Surely, Salt Lake City has never been thought of as a hockey town. Not like Boston or Detroit or Philadelphia or New York. Not like Montreal or Toronto or Moscow. Not even like Lake Placid.

Yet for 24 winters in this basketball-crazy city by the mountains, hockey's Salt Lake Golden Eagles have found their way and proved themselves a true wonder in pro sports, a remarkably resilient Bird, mainly because of owners Art Teece, Larry H. Miller and their staffs.As the Golden Eagles enter their silver-anniversary year - season No. 25 starts Wednesday in Phoenix, Friday and Saturday in the Delta Center - this Eagle franchise has been so robust it survived six near-death experiences and even came back once after being declared gone by Teece himself.

It has played in three leagues, outlasting two of them.

It has had six principal owners (Dan Meyer, Charlie Finley, the NHL, O. Thayne Acord/Teece and Miller), 13 coaches (see chart), seven NHL parent teams (Buffalo Sabres, California Golden Seals, Cleveland Barons, St. Louis Blues, Minnesota North Stars, Calgary Flames and now the New York Islanders) and been independent twice.

It has lived on despite the shocking deaths of two owners, founder Meyer in a fall from a building in Minnesota in January 1972, and Acord, Teece,'s partner, murdered with wife Lorraine in their Granger home by young burglars in February 1980. Acord sons Bill and Dean were part-owners for several years after their parents' deaths.

The Eagles have used four logos, and they change team colors now for the fourth time: from red-white-blue-gold to start to Finley's green-and-gold in 1972 to Calgary's red-and-gold in 1987 to 1993's old-gold-maroon-black-white color scheme that stands for nobody but the Eagles themselves.

The club has even outlived its old arena. The Salt Palace is scheduled for demolition next month.

The Eagles have won five championships and been to final series eight times - at or near the top in a third of their seasons.

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Meyer was a businessman with oil, mineral and real estate concerns; he knew nothing of hockey. Once, when hockey was being considered for the Salt Palace, Meyer visited San Diego and, by happenstance, met the owner of the WHL franchise there who told Meyer, "Too bad you're not going to have hockey in the Salt Palace."

Meyer had thought hockey was a go in Salt Lake City but was told by the San Diego owner that WHL representatives who visited the city got negative response from local officials. Meyer told Deseret News business writer Arnold Irvine in a 1970 interview that he'd thought pro hockey would be critical to the Salt Palace's success, so he pursued his own team.

Meyer secured a WHL franchise in June 1968 for play in October 1969. Meyer hired Ray Kinasewich as coach in October 1968, and they spent the year finding free agents to stock the independent team. Dale Conrad was first to sign. The NHL Buffalo Sabres sent some players on loan and eventually became the Eagles' first parent club.

Meyer picked a team name in October 1968, too, selecting a winner after a 45-day contest. Gary Glade of Salt Lake City, then age 9, mailed his "Golden Eagles" idea Aug. 1, days ahead of others submitting the same name.

The Eagles beat San Diego 4-2 on Oct. 10, 1969, their first game.

***

Meyer, attending NHL/WHL meetings in Bloomington, Minn., died in a fall from a 19th-story hotel window Jan. 25, 1972. In May, Finley bought the Eagles from the Meyer estate and changed the colors to the green and gold of his the Oakland A's and California Seals. In 1973, the NHL ousted Finley and took over operation of the Seals and Eagles.

That brought on one of the two most-critical instances in Eagle history, the other occurring 10 years later. The NHL later sold the Seals and didn't want the minor-league team. It scheduled a Salt Palace press conference in August 1974 to kill the Birds.

Perhaps 1 1/2 hours before the news conference, Teece and Acord sprang to action, quickly pursuing loans to purchase a $300,000 bond on the club. Teece says it's the time he remembers most about his 15 years as Eagle owner.

