CONSIDERING WHAT HE'D just gone through, Mike Barack of the Salt Lake Golden Eagles hockey club looked surprisingly fresh. For 60 nonstop minutes he had followed the puck back and forth across the Salt Palace ice, pausing only for face-offs and rare penalties. He never missed a pass. He never left the rink. He never took a break. And still, he hardly broke a sweat.
Mike doesn't play for the Eagles, he play-by-plays for them. He is aptly named. Every night the Eagles take to the ice he's Mike-side, calling the action.Andifyouthinkit'seasythenyoutryit. Hey,these-guysneverstop.
Mike had invited me to do color commentary for last Thursday night's Eagles-Ft. Wayne Komets game. To add meaningful asides. "We'll talk about all sorts of things when there's a break in the action," he said. Only there weren't any. The way Ft. Wayne plays, that's no wonder. The Komets committed a grand total of one penalty in the entire game, and they didn't start a single fight.
If the Pacifists had a hockey Team of the Year, the Komets would win hands down. They get in as many altercations as the Amish. They lead the International League in fewest minutes in the penalty box. They went to the Sugar Ray Leonard school of combat. Keep out of range and try to win on points.
Hockey fans could catch their act again tonight in a rare Sunday hockey date in the Palace. They figured the Komets were the perfect team not to break the Sabbath.
But as was shown in the Eagles' 5-2 win Thursday, just because the Komets play wimp hockey doesn't mean they're easily beaten. The game was 3-2 until the Eagles put it away in the latter half of the third period, with the last goal - the one that iced it - coming against an open net when only 1:39 remained.
As Barack called it, "AndherecometheEagles,it'sapassfromBucyktoRanheim, GOAL!"
After which the guest color commentator said, "Well, Mike . . ." Which was all there was time for before action resumed.
The game took a grand total of two hours and 22 minutes. For hockey, that's world-class time. If Ft. Wayne hadn't been involved, they'd have checked for steroids.
"Veryunusualforagametogothisfast," said Barack.
The Eagles announcer said that, yes, he's heard that hockey is the fastest game there is, even where there are more penalties, and therefore the toughest to announce. "But I don't do those other sports, so I can't compare," he said. "I do hockey, and I like it.
After awhile, I guess you just get used to the pace."
Either that or you pass out.
He said this year has gone even faster than usual. Because hockey time REALLY flies when you're having fun.
Barack and the Eagles are having fun. There hasn't been a season like this in Salt Lake in a long time. Maybe ever. At least not statistically. This 1988-89 Eagles team, loaded as it is with blue-chip Calgary Flames properties, is closing in on all sorts of franchise records. The current Eagles tied the all-time franchise mark of 29 with Saturday night's win. Their 46 wins overall were just three away from the franchise mark of 49. Their 95 won-lost-tied points were just 10 away from the franchise record of 105. And Ranheim, who, it's possible, may actually skate faster than Barack talks, had 56 goals, and needed just three more to tie Joe Mullen's franchise record for goals scored in a season.
And there were still 14 games to play.
If you were listening carefully Thursday night, Barack fit all of the above, at one time or another, into his play-by-play.
Like, for instance:
"Well, Mike . . ."
It can be a humbling experience, doing color on a hockey broadcast. You have to have quickness. You have to be able to get your words in edgewise. Vin Scully can't be your prototype; Joan Rivers is a better idea.
Barack was nonetheless a gracious host.
"Thanks for coming," he said. "Sorry this was such a weird game. Usually there's a little more time for chatting."
No matter. I told him I enjoyed hearing him work.