By Michael Hicks
LOVELAND – The way things started Dec. 17 at the Budweiser Events Center it’s pretty safe to say that the Colorado Eagles and the Oklahoma City Blazers won’t be exchanging holiday pleasantries this week.
Or, maybe they will. It could’ve all been for show. The game was televised on Altitude. But not even two minutes into the Eagles’ final home game before Christmas, the teams engaged in three fights, and that was just the start in a game that featured two of the Central Hockey League’s top teams.
For the second time in as many meetings, it was decided by a shootout. And for the second time, the road team won. Simon Lambert and Chad Hinz scored consecutive goals to give the Blazers a 3-2 victory.
Riley Nelson gave Colorado an early 1-0 advantage in the shootout, but that’s all the Eagles would get in losing for the first time in five shootouts this season.
“They’ve given up the least goals in the league and they play defense very well,” Nelson said. “We just have to get more pucks to the net. (Andrew) Penner played really well tonight. I thought we bounced back after the first period. We played pretty well, and it came down to a shootout.”
But it started with a slugfest.
First, the Eagles’ Adam Knight and Oklahoma City’s Robin Gomez dropped the gloves 1 minute, 43 seconds into the game. Just two seconds later, it was Jay Birnie and Justin Sawyer doing battle. And for the hat trick, two seconds later Jason Beatty dropped the Blazers’ Cam Doull in another spat.
Once the fisticuffs subsided, the teams got down to business. The Eagles opened the scoring with a goal from a rare source. Defenseman Tom Reimann scored his first goal in three seasons, since he played for the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL, to put Colorado ahead 1-0.
Oklahoma City, in first place in the Northeast Division, tied the score at one with 40 seconds left in the first period on Ted Vandermeer’s power-play goal. The fact that it took the Blazers that long to score was a credit to the Eagles, who endured being outshot 17-8 and faced five power-play opportunities to just one for Colorado in the first 20 minutes.
The Blazers led 2-1 seven minutes in the second when Simon Lambert punched in a rebound left of Colorado goaltender Andrew Penner. But just like Oklahoma City did in the first, the Northwest Division-leading Eagles evened the score in the final minute of a period. This time, Aaron Schneekloth punched one past Andy Franck with 48 seconds left in the second to send the game to the third tied at 2.
The Eagles had a chance to win it in regulation, but Konrad Reeder’s penalty shot midway through the second period was stopped by Oklahoma City’s Andy Franck, who made 26 saves.
Penner finished with 33 saves in dropping his first game since Nov. 11, a stretch of seven straight wins.
ULANSKI’S HONOR. Kevin Ulanski doesn’t have to prove himself to his teammates, but he did last week with two game-winning goals. Now, the rest of the CHL knows about the fourth-year left winger.
The University of Denver alum was named the CHL’s Player of the Week after scoring six points — two goals and four assists — in three games last week. In his first season with the Eagles, the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Madison, Wis., native was third on the team in points entering last week’s game with Oklahoma City with 31.
“It’s nice. I didn’t feel like too much, but anything I can do to help the team win is what I do. Fortunate enough to get a couple points in a couple of games,” Ulanski said. “It’s nice to be recognized.”
Now the question for the CHL rookie is whether Ulanski has found a home? He’s already played in Long Beach, Calif., Phoenix, Rockford, Ill., Milwaukee, Elmira, N.Y., and Albany, N.Y. He thinks so.
“Obviously, I played college here for four years. I’m familiar with the area. I’m kind of looking for a place to settle down and play and this is a great place, great organization, a lot of class. Makes it an easy choice to want to play here,” Ulanski said.
POWER PLAYS. Colorado improved to 20-4-1 with a pair of road wins last weekend at New Mexico. On Friday, the Eagles got goals from Greg Pankewicz, Reeder, Ed McGrane and Adam Hogg for a 4-3 win over the Scorpions. On Saturday, Ulanski’s overtime goal lifted Colorado to a 2-1 win. … Birnie needs one assist to tie his career-high of seven, set during the 2006-07 season. … Ryan Tobler has six multi-goal games this season, the most in the CHL. … Adams tied last season’s mark of 18 points with an assist Saturday night.