The Salt Lake Golden Eagles won their last home game ever in a 5-4
shootout victory over the San Diego Gulls in front of a record-setting
crowd of 14,144 fans in the Delta Center. Ironically, it was against San
Diego that the Eagles played, and won, their first-ever game in the
then-new Salt Palace back in 1969.
The fans celebrated the exciting victory--and showed their appreciation
for 25 years of Salt Lake hockey as well as their contempt for the team's
being sold--by showering the Delta Center ice with not-necessarily-empty
beer cups and popcorn boxes, as well as whatever else they could toss over
the glass or fling from the rafters.
Fans were greeted at the door with posters celebrating the 25 years of
professional hockey in Utah, and then they cheered the winners during the
opening ceremony of the season's players awards (and, no, ex-Eagle owner
Larry Miller did not show up to present any awards ;-). Then the Eagles
were introduced for the last time and the bittersweet game began.
Coming back from a 2-0 first-period deficit, the Eagles scored 2 in the
second but were again behind at the end of the period with the Gulls
having scored 2 themselves. If the Eagles had started this last game with
a tinge of sentiment, they turned it into a rage of conviction as they
came out of the locker room for the final period...and they again tied the
score, sending the game into the shootout. Kimbi Daniels scored the only
shootout goal with rookie goalie Milan Hnilicka turning away all five
Gulls. And then all hell broke loose.
The Eagles swarmed the goal in celebration, and then skated in a tight
circle around center ice, pounding their sticks and waving to the wildly
cheering fans. After minutes of this gesture, the players slowly made
their way to the ice exit, and then the barrage of beer, popcorn, flyers,
posters, and whatnot starting to hit the ice. And like some Broadway cast
or vintage rock band, the team soon re-emerged from the locker room for a
curtain call, an encore, a final thank-you and good-bye.
First-year players, to both pro hockey and Salt Lake, seemed overwhelmed
and even stunned at the prolonged and deafening cheers and wild commotion.
And the "old timers" who had played in recent past years with other Eagles
teams, defen*** Daryl Olsen and Kevan Guy, were the most appreciative of
the fans and were the last to leave the ice, savoring the moment as they
continued to circle the rink, each waving and cheering back to the throng
with both arms held high and pumping...and flashing smiles as bittersweet
as those on the faces and in the hearts of those waving and cheering back
at them from the stands.
More than a few fans expressed the regret that Larry Miller did not have
to clean up his Delta Center himself. Especially the ice, now stained the
color of stale beer, which peeked through the other colorful debris that
was goal-to-goal and ankle-deep.
Fans here in Utah have experienced some thrilling hockey over these past
25 years, and last night's game was a fitting finale to that legacy. And
although the realization that hockey is no more will sink in at different
rates for different people, by next fall we'll all have realized it for
sure. But even last night, just after the final home game and when the
future should seem the bleakest, fans were optimistic for hockey's
eventual return to Salt Lake.
Here's hoping it's all not just wishful thinking.
San Diego 2 2 0 0 - 4
Salt Lake 0 2 2 1 - 5
1st period: SD, Lambert 11 - (Floyd, DeGrey) 6:11
SD, Loach 42 - (Skalde, DeGrey) 9:17
2nd period: SD, Skalde 24 - (Lavoie, Loach) (pp) 1:22
SL, Simon 7 - (Scissons, Joseph) 5:23
SD, Donatelli 11 (Loach, O'Connor) (pp) 11:02
SL, Smith 18 - (Guy, Olsen) (pp) 12:21
3rd period: SL, MacIntyre 9 - (unassisted) 1:02
SL, Smith 19 - (Day, Daniels) 13:54
Shootout: SD: Skalde, McDonough, Loach, Arniel, Donatelli (none)
SL: Smith, Taylor, Day (none); Daniels (yes)
Powerplay Opportunities-SD 2 of 5
SL 1 of 6
Shots on Goal- SD 10 14 11 - 35
SL 15 15 10 - 40
SD--Bester (21-12-6) (40 shots - 36 saves)
SL--Hnilicka (3-1) (35 shots - 31 saves)
REF: Ernst (with Tedesco, Metcalf)