A stellar regular season that had the Colorado Eagles clinch the
Northeast Division title of the Central Hockey League and post an
expansion-record .711 winning percentage is on the brink of
extinction. Playing at the Budweiser Events Center, where the team
finished with a division-best home record of 25-5-2, the Eagles
dropped the first two games of their best-of-five opening-round
playoff series against Wichita Thunder 2-3 and 3-4, respectively.
Penalty killing was the major factor in the two losses as five
power play goals for the Thunder helped them swipe both games from
under the Eagles’ claws.
“We’ve got to be better on our penalty kill,” said Eagles coach
Chris Stewart after Game 1. “Obviously specialty teams is what beat
us tonight and that’s what makes the difference.”
Despite having a 2-1 lead after two periods during Friday
night’s playoff opener, the Eagles allowed Thunder forward Jason
Duda to score a pair of power-play goals in the third, lifting
Wichita to a 3-2 come-from-behind victory. Eagles forward Brad
Patterson scored two goals as well but it was not enough as the
power plays stacked up in Wichita’s favor.
“I think overall there were a lot of penalties,” Stewart said.
“I wasn’t happy with the number of penalties that were in the game
and I thought it was excessive for both sides, not just us.”
Wichita goaltender Nathan Grobins, once coached by Stewart in
San Antonio, was instrumental in stealing Game 1 from the Eagles by
making 36 saves. Eagles’ goalie Ryan Bach was stellar as well-but
not as busy-making 22 saves.
“I thought goaltending was great at both ends,” Stewart said.
“There’s absolutely no reason that we lost because of the
goaltending, that’s for sure.”
Game 2 took place 24 hours later on Saturday night as an
electrifying and loud Bud Barn crowd labeled this game a
Colorado wingers Mike McGhan and all-star Greg Pankewicz each
netted a power-play goal to give the Eagles a commanding 2-0 lead
in the second period.
Pankewicz followed his first goal of the playoffs by scoring
again on a one-timer blast that found its way past Grobins.
The period ended with a major shift in momentum, however. Up
3-0, Eagles defenseman Igor Bondarevs got called for holding at
16:49 in the second, setting up another Thunder power play. Travis
Clayton converted with the extra man by taking a nice feed from
Jason Duda and flipping one over Bach’s outstretched glove with
only 1:40 left in the period.
That goal was enough of a crowd-killer to allow the Thunder to
slowly work their way back into the game. The third period was
filled with more penalties that killed the pace of the Eagles.
Clayton scored his second power-play goal of the game at the 7:33
mark to tie the game at three. The building that players and
coaches named the third toughest arena to win in fell dead silent.
The result was an unassisted goal with only seven minutes remaining
by Thunder defenseman Les Hrapchuk, his third game-winner of the
“Penalty problems allowed them to score five times in the
series,” said Eagles center Riley Nelson. “For our game it’s just
too many penalties and it’s obvious we need to focus on our penalty
Grobins held the 4-3 lead by making 33 saves and only 10 in the
“Anytime you come into their barn and steal a pair of games,
it’s huge and we came in here and played as tough as we could,”
Although the Eagles outplayed the Thunder for more than 40
minutes, the final frame was the deciding factor in the 4-3
“I think there’s some bad calls and some definite errors,” said
Stewart after Game 2. “I thought the third period was marred with
No matter how bad it looks on paper, Stewart is confident that
the Eagles can come out of the semifinal round victorious. Games 3
and 4 take place on Friday and Saturday night in Wichita, Kan. The
Eagles will have to win both games in order to force a deciding
fifth game, which would take place on March 29 in Loveland.
“It’s not one game, it’s three games. We’ve got to win all three
games, that’s all there is to it. That’s the bottom line,” Stewart
said. “I’ve personally done it-I believe. It’s just making sure
everyone in (the locker room) believes.”