The faces were oh-so-different, but for the second straight year in a Michigan town in a Game 6 of a championship series, the Salt Lake Golden Eagles took the IHL's Turner Cup away from the home team with a four-goal victory.
Last year, it was 7-3 in Muskegon for the old Eagles.Sunday night 150 miles to the east, in Flint's IMA Sports Arena, the Calgary-style Eagles, behind four goals and six points from the newest Eagle of them all, Peter Lappin, weathered a second-period Spirit onslaught and wound up ripping Flint 9-5 to win the franchise's fifth league postseason championship and second in a row.
Even when this team arrived in its dressing room following the victory skate with the Turner Cup held on high and found that the liquid spirits usually associated with such moments weren't there on time, the Eagles hung together. They didn't complain. They threw water and ice cubes on each other until the real stuff was carted in.
Then, captain Rich Chernomaz did the pouring and tipped the Turner Cup to each of his teammates to take their victory drinks.
This team that stuck together through the thin times and last-place standings could now celebrate together in the thickness of its win.
"We were just hungrier than they were," said Lappin. "More persistent. We outplayed them, and we played a much smarter game than they did - we stayed out of the penalty box."
Actually, the Eagles gave Flint 10 power plays, and the Spirits scored on four of them. The Eagles had nine power plays and scored on three while Flint had a short-handed goal. But Flint twice gave Salt Lake 5-on-3 power plays, and the Eagles made both count. The Eagles gave up just one 5-on-3 opportunity, staying out of dangerous situations, and killed it.
"Restraint played a major part," rookie Coach Paul Baxter said.
But Baxter's thoughts were more of the building process that went on through the season than of this one great win, which was the first postseason championship ever for any team in the Calgary Flames' organization.
"One characteristic was dominant or consistent the whole year," said Baxter, "and that was the work ethic and enthusiasm the guys showed for the game. As a first-year coach, I appreciate that."
"We had all 24 guys giving it 100 percent every time," said Chernomaz, including injured teammates in his thoughts.
"The new guys turned the team totally around," Chernomaz added about people like Lappin, who joined the Eagles out of college for the final three games of the regular season, and Jim Johannson, who came in from the U.S. Olympic team in February.
Lappin was named the league's playoff Most Valuable Player Sunday night after scoring his second straight hat trick - actually four goals and two assists. He scored the Eagles' first four goals of the title game and got them off to leads of 3-1 and 4-2.
"It's just another fantastic thrill," said Lappin about the MVP award. "I'm so enthused I'm speechless."
"If Lappin didn't have an exceptional game tonight," said Chernomaz, "Marc D'Amour should have been MVP because he carried us all year. He's such a great man, the heart and soul of this team," Chernomaz said.
It was D'Amour who refused to wither in the second period when the Spirits made their desperation effort of the night and scored three times to cut the Eagles' lead that was 3-1 and 4-2 to 5-4 with two power-play goals and a short-handed goal.
The Spirits attacked D'Amour with 20 shots in that period, 14 of them from what Baxter calls "the poison zone," 15-20 feet out front of the net. He stopped two and three shots at a time.
"D'Amour absolutely kept us in the game," said Baxter. "It was as bad a period as we've had in the series. It's pretty impressive when a guy can stand on his head like that and keep you in it."
"We gave them too many opportunities in the second period," said assistant captain Randy Bucyk. "It was a letup on our part and desperation on their part."
The Spirits _ just like in Games 1 and 2 _ took the first goal, driving a crowd of 4,175 into a quick frenzy with a power-play score just 2:33 into the game. It was Mario Chitaroni's ninth playoff goal and seventh against the Eagles. But it would be his last point of the series.
Lappin scored his first goal backhanded on a deke after a rush with Johannson at 8:16 of the first period. Then he got a power-play goal at 12:17, snapping a wickedly quick one past Ray LeBlanc after Rick Barkovich won a draw in the Flint zone. And at 17:25, Lappin completed his hat trick when Johannson won a draw. Lappin skated from one faceoff circle to the other before finding the opening he wanted.
Coming just after the Eagles had killed the 5-on-3 penalties, it had a major bearing on the game. Ron Stern's power-play goal _ the first of two for him in the second period and the second of four power-play scores the Spirits would have for the night _ cut the Eagle lead to 3-2, but Lappin scored unassisted after a 150-foot rush ended with him checking himself into the endboards. His defender whirled behind the net, and Lappin and the puck bounced off the boards together. He scooped the puck into LeBlanc's net for a 4-2 lead.
Mike Hoffman's short-handed goal followed, but Barkovich, with a Lappin assist, scored on a deking partial breakaway at 11:31. Stern's goal made it 5-4, and the Spirits knew they'd have a power play soon after the third period started.
But Eagle defenseman Dave Reierson took that man-advantage situation to the mat when he scored :38 into the third period. It was a 4-on-4 situation, and Reierson shot from the point, followed it into the slot and made his own rebound count. The Spirits still got the power play, but that took them down a peg and they didn't score.
Baxter looked at that as the critical goal of the game. The critical nongoal was by Mike Mersch, who played for the Eagles' title team last year and who's still Calgary property but on loan for the season to Flint. Mersch had two feet of open net to shoot into from point-blank range in the first period and hit the wall with his shot. A goal would have made it 2-0 for the Spirits and could have changed the game, Baxter said.
Bucyk followed with a power-play goal at 5:14, and Martin Simard scored unassisted at 7:28 to pretty much decide things. The Spirits pulled LeBlanc for the first time in the series, Gary Kruzich replacing him. Flint's Steve Richmond scored at 12:42 to cut the lead to 8-5, but Doug Clarke added an empty-net goal at 18:47, Lappin assisting instead of taking the shot himself.
"It's been a long season, over 100 games," said Chernomaz (Sunday was No. 101, the latest game in franchise history), but it's all worth it. I wish it could come more than a handful of times. Some guys go their whole careers and never get a championship."
Bucyk, who has been on title teams in the NHL and AHL and now the IHL, said, "You never get sick of it!" PLAYOFF NOTES _ Eagle general manager Marc Amicone wore the same tie Sunday night as he'd worn in Game 6 at Muskegon last year, when the Eagles won the Turner Cup with a 7-3 victory. Amicone had to have the tie cleaned at the last minute before coming to Flint. He hadn't worn it since the title game, and it was soiled from a hug he'd gotten from defenseman Steve Harrison . . . Barkovich ended up centering the checking line with Simard and Marc Bureau in the absence of injured Jeff Wenaas. On Saturday, Baxter had said it would more likely be Clarke or Steve MacSwain who'd center for Simard and Bureau. In Wenaas' absence, Simard was elevated to assistant captain. "I'm really proud of it," said Simard, a rookie. "I never thought in my first year I would be assistant captain."
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