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The Vipers were originally the Salt Lake Golden Eagles. In 1994, the franchise was purchased by Palace Sports and Entertainment (owners of the Detroit Pistons and The Palace of Auburn Hills) and relocated for the 1994–95 season. A sponsorship deal with the Chrysler Corporation led to the naming of the team after their Dodge Viper. A similar deal was in place with another Palace Sports-owned team, the Detroit Neon of the Continental Indoor Soccer League, which would switch its sponsorship to GMC Truck in its final year and rename the team the Detroit Safari after yet another vehicle, the Safari.
The team hired former Buffalo Sabres coach Rick Dudley as head coach. Their first season was during the NHL lockout, and this, combined with a liberal amount of free ticket vouchers distributed at local stores, helped the Vipers break IHL attendance records that season with nearly 17,000 per game on average. Led by 44 goals from Daniel Shank (never equaled through the franchise's existence), the Vipers won their division that season, and gained some press by defeating a team of locked out NHL All-Stars in an exhibition game. The 1995–96 season would see the notable signing of Washington Capitals star Peter Bondra for a brief time, while he was locked in a holdout with Washington management, as well as the departure of Rick Dudley to take the general manager's position with the Ottawa Senators, replaced by assistant coach Steve Ludzik for the final 32 games. The Vipers would finish the season in second place in the Central Division and led the league in attendance again.
The Turner Cup FinalsEdit
1996–97 saw the arrival of Russian phenom Sergei Samsonov and IHL All-Star Stan Drulia to the Vipers. Drulia led the team in scoring and Samsonov would win the Gary F. Longman Memorial Trophy as Rookie of the Year as the Vipers won another division title. Detroit would advance to their first Turner Cup Final, against the Long Beach Ice Dogs. Led by Samsonov and Peter Ciavaglia, the Vipers won the series four games to two for their first Turner Cup. Samsonov would be a high first round draft pick of the Boston Bruins, but the slack was picked up in 1997–98 by 40 goals from Dan Kesa as the Vipers won their third division title in four years. They would advance to the Turner Cup Finals against the Chicago Wolves, but after going up three games to two, would only be able to score one goal in the final two games and lost four games to three. 1997–98 also saw a one shift comeback from Gordie Howe, making him the only person to play hockey in six different decades as a professional.
The 1998–99 season saw another division title for the Vipers, becoming the first team in professional hockey to have 100 points in the standings in each of their first five years. However, they were defeated in the Eastern Conference Finals by the Orlando Solar Bears in seven games, after a questionable call by referee Jerry Paytmon. In 1999, Palace Sports and Entertainment bought the Tampa Bay Lightning, and made the Detroit Vipers their farm club. Their first move was to move Steve Ludzik's coaching position from Detroit to Tampa, replacing him with Paulin Bordeleau. As the Lightning struggled, the transfer of talent from the farm club to the parent club throughout the season sapped the team of the strength and stability that it had experienced through the first five years of its existence, and the team finished in last place in their division. The Vipers' woes were nothing, however, compared to the worsening health of the IHL, which had overexpanded itself throughout the decade and was paying the price in red ink. The 2000–01 season saw the Vipers in last place in the league in standings and attendance, and the impending demise of the IHL combined with the plummeting attendance led Palace Sports to find a new affiliate for the Lightning. On June 4, 2001, both the International Hockey League and the Detroit Vipers ceased operations.
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