Tuesday, April 10, 2018

2003 Lewis Cup Finals

In a series filled with history, “Canada’s Team”, the Toronto Racers, faced off against “America’s Team”, the Chicago Shamrocks in the 2003 Lewis Cup Finals. The two teams had met just once before in the championship round, in 1942, the first time the Lewis Cup was awarded. Chicago won in ’42 then went on to become one of the most successful teams in PHL history, claiming six titles and appearing in the playoffs an unprecedented 34 consecutive seasons and counting. Meanwhile, the Racers struggled after the PHL/GHL merger, failing to win the Lewis Cup and appearing in the final only once. But Racers fans were filled with hope after a strong year in 2002-03, as Joe Murdock set playoff scoring records, Randy Fernandez returned to his old form, and Rex Hull proved to be a brilliant motivator behind the bench.

The series was fairly high-scoring early on, with each team winning two games. Both Tom Branson and Jake Borman struggled at different times during the first four games, while Murdock and Shamrocks’ rookie Jonathan Wheatley each made a strong case for playoff MVP with three points each.

The series was a best-of-three heading into game five. Once again, it was a high-scoring affair. The lead flipped back-and-forth three different times until the third period, when it seemed to settle at a 4-4 tie. Gustav Mattsen nearly put Chicago ahead late but his shot rang off the post. Moments later, Sean MacDonald of the Racers was given a boarding penalty, giving Chicago a powerplay. What followed was perhaps the most spectacular two minutes of Jake Borman’s career, as the 33-year-old stopped 12 shots to preserve the tie. Just as it looked like the game would go to overtime, Andrew Cox beat Branson to give Toronto the lead. As the clock ticked down, the Shamrocks pushed but the lead held up, the Racers now led the series 3-2 with an opportunity to claim the cup in Chicago.

At the Garfield Center for game six, Chicago knew they needed a big performance from their top players to keep the series alive, but it would be an unexpected hero that would step up in the end. Unlike the rest of the games, game six was tight, with Borman and Branson both shutting the door in net. A Chris Falkner goal early in the third gave Toronto the lead but it was short-lived. Sergei Krayev tied it and the game went into overtime. Overtime didn’t last long, as Shamrocks’ enforcer Cedric Thibault scored with just a minute left in the first OT to send the series to game seven in Toronto.

The Queen Elizabeth Arena was packed on June 10, 2003, as 17000 fans crammed into the 47-year-old building, hoping to see their team end its 39-year drought. Game seven was the closest in the series, as once again, the two goaltenders turned in a solid effort to keep the game scoreless through two periods. In the third, powerplays for each team only resulted in more spectacular play in net. With just 20 seconds left, it appeared that the game would go to overtime when a hard point shot from Randy Fernandez was deflected by Branson high into the air. The puck fell in front of Joe Murdock, who batted it into the net out of mid-air with just 13 seconds left to play. The Racers jumped over the boards and mobbed Murdock as if they forgot there was still time left on the clock.

The referee ordered the players back to the bench to drop the puck for the final seconds. The building shook as the crowd remained on their feet, then it went silent for a second when Wheatley had a wide open net but just missed. Ty McInnis cleared it for the Racers and the team once again charged off their bench and mobbed Jake Borman. Joe Murdock was named playoff MVP and then Darryl Byrd handed the Lewis Cup to Randy Fernandez, who had waited 17 seasons to lift it. For the first time since 1964, the Racers were the Lewis Cup Champions.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

2003 Playoffs

Round 1

Eastern Conference

Philadelphia (1) vs Miami (8)
The defending Eastern Conference Champions met the 2003 Eastern Conference regular season champs in what many hoped would be one of the best series in the playoffs. The Redshirts outscored the Stingrays 4-0 in the first two games to take a 2-0 series lead before the Rays finally solved Pierre Noel, eking out two overtime wins to tie the series 2-2. Jared Baxter would be the hero in games five and six as Philadelphia advanced in six games.

Toronto (2) vs Detroit (7)
In one of the most unusual series in PHL history, the Racers and Mustangs skated to overtime in each of the four games. Joe Murdock had the winner in both the first two games at Queen Elizabeth Arena to give Toronto a 2-0 lead. In game three in Detroit, the Mustangs gave up a 2-0 lead late in the third as the Racers sent it to overtime once again, where this time veteran Jason Luna won it to put Detroit on the ropes. In game four, it was captain Randy Fernandez who finally completed the sweep for the Racers in a series that was much closer than it appeared.

