"I just try to move the puck up quickly to the most-open guy," says Leavins, who has 11 playoff points and started the week as No. 1 among defenders and No. 6 overall in the IHL.

Now he's getting competition from teammate Brian Glynn for the defensive scoring race as Glynn has eight points, six of them in the Milwaukee series.

Leavins has had to change his own style of play twice this season since he passed up the Calgary Flames' training camp last fall to play in Finland after spending most of last season quarterbacking the Eagles' power play and winning a Turner Cup championship ring. He scored 57 points in 68 1988-89 Eagle games and 10 in 16 playoff games but figured he was in need of a change.

"I'm 28 years old," said Leavins, oldest of the Eagles. He knew his status with the Flames would be on the farm and had spent some time in the minors, so he worked out an agreement with the Flames that would allow him to play in Finland and then come back to the Eagles in the spring if they wanted him. They did.

"I really enjoyed it," Leavins said of Finland, where he was treated well and played on the same team with former Eagle and native Salt Laker Jeff Nate, now living in Madison, Wis.

"They play a completely different game with the bigger ice (international) surface. It's not so physical, and there's more puck control, more individualistic. It took me a while to adjust. With everyone swinging (shooting), it took awhile to find your teammates," Leavins says.

He had to readjust to Salt Lake's team-support style game when he came back.

***

Talk around the IHL the past year has been that Peoria might not have hockey next season and that the St. Louis Blues might move their affiliation to Kansas City or somewhere else.

But former Eagle Coach Wayne Thomas, now the Riverman coach, says Peoria's Civic Center Authority, which owns the club, voted a week ago to have hockey again next season.

"I expect to be back in Peoria," says Thomas, who signed a series of three one-year contracts with St. Louis to be a coach in the organization.

Thomas says he thinks St. Louis will likely agree to stock the Rivermen again next season. "It's a pretty convenient situation," Thomas says. Peoria is 187 miles from St. Louis.

Thomas adds that Peoria's front office did a good job marketing the club, and the Rivermen, who were in or near last place most of the early season, averaged 3,200 in attendance. "It was a fun place for the kids at the end of the year," said Thomas, explaining there were three near-sellouts for playoff games with Muskegon.

Thomas' club went into the playoffs against the very veteran Lumberjacks, the regular-season champions, with 11 rookies and a couple of regulars up with the Blues and still came close to winning two of the games but lost all four. "I was pleased with the improvement," said Thomas, who guided the Eagles to their first-ever Turner Cup two seasons ago before the Calgary Flames took over as the parent team last season.

Thomas was assistant coach for the Chicago Blackhawks last season but lost that position when Mike Keenan was brought in as head coach; Thomas then hooked up with Peoria and St. Louis.

***

Milwaukee Journal reporter Andy Olson advances the theory that Admiral fans don't cheer a lot because the seats in the new Bradley Center are too plush, and it's just like sitting home in their living rooms. The crowd finally came alive with Milwaukee's second goal Thursday when Eagle goalie Steve Guenette waved his arms frantically while protesting that he was interfered with and the score shouldn't have counted. A fight followed, and so did another goal 1:14 later to tie the game and start another fight.

***

Admiral Ernie Vargas, a former University of Wisconsin teammate of Jim Johannson and Paul Ranheim, was quoted in a Milwaukee paper the other day as saying that he does a lot of joking with his pals on the ice and can get Johannson rattled a little. "I never talk on the ice," said a bemused Johannson, adding Vargas must have had a few drinks to have said that. Johannson got the last laugh. Vargas sat in the stands for the two games following the newspaper story.