BLOOMINGTON, ILL – The Bloomington Thunder tried to beat the Peoria Rivermen on Saturday night. When they couldn’t do that, they tried to beat them up, even taking a shot at Peoria coach Jean-Guy Trudel. When the dust settled, the Rivermen emerged from the circus unbroken with a 5-1 victory in front of 3,092 fans at the U.S. Cellular Coliseum, a good portion of which made the trip down I-74 from Peoria.
Rivermen forward Nick Prockow had a stellar night with four points, including a natural hat trick. Eric Levine keep improving between the pipes for Peoria, allowing only a single goal and making some key saves.
The first period was full of hard hitting but remained scoreless through 18 minutes of play. With the Thunder on the power play, Peoria’s Joe Schiller skated the puck out of his defensive zone and when teammates Parker Stanfield and Prockow joined him, the play quickly turned into a 3-on-2 advantage. Faking a shot, Schiller passed to Stanfield leaving Stanfield alone against Bloomington goaltender Max Strang, Stanfield delivered a hard, low shot that Strang stopped but the rebound bounced out to the left of the slot where Prockow buried it for the 1-0 lead at 18:08 of the first period.
Entering the night, Peoria’s power play unit was ranked 8th in the ten-team league. They promptly scored three power play goals in the second period.
A really good power play series early in the second period put the spotlight on Prockow, again. Schiller and Matt Viola pressured and Prockow finished it to put the Rivermen ahead 2-0 at 6:27 of the second period. Prockow scored again when Garrett Vermeersch charged the net and drew the defense. His pass through traffic across the ice set up Prockow at the bottom of the circle. Prockow buried it to complete the natural hat-trick at 12:20. Stanfield was also credited with an assist on the play that put the Rivermen up 3-0.
Even as the clock ticked into the final minute, the Rivermen weren’t done with the second period quite yet. A slash by Sy Nutkevitvch put Peoria on their sixth power of the period with just 17 seconds remaining. The Rivermen pressed hard while the Thunder seemed ready to skate off to the locker room. Nick Wheeler and Vermeersch created a scramble in front of Strang while Alexandre Mentink buried the loose puck for his first goal of the season with just 3.6 seconds remaining in the period. That left the score at 4-0 Peoria through two periods.
The second period also saw a lot of visitors to the penalty box. Sixteen penalties were called, including six for fighting and a bench minor on Bloomington for abuse of officials. It would prove to be a theme that carried into the final stanza.
Bloomington broke Levine’s spell at the 3:05 mark of the third period when Nutkevitch wrestled the puck away behind the net and backhanded a pass to a charging Travis Granbois to make it a 4-1 game.
Peoria tacked on another goal, this time at even strength, when Charlie Carkin fired a high, line-drive shot from the blue line that found netting. Prockow and Taylor Larsen had helpers on the goal at the 12:52 mark that proved to be the final tally of the game.
With the outcome of the contest pretty much decided, things began to get out of hand. The coaches began screaming at each other and the glass between the benches came dislodged. After the glass was replaced, Bloomington’s Kory Helowka fired a loose puck into the Rivermen bench area. The mayhem that followed included a Game Misconduct for Inciting the Opponent. By the end of the game, the scoresheet listed 180 minutes of penalties between the two teams including 103 called against the Thunder.
Levine won his second game in two nights, stopping 27 of 28 shots. Strang stopped 36 of 42 shots in the loss. Bloomington did not score during any of their seven power plays and allowed the shorthanded goal while Peoria capitalized on three of ten man-advantage opportunities.
After four games of the 17-game seasons series between the teams, Peoria has won all four. The teams meet again in three weeks, on December 20. That contest will begin a stretch of seven games where the two teams will meet five times. If Saturday’s events are any indication, those five meetings should be interesting.
Contact the author at Shaun.Bill@ProHockeyNews.com or follow him on Twitter @SLBatPHN