As Muskegon owner Larry Gordon duly noted moments after his Lumberjacks won the 1989 International Hockey League's Turner Cup on enemy Salt Palace ice last night, "if anyone should know how this feels, it should be the Eagles. They did the same thing to us two years ago."
Last year, too, the Salt Lake Golden Eagles won the Turner Cup on the road - at Flint.What the Lumberjacks did last night as they ended Salt Lake's two-year IHL dominance - with their dramatic 6-5, last-second win to wrap up the championship series four games to one - was keeping up an IHL tradition of winning the Cup away from home.
The 'Jacks wanted to go back to Muskegon. They just wanted to go alone. An Eagle win would have sent the series back to Michigan for the final two games, with Game 6 tonight.
"That's the last thing we wanted to see happen," said Dave Michayluk, the Turner Cup MVP who scored the game-winning goal last night when only 20 seconds remained and the 5,802 fans in the Salt Palace were bracing for one of two things: either A) An overtime, or B) An Eagles goal, since there was a face-off developing in the Salt Lake end, and, better yet for the home team, the Eagles had a 5-on-4 power play advantage.
But to illustrate just how badly Muskegon wanted to go back home without the Eagles in tow, Michayluk skated fast down the ice after teammate Jock Callander somehow got the puck out of the faceoff. Callander flipped the puck to Michayluk - they were now in the midst of a 2-on-1 break - and Mr. MVP did the rest, shooting the puck past Salt Lake goalie Steve Guenette to wrap up the game and the postseason.
"You think we wanted to give Salt Lake any hope?" he said. "We go back to Muskegon and we're all tired. We all have to travel the same hours. It's nobody's advantage."
Besides, the Eagles had made Michayluk and the rest of the Lumberjacks very uneasy by the way they played a game that they might have treated with a much more nonchalant attitude, given the fact that even with a win, they'd have to go back to Muskegon and win two straight.
After going down 4-1 early, the Eagles found back with grit, tying the game 4-4 going into the third period to produce the dramatic goal-for-goal finish.
"Yeah, I'd say we were surprised by the way they fought back after we got the lead," said Michayluk. "I think we got a little over-confident, and all of a sudden we were in trouble."
Certainly the Lumberjacks didn't have a lot of support coming from the crowd. Of the 5,802 in attendance, three were from Muskegon. They included, by first names, Darren, Joanne and Diane. Darren was the lone representative from the Muskegon Lumberjacks Booster Club, while Joanne and Diane were a mother-and-daughter team who bought season tickets last fall and figured that meant wherever the 'Jacks played.
"This is us, the sum total of the Muskegon cheering section," said Diane.
"We love your state," she added.
Darren said they'd stayed all week and had been treated with reasonable respect, particularly in light of their choice of attire, which was black-and-gold Muskegon game jerseys. He said they filled their non-hockey hoursas typical tourists. "We saw the sights," he said. "We went to Wendover, and we saw the Mormon Temple."
"I'm going to be the booster club president after this," said Darren, taking a full shot of champagne spray from the Lumberjacks Kevin MacDonald as he emerged from the locker room armed and hardly dangerous.
The 'Jacks celebrated on the road the way they'd have celebrated at home. They doused their Salt Palace locker room and each other with champagne, and took turns hoisting the formidable Turner Cup high in the air.
Not only could they celebrate their best-in-the-IHL title, but they could now plot plans to hit tanning salons and beachwear shops to get ready for their postseason post-season cruise. Next Saturday the members of the Turner Cup championship team plus front office personnel - 64 of them in all - will fly to Miami and embark on the world's largest cruise ship, the "Sovereign of the Seas," to ports that will include San Juan, St. John, St. Thomas and Labaddee.
That was the 'Jacks hidden playoff incentive from Mr. Gordon - and to get it they didn't have to win the Turner Cup, just get to the finals.
They'd accomplished that before they ever hit Salt Lake. All they had to do then was put an end to the Eagles series and they could start thinking "Ship Ahoy." Such was the state of mind the Muskegon Lumberjacks were in last night as they celebrated well into the Utah night. One weekend, Salt Lake; the next, the Caribbean. Their cup runneth over. This team loves the road.