Jan 212004
 
Authors: Justin Goldman

The Colorado Eagles have continued to be the biggest story of

the Central Hockey League. At 27-10-2, they have 56 points and are

tied for second in the league with Amarillo.

In just the last two weeks, the Eagles had to part with their

two biggest stars to American Hockey League contracts. Still, the

Eagles have won four straight, including an amazing overtime

shootout win Friday night at a sold-out Budweiser Events

Center.

On Dec. 31 Eagles’ center Riley Nelson got a call from the San

Antonio Rampage of the AHL. He appeared in four games and although

he did not register a point, he does have four goals and 11 points

in 32 career AHL games.

“The trip was good,” Nelson said after his first game back with

the Eagles Friday. “I got into a few games and got some good

experience, but now it’s nice to be back here with the guys.”

But the reuniting of the team’s regular lineup turned out to be

short-lived, as only hours passed before the Eagles had to part

with another top forward.

This time, all-star forward Greg Pankewicz was chosen to fulfill

his AHL contract duties. The call came from the

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL, an affiliate of the

NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins.

Pankewicz found out about the good news over lunch with coach

Chris Stewart and general manager Ralph Backstrom.

“It has been four years since I have played at (the AHL) level,

so I am excited and curious to find out how it has changed,”

Pankewicz said.

Pankewicz and Nelson are just two of six Eagles players who are

on two-way contracts with AHL clubs. Goaltender Ryan Bach, forward

Ryan Tobler and defensemen Igor Bondarevs and Scott Swanson also

have the opportunity of being called up to the more prominent

AHL.

“This is also great for the team, Nelson and then me,” Pankewicz

said. “Moving up to the next level is what this team is about.”

So when Friday’s game against the division-rival Tulsa Oilers

took place at another sold-out Budweiser Events Center, it was a

little surprising even for Nelson when his first shift and first

shot resulted in his 20th goal of the season just 47 seconds into

the game.

“It’s good to come down and here and play a lot more minutes,”

Nelson said. “I love being a big part of a good team here.”

But another lead was squandered as the Oilers responded with two

power-play goals of their own as Lukas Sedlacek and Jason

Bermingham scored two minutes apart, tying the game 2-2 after two

periods.

“Our first period was fantastic,” Stewart said. “If we don’t

have penalty trouble in the second period, I think we would have

blown this one away.”

But after regulation and a five-minute overtime, the score was

knotted at 3, leaving only the most exciting part of a CHL hockey

game: the shootout.

After five shots for each team, it was still tied 3-3. The

referees took a brief moment to check the CHL rulebook, which

states that the coach must choose a different skater until the

entire team’s lineup has taken a shot.

It took 28 total shootout tries, including a turn through the

entire Tulsa lineup, until the unheralded, hard-hitting Eagles

forward Phil Crowe netted the game-winner for a 4-3 win.

“I don’t think I’ve gone through that many shooters ever,”

Stewart said. “They had more shots in the shootout then they did in

the whole third period.”

Crowe was chosen last by Stewart to take the 28th shot during

the wild shootout, but not only did Crowe surprise his coach, he

also showed the league his poise and determination.

“He was grinding me hard there on the bench,” Stewart said about

Crowe. “You can’t say enough about the effort he gives every

game.”

After the game the Eagles also had to part ways with forward Cam

Kuzyk. When Pankewicz was called up, the Eagles activated Fraser

Filipic and top defenseman Igor Bondarevs from injured reserve,

which meant the Eagles had to trade or waive a player to stay at

the league-required 16-man roster.

“I think he played some pretty good hockey for us,” Stewart said

of Kuzyk. “But that’s the tough part about it. When you have a

square peg trying to fit in a round hole, it doesn’t mean he’s not

capable. I think he’s an excellent skilled player.”

The Eagles are 11-1 in their last 12 and are still first in the

Northwest Division. They face the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs on

Friday at the Events Center, then again Saturday afternoon.

Saturday’s match up begins at 3:05 p.m. and will be televised on

UPN-20.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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