Theoren Fleury was cleaning up after the Eagles' 5-4 win Saturday night over the Denver Rangers in the Salt Palace, getting ready to celebrate his first New Year's Eve as a professional player. Meanwhile, Coach Paul Baxter had called Calgary Flames' President Cliff Fletcher to report on the game, as always.
Baxter hung up the phone and hurried into the Eagle dressing room, stopping in front of Fleury.Remembers Fleury, "He said, `Eleven o'clock flight,' and he shook my hand.
"I said, `Flight? Where to?' He said, `Calgary.' I said, `No way.'
"Man, I just felt unbelievable."
Fleury, the 5-foot-5, 160-pound rookie center iceman, the leading scorer in the International Hockey League, had earned his ticket to the big league.
No one knows how long Calgary will keep him, but it isn't an injury callup. It's a merit raise.
Fleury went out exactly the way he'd come in - with a five-point game. On March 25, he had two goals and three assists in his first pro game, helping to beat Fort Wayne 6-4. Saturday, he again had two goals and three assists.
It was the third time he scored five or more points in a game this season. He also had two four-point games.
"It's good we won; it's a good win," said Fleury, whose big night gave him 74 points (37 goals, 37 assists) in 40 games and put him 12 points up on Denver's Simon Wheeldon, the league's No. 2 scorer.
Fleury, whose second 13-game scoring streak of the season came to a halt Friday night in Denver, said the sight of Wheeldon contributed to his game. "It makes me play better to prove who's No. 1, who's the best," he said.
"I didn't really feel that good in warmup, but when the game came, I just found my legs."
And then his wings - to Calgary.
"He deserves it," said Baxter. "He's really persevered the last two months to make himself an asset to the Flames."
Baxter's actually happy to lose Fleury to a chance like this, even though the Eagles face games Tuesday and Wednesday nights in the Salt Palace against the league-leading Milwaukee Admirals without their top two scorers. The Flames took Paul Ranheim Tuesday.
"Well, we know what we're here for," Baxter said, then added, "The Salt Lake Golden Eagles will go on."
Assistant Coach Bob Francis called Fleury the best he's seen in the minors and predicts, "He's going to be a dominating centerman. I don't see any reason why he can't do the same thing up there."
Fleury's leaving just as the Eagles are poised to make a run at Milwaukee means Jim Johannson, Peter Lappin, Rich Chernomaz, Randy Bucyk and Marc Bureau will have increased opportunity and pressure to score.
"Obviously, that void's got to be filled, and it's going to be a shared responsibility," said Johannson, who got the winning goal Saturday for the second straight night. "He (Fleury) was playing quite a bit, and it's going to mean more ice time for other guys."
That's something Johannson looks forward to. "I like that; almost every player will tell you that. The more you play, the better you feel. You feel you can control part of the game."
Johannson's game seems to be returning at the right time after a long period of frustration when his shots refused to fall. He has goaled in three straight games and scored in six of his last seven games. "I'm in the right place at the right time, hitting the corners," Johannson said.
Saturday's game was tighter than it should have been against undermanned Denver, which had 13 skaters, with one of them injured and two others playing their first week of pro hockey. Fleury opened the scoring; Wheeldon matched it. Bureau scored, but so did Ranger newcomer Dave Giacomin. Lappin made it 3-2, but Paul Broten and Barry Chyzowski put the Rangers up 4-3 by 2:44 in the second period and chased starting goalie Wayne Cowley. Fleury scored again at 15:31, Johannson got the game-winner 3:07 later, and Doug Dadswell picked up his league-leading 15th win.
"With a team such as we have, it's inevitable I'll get a fair amount of wins," Dadswell said. He looks forward to the Milwaukee series. "I like to play against them; they get a lot of shots on you." Goalies like to stay involved, too.