That year, 1974-75, was one to remember for Salt Lake, too. Jack Evans became coach Aug. 23, 1974, the WHL folded and the Eagles joined the CHL. They won the Adams Cup that first season with the CHL, Teece/Acord and Evans.

By those who attended, that playoff is still considered their fondest hockey memory. "One of the most electrifying moments ever, that goal scored in overtime by Gary Holt," says Teece. It was 17:04 minutes into overtime of the seventh game against Dallas, and Gary's brother Randy was on the ice for the Black Hawks. Gary backhanded a shot past Dallas goalie Mike Veisor for the 5-4 win. Three of the four series games in Salt Lake went to OT - 56:01 minutes of it in all. There were 363 penalty minutes assessed in the series. Eagle goalie Ray Martynuik made 11 saves in the championship-game overtime alone.

In February 1977, Cleveland's Barons folded, but their players assigned to Salt Lake finished the season for Teece/Acord. On Aug. 3, the St. Louis Blues moved in for a six-year partnership that brings back Evans, two more Adams Cups and introduces Salt Lake to Doug Palazzari and Joe Mullen.

With the Blues about to be sold in summer 1983, the Eagles signed for a year with the Minnesota North Stars. It was a stormy relationship, ending when the CHL disbanded on May 21, 1984, leaving the Eagles nowhere to play.

Teece, the Acord sons and assistant general manager Chuck Schell spent two months begging the IHL - a Midwest bus league - for a franchise. The league had no reason to expand 1,500 miles West and, after saying no twice told the Eagles if they paid each visiting team's travel expenses and per diems plus $375,000 in other fees, they could join. Teece said no and prepared to fold. The Eagles kept going only because the league didn't adjourn its meeting. The IHL reversed itself July 10, 1984, and voted 7-0 to let the Eagles in - under stiff financial conditions that continued for several years.

After two years in the "I," Wayne Thomas' independent Eagles - who knew for months that they would be out of jobs the next season because the Calgary Flames were coming to Salt Lake - won the Turner Cup in 1986-87. In the first year with Calgary, the Eagles repeated as Turner Cup champions.

Unable to swing it financially any more, Teece, now 81, finally sold his Eagles to Miller in September 1989. Miller was building the Delta Center and could see merit in having a hockey team to complement the Jazz.

Teece left proud that all five Eagle championship banners were won while he owned the team, and he and wife Luella still attend most games. His vision of the IHL as a league with Western affiliates has grown wildly until it now stretches coast to coast in big-league cities.

Miller faced his first crisis last winter when Calgary decided to cut costs and move its farmhands back to Canada. For a time it looked like Salt Lake might have to be independent again - expensive now that the IHL is so high-profile. But team president Tim Howells finally worked a deal with the New York Islanders this summer, and they're under contract to provide at least 14 players for two seasons plus an option.

Howells says rumors that Miller was ready to terminate the Eagles when Calgary left were completely false. He admits he told Miller if he wanted to get out of hockey it might be a good time, but Miller never considered it even briefly, says Howells. "He's a bulldog," Howells says. Once Miller owns something, he doesn't let go easily.

***

Many have worn Eagle uniforms over the years, both on the way up and on the way down. The most-successful NHL players who started as Eagle rookies were: - Left wing Charlie Simmer, a 14-year NHLer with five teams who totaled 711 points in 712 regular-season games. Played in two NHL All-Star Games, won the 1986 Bill Masterton Trophy awarded by sports writers for "perseverence, sportsmanship and dedication." Played with the Eagles 1974-75 through 1976-77.

- Joe Mullen, right wing still with Pittsburgh, owner of Stanley Cup championship rings with Pittsburgh and Calgary. Two-time winner of the NHL's Lady Byng Trophy for superb yet gentlemanly play, and a first-team NHL all-star and league plus/minus leader in 1989. Has 919 regular-season points in 842 games. Was CHL Rookie of the Year as an Eagle in 1979-80, CHL MVP in 1981.

