PEORIA, IL – Saturday night in Peoria, the Peoria Rivermen set themselves up with a big first period lead and then hung on to defeat the Columbus Cottonmouths by a score of 3-2 in front of 4,105 delighted fans in an exciting SPHL contest.
The Rivermen staked themselves to a three goal lead and then survived a ferocious comeback and some horrendous officiating to move into fourth place in the ECHL standings by a few percentage points over the Mississippi Riverkings, who dropped a 2-0 contest in Fayetteville to the FireAntz.
Parker Stanfield showed some speed and hustle early in the first period. He skated behind the net to steal a clearing pass along the boards and proceeded to wrap-around a shot on Columbus goaltender Andrew Loewen. While Loewen got a good piece of the puck, it trickled in for an unassisted goal at 4:19 of the first period.
Peoria’s power play continued to show improvement when their first man-advantage was filled with crisp passing and hard shooting. It paid off with five shots on goal, the last coming when Charlie Carkin’s hard shot deflected straight up into the air off of Loewen’s stick. Taylor Larsen batted the puck in as it fell for the 2-0 lead at 9:13 of the opening frame. Tyler Amburgey was also given an assist on the play.
Then with 49 seconds left before the first intermission, Garrett Vermeersch found himself on the doorstep with the puck. Instead of shooting, he passed back to a wide open Steve Morra on the other side who quickly filled the net for a 3-0 lead. Adam Hartley had an additional helper on that play.
Realizing they still had two full periods left to play, the visiting Cottonmouths came out and dominated the middle frame. Just 2:25 into the period, Rivermen goaltender Kyle Rank misplayed a Jason Gray shot and letting the rebound get away. Gray tried to snag his own rebound but Dan Bremner snuck in behind and reached in where Gray couldn’t, popping the puck over Rank and into the net to set the score at 3-1.
After fifteen minutes of hard play, Columbus got another opportunity when Vermeersch was boxed for tripping. A quick, low slap shot off the stick of Tom Maldonado found a spot between Rank and the post to pull the Cottonmouths to within one at 3-2. Gray and Jordan Draper were credited with assists on that play.
With one goal separating the teams, the third period became a defensive battle. Both Rank and Loewen saw fewer shots but had to be ready when it counted. Despite their best efforts, the Cottonmouths were never able to find the game-tying goal.
Both teams scored a power play goal, Peoria with four chances and Columbus with five.
Contact the author at Shaun.Bill@ProHockeyNews.com or follow him on Twitter @SLBatPHN.