The end came Wednesday night for both a hockey team and a building as the Salt Lake Golden Eagles lost 5-2 to the Phoenix Roadrunners in the final professional hockey game at the Salt Palace.
The defeat closed out the Eagles' season, completing a surprising 4-0 playoff sweep by the Roadrunners. It also marked the end of an era of 21 years of hockey since the building opened in late 1969. The Eagles will be back next year at a yet-to-be-named arena two blocks northwest of the Salt Palace, but the Acord Arena ice has seen its last game.The Eagles, who were the IHL's most penalized team for the second straight year, had no one to blame but themselves for this loss. Phoenix scored four of its goals on power plays (when the Eagles had men in the penalty box), including two goals with two-man advatanges.
"It killed us in this series, no doubt about it," said Eagle Coach Bob Francis. "We couldn't afford to be in the penalty box if we wanted a chance against Phoenix. It was essential that we be more disciplined in the penalty department and we weren't."
The Eagles were penalized 14 times to six for Phoenix, which played right into the Roadrunners' strategy.
"We figured discipline would win in this series, so we tried to stay out of the penalty box," said Phoenix Coach Ralph Backstrom. "There wasn't a single fight in the series and we had guys turning the other cheek. Sometimes it's tougher to turn away than to fight."
Phoenix goaltender Mario Gosselin, who was superb throughout the series, agreed with his coach. "We were looking for a tight, tight hockey game. We wanted to keep it close and play a boring hockey game. We wanted to let them make the mistakes."
The Eagles complied, especially late in the second period when the game turned around for good.
Salt Lake had just taken a 2-1 lead when Andrew McKim was called with a roughing penalty. Then less than a minute later, Rick Lessard was called for slashing. Rich Chernomaz received a cross-checking penalty a few seconds later.
That gave Phoenix a 5-on-3 advantage for the rest of the period and they quickly took advantage with Chris Kontos scoring on a put-back off a shot by Petr Prajsler.
Phoenix carried a two-man advantage into the next period, thanks to Chernomaz's late penalty and the Roadrunners scored just 49 seconds into the period, just after Lessard's penalty ran out, but still with a man advantage. Sylvain Couturier, the Roadrunner's leading scorer during the season, scored his first playoff goal.
Although there were still 19 minutes left, that goal seemed to take something away from the Eagles and the crowd of 6,112, which had been quite emotional up to that point.
Steve Jaques made it 4-2 at the 4:50 mark and Couturier capped off the scoring with an empty-net goal in the final minute. The Eagles made a flurry of shots on goal with 14 in the final period, but could never beat Gosselin.
Salt Lake had gone ahead briefly in the second period when C.J. Young scored on a breakaway as he was leaving, where else?, the penalty box at the 16:20 mark of the second. The Eagles tied it at 1-1 when Martin Simard scored just 32 seconds into the period, following a first-period goal by Bill O'Dwyer.
Although the crowd booed the officials all night, the Eagles weren't blaming penalty calls for their defeat.
"That's just an excuse," said Francis.
"They basically outsmarted us," said Chernomaz. "We took some foolish penalties and about 75 percent of them were legitimate."
While Phoenix looks ahead to the winner of the Peoria-Milwaukee series, the Eagles will look ahead to next year, with likely the same coach, a few new players and a brand-new arena.