By Michael Hicks
LOVELAND — The addition of the Rapid City Rush to the Central Hockey League this season should be a good thing for the South Dakota city now that the team has played its first home game after 14 straight road games to start the season. But as it turns out, the addition of the Rush hasn’t been too shabby for the Colorado Eagles either.
The teams meet 12 times this season — the first five of those games were played at the Budweiser Events Center. So far, the Eagles are 5-1 against the Rush including Friday’s 6-1 victory.
Ryan Tobler scored twice and Colorado pushed across six goals in the second period in front of a sell-out crowd of 5,289. The Eagles broke a 1-all tie with five goals in 8 minutes, 52 seconds of the second period.
“I think tonight was the situation where we got that 5-on-3 situation and I think that was a lot of momentum. That got us rolling and we snowballed from there,” Eagles head coach Kevin McClelland said.
The Eagles actually had two 5-on-3s and scored four power-play goals in 11 opportunities.
“Our power play was good again tonight again,” McClelland said.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, Colorado added a pair of short-handed goals from Kevin Ulanski and Konrad Reeder.
In the last two home games against Rapid City, Colorado has pushed across 13 second-period goals and outscored the Rush 14-3.
Goalie Andrew Penner, who gave up six goals in the season opener versus Rapid City, made 34 saves Friday night. He didn’t want to give up six again the second time around.
“The biggest difference, I think, was a little more jitters. The home opener, obviously, you want to make a big impression and they scored six,” Penner said. “I had that in the back of my head. I just wanted to prove it was kind of a fluke.”
Rapid City gained a measure of revenge Saturday night, scoring a 4-0 win over the Eagles in its first home game ever. It was the first time this season that the Eagles (15-3) have been shutout.
SPECIAL TEAMMATE. Colorado didn’t need any extra reasons to know just how special Riley Nelson is, but the center can give them 13 reasons. That would be the number of points the 5-foot-9, 175-pound center has scored on the power play this season — all on assists.
During Friday’s victory over Rapid City, Nelson assisted on three goals in the second period. The three points gives him a team-high 27 points this season.
While Nelson has been an influential part of the Eagles’ offense, he said it’s just part of the job.
“I’m out there with a lot of good players so it definitely makes it a lot easier,” Nelson said. “It’s just work ethic. We’ve got everybody out there working hard. That’s the key to special teams. You’ve got to go out there and work hard. It’s pretty easy making passes to people like (Greg) Pankewicz and Ulanski.”
PANKS’ PERFORMANCE. If it’s true that things get better with age, then Greg Pankewicz is proof of that.
The 38-year-old right winger was voted the Week Five CHL Performance of the Week last week after the Drayton Valley, Alberta native scored a four-point night in the Eagles’ 7-3 win over Tulsa on Nov. 11.
The 6-foot, 210-pounder, who scored a hat trick — his third of the season, in the win — garnered 34 percent of the vote. Travis Clayton of Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs picked up 28 percent of the vote.
With another goal Friday night, Pankewicz has 15 goals, which leads the CHL.
A ONE AND A TWO. Nobody does a better job of putting the pressure on their opponents than the Colorado Eagles.
In the team’s first 16 games, the Eagles led the CHL in goals scored in the first and second periods. Prior to Friday’s game against Rapid City, Colorado has scored a league’s-best 28 goals in the first period and 28 in the second. Only Arizona and Laredo had scored 20 or more goals in the first period as of Friday. Arizona was second to Colorado in second-period goals with 27.
“Our whole team is clicking right now, and that’s what you need to have a good season, to have a good hockey club. Everybody picking up for each other,” McClelland said.
NEWS & NOTES. Les Borsheim, who was paralyzed in a June motorcycle accident, returned to his Windsor home last month after a three-plus month stay at Craig Rehabilitation Hospital in Denver. The Eagles presented Borsheim with a check for $100,000 in October during a preseason benefit game. To find out more about helping Borsheim in his recovery efforts, go to www.TeamBorsheim.com. … Left winger Konrad Reeder posted his first multi-goal game of the season in the Eagles’ 6-4 win over Rocky Mountain on Nov. 26. Colorado is 12-0-0 this season when leading after two periods.