- Two-time NHL All-Star forward Theoren Fleury, now in his sixth year with Calgary despite being 5-foot-5 and 155 pounds. Feisty Fleury's scored 377 points in 358 regular-season NHL games. Played 42 Eagle games over parts of two seasons (87-88, 88-89); 81 points. Went up for good on New Year's Eve 1988.

***

Salt Lake produced others who aren't or weren't NHL all-stars but had - or are having - long big-league careers. Among a group that started as Eagle rookies and went on to a decade or more of big-league play:

- Defenseman Gordie Donnelly, who played 67 regular-season and six playoff games for the 1982-83 Eagles. St. Louis traded him to Quebec for the right to sign Jacques Demers as Blues' coach. With Buffalo in his 11th NHL season.

- Forward Paul MacLean had a grand rookie season for the Adams Cup champs in 1980-81 and never returned to the minors - until now as coach of the IHL Peoria Rivermen. In 11 NHL seasons, MacLean scored 968 points in 719 regular-season games. Played much of the time on a line with Winnipeg all-star Dale Hawerchuk.

- Left wing Perry Anderson, an Eagle rookie in 1981-82 who spent 10 seasons in the NHL and played 400 games with St. Louis, New Jersey and San Jose. He was with San Diego of the IHL last year and is an Eagle again this season.

Also, MacLean's Eagle teammate Jim Nill, Salt Lake team captain as a rookie in 1980-81, spent nine seasons with five NHL teams; and Mullen's rookie Eagle teammate, Mark Reeds, had eight NHL years with St. Louis and Hartford.

***

The Calgary years produced a number of young NHLers who have the chance for long careers: Paul Ranheim, in his fourth season with Calgary; Stephane Matteau, now with Chicago starting his fourth NHL season; Stu Grimson, entering his fourth NHL season with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim; Marc Bureau, in his fourth NHL season with Tampa Bay's Lightning.

The last Eagle independent season, 86-87, brought defenseman Shawn Cronin on loan from Hartford. He's in his fifth NHL season, now with San Jose's Sharks.

Great names from the early Eagle past include defenseman Paul Terbenche (70-71, 71-72), who had three NHL and four WHA seasons; Gary Holt (73-74 to 78-79), who had five years in the NHL; and left wing Dave Hrechkosy (73-74 to 77-78), who was an NHL rookie of the year candidate.

And then there were Lyle Bradley, Doug Palazzari and Rich Chernomaz. They never stuck in the NHL. They didn't start their careers with the Eagles. But, together with Scott MacLeod (139 points in a season), they own virtually all of the club's offensive records. They spent most of their pro careers in Salt Lake, Bradley playing 500 games in eight years, Palazzari 204 games in five seasons and Chernomaz 442 games over six seasons.

Bradley's and Palazzari's numbers are the only two the franchise has ever retired. Chernomaz's may some day hang in the rafters, too, for he overtook Bradley as franchise career champion last season in points (548) and goals (226). Bradley still has the assist mark (361).

*****

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

On the cover

Former Golden Eagle Doug Palazzari played 204 games in five seasons with Salt Lake.

Twenty-four years of the Salt Lake Golden Eagles

Year: 69-70

Lge: WHL

Affil.: Ind.

Coach: Ray Kinasewich

W: 15

L: 43

T/OL: 14

Pts: 44

Place: last

Playoffs: Did not qualify

Lead scorer (G/pts): Guyle Fielder 55/66

Lead goalie (G/GAA): Russ Gillow 50/4.52

Year: 70-71

Lge: WHL

Affil.: Buff.

Coach: Gus Bodnar

W: 18

L: 49

T/OL: 5

Pts: 41

Place: last

Playoffs: Did not qualify

Lead scorer (G/pts): Dennis Kassian 70/61

Lead goalie (G/GAA): Rocky Farr 25/3.91

Year: 71-72

Lge: WHL

Affil.: Buff.

