Summer began two games too early for most of the Golden Eagles on Saturday, but four of them - Peter Lappin, Paul Ranheim, Ken Sabourin and Steve Guenette - received invitations from the parent Flames to join Calgary for the duration of the NHL Stanley Cup playoff series. The Flames like to call youngsters up to reward them.
The players will spend the summer recuperating, regrouping and no doubt reflecting on Friday's 6-5 loss to Muskegon in the Salt Palace, the one that gave the Lumberjacks the Turner Cup that had been resting in the Eagles' Salt Palace office the past two seasons. If the Eagles had won that game, they'd have gone to Muskegon for Game 6 Saturday and possibly Game 7 Monday.But after an Eagle goal with :33 left in the game was disallowed for being kicked in by Rich Chernomaz, an Eagle pass hit a linesman and sent Jock Callander and Dave Michayluk on a successful 2 on 1 goalscoring opportunity. Michayluk's short-handed goal, the third short-handed goal of the game for the 'Jacks, ended the Eagles' season with :20 left.
Including the playoffs, the Eagles were 65-27-4 for 1988-89. They won the IHL West and were second overall and second in the playoffs, both to Muskegon.
"Now that I've had a taste of it," says rookie defenseman Rick Lessard, "It would be nice to win it next year. I'm looking forward to it."
This was Lessard's longest season because he'd never been in a championship series before, and what he learned is, "It takes a lot to win a championship.
"The whole year for me was a learning experience," Lessard says. "I'm glad it's over, but now it's over, it was short."
Lessard heads home to Bombertown, Ontario, which is at the end of the roads, the furthest north you can get in the province, he says. He'll return to work at one of his hometown's two gold mines, among the richest in North America. Lessard doesn't know if he'll be an underground miner or get one of the premium jobs - often saved for pro hockey players - as maintenance man at the company golf course.
"I'm going to train hard to get bigger and stronger," vows 6-foot-3, 190-pound rookie winger Stephane Matteau, who returned to Quebec today after spending the playoffs with the Eagles. He will no doubt be an Eagle next season, having just come off his junior team at Hull (Quebec) in April.
Second-year Eagle center Marc Bureau says he'll take a couple of weeks off, also in Quebec, and then begin training again for next season.
An unusually large number of Eagles will spend the summer in Salt Lake City. Among those who've made plans to stay in Utah are Chernomaz, Mark Holmes, Sabourin, Martin Simard and Rick Hayward. Guenette may also be here part of the summer. Most will play on a softball team together.
"I just like it," says Sabourin. "It's a nice climate, and there are a lot of things to do here."
Sabourin, in his third pro season and now a free agent who Coach Paul Baxter said will probably be offered another contract by the Flames, says playing in the championship round again was a boost to his career, despite placing second. "You get labeled as a winner, and that helps you, they take a look at that," Sabourin says. "Even when you lose, you were there, and how many guys can say they were there?"
Three former Eagles will also stay in Salt Lake - Kevan Guy and Pete Bakovic, who were traded to Vancouver last season, and Rick Barkovich, whom the Flames loaned to Indianapolis for the season.
Baxter says he'll spend the summer "formulating a plan" for next season. Also, he says, he'd like to come up with a season-long program for progressively teaching skills to pro players. "I'd like to write a paper on it," he says.
With a championship and near-championship in two years of coaching, Baxter could get some moving-on offers this summer, but his plans are to remain with Calgary and remain with Salt Lake for next season.
If he were to point to one thing over the championship playoff that gave Salt Lake problems, it was "obviously the power play," Baxter says. The Eagles scored three in the five games, two in the final game, but they also gave up three short-handed goals in that final game, and Muskegon was 6 for 29 on the power play for the series.
The other factor was probably Muskegon's experience, which showed most in its ability to make perfect passes. Muskegon players totaled 933 games of NHL experience; the Eagles had 228, led by Brian Glynn's 76 and Jim Leavins' 41.
"They seemed to capitalize on their opportunities better," says Baxter. "Certainly experience has to have something to do with it."