Nick Wheeler and Garrett Vermeersch each scored a pair of goals on Friday to lead the Peoria Rivermen to a 4-3 victory over the Bloomington Thunder at Carver Arena. In addition, rookie goaltender Eric Levine (2-4-3) stopped 31 of 34 shots for his second win of the season, and first on home ice.
With the victory, Peoria improves to 4-6-3 on the year (11 points) and 3-0-0 against the Thunder this season. Bloomington on the other hand falls to 3-8-0, while netminder Max Strang (3-6-0) stopped 29 of 33 shots in the loss.
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For just the third time this year, Peoria struck first less than five minutes into the game courtesy of Wheeler’s third of the year. At the 4:42 mark, Wheeler hopped off the bench and denied the puck from leaving the Bloomington zone at the blue line. He then gathered the puck and sent a slap shot past Strang’s blocker side for a 1-0 Rivermen lead. Nick Prockow and Joe Schiller earned the assists on the goal.
Seconds before the end of the first, Vermeersch extended the lead with his seventh of the year at the 19:36 mark. From the neutral zone, the rookie center collected a pass from Alex Mentink and found himself one-on-one with the Bloomington netminder. Skating in from the right side, Vermeersch then wristed a shot over Strang’s blocker for a 2-0 advantage. Mentink and Cole Ruwe were credited with the helpers.
Vermeersch netted his second goal of the night at the 3:56 mark of the middle frame to put the Rivermen up by three. After being set up by Matt Viola and Adam Hartley, Vermeersch’s wrist shot from the top of the right circle flew past Strang’s stick and into the back of the net. With the tally, Vermeersch now has six of his eight goals against the Thunder this season.
Less than a minute later, Bloomington responded for the first time as Patrick Schafer scored a power play goal to make it 3-1. After a roughing minor called against Vermeersch, Schafer was unmarked at the right circle and knocked home a wrist shot, which beat Levine via a deflection off of the right post. Curtis Megginson and Ron Cramer notched assists on the play.
The Thunder cut their deficit to one at 16:07 of the second when Megginson scored his second of the year on a wrister from the right point. Just as a penalty expired to Adam Feniak, Megginson threaded the needle on a shot through traffic to make it 3-2. Tyler Noseworthy and Paul DAgastino earned the assists.
The Rivermen added a much needed insurance goal at 13:24 of the third courtesy of Wheeler’s second of the night. From the left point, Feniak fired a shot towards the net that was knocked down in front before finding Wheeler’s stick at the near post, and then the back of the net. Prockow added his second assist of the game, while Feniak was also credited with a helper.
Photo: Dennis Sievers/Peoria Rivermen
With less than two minutes remaining in regulation, Charlie Carkin was called for a slashing minor that gave the Thunder a power play opportunity. Bloomington also proceeded to pull Strang from goal to have a 6-on-4 advantage, and they cashed in. At 18:23, Kevin Walrod scored on a rebound chance following a shot from the blue line by Burke Gallimore.
The Thunder continued to play with an empty net in the final minute of regulation, but couldn’t even the game and mustered up just one shot on goal in the final 60 seconds.
Bloomington outshot the Rivermen 34-33 on the evening, which was just the second time all year the Thunder have outshot their opponent – and first on the road. Peoria finished the game 0-for-4 on the power play and 2-for-4 on the penalty kill.
Peoria concludes a home-and-home series against the Thunder on Saturday with a 7:15 p.m. puck drop at Bloomington’s U.S. Cellular Coliseum. The game can be heard locally on CD Country 107.9 FM or online at www.cd1079.net. Fans can also follow along via the live video and audio stream at www.americaonesports.com.