Winger Martin Simard rode with "Tina" Turner in a bunk on the team bus from Flint to Detroit Monday morning.
The Golden Eagles, being on a first-name basis with the Turner Cup now that they've won it twice in a row, have nicknamed it "Tina," for obvious reasons, and Tina and the Eagles had their day in Salt Lake City Monday.Hundreds of fans, television cameras and reporters greeted the Eagles at the airport at about 10:15 a.m. as they returned from their second straight championship tour, and a hastily planned parade through downtown Salt Lake City at noontime caught shoppers and the lunch bunch by surprise.
All the while, Tina was held high, first by goaltender Marc D'Amour as the team exited the plane, then by rookie winger Peter Lappin, whose seven goals and two assists helped win Games 5 and 6 to bring the cup home for another year. Lappin was named playoff MVP by International Hockey League officials for his 28 points, which led the league in the playoffs, even though he sat out two games of the quarterfinal series.
"This is just fantastic. I've never experienced anything like this before," said Lappin about the airport reception. He was to return to St. Lawrence University later Monday to take one test and pick up his diploma. He already filled graduation requirements and, in fact, missed graduation ceremonies Sunday night when he was scoring six points for the Eagles, including their first four goals in a 9-5 win at Flint.
"This is a lot of fun for a lot of people," said Eagle rookie center Jim Johannson, who scored 23 playoff points and provided spirited work on power plays and penalty killing since he joined the team in February off the U.S. Olympic team. "It's a good feeling to come back and see so many people out here supporting the team," Johannson said.
After conferences with Coach Paul Baxter this morning, a team party this afternoon and dinner with the coach tonight, Johannson was contemplating a summer of fishing back home in Minnesota.
"It's unbelievable," said winger Marc Bureau, one of those unsung heroes whose hard forechecking talents combined with those of Jeff Wenaas and Martin Simard to set the tempo for Salt Lake's four-game win streak to end the season. Baxter credited that line with getting the three-game homestand off to a good start. That win streak spilled over into Game 6 on the road. Baxter found the momentum built at home a significant force in the final road game.
Bureau noted that this Eagle team was almost entirely new to Salt Lake City this season because of the change in NHL affiliation. "For the first year to get people out like that is fantastic," Bureau said. "The team appreciates what they do for us."
Bureau will spend four or five days in Salt Lake City enjoying the championship and then head home to Trois Rivieres, Quebec, for the summer.
"To see all these supporters makes it that much better," said defenseman Ken Sabourin, another who was instrumental in taking away Flint's will to dominate. His battering of Spirit scoring leader John Cullen helped keep the IHL single-season scoring record-holder to seven scattered points in six games.
"It's quite a surprise. The guys deserved a reception like this," said Baxter, the rookie coach whose team is the first in the Calgary Flames' chain to ever win a postseason championship.
He credited the come-from-behind series win to "the guys' willingness to take away Flint's will to win.
"And we were tired of hearing Flint's hard-luck stories," Baxter said, referring to the Spirits' independent status in a league now dominated by No. 1 NHL affiliations. Baxter pointed out that Cullen (48 goals), Darren Lowe (53) and Mario Chitaroni (49) gave the Spirits fine talent, even if they didn't have NHL-related contracts. "We came a long way, too," Baxter said of his rookie-dominated team.
Salt Lake City Mayor Palmer DePaulis met the team at the start of the parade. He had a stake in their win as he won his bet with the Flint mayor and will receive a new Buick to drive for a month. DePaulis, who put up a vacation at Utah ski areas and a case of Wasatch beer as his half of the bet, said he will decide how to collect his winnings when the Flint mayor attends the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Salt Lake City in a few weeks.
"We're really proud of the Eagles and really excited about them winning the pennant," DePaulis said. His office had helped organize the parade, providing police escort, "to get them the recognition they deserve," DePaulis said.
The championship was the fifth league postseason title for the Eagle franchise, which won Central League titles in 1974-75, 1979-80 and 1980-81 and the IHL title last season. They are the first to win consecutive Turner Cups since Toledo did in in 1981-82 and 82-83.
In the 42-year history of the IHL, there have been repeat champions seven other times. Only one team has ever won more than two in a row, the Cincinnati Mohawks won five straight from 1950-51 through 1956-57.
The Eagles finished the regular season with a 40-34-8 regular-season record and 12-7 mark in the playoffs.