Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Greatest playoff games #2: Checkers 5, Birmingham South Stars 4 (1983)

If we were putting together a list of the greatest teams to grace the ice in Indianapolis, the early-1980s Checkers would be at the top of the list. It was rare to see a minor-league team keep its core together for two or three consecutive years, but the Checkers had most of its core players together for several years -- including some who were here for all five years the franchise was owned by the New York Islanders and operated in the then-"Triple A" level CHL. They were one of the CHL's premier franchises during that entire five-year run, winning two championships, making three appearances in the Adams Cup Finals and carrying a boatload of hardware year-in and year-out.

The 1982-83 season saw the Chex trying to repeat after they beat the Dallas Black Hawks to win the Adams Cup the previous year. They easily won the regular-season title with a 50-28-2 mark. Their 102 points were 17 more than second-place Colorado. The Checkers dispatched the Salt Lake Golden Eagles in a tough six-game series, while the third-place Birmingham South Stars -- an affiliate of the Minnesota North Stars -- knocked off the Colorado Flames in the other.

That set up a final where there was certainly no love lost. The Checkers had a veteran team led by Red Laurence, who had 43 goals and just missed a 100-point season, 40-goal scorer Steve Stoyanovich, Scott Howson and Garth MacGuigan -- who both had 30-goal years -- a veteran presence in captain Kevin Devine and a cadre of strong defensemen led by Bruce Affleck, Darcy Regier and Tim Lockridge and a future NHL mainstay in 19-year-old Gord Dineen. In goal, Kelly Hrudey -- on his way to a long NHL career -- and Checkers mainstay Rob Holland formed a potent 1-2 punch.

Needless to say, this was as well-stocked as a minor-league team could be. But championships are not given, and the South Stars were a strong foe. Led by 108-point scorer Wes Jarvis and goaltender Warren Skoerdinski -- another future NHL regular -- the South Stars were upset-minded. The CHL -- which had constricted to six teams that off-season and chopped a round out of the playoffs as a result -- had an unusual best-of-9 format for the finals. It would last only one year, but it would give the Checkers some legs. Early on, Birmingham had the upper hand. The Checkers won Game 1, but the South Stars stole Game 2 on Jim Dobson's hat-trick goal nine seconds into OT. Back at home, Birmingham won Game 3, and was set to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series in Game 4.

That leads us to No. 2 on our list of greatest hockey games in Indianapolis hockey history -- the pivotal moment on the way to a championship, complete with a dramatic comeback and capped by a dramatic goal.

The Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center saw 4,133 fans file through the gates on April 29, 1983, hoping to see their team take a big lead in the series. Mario Lessard -- who had replaced Skoerdinski in Game 1 -- took the nets for the Stars. Kelly Hrudey had played every minute of the series for the Checkers, but Rob Holland took his place in net for the Checkers.

But through two periods, Lessard's net had been untouched. Meanwhile, ex-Checker Frank Beaton scored on a deflection just 152 seconds into the game, and then Jim Dobson scored a close-in goal in the second to give the Stars a 2-0 lead after 40 minutes.

Headed into the second intermission, Birmingham defenseman Dave Richter had 1:10 to serve on an elbowing minor. The Checkers -- whose potent power play had been 0-for-3 so far -- would only need 17 of those 70 seconds to get back in the game, and would only need 44 seconds to tie the game. Bruce Affleck shot, Lessard made the save and then Scott Howson banged home the rebound to make it a 2-1 game. That opened the floodgates for the Checkers. Just 27 seconds later, Dave Simpson tied the game on assists from the young pups -- teenagers Gord Dineen and Ron Handy.

Dobson took advantage of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Checkers' Glen Duncan to temporarily give Birmingham a lead at 6:49, but the floodgates had been opened for Indianapolis. With Richter in the box again, Kevin Devine tied the game on a backhander with 7:24 left. When Devine fed Dineen inside the point for the go-ahead goal with 3:07 showing on the clock, the Checkers looked on their way.

Briefly. With a minute left, Birmingham pulled Lessard for the extra attacker, desperately trying to tie the game. Holland stopped Dan McCarthy's shot, but looked unsure of whether or not to cover it up or clear it. He tried to clear, but Dave DeBol intercepted and buried the puck into the net.

With 25 seconds left, the Checkers' four-goal third period comeback appeared for naught. The game was headed for overtime, and the home team had all the momentum.

