In minor league hockey, franchises come and go. Players do the same. Rosters turn over completely every couple of years. A team at the end of the season looks nothing like one at the beginning.
|The Checkers skate the Adams Cup in 1982|
There was a new home rink, as the Chex traded their spot at Market Square Arena for the cozier digs of the 8,100-seat, 1939-built Fairgrounds Coliseum. There were several new players. And there was a new sheriff in town, as coach Bert Marshall and GM Jim Devellano left the team at the end of the previous season, to be replaced by one man – Fred Creighton.
A hard-nosed coach, Creighton had seen several stints in the National Hockey League. He was trying to find his way through the new league and a handful of new players sent down by the New York Islanders. He stressed being sound and disciplined on defense and creating pressure on the forecheck. With the Coliseum’s gigantic – and unorthodox -- 210x90 surface, offensive play was going to be even more stressed. But despite a number of new faces on the roster, Creighton had a number of returnees including a pair of goaltenders who had joined the Chex at the end of the previous season, and were on their way to becoming household names in Indianapolis – veteran Rob Holland and rookie Kelly Hrudey. Captain Kevin Devine was also back, as was big-scoring wing Neil Hawryliw. Charlie Skjodt, Monty Trottier and Mike Hordy also returned after a stint with the Isles.
But the Chex had one big addition when former free agent Red Laurence, who had played with the Salt Lake Golden Eagles’ Adams Cup titlists the two previous years, came over when he couldn’t come to terms with the St. Louis Blues. A high-scoring forward, he had 39 goals with the Eagles the year before. John Marks, a 200-pound, 33-year-old wing, came over on loan from the Chicago Blackhawks.
There was enough talent to make an Adams Cup push, but who knew how it would come together? Creighton said before the season he had no idea what to expect.
|The 1981-82 Adams Cup champion Indianapolis Checkers.|
The Checkers looked like anything but a championship hockey team the first two weeks of the year, going 0-4. But three of the losses were in OT. Finally, on Oct. 17, playing their third game in three nights, the Chex broke through. Tied 2-2 with just less than three minutes to go in the game, longtime Checker Garth MacGuigan punched a rebound home and the Chex pulled out a 3-2 victory over the Oklahoma City Stars. It avenged a 4-3 OT loss the night before, which saw ex-Checker Alex McKendry get the game-winner 1:59 into overtime.
The Chex followed the next afternoon – their fourth game in four days – with a 6-3 win at Cincinnati, and they eventually got to .500 with a three-game winning streak, starting when they unleashed their offense against the Dallas Black Hawks Oct. 24. Laurence, who had scored his first goal the night before in an OT loss to the Hawks, had two goals and an assist and Marks scored the game-winner – which was also his first goal as a Checker – as Indy jumped out to a 5-1 lead after two periods. They held on to win 6-4. They followed with a fast start against Cincinnati, scoring three first-period goals – including Skjodt’s seventh of the year – in a 4-2 win, then did the same in a 4-3 win over Eddie Mio and the Wichita Wind to move to 5-5-0.
But that 5-5 soon became 5-10, thanks to yet another OT loss – a 7-6 shootout at home against the defending champions from Salt Lake -- and a four-game road trip in which the Chex went winless. The Salt Lake game was the first matchup of the league’s top two franchises, and lived up to its billing. The Eagles had a 6-4 lead after two, but the Chex rallied in the third against veteran goaltender Paul Grant. Laurence had two goals and Mike Hordy a four-point night with a goal and three assists, but the Eagles won on a goal 3:50 into OT against Rob Holland. The skid started there.
”We thought we had a good thing going, but winning is a fragile thing,” Creighton told the Indianapolis Star’s Bill Pickett. “We lost to Salt Lake in overtime, and haven’t won since.”
