Imagine the look on the face of the hotel manager in St. Louis when the Sockers asked where they could watch a telecast of the fourth playoff game between the Tacoma Stars and Wichita Wings Friday night.
The St. Louis Blues were at home against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the opening game of their National Hockey League semifinal series that evening at The Arena, and Blues mania was sweeping the city.
The only thing more popular in St. Louis than a beer jingle is the Cardinal baseball team, and the Cardinals had been on television against Montreal that afternoon.
And the Sockers wanted to watch what?
“All we need is a place with a satellite dish and a big screen,” the players said.
The hotel the Sockers were staying at did not have a satellite dish (or even cable television) and neither did many of the other hotels and bars they contacted.
But the San Diego players, who were leading the Steamers, 2-1, in their best-of-five playoff series, wanted to see the team that would, possibly, be their opponent in the next round of the playoffs. Besides, the Sockers had to kill one more night in St. Louis before facing the Steamers the next night.
Later that evening, while 16,893 fans were rocking The Arena and rooting the Blues to victory, seven Sockers; Coach Ron Newman and his wife, Olive; two reporters; a broadcaster and Thomas M. Bowers, the president of the Steamers, were at a sports bar watching former Socker Steve Zungul and the Stars upset the Wings, 3-2.
“Did the whole team go watch the game on satellite?” asked Zungul, who was impressed with the idea when he heard about it later.
When time ran out on the Wings during their frantic rally in the final two minutes, the Sockers started cheering. Branko Segota and Wadd Hirmez immediately confronted goalkeeper Zoltan Toth to collect on their small wagers on the game.
All bets aside, the Sockers--who beat the Steamers, 10-4, Saturday night to advance to the semifinals--said they would rather face Tacoma than Wichita.
They will. San Diego, which is 23-0 at home during the playoffs, will play host to the Stars at 7:35 p.m. Wednesday.
“Tacoma will be a more emotional series,” said Brian Quinn, Socker midfielder.
That is largely because Zungul, who led the Major Indoor Soccer League in scoring for the sixth time in seven MISL seasons, is a former Socker. After pacing the Sockers to the MISL title last season and scoring 29 goals and assisting on 34 others in 27 games this season, Zungul was sold to Tacoma Feb. 4.
“Stevie will do anything to beat San Diego,” said Jim Gorsek, Socker goalkeeper. “It will be a war between me and Stevie. He is one of the best forwards in the league, and we have to stop him from scoring. This series should be a real challenge.”
Gorsek said the Sockers match up better against Tacoma than Wichita. During the regular season, the Sockers were 4-2 against second-place Wichita and 5-1 against third-place Tacoma. With Zungul, the Stars were 1-2 against San Diego, but that victory came in a late-season game in which both Hugo Perez and Jean Willrich did not play.
“I think Wichita matched up very well with us,” Gorsek said. “They have four or five guys who can really strike the ball.”
So do the Stars, who had the league’s first, ninth and 13th leading scorers in Zungul (55 goals and 60 assists), Preki (41 goals and 30 assists for 71 points) and Keith Furphy (33 goals and 28 assists for 61 points).
“Tacoma won’t score more than two or three goals a game if we play well and I think their defense is a little weaker (than Wichita),” Gorsek said.
There were two other reasons why many of the San Diego players preferred playing Tacoma.
“This will be a better series for the fans,” Segota said. “With Steve, I think we’ll draw more people and our goal is to sell out.”
Not having to stay in Wichita for any length of time was another of the Sockers’ goals. When teams sometimes have three- or four-day layovers between games, the opponent’s city becomes a key consideration.
No wonder the Sockers spent Friday night rooting for Stevie and his mates.
Francis Dale, who will step down as MISL commissioner June 1, will remain with the league as its senior executive. His duties will include international relations, expansion and national marketing. Dale has had a rocky reign since taking over as MISL commissioner May 1, 1985. Some of the owners attempted to remove him from office in January, but they failed to get eight of the 12 votes needed. Wichita Wing General Manager Bill Kentling is reported to be a leading candidate to replace Dale. . . . The third playoff game with the Stars has been switched from Saturday, May 3, in Seattle to Thursday, May 1, in Tacoma because the Stars wanted to play on their home field at the Tacoma Dome. If the game had been on May 1, it would have been played at the Kingdome in Seattle. . . . San Diego does not have a weekend date at home for the next two weeks because of a rodeo and an ice show at the Sports Arena. That explains the six-day layoff between the first and second games of the series. . . . Socker midfielder Branko Segota said that dragging out the MISL playoffs will hurt players who plan to compete for the Canadian National team in the World Cup this spring. Segota said he might start training with the Canadian team as soon as May 1. “A lot of us are important cogs on our teams,” he said. In addition to Segota, Carl Valentine, Pasquale DeLuca and Mike Sweeney of Cleveland, Tino Lettieri of Minnesota and Bob Lenarduzzi and David Norman of Tacoma have been selected to the 22-man “A” squad of the Canadian team.