The last time the Golden Eagles beat the Milwaukee Admirals in a playoff series, Salt Lake went on to defeat Muskegon's Lumberjacks to win its first-ever Turner Cup.
That was in 1987.Well, the Eagles just beat Milwaukee in a playoff series, and they left today for Muskegon, where they open the Turner Cup championship series Tuesday night against the regular-season IHL champions in the L.C. Walker Arena.
Both the Eagles and Lumberjacks breezed through the quarter- and semifinal series, winning the first in four games and the second in five games each. They were 1-2 in the IHL regular season, Muskegon at 121 points and 57 wins, Salt Lake at 116/56.
They play Tuesday and Friday in Muskegon, then return to the Salt Palace Saturday. Games 4 and 5 (if necessary) will be May 17 and 19, also in Salt Lake. Games 6 and 7, if needed, will be May 20 and 22 at Muskegon.
It was May 20, 1987, when the Eagles won that other Game 6 and a cup.
The Eagles then were still wearing green and gold.
Now they wear the red and gold of the current-parent Calgary Flames, who were waiting in the wings two springs ago to take over the Salt Lake partnership and send most of that first Eagle Turner Cup team packing.
Soon after landing the trophy, Coach Wayne Thomas and players Mike Rucinski, Todd Hooey, Chris Brant, Gary Stewart, Randy Turnbull, Steve Harrison, Gary DeGrio, Ted Pearson, Doug Morrison, Tim Ferguson, Mel Hewitt, Todd Channell, Mike Vellucci and Mark Vichorek went on to other teams, some in Europe, for the next season. Rick Heinz, Mark Odnokon and Pat Ribble retired.
Only Bob Francis and reserve goalie Grant Blair kept ties with the Flames' organization and were with the Eagles the next season, when Salt Lake won its second straight Turner Cup with an almost entirely new cast.
There is only one man who'll be on the Eagle bench Tuesday night who was on that Walker Arena bench two years ago - assistant coach Francis, who was playing his final season in 1987. He scored four goals and five assists in the six games against the Lumberjacks.
Many of the current Eagles, of course, were on last season's championship team that won the title in Flint. They include Randy Bucyk, Marc Bureau, Rich Chernomaz, Stu Grimson (injured last year), Jim Johannson, Peter Lappin, Martin Simard, Jeff Wenaas, Chris Biotti, Rick Hayward, Dave Reierson, Ken Sabourin and Jim Leavins.
While most these Eagles are unfamiliar with that dramatic first Turner Cup title, Muskegon will have a number of players who remember that series of two years ago when the Eagles, who'd finished fifth in the regular season, overcame a 6-3 opening-night loss and won three straight to wrest control of that final series. They lost their last home game 5-2 but won 7-3 in Game 6 at Muskegon.
Among the current Lumberjacks who were around two years ago are 1988-89 IHL regular-season scoring champion Dave Michayluk (he was fourth in '87), '87 league scoring champion Jock Callander, Scott Gruhl (11th in scoring this season), defenseman Dave Goertz and goalie Frank Pietrangelo, who was 2-3 in '87 against the Eagles.
Also around then but wearing an Eagle uniform was defenseman Mike Mersch, who played for Flint much of this season before being traded to the Lumberjacks.
Mersch and Francis will certainly recall the way that '87 Eagle club came together late in the year. It was made up of veterans no big-league organization wanted any more and youngsters who'd been farmed out from their parent clubs' main minor-league teams to the independent Eagles because there wasn't room for them on the rosters. It was made up of players who knew they couldn't play in Salt Lake the next season.
They went out, as they say, in a blaze of glory.
They knocked off the defending Turner champion Lumberjacks. They won the title game on the road after a nightmare of a travel day.
First the Eagles were diverted to Wichita because the plane didn't have enough fuel to make Chicago and were two hours late. Then they waited near a swamp along the Indiana Tollway because their bus blew two tires on the same axle, and that turned a four-hour ride into eight.
After all that, the big win the next night was almost too much. The newly crowned champion '87 Eagles sat drained of emotion in their dressing room. The liquid spirits were late in arriving, and most of the players sat personally reflecting on the accomplishment instead of celebrating and toasting victory.
Later that night, Rucinski went home to Illinois with his parents. Stewart, an assistant captain who'd never won anything, sat on the bus with his arms around the Turner Cup, hugging it for all he was worth.
There was one last hurrah. As the champions' plane pulled up to the Salt Lake International gate, players looked into the windows and thought they could see about 10 people waiting to greet them. When they got off the plane, they were shocked that hundreds of fans had formed a long, noisy corridor for the victors to walk through.
"It's like the Stanley Cup," exclaimed Francis then. "That was touching. I got a little teary-eyed."
Well, that's what happened the last time the Eagles beat Milwaukee in a playoff series and met Muskegon for the Turner Cup championship . . .