They broke the skid when Mats Hallin scored his second goal early in the third to give the Chex a 4-2 lead in an eventual 5-3 win over Cincinnati, which they followed with a scintillating 5-3 win over Fort Worth, where Steve Stoyanovich got the fireworks started early in the second period. He jammed the puck past the Wings’ Steve Janaszak 34 seconds into the period in front of the net on an assist from Laurence. Eleven seconds later, he scored on a similar feed from Randy Johnston. Fort Worth rallied and the game was tied at 3-3 going into the third. There, Laurence scored twice and Hrudey – making his second start in a row for the first time of the year – blanked the Texans to give the Chex a 5-3 win. Creighton opened the year by alternating goaltenders, but stuck with Hrudey after winning, and played him again the next night, when the Texans ended the two-game mini-streak with a 5-4 OT win, scoring a goal 7:53 into the extra session. Fort Worth won despite being outshot 43-21 and outscored 3-1 in the first period.
The loss dropped the Checkers to 7-11-0. But the record was somewhat deceiving, as they had taken seven of those 18 games to overtime and lost every one. So there might have been reason for concern when the Chex and Nashville South Stars finished regulation tied 2-2 in the next game, Nov. 19. This time, Holland didn’t need to come up with the big overtime save, as Stoyanovich ended things just 51 seconds in, taking a feed from Laurence and firing it past Lindsay Middlebrook to clinch a 3-2 win, the Checkers’ first in eight overtime tries.
|Kelly Hrudey makes a save in traffic.|
Still, as the Chex stumbled to a 9-15-1 start, fans – spoiled by two winning seasons and expecting more from the talented team -- were grumbling. Ten of the 15 losses were by one goal, seven in OT. Bill Pickett threw out some solutions in his weekly column – saying the team was trying to make the “perfect” play instead of taking good shots, and players besides Laurence and Stoyanoivch, the team’s leading scorers, needed to shoot. He also said the Islanders’ depth – the two-time Stanley Cup champions were loaded throughout the lineup – would likely keep the Checkers intact, while division rivals Cincinnati (Toronto) and Salt Lake (St. Louis) were likely to have several players called up by struggling NHL parent clubs. Pickett later cited the Isles’ “hands-off’ policy with the Checkers as vital to the farm club’s success. Once the season began, the Islanders weren’t likely to make many callups – a practice they followed from the moment they brought the Checkers to Indy in 1979.
The Checkers finally broke out of their slump – they’d gone 4-10-1 in a 15-game stretch – on Dec. 4 against Nashville, when Hrudey stopped 23 of the South Stars’ 24 shots and Neil Hawryliw had two goals and assisted on a first-period game-winner from Mike Hordy in a 3-1 win. That moved the Chex into a third-place tie in the North Division. They’d just keep winning from there, finishing the weekend off when Mats Hallin scored a rebound goal with 1:18 to play to beat the Stars 5-4 in a return engagement in Nashville. Nashville coach Gene Ubracio lashed out at the officials, who disallowed a Stars goal at the second-period horn, saying “If the CHL is the second-best league in hockey, it certainly isn’t because of the officials.”
The next weekend featured a pair at the Coliseum, and the Chex were perfect again. John Marks and Neil Hawryliw scored 53 seconds apart late in the third period to pull out a 3-2 win over the Tulsa Oilers, then Hrudey made 33 saves to lead a 2-1 win over the Cincinnati Tigers the next night.
Meanwhile, John Marks was becoming a celebrity, showing up on a television near you to represent the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL Arm-Wrestling Championships, which aired Dec. 13.
On Dec. 22, the Tigers visited the Coliseum again, with a season-high crowd of 5,341 on hand. They turned out to see Charlie Skjodt lead a record-setting night. Skjodt scored his 16th goal and then dished three assists in a five-goal second period, which spurred the Chex to a 9-5 victory. Skjodt added two more assists to finish with a team-record six points. The five-goal period and nine-goal game tied Checker records. Lost in the shuffle was a hat trick by Glen Duncan, including two in the second-period flourish. His second goal made it a 6-3 game, as the Chex reversed an early 3-1 deficit on way to the rout. They scored three more against Curt Ridley – who replaced Bob Parent after the sixth goal – to finish with the win.