Atlanta (3) vs Montreal (6)
After clinching their first-ever playoff spot in only their second season, the Copperheads were full of confidence entering their series with Montreal. However the Royale put a damper on Atlanta right away with a 3-0 win in game one. The Royale then won the next two to lead the series 3-0, but the Copperheads salvaged the series with a big 4-2 victory, the first post-season win in franchise history, thanks to a hat-trick from rookie Jason Ferland. In Atlanta two nights later, the Copperheads’ run finally came to an end, but the Atlanta crowd gave their team a standing ovation as they left the ice.

Boston (4) vs Long Island (5)
It had been eleven years since the last time the once-vicious Boston/Long Island rivalry took place in the post-season. Entering the first round of the 2003 playoffs, only the Concorde’s backup goaltender Geoff Larter had appeared in that last series in 1992. It would not take long for the two teams to rediscover their mutual hatred. The teams split the first four games and it game three, a big hit from Long Island’s Riley Gardiner on Boston’s Mikael Larsson resulted in a fight-filled third period which spilled over into game four, where the two captains, Scott Rose and Ryan Shelton squared off to the delight of the Long Island crowd. The Bulldogs went on to win in overtime as Rose completed a “George Allen Hat-trick” of a goal, an assist and a fight. Boston ultimately won the series in six games.

Western Conference

Dallas (1) vs Edmonton (8)
Edmonton made their first playoff appearance in six seasons while Dallas entered the playoffs for the first time as a true contender. The Northern Lights, led by Super Rookie Kris Nazarenko, stunned the Desperados 4-2 in the opener, but Dallas bounced back to take a 2-1 series lead by game three. Edmonton tied the series in game four to set up a pivotal game five in Texas, where AJ Vernon gave Nazarenko all he could handle physically while earning two points in a Dallas win. The Northern Lights forced a seventh game where they finally ran out of gas, as Dallas took the series with a 5-1 victory.

Minnesota (2) vs Kansas City (7)
After dominating the Western Conference around the turn of the century, the Lumberjacks and Twisters both found themselves struggling to regain their status as top contenders as the 2000s progressed. After a tough season in which they barely made the playoffs, the Twisters stunned the Lumberjacks when they jumped to a 3-1 series lead. The ‘Jacks salvaged the series in game five, but it was too little too late, as the Twisters advanced with a 3-0 win in game six.

Seattle (3) vs Vancouver (6)
In a matchup PHL fans had been waiting for since the 1970s, Pacific Northwest rivals Vancouver and Seattle finally faced off in the playoffs. The teams skated to a tie in the first four games, then things got out of hand. During the regular season, Vancouver’s Jonathan Adams had avoided a suspension after a nasty hit on Seattle’s Olli Heikkinen. With game five already clinched by Seattle, the Wolves took matters into their own hands. Scott Lindsay challenged Adams to a fight, then went after Vancouver forward Andrei Yegorov with a punch to the face, which immediately drew a crowd. In all, over 80 minutes in penalties were handed out in the final seven minutes of play. Lindsay was suspended for game six and the Bighorns won another slugfest 3-0, but in game seven, the Wolves regained their composure and discipline in time to take the series in game seven with a 4-1 win.

Chicago (4) vs Milwaukee (5)
After pulling themselves out of a late-season slump, the Shamrocks used the momentum to immediately take a 2-0 series lead against their northern rivals. But Milwaukee came storming back, as the offensively challenged Choppers relied heavily on the play of goaltender Matt Darwin to tie the series. In game five, Chicago’s offense was too much, as Jonathan Wheatley had two goals including the OT winner in a 3-2 win. The Shamrocks finished the Choppers with a 3-1 win in game six to advance.

Round 2

Eastern Conference

Philadelphia vs Montreal
The Philadelphia Redshirts entered the 2003 playoffs heavily favoured to win the Eastern Conference and as a popular pick to take their second Lewis Cup. Meanwhile, the Montreal Royale were seen as a team in transition, now two years removed from the retirement of legend Vincent Ducharme. Embracing their underdog status, Montreal unexpectedly dominated their “original eight” rivals in the first two games, then took games four and five in overtime at home to complete the upset. “It was a fun series” said Royale forward Aaron Duplacy, I think this team has a lot of confidence after that one.”

