Wednesday, February 24; Short-Benched Eagles Shutout Gorillas
LOVELAND, Colo. – The Colorado Eagles — playing with just 12 skaters — defeated the Amarillo Gorillas, 3-0. Andrew Penner stopped 23 shots to earn the 29th regular season shutout in team history (moving him into fourth place on the team’s career shutout list), and the Colorado penalty kill was a perfect 7-for-7 on the night.
The Eagles and Gorillas played a scoreless first period that was fairly close-to-the-vest for both squads. Amarillo nearly doubled-up Colorado with a shot margin of 9-5, the latter equaling the Eagles’ lowest number of shots in a period all season long.
Things couldn’t have gone much differently in the second period as the Eagles controlled almost all of the play, out-shooting the Gorillas 18-6 and scoring a pair of goals.
Aaron Schneekloth got the game’s first goal 65 seconds into the second stanza, on Colorado’s first shot of the frame, when he skated down the right wing and beat Mike Brown from the right circle. Then, at 8:40, the Eagles got another goal from a blueliner when Jim Jackson took a pass from Ryan McLeod along the right wing boards and sniped a shot into the top right corner from the same circle.
The third period was the most even of the night with the Eagles holding a 9-8 edge in shots. Ed McGrane added a third goal for the home team at 11:24 with a power-play tally when he backhanded the puck from the left side of the net.
Friday, February 26; Mole Nets Eagles’ Second SO in a Row
LOVELAND, Colo. – The Colorado Eagles defeated the Arizona Sundogs, 2-0, as the Northern Conference squad secured its second shutout in a row (and second of the season). Doug Groenestege was stellar in net for Arizona, but it was Mike Mole who played a perfect game, stopping all of the 28 shots he faced.
The shutout was the 30th in the franchise’s regular season history. Ironically, the team had back-to-back shutouts last season as well on March 14 and 15.
In the first period, the Eagles controlled much of the play when the two teams were skating at even strength — holding the Sundogs without a shot for nearly 10 minutes at one point — as they built a 16-9 edge in shots after 20 minutes of play. The Sundogs were able to close that gap with an extended power play, but Colorado kept them off the scoreboard during a full two minutes of 5-on-3 during a four-minute power play.
The second period was played more evenly, but Colorado was finally able to crack the scoreboard 11:31 in when Ryan Tobler — stationed alone to the left of the net — tapped in a Riley Nelson feed from the high slot. The Eagles would take that 1-0 lead into the third period, owning a season record of 25-1-2 when leading after two periods of play.
Ed McGrane — red hot right now — made it 2-0, 5:22 into the final frame, as he took a pass from Jay Birnie cruising through the slot and put home his own rebound. Meanwhile, it took the Sundogs eight minutes to register their first shot of the period as they endured their second long shot-less streak of the game.
Arizona came hard, however, the second half of the third period, but couldn’t solve Mole, even as the Eagles killed a penalty — and Groenestege went to the bench for an extra attacker — as time expired.
Saturday, February 27; LeBlanc Nets Another OT Winner against Eagles
RAPID CITY, S.D. – The Colorado Eagles fell 3-2 in overtime to the Rapid City Rush as the top two teams in the Northern Conference squared off in the first game of a home-and-home set on back-to-back nights. It marked the second consecutive game between the clubs in which LeBlanc scored in the first minute of overtime. The overtime win increased Rapid City’s lead in the conference to two points (77-75).
The Eagles’ third line tallied the game’s first goal midway through the opening period as Steve Haddon and Fraser Filipic worked a series of tape-to-tape passes out of their own zone to Jay Birnie cruising through neutral ice. Birnie then made a slick move at the offensive blue line and snapped a shot past Danny Battochio from the high slot.
Just as Derek LeBlanc ruined Andrew Penner’s shutout bid 42 seconds into overtime the last time the teams met in Rapid City, LeBlanc ended the Eagles’ shutout streak at 164 minutes and seven seconds when he tallied midway through the second period. The Rush took advantage of a 3-on-2 break as LeBlanc stepped out of the penalty box, pulled up in the right circle and put the puck past Penner.
Rapid City came out flying in the third period, out-shooting the Eagles 13-5, and taking a 2-1 lead 2:44 in when Les Reaney split the Colorado defense and backhanded the puck past Penner from the low slot.
But Kevin Ulanski tied it back up with a great individual effort three and a half minutes later — during the second of two successive penalty kills — when he picked up a turnover just outside his defensive blue line, sped down the ice and beat Battochio with a backhander of his own.
The score would remain deadlocked at 2 despite the Eagles getting three power play chances in the second half of the period, and for the third straight time, the Eagles and Rush would go past regulation to decide a winner.
Just as he had done in the previous meeting — also in Rapid City — LeBlanc scored early in overtime (this time 57 seconds in) to terrorize Penner with another tally after he picked up a loose puck along the benches, skated down the left wing, cut toward the crease and scored.