After that game, they just kept on winning, beating the Tigers 5-2 in Cincinnati on Boxing Day, then closing out December with a 4-2 win over Tulsa – in which a record 7,526 showed up to see the San Diego Chicken, the Checkers’ biggest Coliseum crowd ever -- and a 6-2 triumph at Dallas, in which Skjodt scored a goal and added three assists. The Dallas game was more remarkable for Monty Trottier’s shenanigans. Thirteen minutes into the first period, he tangled with the Hawks’ Bob Crawford and received a fighting major and a misconduct. With four minutes to go in the second, he and Brian Johnson tangled and he got another major and misconduct. He and Tim Knowles hooked up with 7:15 left in the game, and the penalties again were a major and misconduct. Three fights, a franchise-record 45 penalty minutes, and a lot of watching the game from the sin bin for Trottier.
The Dallas game put the Checkers over the .500 mark opened a five-game road trip. But the beginning of 1982 brought similar good tidings – a sweep of Fort Worth by 7-1 and 6-5 scores, then a 3-1 win over Oklahoma City and a 6-3 triumph in Nashville that put them at 22-17-1 on Jan. 7. After losing 5-3 to the South Stars upon their return home, the Chex might have wanted to go back on the road. Still, they finished their six-game homestand on a positive note, winning the last four, highlighted with an 8-2 rout of the Salt Lake Golden Eagles. Kevin Devine had two goals and an assist in the win, which gave the Chex a 25-18-2 mark. They followed with a 4-3 win over the Eagles in which Randy Johnston’s fifth goal of the year at 4:48 of the third period provided the margin of victory. The Chex trailed 3-2 going into the third after three Eagle second-period goals. Pickett called the game between the CHL’s top two clubs “NHL hockey all the way.”
Salt Lake returned the favor at the end of the Checkers’ next roadtrip – a five-gamer that saw the Chex win two of the first three. But on Jan. 29, Salt Lake’s Bobby Crawford scored against Hrudey with two seconds left in the third period to pull out a 3-2 victory. Red Laurence had tied the game against his former mates earlier in the third period. The next night, the Eagles won a slightly more comfortable 4-2 win, with Hrudey again in goal. The Chex returned home to tie OKC, but then lost twice on the road to a talented Wichita team – farm club of the fast-rising Edmonton Oilers – to fall to 28-22-3 on the year. Two high-scoring home games – an 8-3 win over frequent rival Cincinnati in which six different Checkers scored goals, and a 6-1 win over Wichita which saw Laurence dish three assists – broke the skid, but a long roadtrip awaited as the Checkers had to vacate the Coliseum in favor of the Boat, Sport and Travel show. The two-week, eight-game trip saw the Chex lose five of their first six, including two in OT, to fall to 31-28-3 and back into fourth place.
Things turned around as the Checkers traveled to Nashville to finish the set. Glen Duncan scored his 20th goal of the year to spur a 5-1 win over the Stars, and Laurence had a goal and two assists in a 6-2 rout six days later. The next night, March 6, Bruce Affleck – who joined the team that night after spending the season in Switzerland – made up for lost time with a two-goal, three-assist performance as the Checkers had a triumphant return to the Coliseum with an 8-3 win in front of 5,763 happy fans. A 3-2 loss at home to Cincinnati sandwiched the weekends between the Nashville home-and-home and a visit by the rival Golden Eagles of Salt Lake.
