The Colorado Eagles (17-14-1-2) improved to 5-0 against the Bulls (12-17-1-4) on the season by winning 2-1 in an eight-round shootout at the Cow Palace Wednesday night. Despite the loss, the eighth-place Bulls picked up a point by taking the game to a shootout.
“A tie would feel better right now,” Head Coach Pat Curcio said. “It’s a tough way to lose a game. We had opportunities to score, we didn’t capitalize on them.”
If there is a silver lining, it was the play of backup goalie Taylor Nelson, who stepped in to replace Tommy Heemskerk. The ECHLs minutes-played leader is sidelined for at least three weeks after undergoing emergency appendix surgery over the New Year’s holiday. Nelson saved 35 of 36 shots in his absence after posting a 4.88 goals against average in his first 10 games of action as a professional goaltender prior to Wednesday’s start.
“It’s kind of a weight off my shoulders,” Nelson said.
The Bulls opened the scoring midway through the first period when Mitchell jumped on a loose puck at the side of the net, spun off an Eagles defenseman and tried to fling a behind-the-back pass across the crease to line-mate Justin Bowers. The puck redirected off the defenseman’s skate and wound up in the back of the Eagles net for Mitchell’s first-ever ECHL goal.
“It hit the guy’s skate and jumped over the goalie,” Mitchell said. “It’s like it was in slow motion, can’t believe that’s how I scored. It worked out.”
The Eagles tied the game up at 1-1 at the 4:49 mark of the second period when Devin DiDiomete capitalized on a 2-on-1 opportunity that started with a Bulls turnover in the neutral zone.
“It was the one error on the board,” Curcio said. “We didn’t get it deep, our defenseman got caught standing flat-footed. He expected it to go deep. The next thing you know it’s a 2-on-1.”
From that point forward, the game was a pitcher’s duel between Nelson and Eagles netminder Adam Brown, who stopped 41 of 42 shots. Brown is red hot right now. He was 4-1 with a 1.76 goals against average in the month of December and he carried the momentum into his first start of 2013.
Eagles goalies have completely stymied the Bulls this season. In the teams’ last meeting on Dec. 8, Kyle Jones stopped 31 of 32 shots. Jones has posted a 1.25 goals against average and a .957 save percentage in four starts against the Bulls this season.
“Every time we play them, the goalie makes the difference,” Curcio said. “We’ve got three goals on them in our last three games. We’ve got to find a way to get some pucks through on these guys.”
But Nelson was just as good for the Bulls. He stopped seven shots in the first period and seemed to get better as the game went on. He stopped a breakaway in the second period and again in the third with less than 10 minutes to play in regulation.
“It’s nice to get the first couple shots and being able to control the rebounds,” Nelson said. “I caught a few pucks in my stomach, I caught a few pucks in my glove. It’s always nice to be able to watch it in from a distance and kind of get your bearings.”
The Bulls had a chance to win the game in the shootout. Peter Sivak scored first by snapping a quick shot through Brown’s five hole and the Eagles didn’t put one on the board until their fifth and final shooter, Kevin Ulanski, slipped one past Nelson. Steve Haddon won the game for Colorado by scoring in the shootout’s eighth round.
“I’ve never liked the shootout,” Nelson said. “You play a team game for 65 minutes and then to win the game as an individual player – let’s not go there.”
The Bulls will get another shot to pick up a win against the Eagles when the teams reunite at the Cow Palace this Friday.
Mitchell said the level of play in his first ECHL game was impressive.
“Guys were fast,” he said. “The level of play is not that far off. There’s little parts of everyone’s game that needs some fine-tuning to get up to the next level.”
Contact the photographer at Jack.Lima@prohockeynews.com
Follow us on Twitter @prohockeynews