Toronto vs Boston
The Boston Bulldogs rebuild appeared to finally be over after advancing to the second round for the second straight year, but the Joe Murdock show awaited them in the second round. After scoring two OT winners in round one against Detroit, Murdock exploded for seven goals including a pair of two-goal performances in a six-game victory over the Bulldogs. There was some controversy after an 8-2 Boston blowout in game five, however. Head coach Rex Hull pulled goaltender Jake Borman after allowing six goals in favour of Jussi Sykko, to which Borman responded by destroying a stick rack in the hallway. Despite speculation that Sykko might start game six, Hull went with Borman, who stopped 42 shots for a shutout. “Jake’s a competitor” said Hull. “He was angrier than anyone about his performance in game five, I had no hesitation putting him back in.”

Western Conference

Dallas vs Kansas City
The Dallas Desperados may have been the best team in the Western Conference during the regular season, but seemed a little tired after a tough 7-game battle with Edmonton. Dallas soon found themselves down 2-1 to Kansas City, before a two-day break due to a concert at KC Sportsplex gave them an opportunity to recharge. The Desperados responded with a pair of wins to lead the series, but disaster struck at the end of game five, when goaltender Alexei Rolonov was injured, forcing backup Jimmy Goren into the net for game six. The Twisters, benefiting from Brett Delaney’s two-goal night forced game seven back in Dallas, where Goren was solid in the net for the home team. Late in the third period, a goal from Shawn Marchinski gave Dallas the lead, and ultimately the win as the Desperados advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in their history.

Seattle vs Chicago
The Chicago Shamrocks seemed to be well past their late-season struggles in their six-game victory over Milwaukee, but the real test would come in the second round, where they faced the defending champion Seattle Grey Wolves. To the surprise of the entire hockey world, Chicago found themselves up 3-1 after four games. Seattle would force a game six, then took a 2-0 lead in game six before the Shamrocks stormed back to win 4-2 to advance to the Western Conference Finals.

Conference Finals

Toronto vs Montreal
Ever since the PHL began in 1939, Toronto and Montreal battled for the title of “Canada’s Team”. The two rivals met in the first-ever league final in 1940. Toronto won the series that year and dominated the rivalry early on. However, the arrival of Vincent Ducharme in Montreal in the 1980s gave Montreal the edge as they took their turn as the most popular team in the country. By 2003, Ducharme had been retired for two years and a new generational talent was emerging in Southern Ontario. Joe Murdock continued to tear through the playoffs, opening the Conference final series with Montreal with a hat-trick, then scored twice again in game three as the two teams entered game five tied 2-2. Jake Borman stood tall for the Racers in game five, earning a shutout to give the Racers an opportunity to close the series out in Montreal. Game six was close, with both teams exchanging leads until overtime, where Andrew Cox proved to be the hero for Toronto, sending them to the Lewis Cup Finals for the first time since 1979.

Dallas vs Chicago
While the Western Conference Final was packed with historical undertones, the West final may have been the most thrilling series in PHL history. The Chicago Shamrocks, who had been solid throughout the spring, came out flat early on against the Dallas Desperados. Dallas jumped to a commanding 3-0 series lead and the hockey world immediately began preparing for a Lewis Cup Final featuring the Desperados. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram even ran an article speculating on whether the Desperados would face Montreal or Toronto in the next series while analyzing their chances against both. Game four was supposed to be a formality, especially with Dallas up 3-2 with nine seconds left, until Gustav Mattsen tied it, then Martin Vannier won it just 19 seconds into OT. Confident that they would still take the series at home, the Desperados forgot to show up for game five, falling behind 3-0 in the first period. A comeback attempt fell short, as did a desperate attempt to salvage the series in game six. The Chicago Shamrocks had unbelievably brought the series to game seven. Back at TexOil Center for game seven, the Desperados were simply out of gas. With a 6-0 victory, the Shamrocks had pulled off the impossible, becoming the first team in professional sport to win a best-of-seven series after trailing 3-0. “You have to give them credit” said Desperados head coach Willy Rowe. “I think we learned a tough lesson, don’t forget to finish the series before celebrating.”

