When those players left, the parent New York Islanders divested their ownership and the Checkers left the Central Hockey League, things unraveled and the franchise fell on hard times. After a year of suspended operations, Horn Chen purchased the team and rebranded it the Ice in 1988 -- beginning a tradition that has now lasted 23 consecutive seasons through three leagues, three championships and three arenas.
While that first season was pretty rough -- in more ways than one, as the Ice set league records for penalty minutes in a season -- the city began to embrace hockey again. And then, it was time for what team president Ray Compton called the "No. 1 draft pick" -- the affiliation with the Chicago Blackhawks, which came in 1989-90.
The Blackhawks were a model of consistency in the NHL, in the midst of a 20-plus year run of making the postseason, and they were perennial contenders in the league's Norris Division.
They also had a core of up-and-coming NHL regulars who would form the core of the Indianapolis Ice team. Bob Bassen and Mike Stapleton -- two guys whose fathers played for Indianapolis teams years before -- Brian Noonan, Warren Rychel, Bruce Cassidy, Ryan McGill, Mike Eagles, Mike Peluso, Cam Russell, Darren Pang ... all of which would become NHL regulars. Not since the Capitals teams of the late 1940s and early 1950s would so many future NHLers amass on one team. Others from that squad would become leaders in hockey -- Jim Johannson would later go on to become one of the top executives in USA Hockey, Cassidy and Jim Playfair would become a NHL head coaches, Pang a well-known announcer with NBC and Versus. Not only that, but add in a few guys who would become household names in Indianapolis -- Sean Williams, who was beginning the first of four seasons with the Ice, and would become the team's all-time scoring leader and only Indianapolis Ice player to have his number retired; perennial Ice goaltender Jim Waite ... needless to say, this was a loaded team. Their coach, Darryl Sutter, was one of the six hockey-playing Sutter brothers and would go on to become an NHL head coach for 11 seasons, taking the Calgary Flames to the cusp of a Stanley Cup in 2004 (his brother Duane would later coach the Ice ... Brian would also be a longtime NHL mentor).
The Ice were quickly one of the IHL's top teams. Much of the roster had played for the Saginaw Hawks the year before -- a 100-point squad. In the regular season, the Ice posted a 53-21-8 record and won the IHL's West Division by a whopping 21-point margin. In the east, defending Turner Cup champion Muskegon and Kalamazoo went tooth-and-nail, with Muskegon edging the K-Wings out to win the division. The playoffs would go according to form -- the Ice breezed past fourth-place Peoria and second-place Salt Lake in a pair of 4-1 series. Muskegon lost three games in dispatching fourth-place Fort Wayne and second-place Kalamazoo.
Muskegon had won the regular-season title and therefore had home-ice advantage for the Turner Cup Finals. The Lumberjacks were the defending champs and had been the IHL's highest-scoring team all season -- totaling 4.7 goals per game. But the Ice had, by far, the league's stingiest defense, allowing only 2.8 tallies per season, nearly a full goal per game less than the rest of the league.
So, when the Turner Cup Finals began in Muskegon on May 9, it was a matter of which would win out -- offense or defense. The Lumberjacks' offense featured three 40-goal scorers -- veterans Dave Michayluk, Scott Gruhl and Perry Ganchar -- centering a veteran roster that would provide insurance for the parent Penguins as they quickly became one of the NHL's premier franchises. The Ice countered with a roster full of future NHL regulars who were just blooming.
It turned out to be two things -- physical, and high-scoring. The Ice scored three times in the third period and Waite only needed to make 24 saves in a 5-2 victory. Mike Peluso and Mitch Wilson got into the series' first fight just 4:14 in. Both the score, and the number of infractions, would set the tone for the series. When the series returned to Indy, the result was the same -- a 5-2 Ice victory, Waite making 22 tops, and a ton of penalties -- 146 total minutes in all, and five power-play goals scored between the two teams. Mike Stapleton's penalty-shot goal with 19 seconds left in regulatio nset up Mike McNeill's overtime goal in Game 3 for a 5-4 Ice win -- the Ice trailed at one point 4-1 midway through the third period -- and put the black-and-silver on the cusp of a championship.
That's where we are, for #6 in our list of greatest playoff games in Indianapolis hockey history.
In a way, it could have been anticlimactic. The Ice led the series 3-0. But they smelled a championship, and they were determined to deliver. A raucous crowd of 6,003 filled the Coliseum for a warm Monday night in May. After a game's rest -- Darren Pang played in Game 3 -- Jim Waite got the nod in net for the Ice, while Chris Clifford -- who had started Game 2 instead of Bruce Racine -- tended the pipes for Muskegon.
The Lumberjacks were tight in front of their goaltender early -- and would need to remain so, as 11 of the Ice's 15 goals so far in the series had come in the third period and beyond. The Coliseum crowd became raucous with anticipation when Perry Ganchar was sent off for high-sticking just 1:56 into the game. However, a penalty on Sean Williams would cancel that out a minute and a half later. The Ice would get a big break when Richard Zemlak was issued a five-minute major and a game misconduct for high-sticking at :11, but they couldn't capitalize.