The Checkers were OT veterans -- this would be their fourth in 10 playoff games, including their second in the series. The overtime was evenly-played. Holland stopped seven Birmingham shots, Lessard had six saves. Neither team had a power play, and the goaltenders kept every chance at bay.

The game appeared to be headed long into the night. The Checkers had an offensive-zone faceoff to Lessard's right with three seconds left in OT. There's not much time for anything except a draw back and a quick shot -- if there's a clean face-off win, which is difficult in such situations.

But that's exactly what happened. Center Garth MacGuigan leaned in to take the draw. Red Laurence -- the team's leading scorer all season -- set up beyond the top of the circle at the point.

MacGuigan won it cleanly. Laurence whizzed one toward the net.


The Checkers poured off the bench in pandemonium. There was brief confusion on the ice, as referee Don Koharski emphatically signaled it a good goal, before the horn sounded to end the period. The linesmen -- Jim Kehm and Mark Khedouri -- weren't as sure. They conferenced, but allowed the goal and a dramatic Checkers overtime victory.

Typical of the Checkers, they spread it around. Of their five goals in the 5-4 victory, they came from five different players. Gord Dineen (G, 2A), Bruce Affleck (2A) and Kevin Devine (G, A) each had multi-point nights. Eleven different players registered a point. Meanwhile, Holland stopped 27 shots. Lessard stopped 41 of the 46 shots that came his way.

Propelled by their dramatic OT victory, the Checkers wouldn't lose a game the rest of the series. Returning home to Indianapolis, they won Game 5 by a 5-2 score and Game 6 on Scott Howson's OT power-play tally. By the time the series returned to Birmingham, the Checkers had a commanding 4-2 lead in the best-of-9, and finished it off with an emphatic 7-2 victory, keyed by Glen Duncan's hat trick and finished off by Howson's 12th playoff goal with 11 seconds left.

The Checkers would clean up when it came to postseason awards and honors. Regier, Hrudey, Stoyanovich, Dineen, Laurence and Holland would be named to either the CHL First or Second All-Star Teams, noting they were the best or second-best at their positions. Hrudey was league MVP. Affleck was Playoff MVP -- which he would win again the following year in a losing effort. Dineen was named the top defenseman and most improved defenseman, while Laurence won the Ironman Award. For the second straight year, Hrudey and Holland shared the Terry Sawchuk Trophy for fewest goals allowed. For the second straight year, coach Fred Creighton would be named the CHL's Coach of the Year.

But the most dramatic moment -- Laurence's OT goal with just one second showing on the clock -- propelled the Checkers to a championship, to date the only back-to-back titles ever won by Indianapolis hockey teams. It was the fifth of what are now eight championship teams to play in Indianapolis.

Game boxscore
Game 4: April 29, 1983 at Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center


First period
BIR-Beaton 4 (Bergloff, Martinson), 2:32
Penalties: Handy (I) misconduct, 8:20; Martinson (B) misconduct, 8:20; Simpson (I) holding, 15:05; DeBol (B) holding, 18:06
Second period
BIR-Dobson 6 (Homola), 2:22
Penalties: K. Hanson (B) interference, 4:50; Homola (B) tripping, 10:38; Richter (B) elbowing, 19:10
Third period
IND-Howson 9 (Affleck, Stoyanovich), :17 (pp)
IND-Simpson 5 (Dineen, Handy), :44
BIR-Dobson 7 (McCarthy, Jarvis), 6:49 (pp)
IND-Devine 2 (Regier, Dineen), 12:36 (pp)
IND-Dineen 2 (Devine, Affleck), 16:53
BIR-DeBol 4 (McCarthy), 19:35
Penalties: Duncan (I) unsportsmanlike conduct, fighting, 5:51; Hicks (B) fighting, 5:51; Richter (B) hooking, 10:50
IND-Laurence 10 (MacGuigan), 19:59
Shots on goal: IND 13-12-14-7-46 (Lessard 41 saves), BIR 9-7-8-7-31 (Holland 27 saves)
Power play: IND 2-5, BIR 1-2
Att: 4,133
Officials: R-Don Koharski, L-Jim Kehm, Mark Khedouri

Previous entries

1 comment:

  1. Nice overview. I actually found this looking for games to play
    Online Checkers
    haha, not a hockey site. But I like what I found.