Championship-clinchers are always special nights. They're even more special when the entire outcome of the series is hanging in the balance.
Until the final second.
Especially when nobody really quite knows what happened at that final second.
That was the case when the Indianapolis Chiefs and the Louisville Rebels met in Freedom Hall on April 1, 1958. It was Game 7 of their IHL Turner Cup Finals series. The series had been close throughout -- three of the first six games had been decided by a goal. Two went to overtime.
The title was going to be historic one way or the other, as this would mark the first time in six seasons that someone not named the Cincinnati Mohawks would skate away with the championship trophy named for Joe Turner -- a former Indianapolis Capitals goaltender who backstopped the city's first professional hockey championship in 1942, and would later be killed in action in WWII. The upstart IHL -- at the time a Detroit-Windsor industrial league -- named the trophy in his honor when it was formed in 1946.
The Chiefs had played in the Turner Cup Finals the previous year, bowing out quietly against the powerful Mohawks, but Cincinnati had been bounced from the postseason in the opening round by Louisville. The Chiefs had dispatched the Fort Wayne Komets.
Really, this "greatest game" is two games. It started in Game 6 on March 31, when the Chiefs and Rebels locked horns with Louisville having an opportunity to clinch on home ice. Don Busch scored in the first period, but saw the Rebels answer. After Louisville's Laurie Peterson buried a rebound, the Chiefs' Red Leger answered on a power play by poking home a rebound on the doorstep moments later. It was 2-2 going into the third, and the Chiefs' Cliff Hicks and the Rebels' Lou Crowdis turned aside every shot -- Hicks made 15 of his 49 saves in the final period despite playing with his stick hand in a cast. Crowdis stopped 10 shots in the period. Louisville kept swarming in OT, the Cup in reach. Hicks turned away all seven of their shots. Then, they got a break, as Warren Back was whistled for slashing at 7:55. Just 39 seconds into the power play, Alex Viskelis slammed a goalmouth feed from defenseman Billy Short into the net before Crowdis could react. The series was going to a seventh game, despite the Chiefs being outshot 51-30 and playing on the road.
A lot of times, such games are anticlimactic.
This wasn't one of them. The Chiefs had been the "comeback kids" all year, charging up from last place to playoff position, and then rallying in the postseason. Indianapolis had a lethal line made up of Pierre Brillant, Bob Bowness and Marc Boileau. However, the other guys -- Frank Kuzma, Viskelis, Short, Leger -- all put in some big seasons and provided the key depth that can be important in the postseason.
Things looked good early. With 4:05 left in the first, Myron Stankiewicz scored on a rebound after Crowdis stopped Bowness' initial shot. That lead would be extended to 2-0 just 2:29 into the second, when Stankiewicz skated around a Rebel defenseman and fed Kuzma in front of the net.
The Chiefs' defense then made life as easy for Hicks as possible, clearing foray after foray. They had to kill off four second-period power plays, and had a good chance for a three-goal lead stuffed by Crowdis, as he denied Viskelis on a breakaway.
Louisville then battled back. Just 88 seconds into the third, it was a 2-1 game, as Eddie Long -- a player who had been loaned from Fort Wayne for the finals to fill in for an injury -- broke the shutout.
As they say at that point, it's "winning time," when the key players step up. Louisville's furious pressure led to a goal to restore the two-tally advantage with 6:36 left, and it came from the line that had led the Chiefs all season. From his own zone, Boileau commandeered a loose puck, headmanned Brillant, and took off. Brillant drew the defense and fed Boileau with a cross-ice feed that ended up behind Crowdis.
But the two-goal lead is the most dangerous in hockey. Louisville tried to prove it. Eddie Dudych scored on a short shot with 2:04 left to make it 3-2. The Rebels kept the pressure on. They had several faceoffs in the Chiefs' end, and fired several missives at Hicks after pulling Crowdis for the extra attacker. With five seconds left, Dudych bore in on Hicks from the right side. Cliff held his ground. Dudych fired.
The net moved. The red light came on. The crowd went nuts, thinking the game was tied.
The referee waved his arms. The puck had hit the side of the net and fooled the goal judge. A crowd of 3,517 Rebel fans jumped to their feet and began booing.
But in an instant, the Chiefs had gone from having to survive another overtime to being Turner Cup champions. The comeback kids had scaled the mountain and brought the city its third professional hockey championship -- all eight years apart. They joined the 1942 and 1950 Capitals teams that had won the AHL's Calder Cup.
Coach Leo Lamoureux called it one of his greatest thrills in hockey. The Indianapolis Star handed out end-of-season awards, calling Boileau the best all-around player (he led the team with 87 points on the year), defenseman Ken Willey the most improved, and Hicks the top clutch player. He was dubbed "by far the IHL's best goalie."
The Chiefs would have one more good year in 1958-59, but would fall to Fort Wayne in the semis. Louisville would win the Turner Cup that year.
But the 1958 season brought a championship -- and much elation -- to the Circle City. And it came in the most heart-stopping fashion.
Game 7 boxscore: April 1, 1958 at Freedom Hall
Louisville: Starters: G-Crowdis, D-Back, Gayette, LW-Sharp, C-Peterson, RW-Dudych. Spares: Goegan, Morton, Chalmers, Raineri, Wilson, Spong, Long.
IND-Stankiewicz (Bowness, Kuzma), 15:55
IND-Kuzma (Stankiewicz), 2:29
Penalties: Brillant (I) holding, 1:00; Raineri (L) hooking, 1:44; Gregory (I) interference, 5:14; Wilson (L) charging, 10:01; Leger (I) interference, 10:09; Spong (L) misconduct, 10:10; Morgan (I) tripping, 11:30; Willey (I) tripping, 16:03
LOU-Long (Chalmers, Morton), 1:28
IND-Boileau (Brillant), 13:25
LOU-Dudych (Morton, Chalmers), 17:28
Shots on goal: IND 12-9-13-34 (Crowdis 31 saves), LOU 8-11-15-34 (Hicks 31 saves)
Power play: IND 0-2, LOU 0-5
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