Monday, April 2, 2018

2002-03 Regular Season

After an eventful off-season, the PHL saw a few major shifts in power in the 2002-03 season. The Edmonton Northern Lights jumped from the basement to the eighth in the west and their first playoff appearance since 1997. Just as predicted, rookie phenom Kris Nazarenko took the league by storm. Nazarenko used his 219-pound frame to power his way to 52 goals and 111 total points to become the first rookie to win the Cleveland Cup as top scorer since the man the trophy was named after did it in 1939-40. Along with Nazarenko, Ilya Rusakivich finally enjoyed a break out season, scoring 42 goals of his own. Another big story out west was the Dallas Desperados, who finished first overall in the league in only their ninth season. The Desperados were one of the most difficult teams to play against, leading the league by a long shot in penalty minutes with tough young power forward AJ Vernon leading the way with 339, coupled with 32 goals. Dallas battled Chicago all season for the Central Division title, as the Shamrocks benefited from the strong play of another talented rookie, Jonathan Wheatley. The teams traded the top spot in the conference back and forth until a late-season losing skid in Chicago allowed the Desperados to jump ahead and take first overall.

The defending champion Seattle Grey Wolves once again took the Pacific Division with the help of a new addition at the trade deadline. The Wolves acquired veteran Scott Lindsay from the Pittsburgh Stingers in exchange for Scott Sherwood and prospect Roman Novatny. Lindsay brought grit and experience to the Wolves as they prepared to try to defend their title. “It’s tough to leave Pittsburgh, this place has become home to myself, my wife and my kids” said an emotional Lindsay. “This is an opportunity, we have a chance to do something really special in Seattle.” The Wolves also got an extra shot of motivation at the end of the regular season when team captain and 21-year veteran Jason Radford announced he would retire after the playoffs.

In the East, the Redshirts once again ruled the Conference, but all the attention was on the big turnaround in Toronto, where the Racers returned to the top thanks largely to star forward Joe Murdock and new head coach Rex Hull. Murdock became the second player of the year to break 50 goals with 51 and battled Kris Nazarenko all year for the scoring title. Meanwhile, Randy Fernandez enjoyed his best season in years, leading all defensemen in plus/minus thanks to a new focus on defense led by Hull, who claimed coach of the year honours. “He’s really made a difference in our locker room” said Fernandez. “Everyone is buying in and the game is really fun again.”

While the Redshirts and Racers dominated, the defending conference champs from Miami battled the New York Civics and New Orleans Sound for the final playoff spot. New Orleans held it for most of the season, while New York and Miami struggled, until a mid-season surge for the Stingrays bumped the Sound and the Civics out. For New York, a team built to win, the failure to reach the post-season was a huge disappointment, but there was still hope for the Sound. Washington once again plummeted to the bottom of the standings, giving way to a tight battle for the South Division. Miami, New Orleans, and the surprise of the year, Atlanta, all battled for the third seed. The Copperheads, spurred by a big rookie year from Jason Ferland, defeated the Sound in the final game of the season, eliminating New Orleans from playoff contention and putting themselves in the playoffs with the division title in only their second season. “We’re a confident team” said captain Alyn Bryant. “We’ve surprised a lot of people this season and I believe we have a few more surprises in store.”


Playoff Tree

Sunday, March 11, 2018

2002 Uniform Updates

2002 saw very little in the way of uniform and logo changes. At the start of training camp, the Quebec Nationale surprised their fans with the reveal of a new home and away uniform set, featuring a return to more classic striping. All the logos remained intact from the look introduced in 1993 as did the black alternate jersey. The team would wear the '93-'02 uniforms throughout the pre-season before officially changing to the new design just in time for the season opener.

In other news, the Edmonton Northern Lights introduced a new era in the team's history with a new alternate logo, which would replace the Alberta map logos worn on the shoulders, while the Oakland Nuggets and Milwaukee Choppers both introduced new third jerseys.

Oakland's new alternate is gold with the team name spelled diagonally down the front, while Milwaukee's uniforms are Silver with the team name in a stylized font on the front, and a new front-view version of the motorcycle logo on the shoulders.

Monday, March 5, 2018

2002 Off-season

2002 Entry Draft

The 2002 PHL draft was projected to be the strongest draft class since the famous 1986 draft. Edmonton won the draft lottery and predictably selected big Kris Nazarenko first overall. Nazarenko was predicted to be unlike any other player in league history with an unprecedented mix of size and skill. The 6’3”, 219-pound center led the entire Canadian Junior Hockey Association in scoring two years in a row, leading his hometown Moose Jaw Moose to a national championship. With the second pick, Cleveland selected talented American defenseman Ian Hunter, who had committed to Notre Dame but said he would play for the Cosmos right away if given the opportunity. Just before the third selection, Darryl Byrd announced that the Atlanta Copperheads had acquired the third pick from Washington in exchange for veterans Marc Brunelle and Jordan O’Reilly. The Copperheads used the third pick to take Jason Ferland, a troubled but talented winger from Moncton. Denver took the first Russian, Nikolai Kronin, while Winnipeg rounded out the top five with the selection of Jamie Moore, whose father, Austin Moore, was a legendary junior coach. Other interesting picks included Atlanta pick Jody Graves, the great-grandson of former Philadelphia Redshirt Donald Graves, and Spirits pick Tobias Grunberg, who was predicted to be the greatest German-born player of all time.

