Two summers ago, as Paul Baxter was preparing for his first season as Golden Eagle coach, all of Salt Lake City was engrossed in The Streak, the one by the Salt Lake Trappers, who won a national pro record 29 straight baseball games.
Now Baxter's hockey team itself has a streak going - 13 wins, a club record.It's still a small-initial streak - not a Streak yet - but as the Eagles finish out their final two home regular-season games tonight and Saturday in the Salt Palace against the Denver Rangers, they could break the IHL streak record of 14 and come within one of tying the minor-league record of 16 straight.
"It's as close to being over as Friday," says a realistic Baxter. "It's closer to being over than it is to being a national record." Still, he admits, a couple more wins "would be a good legacy for the guys."
The most important thing about winning so many games, other than first place in the Division, is "the realization that we can find ways to win," says Baxter.
Denver has a streak, too: six losses. Eighth-place Peoria is only four points back of the Rangers. But goalie Mike Richter is respected despite a porous defense in front of him, and Simon Wheeldon and Kevin Miller are hot. Miller had scored in 18 straight games (13 goals, 13 assists) until missing Saturday, and Wheeldon has five goals, 10 assists in his last 14 games.
Last time the Rangers were in the Palace, it took Theoren Fleury's last Eagle game - a five-point farewell - to beat Denver 5-4 on Dec. 31.
Although the Eagles have a 16-6 edge over the Rangers since Dec. 31, 1987, the 7-3-1 margin the Rangers piled up through the first three months of their existence, including three exhibition games in October 1987, made them Eagle rivals for life.
"There shouldn't ever be a problem getting up for Denver," says Baxter, mindful of the Rangers' recent woes. "You expect the games to be hard-fought."
The Eagles meet the Rangers four times in their remaining seven regular-season games, and, if things remain the same in the IHL standings, they'd meet in the first round of the playoffs.