The Colorado Rangers
The Flames had folded leaving Denver without a professional hockey team for the first time since the Spurs started up here in 1968.
Aurora mayor Dennis Champine (different spelling than me and not related) decided to change all that by putting a farm team for the Rangers in the Denver Coliseum. The team name for the first year would be the Colorado Rangers and would have the generic IHL symbol as their crest. The following year they would take the New York Rangers crest and also become the Denver Rangers.
The Rangers opened up October 14, 1987 in the renovated Coliseum. Pete Mahovlich was the coach for the team.
"Colorado Rangers fans were sparse
Wednesday night at the Denver Coliseum,
but Colorado Rangers goals weren't."
---Denver Post October 15, 1987.
As the lead stated, this team came out flying. Mike Donnelly had the first goal in Colorado Ranger history (assists to Latos and Boutillier). The Rangers went on to tack on six more goals to bury Salt Lake 7-3. This was also the 80s. Goon hockey was out, but fights were definitely in. The first scrap in Ranger history was between Ranger tough Rudy Poeschek and Golden Eagle Stu "The Grim Reaper" Grimson. In goal for the Golden Eagles was former Flame Marc D'Amour.
The gate was a problem. Only 1950 fans were in attendance. A full 10% were from Salt Lake to cheer on their own team. Also in attendance was Denver Spur standout Bob Johnson.
A Program Cover
A few nights later the attendance story was even worse. Champine must be one of those "buy low and sell quickly" type of guys. The fourth game against Peoria only had an attendance of 949 people. Champine stated that if he couldn't average 3500 fans, he can't work here in Denver.
The fans that did turn out saw a 2-1 Ranger win.
Colorado would go on and win their first 14 home games to begin the season.
The road was a different story. Their first road trip saw them lose both games. Their first sortie from home was an overtime loss.
Game 10 in front of the home fans returned Mahovlich's optimism for the team though. "We take the show on the road and we're going to be able to play anywhere," the Mahovlich said after a 10-3 beating by the Rangers on the Milwaukee Admirals.
Their fight to remain perfect at home wasn't always easy though. The next game saw the Rangers only start with 14 skaters. Defenseman Scott Smith then suffered a concussion as the result of a cheap shot. Ranger Don Mercier then went after Admiral Bill McCreary even though he had already been soundly thrashed by the Admirals' Gary Stewart in the first period. Nevertheless, he went after McCreary and was summarily dismissed from the contest for instigating. Then fights broke out everywhere. Poeschek went after Neil Meadmore and Mark Tinordi and Barry Nelson went after Gary Stewart and John McLean. All were given game misconducts and booted out of the game.
Do the math there. Four Rangers gone left and only 10 skaters remaining. To make matters worse, the Admirals scored 20 seconds after the fisticuffs to go up 4-2. But third period goals by Simon Wheeldon, Bruce Bell and Steve Nemeth put the Rangers out in front up until the final 25 seconds of regulation. A late goal by the Admiral's Mike Velucci tied it, but Wheeldon came back in overtime to steal it.
"Heart," Wheeldon said in the Denver Post. "That's all that won it for us. Ten guys with one big heart."
Rudy Poeschek (Left) Squares Off With Neil Meadmore
As a matter of fact, the Rangers would start 14-4-1, but would win all those 14 games on home ice. That's when Brett Champine, the owner's son, decided to raise the ire of the hockey gods and screw up the streak of good fortune.
The controversy started at 11:23 of the third period. Wheeldon, according the goal judge, pushed the puck over the goal line to give the Rangers a 4-3 lead over the Golden Eagles and goalie Marc D'Amour. The problem was that the referee blew the play dead a full three seconds before the goal judge turned on the red light. At the signaling of the goal, Brett Champine began banging on the plexiglass right behind D'Amour and taunting the goalie. D'Amour ended up getting a 10 minute misconduct and letting in the insurance goal just 25 seconds later.
