For the first time in three years, there will be no Salt Lake team in the IHL Turner Cup finals, but the Golden Eagles made it a game, if not a semifinal series, on Saturday night.
"Success is peace of mind in having given it your all, and on that note, we have all winners on our side," said Eagle Coach Bob Francis.His Birds took the multi-talented Indianapolis Ice into overtime - actually, Indy took them into overtime - at Fairgrounds Coliseum before finally acquiescing in what was to be the Eagles' game of 1989-90.
On an Indianapolis bounce and smart shot by Brian Noonan, the Ice finally struck down the Eagles for the last time, Noonan's goal giving them a 3-2 overtime win 2:33 into the extra period.
That gave Indianapolis a 4-1 series win. The Ice now goes on to meet Muskegon in the Turner Cup championship series, while the Eagles fly home today.
For the season, Indianapolis held a 12-4 advantage in games over the Eagles. Saturday's was their 10th straight home victory.
"They're the most disciplined team I've seen in hockey," said Eagle wing Stephane Matteau. "I hope they win it.
"I never respected a team like I respect that team," Matteau added.
They are, however, human, said Matteau, who had the feeling the Eagles could beat them. In fact, he thought perhaps they had.
A goal credited to Matteau - he thought it might have gone off Martin Simard, too - put the Eagles up 2-1 10:06 into the third period, and the Eagles held their lead a little over five minutes.
"Both teams deserved to win," said Matteau. "I thought we were going to win."
"It was a nervous feeling for me," said Iceman Mike Eagles, who assisted the last two Indy goals. He said the fourth win in a playoff series is the toughest to come by.
"I'd be a liar if I said we weren't worried," said Noonan.
A quirk allowed the Ice to tie it 2-2 on a power play with 4:16 left.
"Four-16. It's embedded in my head," said Francis. The Eagles were that far from extending their season and coming back to Salt Lake for Game 6.
Eagles rushed into the Eagle zone with Stapleton and Bruce "Butch" Cassidy. Stapleton told Eagles to shoot. "I panicked," Eagles said. He dropped it to Cassidy, and his shot hit the goalpost.
"It doesn't go sideways," said Francis, "it comes straight back out, and Stapleton's got an empty net." He found it to force overtime.
The winning goal, by Noonan, came when Eagle defenseman Brian Glynn tried to put the puck into the Ice's defensive zone. It hit Eagles and bounced directly to Noonan.
He raced up the wing 2 on 1 with Bob Bassen.
"Either they went in on a break or we did," said Noonan about the way the final bounce went.
"It was at the end of our shift," said Noonan. "I had no intention to pass. I just wanted to shoot."
Noonan said Eagle goalie Steve Guenette tends to butterfly on shots, so he picked a high spot and got it over him.
"Our saying is, that's a goal in any league," said Eagles. "A good shot. Top corner. Slap shot. The goalie can't be expected to stop that shot."
The Eagles had the first few breaks of their last game and took their first lead of the three games in Indianapolis at 4:31 of the first period.
Rich Chernomaz scored short-handed with a 2-on-1 with Randy Bucyk to stun the Ice. The Eagles got a power play one minute later, but that soon fell by the wayside when first Tim Sweeney and then Marc Bureau drew penalties to give Indianapolis a 5 on 3 power play. The Eagles killed it and had the Ice skating backward on its own power play, though Guenette made some important saves, particularly on a 2 on 1 against Sean Williams.
But Williams - with assists from former Eagles Mike Rucinski and Jim Johannson on a goalmouth scramble - tied the game 1-1 on a power play at 11:18.
Twenty minutes later, Matteau's power play goal gave the Eagles hope, but they couldn't score on a power play beginning at 13:46 of the third and gave Indianapolis a power play two minutes later, and that was the beginning of the end to the season.
The Eagles had finished second in the IHL West to Indianapolis with a 37-36-9 record; they were 5-6 in playoff games, winning the quarterfinal 4-2 against Milwaukee.