Salt Lake fans missed seeing rookie left wing Paul Ranheim score his 50th goal of the season, a feat only four other Golden Eagles have accomplished in 20 years of pro hockey.
Ranheim hit No. 50 (and No. 51, the game-winner) Wednesday at Fort Wayne in a 3-2 Eagle win over the Komets. That win, and Milwaukee's loss at Saginaw, moved the Eagles into a tie for first in the IHL West with the Admirals.And Eagle fans now have a chance of seeing Ranheim reach an even higher plateau on this seven-game homestand that starts tonight at 7 with Flint.
After his two goals at Fort Wayne, Ranheim needs just nine more to break Joe Mullen's franchise record of 59, set in 1980-81. It could happen between now and March 22 on this homestand. In his last 23 games, Ranheim has 21 goals.
Only Mullen, Brent Sapergia (58 in '85-86), Scott MacLeod (54 in '85-86) and Bobby Crawford (54 in '81-82) scored more goals in an Eagle season, and there are 17 games left for Ranheim.
Ranheim, who has five goals in his last four games and a four-game scoring streak, helped bail the Eagles out of an 0-1 deficit in the first period at Fort Wayne. Any lead for the Komets is big since they're the IHL's best defensive team, and getting down 1-0 to them just 5:09 into the first period could have been a problem. Joe Stefan, picked up from Peoria recently, split the Eagle defense for that first goal.
Ranheim and Jim Johannson did something about it at 9:47, Johannson feeding Ranheim in the slot as defender Craig Channell fell.
A power play put Fort Wayne back on top at 2:02 of the second, but Martin Simard goaled at 16:15 from 20 feet up the slot on a pass from Chris Biotti. Ranheim and Peter Lappin combined to steal from Komet Keith Miller, and Ranheim scored No. 51 on a shot off a hard forecheck at 11:36 of the third.
Eagle goalie Steve Guenette then took over with big saves in the final five minutes, two on Channell, one on Brian Dowd and the biggest with :06 left when Jim Burton was wide open in the slot. Guenette stopped that, then beat Miller to the puck to freeze it, and Randy Bucyk won the draw at :04.
The win was the Eagles' third in a row on the four-game road trip. It was their third 3-2 game of the trip and the fourth one-goal game of the trip.
Tonight they face an odd situation - the Spirits have been sitting in the Shilo Inn since Wednesday afternoon and practiced in the Palace this morning. Visiting teams rarely come in early and usually complain of weariness, but this time it's the Eagles who travel.
The Spirits have changed personnel considerably recently and have lost goalie Gary Kruzich for the season to injury. They've lost four of their last five games. They have, however, picked up Mario Chitaroni, who was such a thorn to the Eagles last season and during the Turner Cup championships. He has a seven-game scoring streak.
Mike Hoffman, Yves Heroux, Michel Mongeau, Lonnie Loach, Dan Gratton and ex-Eagle Steve Harrison have been scoring well for the Spirits.
Former Eagle Mike Mersch was traded to Muskegon this week, but Harrison, Darwin McCutcheon, Rick Boyd and Jim Andonoff are ex-Eagles still on the roster.