The Eagles won five games in one week, but by the time they drop the puck on their Turner Cup semifinal series Wednesday night in the Salt Palace against the Milwaukee Admirals, it will have been 11 days since the Salt Lakers last played a game.
The kiss of death for a very hot team? Or a breath of fresh air?"I'll be able to tell after the first shot, or the first two shots," said Eagle goaltender Steve Guenette. "You can't tell from practice.
"I think it did a lot of good for the team, me included, but 11 days is a little ridiculous."
It's just the way it worked out. The Eagles ended the regular season with a 3-2 shootout win at Flint April 9 and opened their quarterfinal playoff - and defense of their two straight Turner Cup championships - on April 11 against Denver. They played and beat Denver on the 11th, 13th, 14th and 15th, wrapping up a best-of-seven series in four games, and they've been waiting to play ever since.
The IHL's other quarterfinal series took until April 19 to complete, and Milwaukee (vs. Kalamazoo) and Fort Wayne (vs. Saginaw) lasted until Saturday.
Fort Wayne and Muskegon open their semifinal series Tuesday night.
Eagle Coach Paul Baxter said if he'd had his choice, he'd have taken the layoff over playing right away. "We should come back refreshed."
The Eagles used the opportunity to heal bruises and wounds and to work on their power play and on the mistakes they made in the Denver series. For seven days, said Baxter, players had a break from the ordinary routine. "The last four days, we're really trying to peak and get ready."
"We haven't had lazy practices," he adds.
Guenette admits he was tired during the Denver series. "I played a lot, and we had a tough road trip to end the year." He's also had time to get and get over the flu.
But Guenette said he's also noticed, "Everyone gets on each other's nerves, and we've had a couple of scraps in practice."
Even that might not be all bad. "It's good that they're itching to go," Guenette said.
Center Randy Bucyk said he feels better mentally now and the time off "makes you that much more eager to want to get into a game situation. Intensity is hard to elevate in practice."
Perhaps the best thing for the Eagles is that Paul Ranheim, their leading goal scorer with 68 during the regular season but just one in the playoffs so far, has regained his shot and may even be shooting harder than he has all season. "I'm shooting a little better and have more on it," said Ranheim. Baxter considers that an understatement.
Ranheim said his first playoff experience wasn't what he wanted. "I put a little pressure on myself and caused a lot of frustration."
He figures the time off "did more good than bad."
When the Eagles take the ice Wednesday, rookies Stephane Matteau and Bryan Deasley could be in the lineup for the first time. They reported to the Eagles in the past week, Matteau coming out of juniors on a 10-game basis and Deasley coming from Team Canada.