The weekend proved memorable. The series started on March 12, with 4,289 fans in the seats and Kelly Hrudey in net. The Eagles had scored a goal in every game since March 1978, a span of over 250 games that dated back to when Indianapolis was a Racers town. Until that night. Hrudey was spectacular. The blueliners in front of him allowed little to get to him. The Checkers got a lead when Skjodt scored his 31st goal of the year 7:06 into the game and didn’t need any more. They got it, as the Chex scored four times in the third period, as Glen Duncan scored 3:05 into the frame, Mike Hordy added one 1:45 later, and Duncan and MacGuigan added late goals. Meanwhile, Hrudey stopped Perry Anderson and Richie Hansen on couple of rapid-fire shots late with five minutes to go and clinched a 5-0 shutout. He made 25 saves in the game, while the Chex peppered Paul Skidmore 44 times. Hrudey said, “It was the best defensive game we’ve played all year. The guys played super and if we can only keep playing this way, better things will come.” The Chex followed with an offensive show, beating the Eagles 9-5 the next night. Hallin had two goals and two assists as eight different players scored goals in the win, which brought the Chex (35-29-3) into a third-place tie in the North.
The next weekend brought a visit from the Dallas Black Hawks, and fans were resting easy after a 4-0 first-period lead. But Dallas scored thrice in the second to make it close. Skjodt, who had two first-period assists, scored 50 seconds into the third and the Chex held on to win 5-4. Two nights later, Red Laurence stole the show. He beat Ken Ellacott on the power play just 5:48 into the game to help the Chex build a 3-2 first-period lead, and then exploded. At 9:30 of the second, Laurence took a feed from Mats Hallin and scored another power-play goal to make it a 5-2 game – following on the heels of Kevin Devine’s 20th goal 90 seconds into the frame. He netted the hat trick with 90 seconds to go in the second, being set up by Darcy Regier and Steve Stoyanovich. Just 2:48 into the third, Laurence set a record, notching his fourth goal of the game and 40th of the year. Devine followed with his second goal in an 9-3 Checker rout. Overshadowed by Laurence’s feat was a solid game by Mats Hallin, who had a one-goal, three-assist night in lifting the Chex to a 37-29-3 mark and their fourth straight win. The Checkers moved into third by themselves by taking three of four points from Tulsa, winning 6-2 and then salvaging a 4-4 tie when Hrudey made 49 saves and Laurence scored with 9:42 to play in the third.
They moved to 11 games over .500 – 40-29-4 – with a 6-1 win over Fort Worth, extending the unbeaten streak to seven games. MacGuigan had a goal and two assists in the contest. But the Chex would remain in third place, going 0-2-1 in their next three before a 7-6 win over Cincinnati on March 31 in front of 7.032 at the Coliseum. It set up a season-ending three-game set with Salt Lake, which saw the Eagles take both games in Utah – 4-3 in OT and 2-0 – and the Checkers score four first-period goals in a 7-2 season-ending win in the Coliseum, which made the team’s record 42-33-5.
The Checkers’ finish put them in the Adams Cup Playoffs with home ice advantage in a cross-divisional matchup with the Tulsa Oilers, coached by Dave MacDowall – who would coach the Indianapolis Ice less than a decade later. When the postseason begain, the Chex didn’t look like a team that had finished a couple games under .500 down the stretch and finished third in its division. They looked like one gunning for the Adams Cup.
The Checkers scored seven goals in Game 1 against the Oilers, but Kelly Hrudey stole the show. He was showered with several standing ovations and a long “Hrudey, Hrudey” chant from the 2,642 in attendance after stopping 37 shots and blanking the Oilers 7-0. Kevin Devine and Glen Duncan gave Hrudey all the offense he needed, scoring two goals 60 seconds apart in the first 5:54. MacGuigan, Hallin, Hordy and Kelly Davis (twice) all scored in the rout.
Game 2 wouldn’t be so easy. The Oilers needed a win to keep from being put on the brink of elimination in the best-of-5 series. The Checkers needed to keep Tulsa from gaining home-ice advantage. Things looked good when the Checkers got an early 2-0 lead when Glen Duncan scored a power-play goal 4:19 into the second and Lorne Stamler floated a shot beyond the blueline that befuddled Tulsa goaltender Yves Dechene and ended up in the back of the net. Dechene made up for his gaffe by stopping Steve Stoyanovich on a penalty shot moments later, at 9:46 of the second period. Ron Wilson scored in the third, but the Chex held a 2-1 lead until the closing seconds, with the Oilers on a power play and frantically trying to tie. With Dechene on the bench and a 6-on-4 advantage, Mark Plantery got the puck on the weak side and blasted an open-shot from the slot past Hrudey with 11 seconds to play.