Coach: Al Rollins

W: 29

L: 33

T/OL: 10

Pts: 68

Place: 5th

Playoffs: Did not qualify

Lead scorer (G/pts): Billy Inglis 71/60

Lead goalie (G/GAA): Lyle Carter 9/2.89

Year: 72-73

Lge: WHL

Affil.: Calif.

Coach: Al Rollins

W: 32

L: 25

T/OL: 15

Pts: 79

Place: 2nd

Playoffs: L finals 4-5

Lead scorer (G/pts): Lyle Bradley 71/87

Lead goalie (G/GAA): Ted Tucker 33/3.50

Year: 73-74

Lge: WHL

Affil.: Calif.

Coach: Al Rollins

W: 41

L: 33

T/OL: 4

Pts: 86

Place: 2nd

Playoffs: L semifinals 1-4

Lead scorer (G/pts): Lyle Bradley 76/115

Lead goalie (G/GAA): Bob Champoux 46/3.26

Year: 74-75

Lge: CHL

Affil.: Calif.

Coach: Jack Evans

W: 43

L: 24

T/OL: 11

Pts: 97

Place: 1st

Playoffs: W Adams Cup 7-4

Lead scorer (G/pts): Denis Meloche 76/71

Lead goalie (G/GAA): Ray Martyniuk 53/2.96

Year: 75-76

Lge: CHL

Affil.: Calif.

Coach: Marv Edwards

W: 37

L: 35

T/OL: 4

Pts: 78

Place: 3rd

Playoffs: L semifinals 1-4

Lead scorer (G/pts): Denis Meloche 75/80

Lead goalie (G/GAA): Ernie Miller 42/3.41

Year: 76-77

Lge: CHL

Affil.: Cleve.

Coach: Marv Edwards

W: 31

L: 39

T/OL: 6

Pts: 68

Place: 5th

Playoffs: Did not qualify

Lead scorer (G/pts): Rick Shinske 70/70

Lead goalie (G/GAA): Ray Martyniuk 36/3.38

Year: 77-78

Lge: CHL

Affil.: St.L.

Coach: Barc/Bob Plager

W: 42

L: 31

T/OL: 3

Pts: 87

Place: 2nd

Playoffs: L semifinals 2-4

Lead scorer (G/pts): Doug Palazzari 70/101 i

Lead goalie (G/GAA): Yves Belanger 9/2.44

Year: 78-79

Lge: CHL

Affil.: St.L.

Coach: Jack Evans

W: 47

L: 22

T/OL: 7

Pts: 01

Place: 1st

Playoffs: L finals 5-5

Lead scorer (G/pts): Rick Shinske 66/88

Lead goalie (G/GAA): Ed Staniowski 5/1.94

Year: 79-80

Lge: CHL

Affil.: St.L.

Coach: Jack Evans

W: 49

L: 24

T/OL: 7

Pts: 05

Place: 1st

Playoffs: W Adams Cup 8-5

Lead scorer (G/pts): Doug Palazzari 74/109

Lead goalie (G/GAA): Ed Staniowski 4/1.51

Year: 80-81

Lge: CHL

Affil.: St.L.

Coach: Jack Evans

W: 46

L: 29

T/OL: 5

Pts: 97

Place: 2nd

Playoffs: W Adams Cup 7-5

Lead scorer (G/pts): Joe Mullen 80/117

Lead goalie (G/GAA): Doug Grant 5/3.23

Year: 81-82

Lge: CHL

Affil.: St.L.

Coach: Jack Evans

W: 47

L: 30

T/OL: 3

Pts: 97

Place: 1st

Playoffs: L semifinals 5-5

Lead scorer (G/pts): Richie Hansen 78/110

Lead goalie (G/GAA): Rick Heinz 19/3.65

Year: 82-83

Lge: CHL

Affil.: St.L.

