After dropping both road games last weekend the Eagles returned home and put the smack down on the Idaho Steelheads in a three game set. All three games looked fairly similar at the end with scores of 5 – 4, 5 – 3 and 6 – 4 but the Eagles seemed to get stronger from game to game.
The first game was a grind from the get go for the Eagles. The momentum would swing back and forth with the Eagles falling behind early. The teams would swap rolls in the 2nd period and it was tied 2 – 2 half way through the game. Eventually the Eagles would work to a 4 – 2 lead only to see it disappear to set the stage for the proverbial hero Michael Joly to put the Eagles ahead with just over 1 minute left in the game.
For game 2 the Eagles called in the ringer. J.C. Beaudin was reassigned to the Eagles and had an immediate impact posting 3 points in the game and helped the Eagles to a 4 – 1 lead by the halfway point. Colorado would never relinquish the lead but the Steelheads made a game of it by picking up 2 goals before Joly once again sealed the game for the Eagles. Unfortunately Eagles goalie Joe Cannata was injured in this game, thankfully word is that it’s not serious but it held him out of game 3.
The third game was a bit of a mashup of the first two. Idaho struck first but then Colorado dropped 5 unanswered goals to pull out to a comfortable lead. For the third straight game the Eagles faltered in the late 2nd and early 3rd allowing the Steelheads back into the game and cutting the big lead down to just one. Luckily the defense tightened up and locked down the final 15 minutes and Ryan Harrison put the puck into the empty net to seal it.
All series long it was clear these two teams did not like each other. There was constant chirping after every single whistle and even the bench bosses on both sides were getting steamed. Teigan Zahn had 3 fights of his own and there were eight 10 minute misconduct penalties handed out during the series. In total, 230 penalty minutes were doled out across the three games.
After game 1, I talked to big 6’6 Ben Storm about the physical game plan. He responded, “We knew it was going to be a physical series with Idaho, they’re a strong team and so are we. We just need to match their intensity.” Storm, a former Avs draft pick from 2013 is one of many players on the Eagles in his first year pro. He worked his way through the Avs and Rampage preseason training camps before signing with the Eagles for the year. He couldn’t be happier to be here saying, “The guys on this team are really buying into what the coaches are teaching us, it’s been a blast so far and hopefully we can continue winning games.” Having gone through a number of Avs development camps, Storm is quite familiar with the state and says he’s enjoying Loveland and has already made the drive down to Denver a few times this season.
Another collegiate graduate playing for the Eagles alongside Storm this year is Brady Shaw. When asked about the biggest adjustment to the pro game, Shaw confirmed the existence of the collegiate wall saying, “The amount of games, it really takes a toll on your body […] In college you have a Friday and Saturday game and then you have a week off to get healthy, you don’t have that here. You might have 3 games in 4 nights or 5 games in 7 nights.” Of the 7 rookies playing for the Eagles this year, Shaw drew the short stick as the only one suffering a significant injury thus far. He missed nearly 2 months of hockey from early November to early January. Since returning he has found his stride and credits the team staff saying, “The coaches did a good job easing me back in and not going full tilt right away […] We have a good enough team where we don’t have to force a guy in if they are still a little banged up.” His nose for the net has shown recently with 5 goals in his last 9 games including a rebound put back out of mid air on Saturday night. On the goal he said, “I’m just trying to get to the areas where the goals are most likely to happen, tonight I tried to fight hard to get to the front of the net and usually guys get rewarded.”
While the majority of the Eagles forward group is made up of youngsters there are still a couple of reliable veterans out there including Drayson Bowman who is the goal scorer on this weeks top play:
On the goal Bowman gave all the credit to his teammates saying “Beaudin created a turnover at the blueline and got it down to Joly who picked his head up and hit me with the perfect pass.” On playing with the two youngsters Bowman was handing out the compliments saying, “We were skating really well and those two made some really nice plays. Obviously Joly’s goal scoring is impressive so it’s fun to play with.” Bowman has a long list of high level experience, including 180 games played in the NHL and even more than that in the AHL. With a stat sheet like that he does stand about a bit in the ECHL. On signing with the eagles this year he said, “I just wanted to play at home, Collin [his brother] and I talked about coming back here and the Eagles have been awesome having us.” At the start of January I wrote about a potential roster for the Eagles in the AHL next season. Drayson Bowman was one of the names on that roster, I asked him about his future plans and he answered, “I’ve thought about it a little bit, right now I’m just trying to focus on this year and next year will take care of itself […] I’d like an opportunity to play here but it’s largely not up to me and we will see what happens.”
The Eagles remain undefeated at home in 2018 and currently sit as the #1 team in the ECHL by the slim margin of just 2 points. At this point it’s going to be hard for anyone in the western conference to catch them and come April they should be poised to make another deep playoff run.