Overtime loomed. It didn’t settle well with the Checker fans, who saw their team go 0-6-4 at home and 1-11-5 overall in the extra sessions. But Hrudey was on his game. So was Dechene, who stopped 13 Checker missives in the first overtime, and the teams skated through 20 minutes of sudden death still tied. Early in the second OT period, Laurence took the puck from Randy Johnston on a rush out of the Indianapolis end. He carried up ice, wound up as he crossed the line and blasted a long shot past Dechene and into the net 5:08 in. Hrudey jumped out of his net and danced to center to meet Laurence, who had just put the Chex up 2-0 in the series. “I got over the blue line and figured we had to keep putting some shots on goal. I’d been shooting kind of high, though, and they weren’t going in. I just fired this one low and I think it caught (Dechene) going the other way,” Laurence told Bill Pickett.
After falling in such dramatic fashion, the Oilers didn’t have much fight left when they returned home, as Bruce Affleck, Steve Stoyanovich and Lorne Stamler scored three goals in a 2:48 span early in the first period and led the Chex to a 6-1 series-clinching victory in Tulsa. The rough game even saw Darcy Regier score a goal to go along with two assists and Frank Beaton chip in a pair of tallies and an assist.
But with the Tulsa Oilers out of the way, the Checkers had to set their sights on an old nemesis – the Wichita Wind. Their NHL parents – the Islanders and Oilers – were beginning a feud as the league’s reigning dynasties. But while the Islanders were playing hockey – and would eventually win their third Stanley Cup – the Oilers had been shocked in the first round by the Los Angeles Kings, so it was up to the minor-league teams to begin the feud.
The Wind had home-ice advantage, but their rink wasn’t available for the series opener on April 17. So, with the Oilers finished for the year, the teams decided to travel way north to Edmonton to open the series. Over 14,000 appreciative fans took advantage of the chance to watch another hockey game, and live out the Isles-Oilers rivalry in their minor-league teams. This one, however, didn’t turn out as well for the “home” team. After getting just three first-period shots and seeing the Wind’s Rick Blight scored off the weak side early in the first, the Chex took advantage of a second-period five-on-three, as Mike Hordy fired a slapshot past Wichita’s Andy Moog to tie the game at 1-1. Moments later, with Greg Hubick still in the box, Garth MacGuigan dished the puck to Hordy at the left point, where he stepped in and blasted another shot past Moog to make it 2-1.
Wichita answered when Jan Ludvig blasted a long shot with 7:59 to play in the game. The teams skated close and played defensive from there, not wanting to give the other a cheap goal and the advantage in the series. But with less than two minutes to go, Garth MacGuigan dug the puck out from along the boards behind the Wichita goal and dished to Neil Hawryliw. Off-balance, Hawryliw received the puck on his backhand, spun around and fired a weak shot at Moog. Kevin Devine was in front of the net, reached his stick down and barely tipped it, redirecting the puck just enough to slip it past Moog and into the net with 1:25 to play. The goal gave the Checkers a hard-fought 3-2 series-opening win, and set the advantage.
The win in Edmonton might have given the Checkers the boost they needed. They hadn’t won a game in the Kansas Coliseum all year. And the Wind, intent on keeping the streak going, led 4-3 going into the third period of Game 2 when Hawryliw skated across the line and fired a blast past Moog nine seconds into the period to tie the game. It spurred the Checkers to a third-period flurry that saw Hordy, Devine and Stoyanovich score goals in what turned into a 7-4 rout that looked a lot like the series to date – closely-played, but the score shows the Chex firmly in command, 2-0.
