RIVERMEN EDGE ICEGATORS 2-1 ON FRIDAY
Dennis Sievers/Peoria Rivermen
The Peoria Rivermen edged the Louisiana IceGators 2-1 on Friday behind a season-high 43 saves from Kyle Rank in front of 4,308 fans at Carver Arena. Dean Yakura and Garrett Vermeersch registered the goals for Peoria, which won its eighth straight game at home for the first time since Feb. 22, 2009 through Apr. 3, 2009. Additionally, Rank earned his sixth straight home victory and boosted his record to 15-7-1 on the year.
With the win, the Rivermen improved to 24-16-5 on the season (53 points) and need just eight points on Fayetteville to clinch their first-ever playoff spot in the Southern Professional Hockey League. Peoria also improved to 1-2-0 against Louisiana this year.
VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS – BOX SCORE
After a scoreless first period, the Rivermen opened the scoring at 1:24 of the second period through Yakura’s second goal of the season. With both teams at full strength, Steve Morra possessed the puck behind Louisiana’s net before he turned to find a wide-open Yakura at the top of the right circle. Yakura, who floated to the top of the slot, hit a wrist shot past Kiefer Smiley’s glove to give the Rivermen a 1-0 lead. Morra and Joe Schiller earned the helpers, the latter of which played in his first game since Jan. 25 after spending the past month on the injured reserve.
Louisiana responded at 6:12 of the middle frame when Jordan Braid scored from the left circle to even the score at 1-1. Braid’s initial shot was denied by Rank, but the puck popped loose and fell into the back of the net for Braid’s 11th of the year. Chris Wilson earned the lone assist.
Peoria regained its lead only 1:57 later when Vermeersch scored on the power play. Following a goaltender interference minor to former Rivermen winger Aaron McGill, Vermeersch gained the puck at the right point and played a quick pass to Parker Stanfield at the right circle. Stanfield immediately passed back to Vermeersch, who had drifted to the top of the right circle, where the 24-year-old hit a wrist shot past Smiley’s blocker for a 2-1 Rivermen lead. The goal was Vermeersch’s league-leading 25th of the season among rookies, while Stanfield and Schilller picked up their 22nd and 20th assists respectively.
In an attempt to tie the game, Louisiana pulled Smiley with just 70 seconds remaining, but only registered one shot on goal.
Peoria finished the game 1-for-5 on the power play and 2-for-2 on the penalty kill. Louisiana led the way in shots 44-36, but ended a five-game winning streak on the road with the loss.
In net, Smiley made 34 saves but fell to 15-9-2 on the season.
The Rivermen conclude a two-game weekend series against the Louisiana IceGators on Saturday with a 7:15 p.m. puck drop at Carver Arena. Saturday is “Peoria Chiefs Night,” as the Rivermen will wear custom Peoria Chiefs baseball style jerseys that will be auctioned off live after the game. In addition, all fans will receive a free voucher to the 2014 Peoria Chiefs home opener. Saturday is also “Illinois Air National Guard Poster Night,” where the first 2,500 fans receive a free Illinois Air National Guard Rivermen team poster. The game can be heard locally on CD Country 107.9 FM or online here. Fans can also follow along via the live video and audio stream at www.americaonesports.com.