Skipjacks' record plays in Peoria--and is a loser


The Baltimore Skipjacks no longer hold the record for the most consecutive victories by a professional hockey team.

Saturday night, the Peoria Rivermen defeated the Kalamazoo Wings, 7-2, in an International Hockey League game to break the Skipjacks' record of 16 wins in a row, set during the 1984-85 American Hockey League season.

The National Hockey League record is 15, set by the New York Islanders during the 1981-82 season.

"It was hard here the last two or three years," said Rivermen general manager Dennis Cyr. "But last summer, the St. Louis Blues decided to spend a lot of money, signing free agents and sending us some excellent rookies. Because of this increased spending by St. Louis, we have reaped the rewards.

"St. Louis has a lot of depth, and we have received the overflow. Rookies like center Nelson Emerson and right wing David Bruce, who are two of the leading scorers in the IHL, veterans like right wing Steve Tuttle, who played defense at St. Louis last year, center Michel Mongeau and left wing Dave Thomlinson and goalie Guy Hebert, who was just recalled by St. Louis, have made us a very solid hockey team."

The Rivermen are coached by former Baltimore Clippers defenseman Bob Plager. Plager, a flamboyant player and coach, was asked whether he would consider taking the head job with the Toronto Maple Leafs or Quebec Nordiques.

"You have to be kidding me," Plager said. "I rather take a window seat on the Hindenberg."

Last year he came to the Baltimore Arena as a St. Louis Blues scout and saw the retired jerseys of Bullets greats Gus Johnson and Elvin Hayes hanging from the rafters.

"Where's my sweater?" Plager said. "I was better than those guys."

* The hottest team in the NHL is the Chicago Blackhawks, who are unbeaten in their past seven games (5-0-2) and lead the Norris Division by three points over St. Louis.

"The reason we are doing so well is that we have high expectations of ourselves," said coach Mike Keenan. "When you're on a roll, you gain some momentum and you start to play better. We have confidence in ourselves and in our goaltending."

Ed Belfour, who has the most victories (13) in the NHL, has been superb in goal. Belfour, a rookie who played with the Canadian National Team last year and is a graduate of the University of North Dakota, has the best goals-against average in the NHL (1.96).

"Eddie is making the big saves when we need them most," said Chicago right wing Wayne Presley. "We still have some mental lapses, but he is always there to help out on our mistakes."

Left wing Steve Thomas said: "The reason we are doing so well is that we expect to win every night. We know that if we stick to our game plan, we'll win hockey games. We dump the puck in the offensive end and work hard; that's the bottom line. We're not overconfident -- we know you have to respect every team -- but we know what we are capable of."

Defenseman Dave Manson said: "We are all helping one another. Defensively we're very tough in our own end."

* Brian Sakic, 19, the sixth-round choice of the Washington Capitals in the June draft, has been named Player of the Month in the Canadian Hockey League, which is made up of junior teams in various leagues.

Sakic, the younger brother of Quebec Nordiques star Joe Sakic, had 11 goals and 28 assists in 13 games for the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League. Sakic, a 6-foot, 195-pound center who is a native of Burnaby, British Columbia, set a WHL points record when he scored two goals and had eight assists in Tri-City's 19-3 rout of the Seattle Thunderbirds.

* The NHL season has passed the quarter pole, and it's time to find out who one scout believes are the best players so far.

Marcel Pelletier, a former Baltimore Clippers goalie who scouts for Boston, was asked to name the best NHL players he has seen this season, excluding Bruins.

"The best goalies I've seen are John Vanbiesbrouck of the Rangers and Ken Wregget of the Flyers," he said. "Both stand up and stop the puck."

"At defense, Ray Bourque [Bruins] is the best I've seen, but Kevin Hatcher of Washington, Brian Leetch of the Rangers, Bruce Driver for New Jersey and Mark Howe for Philadelphia are very good. And I don't think Paul Coffey of Pittsburgh is worth all the money they are paying him. They [Penguins executives] ought to say to Coffey: 'Here's $1 million for your offense. Now you pay us $1 million for your lack of defense, and we'll be even.'

"Up front [forwards], there are a lot of very good players. The best on the Washington Capitals are John Druce, Dale Hunter and Mike Ridley. All are very good hockey players who are working all the time they are on the ice.

"The best I've seen so far are Cam Neely [Bruins], Steve Yzerman of Detroit, Brett Hull of St. Louis, Joey Mullen of New Jersey and Mike Gartner of the New York Rangers. Yzerman and Hull are both franchise players. Pat LaFontaine is starting to come around for the Islanders, and Rick Tocchet of Philadelphia and Darren Turcotte of the Rangers are playing well."

* Three coaches in the East Coast Hockey League, which has an average attendance of 3,752 over its first 10 games, are former Baltimore players. John Brophy, who played with the Clippers, is the head man of the Hampton Roads Admirals; Warren Young, who played with the Skipjacks, is coach of the Louisville Icehawks; and Steve Carlson, another former Skipjack, is head coach of the Johnstown Chiefs.

Keith Gretzky, younger brother of the Great One, plays for the Winston-Salem Thunderbirds.

Terry Ficorelli, former Skipjacks broadcaster, is the play-by-play man for the Cincinnati Cyclones.

Former Skipjacks with the Admirals are right wing-center Harry Mews and defenseman Dave Buckley. Defenseman Jordan Fois, another ex-Skipjack, is with the Renegades. Defensemen Ken Spangler and Bob Kennedy and goalie Alain Raymond are playing for the Nashville Knights.

* The USA Cup, a four-team, round-robin international hockey tournament, will be held at the Knickerbocker Arena in Albany, N.Y., Dec. 27-30. Dynamo Riga from the Soviet Union will play Stockholm AIK, the Swedish Elite League champion, in one game, and Team Canada will oppose Team USA in the other first-round game.

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