Game 3 followed in the same vein. Closely played, but another Checker win, thanks to Monty Trottier’s 25-foot blast 15:16 into overtime that clinched a 4-3 victory. This one wasn’t so easy, as the Chex trailed 3-2 in the third period when Fred Creighton challenged the stick of Wichita’s Curt Brackenbury. Kerry Fraser, the referee, measured the banana curve and upheld Creighton’s challenge. Brackenbury was penalized and the Chex got a power play. With Hrudey out of the net and a 6-on-4 advantage, Hawryliw and Garth MacGuigan fired shots at Moog in rapid succession. The second, coming from Hawryliw, hit Moog’s shoulder and popped into the air. Devine took a swing and hit – batting the puck out of mid-air and underneath Moog’s left arm for the game-tying goal with 29 seconds to play. He got a broken nose on the play – thanks to an errant stick in the scramble – but was happy to get the game into OT. The Chex had built a 2-0 lead, much like Game 1, on goals by Stoyanovich and Laurence, but saw Wichita’s Ken Berry score twice to knot the game, and Peter Sullivan score moments later to make it a 3-2 game.
Yet, the Checkers were home and facing a chance to sweep the series on a Saturday night, April 24. With 7,115 fans in the Coliseum, the Chex got off to a somewhat slow start, trailing 2-1 in the first period. But Dave Simpson scored 2:57 into the second to tie the game, but Dame Fortune smiled on the Checkers and Garth MacGuigan took advantage to give the Checkers the lead for good with 11:37 to go. Darcy Regier dumped the puck in, but an odd carom off the glass deposited the puck right in front of Moog. Wichita’s Greg Hubick was waiting, but the puck bounced over his stick and right to MacGuigan, who shot and scored. Wichita coach John Muckler had a trick up his sleeve when he replaced Moog with Gord Garbutt with 24 seconds left. At the time, a new goaltender could warm up on the ice before playing, so Muckler was trying to buy some time for his skaters. Garbutt headed for the bench as soon as the puck was dropped, but the Checkers won the draw and got the puck to Stamler, who slowly ragged the clock and then fired, sending the disc into the middle of the yawning net to give the Chex a 5-3 win and a four-game sweep of the Wind in a close series.
It was the Checkers’ seventh straight victory – though only two had been decided by lopsided scores. All of the others were either decided by a goal (minus empty-netters), in overtime or saw the Chex behind going into the third period. Yet, they were perfect in the playoffs and tasting the Adams Cup Finals for the first time. To boot, they put away an old nemesis, as Wichita eliminated the Chex from the playoffs the year before in overtime of the deciding game of a best-of-5.
The Checkers would get an advantage, as the Dallas Black Hawks would have to play nearly the entire series in Indianapolis, despite having a better record. The Hawks’ building was booked by a previous engagement, so Dallas would host Game 1 before the series shifted to the Fairgrounds Coliseum for the rest of the time.
A win in Game 1 would set the Checkers, who had won seven straight playoff games, off on the right foot and give them an even bigger advantage heading back home. A steamy night greeted the teams in the Texas State Fair Coliseum, but defenseman Mike Hordy rose big to give the visitors a boost. Just four minutes in, he fed Hawryliw for a goal, but the key play came at 8:25, when he stoke a puck in the Dallas end and fired a shot into the upper corner past Ken Ellacott to give the Chex a 2-0 lead. Hordy finished with a goal and two assists in the contest. When the Hawks would get close – cutting to 2-1 midway through the first, the Checkers would answer, as the Checkers saw Tim Lockridge leave the box to end a Dallas power play at the start of the second. Moments later, Steve Stoyanovich fed Red Laurence to make it 3-1 just 18 seconds into the second period. When Dallas closed again, Stoyoanovich flipped a rebound over Ellacott’s shoulder to make it 4-2. Charlie Skjodt, back from an injury that had held him out of the playoffs, made it 5-2 moments later. Kelly Hrudey didn’t have to worry too much, as the tight Checker defense allowed Dallas just 17 shots the entire game. The Hawks outshot the Chex 12-7 in the first period, but mustered just two shots in the second and three in the third. The Chex only needed 22 shots to score their five goals and get a 1-0 series lead.
