The Muskegon Lumberjacks got to return the favor Friday night.
After playoff MVP and Lumberjack captain Dave Michayluk scored their third short-handed goal of the game with :20 left in a tie game for a 6-5 championship victory, the Lumberjacks hoisted the Turner Cup that was now theirs for the first time in three years and skated it around Salt Palace ice.They'd won it four games to one in a best-of-seven IHL championship playoff, and they'd won it on the road.
The Eagles had done the same to them two years ago, winning the franchise's first-ever Turner Cup on Muskegon ice. They skated it around Flint's IMA Arena last year when they won their second straight.
But a third straight was not to be.
It was all set up. They'd been down 4-0 and come back to tie 4-4. They were down 5-4 and tied it 5-5. Then, with 1:07 left, linesman Rob Larsen called the Lumberjacks for too many men on the ice, giving the Eagles a power play and chance to win. They had scored two power-play goals already, breaking a sort-of slump.
But a loose puck hit a linesman and bounced to ex-Eagle Jock Callander, and he and Michayluk traveled 2 on 1 in on Eagle goalie and former Muskegon teammate Steve Guenette. Michayluk slipped the puck past him, and the cup was Muskegon's again.
The Eagles and Lumberjacks are the only two clubs to have won the cup in the last four years.
Dave McIlwain had a hat trick for Muskegon, including the third and fourth goals of the game to give Muskegon its seemingly backbreaking lead.
Outgoing IHL commissioner Bud Poile, as he handed the cup to Michayluk, declared that these were probably the two best teams ever in the 45 years of the league.
Eagle Coach Paul Baxter said he's only 34, but he couldn't imagine two more competitive teams. He admitted to feeling "a little empty" after going to the Lumberjack dressing room to congratulate the winners.
"I feel that over the five games, they played better than we did and deserved to win," Baxter said.
"It was certainly dramatic," said MacDonald, who had lost as a player in the World Hockey League finals, the National Hockey League finals and as a coach in the American League finals and hadn't been part of a championship club since his junior days in Canada's Memorial Cup.
Lumberjack owner Larry Gordon, beaten in the finals of the Central League in 1980 by Art Teece's Eagles and beaten by Teece's club again two years ago with Muskegon, said either of the two IHL finalists, who also finised 1-2 in the regular season, would have won four straight at Adirondack, the winner of the AHL Calder Cup this season, thereby pronouncing them - he may be prejudiced - as the best of the minor leagues.
Michayluk, who sat out 2 1/2 games with a cut on his right arm that required some 28 stitches, said the Lumberjacks didn't want to wait and win the cup at home, particularly because both teams would have traveled before Game 6 was scheduled Saturday night in Muskegon, and anything could happen.
He'd been unhappy about the linesman's call on the too many men penalty, saying it was only for a few seconds that Muskegon had an extra man, who was trying to get off the ice.
"I thought it would hurt us, but it helped us," he said, smiling through the drips from the champagne that had been squirted on him by teammates.
The Lumberjacks had confined most of their championship celebration to a brief closed-door party in what used to be the Utah Jazz dressing room.
MacDonald said it wasn't the best time for the 'Jacks to have taken a penalty, but he didn't question the call much. "The guy was pretty close, but the linesman was right there," he said.
The Eagles actually thought they'd had the game won with :33 left when a puck went into the Muskegon net out of a scramble, but referee Lance Roberts waved it off as having been kicked in. Baxter didn't dispute the ruling.
Randy Bucyk, who scored two straight power-play goals in the seven-goal second period to help the Eagles get their legs under them, said the waved-off goal at the end was a bad sign for the Eagles. "It just wasn't a good scenario," he said. "It was not deflating, but it was bad timing, basically," he said.
Bucyk had agonized over missing three scoring chances in the first period and decided to do something about it in the second.
Peter Lappin scored the Eagles' third goal and assisted Rick Hayward on the fourth to tie the game, but McIlwain bought his hat trick with 9:40 gone in the third. Chris Biotti sneaked a shot through traffic off a faceoff at 11:10 to make it 5-5, and Michayluk's winner came 10 minutes after McIlwain's hat trick.
"It was their pride," said Baxter of the four-goal comeback.
"I love our guys. We won 129 of 196 games over the last two seasons, so we've done some right things as a team."