PEORIA, IL – What a difference a couple of minutes can make. Make that two minutes and forty-two seconds.
Garrett Vermeersch scored goals 2:42 apart to first send the game into overtime and then win it in overtime as the Peoria Rivermen defeated the Bloomington Thunder on Saturday night at Peoria’s Carver Arena by a score of 3-2.
That third Peoria goal? Yep, scored by Vermeersch, too.
After dropping a 5-1 decision Friday night in Bloomingon – the lone Peoria goal on Friday was by Vermeersch, as well – the Rivermen were not looking good heading toward the final minutes.
In the first period, Peter Cintala blasted a shot from above the circle past Peoria goalie Eric Levine during a power play to start off the scoring. Travis Granbois and KyleWatson were credited with assists on the goal at 15:38.
Vermeersch tied it up at the beginning of the second period. Steve Morra and Joe Shiller had helpers, but the end was all stick-work as Vermeersch put it past a screened BJ O’Brien to tie it up.
With Watson in the box mid-third period, it looked like the Rivermen were primed to take the lead. However, Dennis Sicard intercepted a pass at the top of the circle and sped down the ice, alone. His first move put Levine on the ice and Sicard lifted the puck up-and-over Levine for the shorthanded goal and the 2-1 Thunder lead at 13:36 of the third period.
The Rivermen caught a break late in the game with Helowka was boxed for high sticking. Peoria pulled Levine for the two-man advantage and it paid immediate dividends. A flurry of activity on O’Brien’s right saw a loose puck come out to his left. Vermeersch corralled it but did not get much non the shot. The puck did slide between a defender’s legs before finding it’s way across the goal line, tying the game at 2 and forcing overtime. Morra and Taylor Larsen assisted on the power play goal.
In SPHL overtime, where they skate three-on-three, Charlie Carkin and Morra were battling on O’Brien’s right when Morra found Vermeersch sliding backwards through the low slot. Vermeersch put a quick shot over the goaltenders glove for the 3-2 win just 1:412 into the overtime period. Vermeersch skated back down the ice where he was met by Levine before being mobbed by teammates.
There was a rowdy crowd of 4,111 fans in attendance. A group of girls in section 12 started a wave and a party atmosphere spread throughout the arena. Questions about whether the Peoria fans would embrace SPHL hockey were solidly answered Saturday night.
Levine improves his record to 9-7-3 while making 27 stops on 29 shots. O’Brien drops to 3-7-0 despite playing very well and facing 37 shots and allowing 3 goals.
Special teams saw Peoria scoring once on seven power plays while Bloomington scored once in three tries and had Sicard’s shortie.
After playing twice this weekend, the Thunder and the Rivermen will face off three more times next weekend, with a tilt in Bloomington on Friday night before a Saturday night/Sunday afternoon pair in Peoria. One can only assume Garret Vermeersch is smiling in anticipation.
Contact the author via email, Shaun.Bill@ProHockeyNews.com, or follow him on Twitter @SLBatPHN