Organization and defense seem to take vacations when the Golden Eagles meet the Flint Spirits. It happened again Thursday night in the Salt Palace.
The Eagles won 6-4 and moved into sole possession of first place in the IHL West to kick off this seven-game homestand that is the last big homer of the season, but it wasn't easy and it wasn't pretty."I don't know what it is about them, but they hang on and make it very tough," said Eagle Jim Johannson about Flint, which has lost 16 straight on the road. The last-place Spirits beat the Eagles 7-3, 7-3 and 6-3 in Michigan and fell 5-3 and 7-6 in games in the Salt Palace last month.
"It's Flint's style," said Eagle captain Rich Chernomaz, who had three assists Thursday. "I don't know what system they play in their end. A team can manipulate your players; they did sometimes, and it makes us get away from our game."
Flint Coach Don Waddell has a hard time getting everybody to play the same system since his independent club has had 68 players this season, including some new ones this week. "It's real tough. We keep everything real basic, with all the bodies coming in - I have to keep a sheet (of names) on the bench, with all the new faces."
The Spirits sign free agents and use players sent them from several big-league organizations; 27 of those players have been taken away by parental reassignments. Injuries felled others.
Still, said Eagle Coach Paul Baxter, "I didn't think we gave them what they deserved. They were consistent all night. Every time we took a few shifts off, they responded."
After winning three of four low-scoring, one-goal games on the road trip that ended Wednesday, the Eagles got "very sloppy" in spots Thursday, said Baxter. "From a defensive standpoint, we got better on the road, but we took a step backward tonight," he said. "When we get up 3-0 in our building, we should hold the lead and hold it well; we held it, but we didn't hold it well."
Twice, the Eagles had three-goal leads. Peter Lappin, Randy Bucyk and Paul Ranheim (his 52nd, a short-handed steal and breakaway) goaled to make it 3-0 by 1:54 of the second period, and Lappin and Doug Pickell made it 5-2 by the end of the second. That increased to 6-2 with a Jim Leavins goal :28 into the third.
But within five minutes early in the third, Flint scored twice - ex-Eagle Steve Harrison getting one and Mario Chitaroni the other - to make it 6-4 with 11:40 left. The Spirits outshot the Eagles 14-8 in the third, but goalie Wayne Cowley held fast from there.
"I felt like I had a lot of luck," said Cowley, who moved his record to 15-6. He'd caught an early flight home following the game at Fort Wayne and arrived before noon, while the other Eagles got in about 3 p.m. "I got a chance to relax, and I'm in a groove," said Cowley, who's started five of the Eagles' last eight games after going eight without playing at all.
Much of the luck, he said, came at the beginning, when Flint had some good chances, and he was thankful for a two-goal Eagle outburst at the end of the second. Lappin scored 18:02, Pickell at 18:42 - the eventual game-winner. "I went, `Whew, it couldn't have come at a better time,"' Cowley said.
Baxter considered a hard hit near the Eagle blue line made by defenseman Brian Glynn to be the important part of the game. There were seven minutes left in the second period, and Stephane Giguere and Lonnie Loach had cut the 3-0 lead to 3-2. "It changed the tempo," Baxter said, calling it an intangible that "makes a major difference - we're a team that needs to use our speed and our size."
The Eagles and Spirits meet again Saturday night in the Palace.