Sunday, February 28; Eagles Make Playoffs Despite King’s HT
LOVELAND, Colo. – The Colorado Eagles fell 5-2 to the Rapid City Rush in the second game of a home-and-home set. Les Reaney assisted on three Colt King goals as part of a four-point night (1-3-4), while the Rush extended their lead in the Northern Conference to four points. Despite the defeat, Colorado claimed a playoff spot with the Tulsa Oilers’ loss earlier in the day.
For the second night in a row the Eagles’ third line got the opening goal as Alex Penner’s pass from behind the net found Steve Haddon in the low slot 1:46 in. But Reaney and King would sabotage the strong start with three goals in the period’s next 18 minutes.
King put home a Reaney rebound at 5:04, and then converted his cross-crease pass at 12:14 after a turnover inside the Eagles’ zone. And at 18:04, Reaney picked of a pass at his own blue line while killing a penalty and blew a shot past Andrew Penner from the left circle to make it 3-1.
Colorado cut that lead to 3-2 with a power-play goal 4:47 into the second stanza when Ed McGrane’s point shot made its way through a screen in front of the Rush netminder, and into the net. The Eagles were able to keep Rapid City scoreless in the second by killing four man-advantage chances.
The Rush added a pair of goals in the third period to solidify their strong game with King netting his third at 5:57 with a one-timer from inside the left circle on the power play. Blaine Jarvis added the fifth and final goal at 12:46 when Rich Hansen found him skating all alone down the slot for a tap-in past Penner.
After facing the CHL’s top team, the Odessa Jackalopes, on Wednesday, Colorado heads to Missouri Friday, before coming back home for two games against the Wichita Thunder in as many days. It will mark the second week in a row that the Eagles play four games in five days.
The Week Ahead
Wednesday, March 3; Colorado Looks to Remain Perfect at Home Against CHL’s Top Team
The Eagles will look to keep their all-time home record against the Odessa Jackalopes perfect as they take on the CHL’s top-ranked team. The ‘Jacks enter the final month of the regular season with a record of 40-10-4 (84 points), but lost their only match-up at the BEC this season, 2-1, in a shootout. All-time, Colorado is 8-0-0 at home against the Jackalopes, out-scoring them 31-15.
Friday, March 5; Eagles and Mavericks Meet For Final Time
The Eagles will also look to remain perfect — but in a different way — against the expansion Mavericks. Colorado has yet to lose in regulation to the first-year team, going 4-0-1 in five contests. They lost the last meeting, 5-4, in a shootout on the road. Missouri enters the last month of the regular season in the fifth and final playoff spot in the Northern Conference with a record of 28-23-4 (60 points).
Saturday, March 6 & Sunday, March 7; Eagles End Another Busy Week With Pair Against Thunder at BEC
Colorado will take on the Thunder in the first two of three consecutive games against the CHL’s cellar-dweller; after back-to-back meetings at the BEC this weekend, the Eagles travel to Wichita next Wednesday. Wichita enters March with a record of 8-41-5 (21 points), 24 points behind Amarillo ahead of them. The Thunder have had a rough season, setting a new league record with a 22-game losing streak as well as dropping 11 of their past 12 since they last clashed with Colorado. The Eagles are 2-0-0 at home this season against Wichita, out-scoring them 13-4.
SEVENTH HEAVEN – The Colorado Eagles clinched their seventh playoff berth on Sunday, becoming the fourth team in the league to qualify for the playoffs (following Odessa, Allen and Rapid City). The Eagles have now made it to the postseason in each of their seven seasons of existence.
10 TO GO – The Eagles have 10 games remaining in the regular season, including five each at home and on the road. The five home games will take place in the first seven of those remaining games before Colorado heads to Arizona for three games to finish the season.
BUSY, BUSY, BUSY – Coming off a busy week that saw them play four games in five nights, the Eagles will do the same thing this week. It will mark the third and final time this season in which they have such a compacted schedule. They went 2-2-0 from January 20th-24th and 2-1-1 in five days last week.
THE OTHER RACES – The race for the Northern Conference title is not the only one the Eagles are involved in as the season enters the final three weeks. Kevin Ulanski has been leading the CHL in points all season long and enters March with a seven point lead over Odessa’s Sebastien Thinel (88-81). For the defensemen, Aaron Schneekloth (49 points) has an eight-point lead over Alex Dunn (ODE) and Derek Eastman (TUL). Meanwhile, Ed McGrane is in second place in the goal-scoring race with 30 — six behind Chad Woollard of Corpus Christi, while Ulanski is one assist behind Thinel (62-61).
SLIDING INTO SECOND – Colorado has slid from the team with the most shots-per-game in the league into second place as they’ve had a hard time getting pucks on net recently. Rapid City held the Eagles to 25 and 26 shots respectively over the weekend, making it five times in the past 11 games that Colorado has been limited to fewer than 30 shots. Their power play — also ranked second in the league — has been struggling recently as well, registering more than one power-play goal just once in the past 10 contests and being shutout six times.