The Peoria Rivermen opened the 2013-2014 season, and their first in the Southern Professional Hockey League, with a commanding 5-1 victory over the Bloomington Thunder on Friday at Bloomington’s U.S. Cellular Coliseum. Forward Taylor Larsen, as well as defensemen Joe Schiller and Tyler Amburgey, each had a two-point night while Rivermen goaltender Phil Cook made 18 saves and notched the win in his professional debut.
Peoria outshot the Thunder 45-19 in the game, which was helped by nine power play opportunities throughout the night. The Rivermen also improved to 3-1-0-0 when debuting in a new league.
Bloomington opened the scoring less than eight minutes into the game with a goal from Daniel Barczuk. At the 7:45 mark, Barczuk gained the Peoria zone, then ripped a slap shot past Cook’s glove for a 1-0 lead.
The Rivermen responded just over a minute later though courtesy of Garrett Vermeesch, who scored his first professional goal when he cut in from the left wing and knocked a wrist shot past Thunder goalie B.J. O’Brien.
The Rivermen took the lead just before the end of the first period, when Amburgey scored at 17:56. The Rivermen defenseman turned at the top of the point and fired a shot past O’Brien, which was helped by Larsen and Parker Stanfield.
14 seconds into the second period, the Rivermen earned their second power play, which helped set up Peoria’s third goal of the game. After Thunder defensemen Curtis Megginson was called for a hooking minor, Peoria’s speedy forward Tyler Fernandez knocked home a backhand shot from the left side of the crease after being set up by Charlie Carkin and Nick Prockow.
Bloomington center Kyle Watson picked up two penalties during the second period, both of which were killed by the Thunder. However, with just 19 seconds left in the second period, Thunder center Matt Puntureri received a five-minute major for checking from behind and game misconduct after hitting Rivermen defenseman Cole Ruwe.
Due to the penalty, the Rivermen began the third period with nearly five minutes of 5-on-4 hockey. Despite getting three shots on goal during the first three minutes of the third period, the one-man advantage for Peoria was nullified, as Prockow was called for a hooking minor.
At 5:29 of the final frame, Matt Graham took advantage of a 1-on-1 opportunity and found the back of the net to give Peoria a 4-1 lead. Schiller and Steve Morra were credited with assists.
The Rivermen sealed the deal and added another insurance goal at 17:13 of third for a 5-1 final score. Amburgey fired an initial shot from the blue line that was saved by O’Brien, but the rebound came to Larsen who batted it out of the air for the goal. Schiller also notched a helper.
Peoria finished the game 2-for-9 on the power play and went 2-for-2 on the penalty kill. Bloomington’s O’Brien suffered the loss.
Peoria begins its home portion of the schedule on Saturday, Oct. 26 with a 7:15 p.m. rematch against Thunder at Carver Arena. Tickets start at just $8 for upper bowl seats and the first 5,000 fans receive a free magnet schedule courtesy of Heritage Bank. Saturday's game will also be declared “Bruce Saurs Hockey Night in Peoria,” and following the game, 20 lucky fans will win a game-worn jersey straight off a players’ back. For tickets or more information, please visit the Rivermen office located inside the Peoria Civic Center, or call (309) 676-1040.