Coach: Jack Evans

W: 41

L: 38

T/OL: 1

Pts: 83

Place: 4th

Playoffs: L semifinals 4-2

Lead scorer (G/pts): Charlie Skjodt 62/76

Lead goalie (G/GAA): Rollie Boutin 14/3.20

Year: 83-84

Lge: CHL

Affil.: Minn.

Coach: J.P. Parise

W: 35

L: 35

T/OL: 2

Pts: 72

Place: 3rd

Playoffs: L semifinals 1-4

Lead scorer (G/pts): Scott MacLeod 68/118

Lead goalie (G/GAA): Chris Trinceri 6/4.07

Year: 84-85

Lge: IHL

Affil.: Ind.

Coach: Tom Webster

W: 35

L: 39

T/OL: 8

Pts: 82

Place: 3rd

Playoffs: L qrtrfinal 3-4

Lead scorer (G/pts): Scott MacLeod 82/139

Lead goalie (G/GAA): Marc D'Amour 12/2.85

Year: 85-86

Lge: IHL

Affil.: Ind.

Coach: Wayne Thomas

W: 44

L: 38

T/OL: 0

Pts: 90

Place: 4th

Playoffs: L semifinals 1-4

Lead scorer (G/pts): Scott MacLeod 77/134

Lead goalie (G/GAA): Mike Vernon 10/3.40

Year: 86-87

Lge: IHL

Affil.: Ind.

Coach: Wayne Thomas

W: 39

L: 31

T/OL: 12

Pts: 90

Place: 2nd

Playoffs: W Turner Cup 12-5

Lead scorer (G/pts): Bob Francis 82/98

Lead goalie (G/GAA): Rick Heinz 52/3.93

Year: 87-88

Lge: IHL

Affil.: Calg.

Coach: Paul Baxter

W: 40

L: 34

T/OL: 8

Pts: 88

Place: 2nd

Playoffs: W Turner Cup 12-7

Lead scorer (G/pts): Rich Chernomaz 73/95

Lead goalie (G/GAA): Marc D'Amour 62/3.27

Year: 88-89

Lge: IHL

Affil.: Calg.

Coach: Paul Baxter

W: 56

L: 22

T/OL: 4

Pts: 16

Place: 1st

Playoffs: L finals 9-5

Lead scorer (G/pts): Chernomaz 81/101

Lead goalie (G/GAA): Steve Guenette 30/2.71

Year: 89-90

Lge: IHL

Affil.: Calg.

Coach: Bob Francis

W: 37

L: 36

T/OL: 9

Pts: 83

Place: 2nd

Playoffs: L semifinals 5-6

Lead scorer (G/pts): Tim Sweeney 81/97

Lead goalie (G/GAA): Steve Guenette 47/3.45

Year: 90-91

Lge: IHL

Affil.: Calg.

Coach: Bob Francis

W: 50

L: 28

T/OL: 5

Pts: 05

Place: 2nd

Playoffs: L qrtrfinals 0-4

Lead scorer (G/pts): Rich Chernomaz 81/97

Lead goalie (G/GAA): Steve Guennette 43/3.26

Year: 91-92

Lge: IHL

Affil.: Calg.

Coach: Bob Francis

W: 33

L: 40

T/OL: 9

Pts: 75

Place: 4th

Playoffs: L qrtrfinals 1-4

Lead scorer (G/pts): Shawn Heaphy 76/77

Lead goalie (G/GAA): Jason Muzzatti 52/3.30

Year: 92-93

Lge: IHL

Affil.: Calg.

Coach: Bob Francis

W: 38

L: 39

T/OL: 5

Pts: 81

Place: 2nd

Playoffs: Did not qualify

Lead scorer (G/pts): Patrick Lebeau 75/100

Lead goalie (G/GAA): Andrei Trefilov 44/3.19

Year: 93-94

Lge: IHL

Affil.: NYI

Coach: Dave Farrish