The Game 1 win also gave the Checkers a record eighth straight playoff win, tying two other CHL teams for playoff consistency.
With the rest of the series in the Coliseum, Dallas would need to strike back quickly and end the record-setting Checkers’ string. The game was much more of an end-to-end contest than the first, as Dallas fired 35 shots at Hrudey, and the Chex 32 at Ellacott. But it remained a see-saw battle until midway in the third. With the game tied at 3-3, Dallas was putting pressure on, but the Checkers appeared to clear when Rob Tudor reached up and gloved an airborne puck to his skate. Seizing the quick-turnover confusion, Tudor was able to feed the puck across ice to Drew Callander in the slot, who slapped the puck past Hrudey to give the Hawks a 4-3 lead. Ellacott smothered Hordy on a breakaway with six minutes to play, and Callander scored again on the ensuing counter-rush to give the Black Hawks a 5-3 win and tie the series at 1-1. Kelly Kisio, the CHL’s leadiang goal-scorer with 62 regular-season tallies, put Dallas in a position to win, scoring two goals and assisting on two others in the contest. Both of his goals came with less than two minutes to go in each of the first two periods, the first tying the game at 1-1, the second giving Dallas a 3-2 lead. Earlier, Rob Tudor and Indy’s Frank Beaton scored 22 seconds apart in the second to keep the game close. Kevin Devine scored his third playoff goal 3:34 into the third, but Callander had the last laugh. Hawryliw led the Checkers with a goal and an assist.
Dallas looked to be in command of Game 3 early, beating Hrudey twice in the first 13 minutes, including a goal on a dump-in by Jerry Butler that bounced, rolled onto and over Hrudey’s stick and into the net, much to the dismay of 6,304 in the Coliseum. But the Hawks might have won the battle. But, over the next 47 minutes, the Checkers won the war. By the 31-second mark of the second, the Chex had tied, thanks to a power-play goal by Red Laurence late in the first and a 45-foot slapshot by Kelly Davis. The game continued close into the third, tied at 3-3, when the Checkers got a fortunate bounce. A dump-in by Tim Lockridge hit the boards in the corner and came straight across the ice in front of the goalmouth. Ellacott, surprised, got the tip of his stick on the puck, but before he could get set, Skjodt rushed to the disc and directed it into the goal. “I don’t know if he was aware I was there or not,” Skjodt said. “The puck took a really strange bounce and surprised everyone.” Skjodt’s tally, which came 3:42 into the third, was backed up by a rebound goal by Garth MacGuigan five minutes later that turned out to be the game-winner in a 5-4 Checker win. Things didn’t end there, though, as a brawl involving all 10 skaters on the ice broke out with four seconds left, evolving out of pre-faceoff jostling in the Checker end. Dallas’ Brian Johnson and Indy’s Frank Beaton were given fighting majors and everyone else sent off the sheet. Johnson charged after some fans en route to the dressing room, but order was restored and the final drop of the puck took place without incident. “It wasn’t with a lot of finesses that we got back into the game, but we got it done. It was a big win,” Creighton said.
In a playoff series, the odd-numbered games are often critical, because they set the tempo. Game 3 did that, giving the Checkers a 2-1 advantage. Now, they had the upper hand for Game 4 and an opportunity to take control of the series. Dallas needed to win to knot the series at 2-2 and send it to a best-of-3. And, for an interminable amount of time, exactly which outcome would take place was up in the air – and the padding of Kelly Hrudey and Ken Ellacott. The game looked like a shootout early, as Dallas sandwiched two goals around a tally by Kevin Devine, all in the first seven minutes of the game. But after Steve Stoyanovich’s fifth playoff goal found its way past Ellacott with 28 seconds to go in the second period, the goaltenders took over.
