesday night.
Peoria wasn't playing with a full deck this week. And we don't mean crazy in the head.The Rivermen came to Salt Lake with just 15 players, three under the limit for hockey teams, which unlike other sports, play their entire roster during a game.
Recent call-ups by injury-depleted St. Louis of the NHL, along with injuries of their own has left the Rivermen extremely short-handed. That's why Peoria Coach Bob Plager wasn't crying about the large loss afterwards.
"I thought our guys played very good tonight," he said. "They never quit. I'm proud of these guys. When you're a tired team, mentally and physically, you make mistakes."
In fact Plager didn't give Salt Lake much credit, except to say, "Their goaltender made some great saves tonight."
The Salt Lake goaltender was Steve Guenette, who played very well in stopping 37 Peoria shots on the night and earning his second shutout of the year.
Guenette was pleased with his performance but was quick to point out, "We didn't beat Peoria 8-0, we beat a team with just 13 skaters (plus two goalies)," said Guenette. "That's not indicative of how they can play. We're happy with the win, but we know that's not Peoria."
Eagle Coach Bob Francis was surprised by the final score but agreed Peoria was hurting. "I never anticipate beating anybody 8-0. But they were obviously short-handed tonight."
Two nights earlier Peoria's proficiency on the power play had nearly propelled them to a win over the Eagles, who hung on for a one-goal victory. Salt Lake turned the tables Thursday with three power play goals and held Peoria to an 0-for-9 power play performance.
"It was a positive sign the way we regrouped and didn't allow them to get in the game with the power play like they did the other night," said Francis. "That was a big difference in the score."
The Eagles scored their first goal on the power play when Tim Sweeney punched one home from the left side. Paul Kruse got the first of two goals on the night, knocking one off goalie Guy Hebert's shoulder into the net. Then Darryl Olsen scored another power play goal to make it 3-0.
C.J. Young and Sweeney added second-period goals and Rich Chernomaz, Darren Banks and Kruse all scored in the final period to turn it into a runaway. Hebert had come into the game as the IHL's second best goalie with a 2.76 goals against average. "The only thing that bothered me was that one of the best goalies in the league didn't get much support tonight," said Plager.
The game had its share of fights, much to the delight of the 7,858 fans on hand.
Banks, Salt Lake's top heavyweight, won a couple of second-period decisions against Jim Sprott, who had tussled with Kruse twice two nights earlier.
Then late in the game, in a lightweight division bout, Salt Lake's Andrew McKim (5-8, 175) mixed it up with Peoria's Richard Pion (5-10, 170). McKim claimed a close decision and left the ice with pats on the back from his teammates and cheers from the crowd.
The Eagles headed down to Phoenix Friday morning and they meet the Roadrunners tonight at 7:30 p.m. The Roadrunners are the Eagles' likely first-round playoff opponent with the first game set for Salt Lake on April 9.
If the Eagles survive that series, they'll probably play Peoria, which may be a different (better) team by mid-April.