Meanwhile, after the game, Golden Eagle coach Paul Baxter was irate. After having to be restrained by the equipment manager to keep from getting at the Rangers and Mahovlich, Baxter let loose. "I believe in cheerleading, but I don't believe the goal judge needs any. I don't see how security can allow coercion of the goal judge," Baxter said of what he thought was Champine's intimidation of goal judge Rod Lippman immediately before Lippman signaled that Wheeldon's shot did cross the line. Marc D'Amour was far less political. Marc said this about Champine and his buddy:
"A couple of bleeping yuppies who
don't know anything about hockey."
The hockey gods would cast the spell and Colorado's home winning streak would end at 14.
The Rangers began tumbling fast. From 14-2-1 to 23-18-3 by the end of January. Remember, they were playing home games in the Coliseum, which is occupied by rodeo stars, cows, steers and horses for the entire month of January because of the Western Stock Show.
"Not that they finished 1987 in a blaze of glory
but if Friday is an indication of what the new year will be like
for the Colorado Rangers, they'd be better of going back to
the old one."
---Denver Post January 2, 1988.
The Rangers needed help. Five third period goals by the Admirals on January 1 erased a 6-3 lead. Up to that point, the Rangers had been 14-0-0 in games where they led going into the third period.
Yes, the road was not kind to the Rangers. Coach Mahovlich got thrown out of a game in Kalamazoo. After the referee spotted him tightening his tie after a slashing call and tacked on a two minute unsportsmanlike conduct for the trouble, Mahovlich lost it and decided if he was going to get a penalty, he might as well make it worthwhile. Mahovlich, a good stickhandler in his playing days, grabbed all the hockey sticks and tossed them out onto the ice. Say goodbye, he was ejected.
Upon returning to home ice on February 10 after a 4-7-1 road trip, the Rangers were back on the winning end of that first game home. But soon after, Mahovlich was bemoaning what was quickly becoming a bad team. Then finally on February 13, the Rangers could no longer ride the better than .500 record they earned early in the season. Saginaw Hawk Eddie Belfour shutout the Rangers in front of the largest Coliseum crowd of the season, 3492. The loss dropped the Rangers to 25-22-3 (the "3" was Overtime losses).
Mercy Mercy Mercier (Bloodied after an early season fight)
Certainly, injuries were taking their toll. The roster had been changing all year with callups and injuries. Game in and game out, the Rangers weren't playing with a healthy roster of 16 players. They were often forced to make do with only 12 or 13. Reinforcements were on the way though.
Struggling to stay around .500 was a chore, but the 1988 US Olympians came to the rescue to foil the hex placed on the team from the fickle hockey gods.
"We'll have mixed emotions," Ranger Todd Elik said.
"They make take some of our jobs, but if they can help the team
that's great. They're spoiled, though. Spoon-fed.
But I guess maybe they've earned it."
In net, Mike Richter. Starring at the forward position were Tony Granato and Pete Laviolette. Immediately, they paid dividends.
Mike Richter stopped 24 of 25 shots and Laviolette had two assists as the Rangers, in their first game with the Olympians, scored a 3-1 victory over the Kalamazoo Wings.
Mike Richter Makes the Save (Tinordi foreground)
With the Olympians in camp, the Rangers turned it around. Their record imrpoved from 28-28-3 to 39-31-3 thanks to a 10-game winning streak. Richter was in net for most of the games and Granato had eight goals since beginning his stint for Colorado.
But as they would all year, the Muskegon Lumberjacks would stop the Rangers. The winning streak was at 10, the Rangers were on home ice, and Captain Ron Talakoski had just tied the game at two a piece early in the third period against the Lumberjacks. As Talakoski raised his hands to celebrate his 24th goal of the season, Lumberjack Mark Rowe dropped him with a cheapshot elbow. The ref missed the call. Talakoski was taken off the ice on a stretcher unconscious and having swallowed his tongue. The Lumberjacks scored just 19 seconds later and added the game winner within three minutes. The Rangers lost 4-3, the sixth time in six meetings with Muskegon.
