Rookie center Garrett Vermeersch netted the game winner, and his third goal of the night, with 3.6 seconds left in regulation as the Peoria Rivermen edged the Bloomington Thunder 7-6 on Saturday at Carver Arena. Nick Prockow also scored a hat trick in Peoria’s home opener, which was attended by 5,689 fans.
The Rivermen improved to 2-0-0-0 on the season, while backup goaltender Russ Stein made his professional debut and went on to earn his first pro victory. Stein made 20 saves on 23 shots over 40 minutes of play.
Power plays played a crucial role in the game as well, with the two teams combining to go 6-for-11 with the man advantage. Peoria finished the game 4-for-6 on the power play while Bloomington went 2-for-5.
For the second straight night, Bloomington took the first lead of the game when Daniel Barczuk scored less than a minute and a half in. Barczuk received a pass from Bloomington captain Travis Granbois, took it up the left side and finished with a wrister that flew past Rivermen starting goaltender Phil Cook at 1:27.
However, a slashing penalty by Ron Cramer at 4:22 of the first gave the Rivermen a chance to even the score and they capitalized. Just seconds after Cramer headed to the box, Tyler Fernandez’s pass traveled to an open Prockow, who blasted a slap shot between the circles for his first goal of the year at 4:40. Fernandez and Cook were credited with assists.
Bloomington bounced back midway through the opening frame with a power play goal courtesy of Paul D’Agostino. At 12:14, the Bloomington defenseman ripped a slap shot that cruised through the 5-hole of Cook for a 2-1 lead. Four and a half minutes later, another Rivermen penalty led to a Bloomington goal just six seconds into the power play. At 16:48, Kevin Walrod sent a pass to Tyler Noseworthy in front, who one-timed it home for a 3-1 score.
The Rivermen answered in the middle frame with three more power play goals to take their first lead of the night. The scoring spree started at 4:35, when Vermeersch one-timed a shot past Thunder goaltender B.J. O’Brien from the top of the left circle. Five minutes later, Bloomington penalties to Dennis Sicard and Matt Puntereri gave Peoria a 5-on-3 attack, in which Fernandez capitalized to even the game 3-3. After dancing with the puck on the right side, Fernandez wristed a shot right into the top corner of the net at the 9:55 mark.
Peoria gained its first lead of the night at 15:35 of the second, when Prockow scored for the second time and on the power play. After Bloomington’s Kyle Watson was called for holding, Fernandez found Prockow alone at the right post who redirected it home for a 4-3 Rivermen lead.
However, just 23 seconds later, the Thunder evened the game yet again courtesy of Ron Cramer at 15:58. Cramer took advantage of a scrum in front and slid the puck past Stein, who entered the game at the start of the second period.
A night of frequent goal scoring continued in the third and began with Noseworthy’s second of the game just 49 seconds in. The Thunder winger skated around the back of the net and fired a shot from the side that snuck past Stein’s shoulder to give the Thunder a 5-4 lead. Two minutes later, a critical turnover by Peoria led to a breakaway goal by Barczuk, which was his second of the game and gave Bloomington a 6-4 lead.
Peoria would not be denied however as Vermeersch netted his second goal of the game at 9:42 to cut the deficit to one yet again. Jarrett Rush’s initial shot from the right side was saved by O’Brien, but the rebound came to the Rivermen rookie who backhanded it home. Just over a minute later, Prockow registered his first SPHL hat trick and evened the game at 6-6.
Then with the seconds winding down in regulation, Rivermen winger Parker Stanfield gained the zone and left the puck for Vermeersch, who buried a slap shot from the left side into the back of the net for the game-winner at 19:56.
Vermeersch finished the game with four points including an assist. Fernandez (1g, 2a), Rush (2a) and Schiller (2a) also notched multi-point games.
O’Brien suffered the loss for the second straight night for the Thunder and falls to 0-2-0 on the season. He allowed five goals on 35 shots.
The Rivermen return to action next weekend with a Friday-Saturday series against the Mississippi River Kings at Carver Arena. Puck drops at 7:15 p.m. and you can follow all of the action locally on CD Country 107.9 FM or online at www.cd1079.net.