Monday, April 6, 2015

Flint Spirits (IHL, 1987-88)

1987-88 Regular Season: Spirits vs. Milwaukee Admirals
     The Flint Spirits were in their third year of operation by 1987-88. Rick Dudley was back as Coach/GM, and the team was now a secondary affiliate of Buffalo, Detroit, Philadelphia and Vancouver.
     After a 26-win turnaround the following season, the Spirits had their greatest season in their five-year history in 1987-88. They broke or tied 59 team records that year, as they went 42-31-9 that year. While only finishing fourth in a very strong East Division, they would have clinched the West with that record. The team's 42 wins were also a franchise record. The Spirits' 93 points were just four points behind third place Saginaw, but a distant 33 behind league best Muskegon.
     Rick Dudley's team had no problem putting the puck in the net, scoring 396 goals, second-highest in the league. Future NHLer John Cullen led the charge, scoring 48 goals and 157 points. Cullen would share Rookie of the Year honors with Saginaw's Ed Belfour. Darren Lowe was the team's 50-goal scorer, lighting the lamp 53 times and 117 points. Mario Chitaroni nearly joined him, scoring 49 goals to go along with 96 points. Three other players scored at least 20. Defenseman Don Waddell had a spectacular final season of play, scoring 17 goals and 75 points, being named IHL All-Star.
     On defense, the Spirits were just as good, surrendering just 289 goals, second only to Muskegon. While the team did use seven different goaltenders, the main two used were Gary Kruzich and Ray LeBlanc. LeBlanc was the #1 netminder, going 27-19-8 with a 4.39 GAA and one shutout. Kruzich went 14-5-1 with a 4.15 GAA. LeBlanc drew the nod for 16 of the team's 18 postseason games.
     For the second straight season, the Flint Spirits qualified for the Turner Cup Playoffs. They drew the powerful Muskegon Lumberjacks, three-time Turner Cup Finalist. Flint pulled off the upset, knocking off the Lumberjacks in six games, including a 9-0 blowout in Game 6 at the IMA Sports Arena. They would then face the Saginaw Hawks in the East Division Finals. Despite two games going to overtime, the Hawks would be swept aside in four straight, as the Spirits would go on to the Turner Cup Finals.
     In the Finals, Flint would face a formidable opponent: the defending Turner Cup champion Salt Lake Golden Eagles. The Spirits took the first two games at the IMA, but the Golden Eagles would sweep the next four games to retake the Cup in six games, winning it all on IMA ice in Game 6.
     This is a 56-page program, mostly all black-and-white, but there are a couple color photos. There are game photos from the previous season, a bio on Rick Dudley and a preview of the "New Look IHL". Local ads include Buick, WNEM TV 5, Bob Perani's Pizza Arena and Halo Burger. That night was Gordie Howe Night, and the insert includes a picture of Mr. Hockey in his Hartford Whalers uniform.

Sources:
International Hockey League Statistics: 1987-88 (from hockeydb.com)
1987-88 Flint Spirits Souvenir Program
1988-89 Flint Spirits Souvenir Program

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