Rivermen Head to President’s Cup Finals After Furious Third Period Comeback

April 19, 2024 - 10:50 pm

PEORIA, IL – One minute and eighteen seconds… They can pass by unnoticed over a day. But those 78 seconds can change lives and even seasons. For the Peoria Rivermen, 78 seconds was all it took to erase a 2-1 deficit and score three goals late in the third period to defeat the Evansville Thunderbolts 5-2 at Carver Arena on Friday night to clinch a berth in the President’s Cup Finals for the second time in three seasons.


Peoria wanted to get on the board first and they did just that against a desperate Evansville squad. Alec Hagaman fired a hard wrist shot from the left-side point that was heading to the side of the net where it was deflected in by Alec Baer. Baer, fresh off of a four-assist night in Game One got the scoring started with his first of the post-season to make it 1-0 Peoria. The Thunderbolts came on strong in the last half of the first period, aided by two power plays but the Rivermen held Evansville at bay.


Despite out-shooting the Thunderbolts in the second period, Evansville held the momentum, aided by some key power plays and timely plays. The Thunderbolts tied the game on a two-on-one rush late in the second to tie things up 1-1.


Evansville took their first, and only, lead of the series at the eight-minute mark of the third period and looked to have all the momentum. But the game turned after an Evansville power play was wiped out with a penalty late in the period. With 45 seconds of four-on-four play, the Rivermen took advantage.


It started off the offensive zone draw as Braydon Barker slipped loose with the puck and skated into the slot. His shot was saved by Cole Ceci but the shot produced a rebound and Joseph Drapluk pounced at the side of the net and buried to tie the game up 2-2. On the next shift, the Rivermen were hungry for more. JM Piotrowski made an excellent individual play skating up the far-right wing wall, shielding the puck from an Evansville defender as he curled into the middle. Seeing room in the slot, Piotrowski fired a back-handed shot that sailed into the net to give the Rivermen the lead back 3-2.


After the four-on-four expired Peoria embarked on their second power play of the night. Zach Wilkie received a pass from Hagaman at the deep slot and fired a hard shot into the back of the net to cap off a three-goal run for Peoria in just 1:18. Mike Gelatt added on an empty-net goal a few minutes later to seal the victory and the series sweep.


Peoria now advances to the President’s Cup Finals for the second time in three years, the fifth time in eight under Rivermen head coach Jean-Guy Trudel. They will face either the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs or the Huntsville Havoc in a best-of-three series with Game One on the road on Thursday, April 25 with Game Two and Game Three (if necessary) set for Saturday and Sunday, April 27, and 28 at Carver Arena in Peoria.


Photo: Elizabeth Maier - Peoria Rivermen