Colorado Eagles prepare to make most of home stand

Ryan Loberger

The Colorado Eagles will return to Budweiser Events Center this week still on the outside looking in on the Pacific Division playoff picture. They are currently four points behind the Tucson Roadrunners for the fourth and final spot. With the playoffs looming, every team is looking to get hot this time of year—the Eagles know they can’t afford to take any nights off.

Currently on a three-game skid, the Eagles were unable to capture any points in their two-game series against the Stockton Heat last weekend and dropped Saturday night’s contest against the Ontario Reign. Over their last three contests, the Eagles have fallen 5-3, 5-3 and 2-0. The Eagles also went 0-for-6 on the power play against the Reign on Saturday, while being unable to beat goaltender Peter Budaj.

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Despite having nothing to show for the last two weeks in the standings, the team has confidence that they can find their way back into the playoff picture and get things rolling. Head Coach Greg Cronin has seen some positives in the style the Eagles have played the last two games and it’s just a matter of consistency.

“We competed hard on Sunday,” Cronin said. “Saturday (in Stockton) we didn’t compete, we just sat around and watched Stockton finish checks and drive our net. The positive is we responded Sunday in the style we played. We were aggressive, we were physical, we were fast.”

While the Eagles weren’t able to come out of Ontario with a win, it wasn’t due to a lack of effort. Former Colorado Avalanche netminder Peter Budaj had quite a night—posting a 47-save shutout, securing the win for the Reign. Saturday’s matchup also featured two new faces in the Eagles line up. Forwards Kale Kessy and Jared VanWormer were signed to Professional Tryout offers before the weekend. Kessy will serve as a replacement for forward Cody Bass as he heals from injury.

“We signed him on a PTO,” Cronin said. “He’s a similar player to Cody (Bass); he’s physical, he’s strong, he can fight and he’s got the toughness we need for the rest of the year.”

Bass, having dealt with injuries all season, may return, but fought in Stockton while still recovering from a broken orbital bone. It is uncertain when he will return to action.

Kessy seemed more than ready for the call-up and fought twice in Saturday’s loss to the Reign. Both fights were against Reign forward Bokondji Imama.

The Eagles return to action against the San Antonio Rampage Feb. 25 and 26. The Rampage currently sit in seventh place in the Central Division. Special teams have been a problem for the Eagles in Stockton. They allowed two power play goals and two shorthanded goals in the loss to the Heat on Sunday.

“I think we were pretty good defensively on Sunday,” Cronin said. “They had two shorthanded goals, two power play goals, one was a five-on-three. We played a better game Sunday than we did Saturday. Saturday we just looked off, we looked unemotional. To me, there wasn’t any passion to the way we played and we paid for it.”

Tuesday’s contest is approaching and the Eagles are ready to right the ship. It could be a deciding factor as the Eagles start a four-game home stand. With games this week against the Rampage and the Tucson Roadrunners, the Eagles could see themselves inside the playoff picture this time next week if all goes according to plan.

“We have 19 games left,” Eagles’ captain Mark Alt said. “We have a pretty clear picture of what that standings look like, what we need to do from here on out. We’ve got a game plan going forward, and every game is gonna be important. We need two points out of every game, can’t have weekends like we did last week. We have to start getting points out of these games.”

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Ryan Loberger can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @LobergerRyan.