It is the single most vivid memory in 20 years of Salt Lake hockey for most local fans, including Golden Eagle general manager Mike Runge, who has been the club's announcer for all of those 20 years, and Art Teece, who has owned the team for the past 15 years.
Overtime. Championship game. May 3, 1975. Dallas' Randy Holt hits the crossbar with a shot. Then Eagle Lyle Bradley tosses a puck out of the corner for Gary Holt, Randy's brother, who rips the puck past his brother and into the Blackhawks' net to give Salt Lakers their first-ever pro championship."This building exploded," remembers Teece about the brand-spanking new Salt Palace. "They went right over the glass onto the ice."
"In those days," recalls Runge, "people had not seen a championship game like that. People were slipping and falling on the ice wanting to be near the players. I don't remember any more exciting thing."
But as the Golden Eagles start their 20th season tonight at Milwaukee (the home opener is Tuesday), Teece and Runge and Eagle fans are holding their breath a little, knowing that this anniversary edition could provide some of the same kind of thrills.
Rookies Theoren Fleury and Peter Lappin, if they continue to play as they did with the Eagles last spring, would be the two most exciting players the club has had since Doug Palazzari and Joe Mullen, and the supporting cast is filled with youngsters who could already be in the National League if they played with another organization. Calgary was, after all, the best team in the NHL regular season last year.
"This year's team, barring injuries and so forth, could be one of the strongest Salt Lake City has ever had," says Teece. "Calgary has been real good to us, and they have one of the largest reservoirs of quality players in all of hockey."
Teece also rates second-year Coach Paul Baxter as one of his three favorite Eagle coaches, along with Jack Evans, who won three Adams Cups, and Wayne Thomas, who won the club's first Turner Cup. Baxter won the second last year.
Teece also says Fleury could be the best rookie the Eagles have ever had. To do that, Fleury would have to nose out Mullen, who is the all-time favorite player of both Teece and Runge. "Mullen was such a consummate performer, getting the big goals when you needed them," Runge says. Mullen is a member of the parent Calgary team and in his 10th pro year.
Both Runge and Teece agree on their second-most favorite Eagle, too _ Charlie Simmer, who played parts of three years, starting in '74-75, and went on to an outstanding career with the California Seals, Cleveland Barons, Los Angeles Kings, Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins.
"He's a big, tall, handsome guy and everybody liked him," Runge says.
"They were both very dedicated and just gave us 110 percent," Teece adds.
Teece also has fond memories of Paul MacLean, an Eagle in 1980-81 as a rookie and a star for the Winnipeg Jets and now the Detroit Red Wings. Runge's other personal favorites include Fred Ahern ('74-76), Palazzari ('77-82), Ted Hodgson ('69-72) and Jim Armstrong ('69-70), one of the last goalies who played without a facemask. Runge recalls that Armstrong had the capability of not blinking his eyelids when shots came at him. "Just saying that gives me chills," he says.
"Twenty years is a long time for a professional team of this caliber," sighs Teece, who has become a local legend for finding ways to save the Eagles when they had already been declared dead, first by baseball's Charlie Finley in 1974 (that's when Teece and O. Thayne Acord bought them) when he folded his pro hockey interests, again in 1983 when the St. Louis Blues pulled out and again in 1984 when the Central League folded and the International League wasn't interested. Even Teece said they were dead in '84, but they came back the next day trying harder and eventually convinced the "I" that they were worth the trouble.
Now, the "I" is on the verge of a full-fledged Western Division. Phoenix is ready, and Kansas City and Sacramento are even more interested than last year because all three of those cities hosted NHL exhibition games that drew more than 10,000 this fall.
"I didn't realize it would take as long as it has to put a Western Division together, but things are falling into place," Teece says. "Maybe the 3 1/2 or four years it's taken will pay off."