That's the way things would go. Both teams would have plenty of power-play chances in the first period, but Waite would turn away all six shots he faced, and Clifford would stop all 11 Ice forays. Things got a little bit chippy early in the second when Wilson and Brian Noonan got tied up, and both were sent off for 10 minutes -- as was Ice backup goaltender Darren Pang.
But while the penalty timekeeper was having all kinds of work, the scoreboard still read 0-0.
Until Mike Eagles stepped in. A half-minute after Muskegon's Brian Wilks had stepped out of the box to end the Ice's sixth unsuccessful power play of the night, Eagles -- the shifty 190-pound forward who was already a veteran of six NHL seasons (he would go on to play 10 more) banged in a feed from Sean Williams just 5:43 into the second period.
The Coliseum erupted. With the way Waite and the Ice defense was playing, that might just be enough to see a championship celebration that night.
It was Eagles' 10th playoff goal and 20th point in 14 games.
Less than four minutes later, the fans began to smell it more. Williams scored on a feed from Mike Rucinski at 9:05 for his eighth goal and 13th point of the postseason. Suddenly, it was 2-0.
Waite and the Ice defense -- Bassen, Cassidy and Russell among them -- would be able to shut them down. Dan Frawley made it close with 5:34 to go in the second by scoring to make it 2-1.
By the end of the second period, Waite had stopped 19 of the 20 shots that came his way. The Ice defense would keep pucks in his sight in the third -- he only saw seven shots. The Ice would have to kill off two power plays in the final 10 minutes, but as Eagles and then Bassen stepped out of the penalty box with the Ice still ahead 2-1, the Coliseum became a cacophony of noise. Bassen's penalty ended with 4:15 left in the game. The roar continued to get louder and louder.
It got deafening in the final two minutes, a roar that nearly drowned out announcer Jim Barbar's play-by-play on WNDE. Muskegon couldn't get into the zone to get Clifford off the ice for the extra attacker -- he finally headed to the bench with 39 seconds left, but had to come back in. By that point, the place was delirium.
The final seconds counted off -- the crowd helping, almost exhorting, the clock to do so.
Finally, the siren went off. The Indianapolis Ice, in their second season, were Turner Cup champions. It was the first hockey championship for the city since 1983, the sixth in the city's history, and the first IHL title since the Chiefs won it in 1958. And the Ice had done it with a clean sweep of the IHL's top team, points-wise, during the regular season.
After the final handshakes, the Ice went on one of the most legendary celebrations in hockey history, taking the multi-tiered Turner Cup to several local establishments to party with the city deep into the night. The Cup apparently ended up damaged -- and legend has it, briefly lost -- in the revelry and needed to be repaired before it could be presented to the Peoria Rivermen the next season. That was pretty common fare for the Turner Cup -- think a tall version of the Stanley Cup with a wedding-cake design, as each tier was wider than the one above it -- which would endure plenty of abuse during its run of existence.
But it was the final chapter on one of the most memorable teams -- closing the Turner Cup finals out in one of the most memorable nights -- in Indianapolis hockey history.
Game boxscore (May 14, 1990 at Pepsi Coliseum)
Penalties: Ganchar (M) high-sticking 1:56; Williams (I) elbowing 3:24; Zemlak (M) high-sticking major, game misconduct 5:11; McGill (I) roughing 5:36; Gruhl (M) cross-checking 11:07; Russell (I) tripping 13:24; Rychel (I) tripping 16:04; Gruhl (M) holding 16:17; Noonan (I) interference 17:47
IND-Eagles 10 (Williams), 5:43
IND-Williams 8 (Rucinski, Torkki), 9:05
MUS-Frawley 4 (Wilks), 14:26
Penalties: Wilson (M) misconduct 2:44; Noonan (I) misconduct 2:44; Pang (I) misconduct 2:44; Wilks (M) holding 3:07; Ganchar (M) high-sticking 4:15; McNeill (I) slashing 4:15; Callander (M) roughing 12:03; Bassen (I) slashing 12:03; Torkki (I) interference 14:34
Penalties: Frawley (M) elbowing 6:48; Eagles (I) holding 9:57; Wilson (M) high-sticking 12:05; Bassen (I) interference 13:45; Wilks (M) hooking 15:26
Shots on goal: MUS 11-14-9--34, IND 6-14-7--27
Goaltenders: MUS-Clifford (59:32, 32 saves, 2 GA), IND-Waite (60:00, 26 saves, 1 GA)
Power plays: MUS 0-8, IND 0-8
Officials: R-Lance Roberts, L-Gerry Burt, Mark Wilkins
#7: Capitals 6, Cleveland Barons 2 (1950)
#8: Chiefs 3, Louisville Rebels 2 (1958)
#9: Ice 7, Cedar Rapids Rough Riders 6 (2009)
#10: Checkers 6, Colorado Flames 5 (1984)