1.      Edmonton – Kris Nazarenko, F, CAN
2.      Cleveland – Ian Hunter, D, USA
3.      Atlanta (From Washington) – Jason Ferland, F, CAN
4.      Denver – Nikolai Kronin, D, RUS
5.      Winnipeg – Jamie Moore, F, CAN
6.      Toronto – Sean MacDonald, D, CAN
7.      Portland – Daniel Boivre, G, CAN
8.      Atlanta – Jody Graves, D, CAN
9.      Calgary – Kyle Logan, D, CAN
10.   Quebec – Saku Vertainen, G, FIN
11.   St. Louis – Tobias Grunberg, F, GER
12.   Carolina - Matt Wells, D, CAN
13.   Long Island – Nathan Webb, D, CAN
14.   Boston (From Oakland) – Jeffery Simpkins, F, USA
15.   New Orleans – Ryan Aldridge, D, CAN
16.   New York – Todd Morgan, F, CAN
17.   Detroit – Brent Mitchell, F, CAN
18.   Los Angeles – Mats Jonasson, D, SWE
19.   Vancouver – Taylor Bennett, F, CAN
20.   Boston – Brayden McPherson, D, CAN
21.   Milwaukee – Luke Wilkerson, F, GB
22.   Chicago – Kari Nurminen, G, FIN
23.   Pittsburgh - Ryan Osborne, F, USA
24.   Dallas – Evgeni Tatarov, F, RUS
25.   Montreal – Pascal Dubois, D, CAN
26.   Miami – Thomas Norberg, D, SWE
27.   Philadelphia – Andrei Ilyukhin, F, RUS
28.   Seattle – Roman Novatny, F, CZE
29.   Kansas City – Austin Harvey, F, USA
30.   Minnesota – Dylan Schalcher, F, SWZ

Notable Retirements:

Theo Sprouse, D, LI, CHI, MIA, 1982-2002
It didn’t take long for Theo Sprouse to become one of the Concorde’s most dynamic players with his offensive ability and physical presence. Sprouse helped Long Island to the Lewis Cup finals twice in the 80s in 1984 and ’88. In 1990, Sprouse played a big role in bringing the Lewis Cup to Long Island. In 1992, Sprouse left Long Island for Chicago, where he won his second cup in 1994. In 1998, Sprouse signed with Miami, where he retired.

Ted McDougall, F, BOS, LI, CHI, LA, 1985-2002
The pride of Prince Edward Island, Ted McDougall was the Island’s first established player to play in the PHL. Drafted by Boston, McDougall eventually arrived in Long Island just in time to win the Lewis Cup with the Concordes in 1990. McDougall nearly won a second cup in 1995 as a member of the Chicago Shamrocks when they lost to Montreal. McDougall finished his career in Los Angeles, where he spent his final two seasons.

Gustav Janssen, D, DET, NYC, 1982-2002
Janssen served as a steady defenseman for the Detroit Mustangs for twelve years. When the Mustangs fell on hard times in the 1990s, Janssen was dealt to the New York Civics in 1994, where he won his first and only Lewis Cup in 1997. Janssen continued to play a veteran role for the Civics until 2002.

Graham Boswell, F, CHI, QUE, MIL, 1982-2002
Though Boswell was mostly known as a physical role player throughout his career, but he was also known for scoring one of the most famous goals in PHL history, known by many simply as “The Goal”. In 1983, Boswell scored the overtime winner in game seven of the Lewis Cup Finals against Pittsburgh, giving Chicago their first cup since 1955. Boswell went on to play 20 seasons with Chicago, Quebec, and one final season in Milwaukee.

Trevor Ramsey, F, CGY, MTL, CAR, EDM, BOS, 1983-2002
A dependable two-way player, Trevor Ramsey played a big role in two of Montreal’s three cups in the 90s. Ramsey also retires as one of the most travelled PHLers, having played for five franchises.