Ellacott stoned Frank Beaton twice on rebound chances in the third. Moments before the horn, Hawryliw took two jabs in front of the net, but couldn’t get them past the Dallas netminder. Meanwhile, Hrudey smothered a power-play chance by Kelly Kisio and several other Dallas advances, as each made 15 third-period saves. When the smoke had cleared, the game remained 2-2 and sudden-death loomed. With the way the goaltenders were playing, it looked like it could be a long night. And through the first overtime, both goaltenders survived without a blemish, as Ellacott stopped 11 shots – the most dangerous coming on a point blast from Kelly Davis – while Hrudey made nine saves. Eighty minutes down, who knows how more to go, 2-2.
The game finally turned with the Checkers in a line change. Red Laurence hopped over the boards and headed down the middle as Mats Hallin chased the puck down in the corner with two Black Hawks on him. Hallin dug the puck off the boards and sent it across the slot, where Laurence barreled in and blasted the puck into the net 2:25 into the second OT, giving the Checkers a 3-2 win and putting them on the brink of the Adams Cup title.
With a championship so close, 7,431 fans packed into the Coliseum on a Wednesday night to see the Checkers’ coronation. Dallas, however, had other plans. Playing a defensive, tight-checking style, the Hawks let Ellacott frustrate the Checkers and remained patient. Finally, the breaks began coming. Penalties to Steve Stoyanovich and Red Laurence gave Dallas a power play seven minutes into the second. Kelly Elcombe took advantage, blasting the puck through a screen from the high slot for a 1-0 Dallas lead. A roughing call to Mats Hallin – which Creighton questioned after the game – gave Bill Hogaboam a chance to put Dallas up 2-0. Drew Callander made it 3-0 four minutes into the third, but the Checkers tried to make it close, as Laurence scored on a feed from Kelly Davis and Steve Stoyanovich netted another on a deflection two minutes apart in the third to cut the Dallas lead to 3-2. But the Hawks scored a counterattack goal with 4:55 to play and added an insurance marker to postpone the celebration and give themselves a 5-2 win.
”Checkers are champions!” blared the Indianapolis Star on May 15. Underneath, Red Laurence is standing at Ellacott’s side, poking the puck underneath the sprawling Dallas goaltender for the goal that would spring the Checkers onto their first Adams Cup championship. Laurence’s tally, which broke a 1-1 tie 4:29 into the second period, was just a springboard. Moments after leaving the penalty box, Checker Randy Johnston fired a rebound into the net at 11:59 of the second period to make it 3-1. Just over two minutes later, Laurence scored again, and the 6,423 in the Coliseum went into bedlam, with a championship drawing near. The game was lopsided, the final 5-1. The Checkers hoisted the Adams Cup. The players and fans celebrated the city’s first hockey championship in 24 years and fourth overall – the Indianapolis Caps having won AHL titles in 1942 and 1950 and the Chiefs an IHL championship in 1958.
”It’s the biggest thrill I’ve had in hockey,” Captain Devine said after the game. “Nothing came as hard as this. All our overtime losses (in the regular season, where the Chex went 1-11-5 OT games) helped this team build character. We won three in the playoffs without losing any. We worked our butts off and it paid off.”
Devine was one of those who had a big playoff, as was Laurence, who scored 10 goals in winning his third consecutive Adams Cup. But the Max McNab Trophy went to Hrudey, the rookie who backstopped every playoff game and went 11-2.
The Checkers’ championship looked a long way from the beginning of the season, where they were trying to jell with a new coach and a new system. At one point, they were 10-15-1. But in the end, it worked. “This was my 18th year,” Creighton told Bill Pickett the morning after. “There’s never been a year when I’ve had to try to go in and try to rebuild the morale of a team so many times so early.”
The win was a step in clinching an organizational sweep for the New York Islanders, who won their third consecutive Stanley Cup the night after the Checkers’ title. The Isles’ IHL affiliate, the Toledo Goaldiggers, won the Turner Cup championship.