The Denver Rangers
The second season of the Rangers would begin fairly well, but quickly nose dive. However, early on in the 1988/89 season, scoring wasn't the problem. Outscoring the opponent was the dilemna.
The home opener against the Milwaukee Admirals was pond hockey at its finest. While one couldn't fault goalie Mike Richter, he stopped shot after shot on a 5-3 power play and shut down a two-on-none breakaway and a solo breakaway in the second, the rest of the defense was porous to say the least. Forty-Five shots rained down on Richter, 18 in the third period, who managed to secure a tie and ended up losing in the ensuing shootout.
The second game at home was another firewagon special, 9-8 in favor of Milwaukee.
Most of the games were high scoring affairs. On occasion the defense would hold, but most of the time the team would just put too much pressure on Richter and his usual replacement sometime during the game, Scott Browner.
Mike Richter Makes the Amazing Save
However with the help of some New York Rangers relegated to the IHL, the Rangers were sometimes able to outscore their opponents. Darren Turcotte was one such player. In his first game with Denver, Turcotte scored four goals and assisted on two others to pace the Rangers over the Rivermen 8-6. It was the Rangers first win on home ice.
But that's the thing with high scoring teams, they are never out of the game. For example, down 5-2 going in to the third period against the Salt Lake City Golden Eagles, the Rangers scored three unanswered goals off the sticks of Paul Broten, Brad Stepan and demoted New York Ranger Jason Lafreniere. The Rangers ended up locking the game up in the shootout after the regular overtime period. Also, on nights like that one against the Golden Eagles, it's easy to see why Mike Richter turned into a superstar goalie: Practice makes perfect. He stopped 47 out of 52 shots on net.
But lots of offensive doesn't really mean much when the team is getting outscored and beaten. The hometown fans began getting on the team. At first they began by sitting on their hands.
In a mid-November game, the fans were silent until the second period. They weren't applauding a Mike Richter save or a nifty scoring play. Afterall the Rangers were outshot 50-18 and not providing the crowd with much inspiration. So when a stripper came down to give a fan a "birthday greeting" the crowd decided that was the kind of performance deserving the loudest ovation of the night and gave the woman an inspired cheer.
Perhaps the scariest moment of the season happened in Salt Lake. The Golden Eagles Martin Simard and Mark Janssens were engaged in a fight. Janssens got the worst of it and hit the ice, head first. He went into convulsions and was diagnosed with a concussion and a blood clot at the hospital. Janssens was scheduled to be out for the rest of the season.
But behind Richter, the team eeked out a few wins to get five games above .500 about halfway through the season.
Richter was sensational in a three-game sweep of Peoria in mid-December. The last game of the series was televised to the New York audience over the MSG Network. Richter gave the New York fans a taste of things to come in the 4-2 victory.
"There's no question he's a National Hockey League
goalie. He's got quick reactions, a great work
ethic and great attitude," said Mahovlich.
---Rocky Mountain News
After that, the slide commenced. It started late in December with the crowd booing the horrendous play of the Rangers. Certainly you couldn't really blame the team as they were usually playing a few players short.
The Offense Celebrating a Goal
The Rangers started losing at home before the National Stock Show forced the road trip. The Salt Lake Eagles put 53 shots on Richter who gave up six goals in the final home game before the road trip was on December 30, 1988. It was the team's fourth loss in a row. They were a quarter of the way done with the streak at that point.
The next night in Salt Lake the Rangers gave up 44 shots and lost the game 5-4. There were the drubbings in the losing streak, 10-3 against Muskegon and 4-1 by Kalamazoo and there were the close games, 8-6 against Kalamazoo and 1-0 against Fort Wayne. The 10-3 game against Muskegon was especially deflating as Lumberjack Perry Ganzhar set an IHL for the fastest hat trick in the history of the league. From 2:16 of the first period to 2:49 of the first period, 33 seconds, Ganzhar netted three goals. Once again it was tough to blame Richter because he was facing between 40 and 60 shots per game. On the other hand, an offense that was always there seemed to be disappearing quick. When you have no defense and the offense takes a vacation, your team ends up losing, a lot.
The losing streak hit 16, with 12 of those coming on the road trip. As of February 1, 1989, the Rangers were 0-fer the New Year.
Very weary hockey players returned to the Coliseum on February 1 for a game against the Fort Wayne Comets. But there was good news. Chris McRae was playing his first game for the Rangers and second-leading scorer in the IHL, Simon Wheeldon, was sent down by New York to play with Denver. Early on, it seemed like the same-old same-old. The Rangers took the first period on the chin and were down 2-0 going into the first intermission. However, this time they turned it around. Four unanswered goals put the Rangers ahead 4-2 and they held on to win 5-3. Richter stopped 33 out of 36 Komets' shots.
The next night against Fort Wayne, Richter would get the shutout by stopping all 33 shots he faced. Bad news followed the game though. The Ranger's second leading scorer, Darren Turcotte, was recalled by New York. Once again though, Pete Mahovlich was optimisitic becaue Marcel Dionne was on his way.
On February 9, Marcel Dionne made his Denver Ranger debut. Unfortunately, he was held pointless and the Rangers gave up four third period goals to lose it.
"Maybe they watched me too much to see
what I do," Dionne said of his new teammates.
"You can focus on the new guy and forget to focus
The Rangers needed some good fortune in a hurry in order to get into the playoffs.
Darren Turcotte was sent back to Denver and the bounces began going their way. In a Feb 11 game against the Kalamazoo Wings, the Rangers had managed to tie the game at three a piece. Then with 4:50 remaining, Dionne fed Simon Gagne who rang a shot off of the right post. The goal judge signaled goal but the play continued. The officials huddled up and decided not to overrule the goal judge. It proved to be a needed break as the Rangers went on to win 5-4.
"It was like Pete (Mahovlich, Rangers coach) told me,
'It was an IHL call.' If it hit inside, it came right back
out. I told Simon to put it deeper next time."
The next night, it was the same good fortune that was leading the Rangers to victory. Rangers Stephane Brochu lifted the puck high into the air from just inside center ice with just about 4:30 left in the 5-5 game against Kalamazoo. When the puck landed it veered sharply to the left and slid past Wing goalie Larry Dyck. It proved to be the game winner.
Afterwards, the Rangers were relying less on luck and more on skill. Richter was keeping the team in the games and the scorers were scoring. Turcotte got the hat trick and Dionne had two assists to lead the Rangers in a come-from-behind victory over the Salt Lake Eagles.
Denver was hanging on to the seventh seed in the IHL when they got another boost. Mark Janssens came back from his career-threatening injury on February 28. In his first game back, he netted two goals and assisted on another.
In the meantime, coach Pete Mahovlich was called up to the Rangers in order to fill a scouting position. Assistant coach Doug Soetaert took his place.
Chris McRae Mixing It Up with Salt Lake
With some timely wins and overall better play, the Rangers made the playoffs only to face the Golden Eagles. The Eagles would prove to be the superior club and oust the Rangers in four straight games; 5-1, 6-5 in ot, 5-2 and 6-3.
The club by the end was in bankruptcy and finished in Denver. They would be the last hockey team for five years. The Grizzlies would come to town in the 94/95 season and would get Denver primed for an NHL franchise.