Miska shines, Eagles take first round of Battle of the Birds

Ryan Loberger

It’s not the flu season, but a different virus has hit the Colorado Avalanche organization: the injury bug. Due to an unfortunate string of injuries and ailments, the depth of the organization has been put to the test, and that goes down to their AHL affiliate as well.

Shane Bowers (left) battles with Condors defenseman Keegan Lowe (right) for a loose puck. (Photo courtesy of the Colorado Eagles).

Colorado Eagles forwards T.J. Tynan and Jayson Megna, defenseman Kevin Connauton and the goaltending tandem of Adam Werner and Antoine Bibeau are all up with the Avalanche as they make their trip through western Canada.

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“It’s a little stepping stone on each level,” forward Sheldon Dries said. “The (Avalanche) are finding ways to win. We’re finding ways to win with key players missing right now. Everyone’s got to elevate their game every night and get two points in the bank every night; that’s the goal.”

The Eagles hosted the Bakersfield Condors Friday night missing key contributors from their lineup. These two teams met in the Calder Cup playoffs last season with the Condors eliminating Colorado in four games, and the Eagles haven’t forgotten.

“Hockey players have a long memory,” Dries said. “They knocked us out of the playoffs last year, and we didn’t like that, obviously. Give credit to them; they play hard, and so do we. When two hard-nosed teams (are) playing each other, that’s what you’re gonna get. It’s a recipe for a good game.”

Goaltender Hunter Miska and the rest of the Eagles take the ice before the national anthem against the Bakersfield Condors. (Photo courtesy of the Colorado Eagles).

The Eagles got on the board first as Conor Timmins found himself in front of the net during a span of four-on-four hockey just under seven minutes into the first period. Calle Rosen let a shot go from the point that deflected of Timmins’ stick and beat Condors goalie Stuart Skinner to give Colorado a 1-0 lead.

Playing with a lead has been critical for the Eagles this season, as the team has struggled to come from behind to win games. Coming into this game, the Eagles were posting a 6-0 record when leading after the first period, but were 0-6 when trailing.

“It’s always good to get the first goal,” goalie Hunter Miska said. “Obviously we get a little confidence off that, and hopefully we can just drive to get the next goal.”

In the second period, it took Dries just 22 seconds to extend Colorado’s lead. The centerman fired a wrist shot from the slot that beat Skinner high glove side for a 2-0 Eagles lead, and Rosen picked up his second assist of the night on the goal.

“It was a little forecheck, trying to get on the (defense) down the wall,” Dries said. “(The puck) got through. I think (Rosen) pinched and (the puck) squirted to the middle. (I) turned and fired it to the net, and I don’t think the goalie was ready for it, but I’ll take it any way it comes.”

From there, Miska shut the door. The third-year pro made saves that would fill out most goaltenders’ highlight reels for an entire season. Turning aside all 43 shots en route to a 3-0 Eagles win, Colorado would add an empty net goal to seal the game. With the absence of Werner and Bibeau, Miska has shined between the pipes for the Eagles, posting a 1.71 goals-against average and a .952 save percentage in just five games played.

Sheldon Dries (middle) hugs Hunter Miska (left) after the Eagles beat the Condors 3-0 on Nov. 15. (Photo courtesy of the Colorado Eagles).

“(The) guys are playing well in front of me,” Miska said. “I’m seeing the puck, and they’re giving me an opportunity to make the first save and hopefully not to make too many second saves. I thought they did a hell of a job tonight pushing the (Condors) away and keeping the shots outside. I just had to control my rebounds as much as I could to keep away the second opportunities.”

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Despite being outshot in the game, the Eagles were able to come away with the victory. The Condors ended the game with 43 shots to Colorado’s 26. Bakersfield now has a 1-7-1 record when outshooting their opposition. Typically it’s quality over quantity, but the Condors have had both tonight. Miska was just unbeatable.

The two teams will run it back Saturday at 7:05 p.m. as the Eagles look to win back-to-back home games for the first time this season.

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