The Rangers clinched the IHL West Division with a 5-3 win over Milwaukee. Tony Granato scored two short-handed goals to pace the Rangers, who finished the season with a 44-35-3 record. They would open the playoffs against the Kalamazoo Wings.
The Rangers opened up in the Coliseum. They scored 5 goals in the second period of game one and held on to win the match 6-4. Mike Richter made 26 saves.
About 3400 fans showed up for game 2 and weren't disappointed. Mark Jannsens, Tony Granato and Chris Jensen scored third period goals to overcome a 2-1 third period deficit and win 4-2.
Images of the Flames then began to dance in the Colorado faithful. Up 2-0 and heading back to Kalamazoo, the Rangers were probably guilty of a little overconfidence. All they had to do was ask some hockey fans what happened to the Flames in their two playoff series' here in Denver. It would have been easy because Jeff Brubaker, former Flame, was on the Rangers.
Nevertheless, the Rangers lost the next three in Kalamzoo by scores of 7-4, 8-7 and 3-2.
Then back at home maybe Brubaker said something about the past. Brubaker was fighting, fighter Rudy Poeschek was scoring and fighting, and tough guy Mark Jannsens was fighting and assisting. The Rangers cruised to victory 5-2 to set up a game 7.
In between, owner Dennis Champine found out that the Coliseum would not be available for the next playoff series because of a horse show. The Nuggets were in the playoffs (it must have been a long time ago) so McNichols wasn't available either.
With home ice in question should they win game 7, the Rangers took to the ice.
The outcome was in doubt from the opening faceoff.
Colorado was down 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2 in various stages throughout the game. At 14:03 of the second period the Wings went up 4-2 on a power play goal by Gary McColgan. But just under four minutes later, Todd Elik went end-to-end to bring the Rangers back within one goal.
"Probably the biggest goal of the game," Poeschek said. "I know our heads were down on the bench and then all of a sudden it's 4-3 again. Everybody picked back up."
Elik tied it in the third then Rudy Poeschek won it just 3:29 into sudden death to lift the Rangers to the second round of the playoffs against the Salt Lake Golden Eagles.
At the Air Force Academy, the Rangers lost game one 6-4. Theo Fleury scored a couple for the Golden Eagles, including an empty netter to clinch it.
Mike Richter allowed four first period goals in game one and was yanked. Ron Scott started in game 2 and made 39 saves to pace the Rangers to a 3-2 victory and a 1-1 series split at home.
Game 3 was one of those heartbreakers in Salt Lake. Leading 4-3 with 1:03 left in regulation, Eagle Jim Leavins scored on a powerplay opportunity to force overtime. Then with 14:58 gone in OT, Theo Fleury scored the game winner. Mike Richter couldn't be faulted as he made 64 saves on 69 shots. The Rangers were outshot in the end 69-25.
The Eagles then went on to steal game four by scoring two third period goals. They won 5-4 and were heading back to Denver up 3-1 in the series.
The Rangers would win this one at the DU Ice Rink. Once again, Eagle goalie Marc D'Amour had to be wondering just how short the memories of the Colorado fans was. Laviolette scored two power play goals in 1:35 of the final three minutes of the second period to break open the game. Steve Nemeth scored just forty-one seconds after Laviolette's second goal go send Colorado into the dressing room up 3-1.
After Laviolette's second goal, D'Amour was pulled. On his way off of the ice, a Colorado fan hit him with a wad of paper. D'Amour, really miffed at this time, took his helmet off and threw it at the fan. Before the Golden Eagles, with Stu Grimson, charged the crowd, the fan was ejected. Probably was for the best.
D'Amour would get the last laugh as the Eagles won game 6 and the series back in the calmer confines of Salt Lake City.
The Rangers would become the Denver Rangers and stick around for one more year.
Nemeth Breaks Into the Clear
Sorry about the Picture quality. They all sucked and these were the best of the bunch.