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It was a confidence builder Thursday when the Eagles, down to 12 skaters at times because of injuries, beat defending IHL-champion Muskegon 4-2.

Saturday night in the Salt Palace, they followed that up with their first shutout of the season, goalie Wayne Cowley posting the first blanking of his pro career, in a 5-0 victory over the Phoenix Roadrunners."I looked up (at the scoreboard) with about 10 minutes left, and small thoughts went through my head," admitted Cowley, who began skating back and forth "trying to clear my head." He wanted to concentrate on the game, not his shutout.

Actually, the zero for Phoenix was more a team shutout than one for the goalie alone.

"It was one of the easiest games I ever played, barring the first six minutes," said Cowley, who faced several 2-on-1, 3-on-2 breaks early and then had smooth sailing until the Roadrunners got a scramble in the final minutes.

"We couldn't have done much better, let's put it that way," said Coach Bob Francis.

"The team's beginning to believe in themselves," said Cowley, noting the absence from the ice of six injured teammates.

At first, said Francis, his club made the same mistake it had Tuesday in a loss to Muskegon with the third forward getting pulled low while forechecking, resulting in Phoenix being able to break the other way with more players than Salt Lake had on defense. But in the final 10 minutes of the first period, the Eagles regrouped, kept the third forward high and squeezed off the Phoenix chances the rest of the night.

"Cowley made a couple of big saves early when the game was scoreless," said Francis. "They score first, and it's a different game."

That's the same thing Phoenix Coach Garry Unger said. "We played pretty well the first period. If we could have gotten to the goaltender early - he was shaky then. We didn't really test him, only in the first period."

Unger said that once Salt Lake scored its first two goals - by Tim Sweeney at 19:10 of the first period and by Chris Biotti at 10:15 of the second - the Eagles changed their defense, standing up more at the blue line. "We tried to be too fancy, to stickhandle by them," Unger said. That didn't work.

When Rick Barkovich scored Salt Lake's third goal, seconds after Phoenix had killed a major penalty, "You could see the heads dropping a little," Unger said about his club.

"I think our team took them out of it," said Cowley. "We didn't let them get into their system, didn't let them get in a groove. They had one here, one there, but no rebounds, no second chances, no pressure. That makes me relax." Cowley was able to concentrate on the first shot and come out and challenge Phoenix shooters, taking away their angles, knowing the defense was working for him.

Barkovich led scorers with two goals, while Biotti and Randy Bucyk had a goal and an assist each and Darryl Olsen had a pair of assists.

Barkovich, a 30-goal scorer each of the past two seasons, had only four for the season until Thursday. He's added three in the last two games.

"It really started five or six games ago," said Francis. "He elevated his level of play. When you're struggling, it takes a breakthrough. He's moving better, reading plays better, playing with confidence. He was outstanding."

"It's finally going in for me," said Barkovich. "I knew it would sooner or later." He said he's going to the net harder and creating more opportunities.

EAGLE NOTES - Kurt Kleinendorst, who played for the Eagles in 1984-85 and 85-86, was signed Saturday to a 25-game IHL contract to fill in for the injured. Rick Hayward joined the idled Saturday with a bad knee. Kleinendorst, a part-time Salt Lake resident, spent the past few seasons playing in Europe and expects to head back overseas soon . . . Francis said he plans to get one or two players from Calgary soon.