Our first trip goes back to 1984. The Indianapolis Checkers had a mini-dynasty going in the Central Hockey League, much like their parents -- and owners -- the New York Islanders had going in the NHL. The Checkers had won back-to-back Adams Cup championships, with a roster that stayed remarkably intact for the first four years of their existence.
However, in 1983-84, the Islanders went with a youth movement in Indianapolis. Some of the mainstays that had carried the Checkers to back-to-back Adams Cups were gone, replaced by young and untested players. Not surprisingly, it showed in the results. A franchise that had been near the top of the standings in all four years of their existence was suddenly a sub-.500 team, finishing fourth out of five teams in the league and nowhere near a favorite come the playoffs. Especially because there was one dominant team -- the Colorado Flames. They'd gone 48-25-3 during the season and won the regular-season title by 22 points over second-place Salt Lake. The Checkers? They were 34-36-2, 29 points behind the Flames.
Al MacInnis played 19 games for the Flames that year -- although he was in Calgary by playoff time. They were backstopped by Mike Vernon, who would eventually have a 16-year career in the NHL and backstop two Stanley Cup champions. They were a veteran team that was the clear favorite.
Few were surprised when the Flames won the first two games of the series in Denver, putting the Checkers' backs to the wall right away. Colorado was dominant in a 5-3 Game 1 win that wasn't that close, then scored three goals in five minutes to win Game 2 3-2. Then, something happened during the first two games in Indy. The Chex jumped out to a 3-0 lead and held on in Game 3, then used veteran Garth MacGuigan's hat trick to win Game 4 6-3.
That set up a pivotal Game 5 at the Coliseum on April 14, 1984 -- just 24 hours after Game 4. Should Colorado win, all it would have to do is win one of two when the series shifted back to McNichols Arena. Should the Checkers win, they'd be on the verge of an upset.
Ron Handy and Red Laurence scored in the first period to give the Checkers a 2-1 lead, but Colorado flexed its muscle in the second, beating Rob Holland four times and chasing him from the game. Trailing 5-2 going into the third, things looked bleak for the home squad, especially with a quality goaltender like Vernon trying to protect a three-goal lead with just 20 minutes to do so. Especially with untested Todd Lumbard -- who had spent much of the year in the lower-level International Hockey League -- now manning the pipes.
Sometimes, it takes just one break to get back into a game. At the 6:07 mark, Colorado's Mario Simioni was sent off for hooking. It was the first power play for either team in the game. Five seconds later, Bob Hess fired from the blueline and Red Laurence -- one of the other veterans back from the back-to-back Adams Cup titlists -- buried the rebound for a goal that made it 5-3. Midway through the period, Colorado defenseman Dale DeGray was sent off for tripping. The Flames killed the power play, but moments after DeGray stepped back onto the ice, one of the Checkers' "kids" -- Roger Kortko -- dented the nets on another rebound, as Hess fired from the point and Devine deflected it it over to Kortko. Suddenly, the Checkers were only facing a one-goal deficit, and had 7:46 to make it up.
Vernon staved off the next few minutes of attacks, but so did Lumbard in the other net -- stopping all 12 Flames shots in the final period. And the Checkers got another break. Coach Fred Creighton told Dave Simpson to check out the stick of Colorado leading goal scorer Pierre Rioux. With 2:12 left, Creighton called for a measurement, and referee Bill McCreary found out it had too much hook. The Checkers were going on the power play.
It took just half a minute to tie the score. Laurence fired a shot from the point. Monty Trottier tipped it past Vernon and into the net. Suddenly, it was a 5-5 game and the teams were going to overtime.
The Checkers peppered Vernon -- launching nine shots in the opening minutes of overtime. There, Gerald Diduck -- a rookie defenseman who would go on to an NHL career -- fed the perennial Checker Kevin Devine from the boards. Devine deflected it into the net 8:48 into overtime.
The Coliseum crowd of 3,215 was sent into delirium. Their Checkers, by taking advantage of three third-period penalties, including the very unusual stick measurement, defeated one of the top goaltenders in the CHL and managed to turn the tables in the series. This young group -- led by a few playoff veterans who stepped up when the series was on the line -- was on the cusp of ousting the prohibitive favorite.
A couple of days later, the series would go back to Denver and the Checkers would win 3-2, thanks to Laurence's fifth and sixth goals of the series. For the third straight year, they clinched a spot in the Adams Cup Finals. Despite hosting the entire series, they would lose to the CHL Oilers -- a team taken over by the league midway through the season that played without a home -- in four games.
But the epic series to get them there -- four of the six games were decided by one goal -- and the epic Game 5 comeback, was one of the most memorable playoff comebacks, and upsets, in Indianapolis hockey history.
Boxscore: April 14, 1984 at Fairgrounds Coliseum
IND-Handy 2 (Sylvestre, Simpson), 3:34
COL-Hanson 1 (Rioux), 18:30
IND-Laurence 3 (Trottier, Regier), 18:59
COL-Hanson 2 (Brubaker, Rioux), :21
COL-Brubaker 2 (Rioux, Hanson), 4:04
COL-Eakin 3 (Meredith, Ribble), 5:56
COL-Rioux 2 (Curtale, Vernon), 15:37
Penalties: Bradley (C) tripping, 10:30
IND-Laurence 4 (Hess), 6:12 (pp)
IND-Kortko 1 (Devine, Hess), 12:14
IND-Trottier 1 (Laurence, Simpson), 18:26 (pp)
Penalties: Simioni (C) hooking, 6:07; Harrington (C) high-sticking, 7:46; Devine (I) high-sticking, 7:46; DeGray (C) tripping, 10:06; Rioux (C) illegal stick, 17:48
IND-Devine 2 (Diduck), 8:58
Shots on goal: COL 10-14-12-5-41 (Holland 2 periods, 40:00, 21 saves; Lumbard 3rd period and OT, 28:58, 17 saves); IND 15-8-14-9-46 (Vernon 40 saves)
Power play: COL 0-0, IND 2-3
Officials: R-Bill McCreary, L-Jim Burlew, Jerry Burt