The Golden Eagles ended their season earlier this week about the same way they started - with a string of losses. But in between, the Eagles provided some of the best hockey ever seen in Salt Lake.
Unfortunately that will likely be forgotten because of the four-game sweep by the Phoenix Roadrunners in the first round of the IHL playoffs."It was a very gratifying, rewarding year," said second-year Coach Bob Francis. "We came a long way, not only as individuals, but as a team. Unfortunately we ended the way we did."
After losing eight of their first 11, including four straight, the Eagles righted themselves and proceeded to go 47-21-4 the rest of the season. They were nearly unbeatable during February when they won 13 of 14 games, their only loss coming in overtime.
In March, they played well enough, winning nine of 14, but it was the start of their downfall. Leading scorer Marc Bureau was traded to Minnesota and Sergei Priakin, who had given the Eagles some good skating experience was recalled by Calgary.
Meanwhile, the injury bug bit the Eagles. Defenseman Kevin Grant missed more than a month and defensemen Mark Osiecki and forward Kerry Clark both missed several games.
By the time April came around, the Eagles were out of synch. Although they won three of their last four, they struggled to beat the league's two non-playoff teams, Kansas City and San Diego.
"It was kind of a disappointing season because we played we so well up until the playoffs," said the Eagles' top scorer Rich Chernomaz. "A few guys got hurt and we never got back to where we were playing in February and March."
The Eagles' regular-season record of 50-28-5 was the second best in club history, behind only the 1988-89 season. But it marked the first time since 1976-77 that they didn't win a playoff game.
Francis isn't sure what the 1991-92 season will bring. He knows many of this year's players won't be back, but he didn't speculate on which players won't. However it is known that veteran players such as Martin Simard, Randy Bucyk and goalie Steve Guenette are free agents and will explore other options next year.
Other players such as Chernomaz, Grant, Tim Sweeney, Darryl Olsen, Rick Lessard and Scott McCrady are going into the option year of their contracts. Chernomaz, who is within reach of several all-time Eagle records, said he might be back in Salt Lake for a fifth season.
The Eagles had several good young players this year such as C.J. Young, who scored 31 goals and became the third straight Salt Lake player to win the Ken McKenzie Trophy as American-born rookie of the year. Young, Osiecki, Andrew McKim, Kevan Melrose, Corey Lyons, Todd Harkins, Paul Kruse, Darren Banks and Warren Sharples could all be back with Salt Lake unless some of them stick with the parent Calgary club next year.
"To have good chemistry, we'll have younger players with some veterans around next year, but we won't have an overabundance of veterans," said Francis. "Our No. 1 priority is to develop young players."
The Eagle players cleaned out the their lockers and met individually with Francis Friday before going their seperate ways. Many will stay in town until June before heading home.
Training camp begins in September and the regular season begins in early October with the Eagles playing at the new arena under construction two blocks northwest of the Salt Palace.