Notable Trades

Washington trades 1st-round pick to Atlanta in exchange for F Marc Brunelle and D Jordan O’Reilly.
The Generals get two top-tier players in an effort to return to contention, while the Copperheads are now able to draft two key building blocks in Jason Ferland and Jody Graves.

Oakland trades 1st round pick and F Luca Schober to Boston in exchange for G Kevin Washer.
In an attempt to fill out their roster and continue to build for the future, the Bulldogs part with their star goaltender, picking up a solid prospect and a pick while Oakland hopes to return to the playoffs.

Long Island trades F Kim Brodie to Philadelphia in exchange for F Alexei Ivanov.
Former all-star Brodie will chase his first title in the twilight of his career, while the Concordes add a solid prospect.

Key Free Agents

F Brad McNair signs new 10-year deal with New Orleans worth $12 Million/year.
D Matt Andersson signs new 8-year deal with Boston worth $10 Million/year.
F Jay Phoenix signs new 8-year deal with Quebec worth $6 Million/year.
F Brandon Kelso signs new 7-year deal with Edmonton worth $6 Million/year.
F Ryan Woods signs new 4-year deal with Miami worth $4 Million/year.
G Blair Kelsey signs new 3-year deal with Cleveland worth $4 Million/year.


F Sergei Vetrov (MTL) signs 5-year deal with Miami worth $10 Million/year.
Vincent Ducharme’s former right-hand man will now try to work similar magic alongside Eric Moon in Florida.

F Ilya Sakharov (STL) signs 6-year deal with Los Angeles worth $9 Million/year.
Sakharov is the latest star to leave the Spirits, bringing natural scoring ability to LA.

F Brendan Bittner (PIT) signs 6-year deal with Milwaukee worth $8.5 Million/year.
The Choppers add more size up front with the 6’4” 221 lb Bittner.
F Viktor Skogg (LA) signs 2-year deal with Montreal worth $8 Million/year.
With the Sakharov signing, the Wizards lack cap room to re-sign their aging captain. Royale hope Skogg will replace offense lost from Vetrov.

D Jonathan Adams (MTL) signs 2-year deal with Vancouver worth $4 Million/year.
Hard-hitting Kamloops native hopes to end his career close to home after 16 seasons between Calgary and Montreal.

G Todd Waddell (SEA) signs 5-year deal with Vancouver worth $3 Million/year.
Grey Wolves backup finally gets opportunity as a starter with the rival Bighorns.


The 2002 off-season kicked off with big news in Toronto. After a dismal finish to the season, the team fired Head Coach Bob Lacey, leading to much speculation of who his replacement would be. That speculation increased just prior to the draft when GM Bobby Kitchen was also dismissed. Both searches ended on June 28, when former Racers enforcer Rex Hull was named the team’s new Head Coach and General Manager. Hull was one of the most popular players ever to wear the double blue, spending 18 seasons with the Racers from 1978 to 1996 and still holds the team’s all-time record for penalty minutes.

In other coaching news, the Washington Generals fired head coach Doug Sharp, replacing him with former Bulldogs coach Gary Shantz, while 70-year-old David Zimmer decided to step aside as the Miami Stingrays head coach to focus on the GM duties. Zimmer hired former PHL star and successful junior coach Dennis Lambert as the new Stingrays Head Coach.

After the success of the 2001 Holiday Classic, the league announced there would be a second one in December, 2002. This one would take place at Empire Stadium in New York City and would feature the New York Civics and the Montreal Royale. “The game last year was a big hit with the players and fans” said a league spokesperson. “It makes sense to make it an annual event.” Speaking of events, the 2004 World Hockey Challenge will be held in Stockholm, Sweden. Stockholm beat out Helsinki, London, and Montreal for hosting rights.

With the PHL’s uniform deal with SporTech set to expire in 2004, several sports equipment companies were lining up to become the exclusive provider of PHL game uniforms. SporTech, desperate to make up for losing their PBL deal, made a bid to renew the contract, while Canadian-based Windsor Hockey also made a strong bid. Windsor Hockey, which began as a small stick factory in Nova Scotia in 1891, had grown to become one of the biggest equipment brands in the sport, now providing skates, gloves, and helmets, as well as sticks to nearly 30 percent of PHL players. Windsor was also the exclusive equipment provider for the Canadian Junior leagues, and would become the uniform provider for international hockey beginning in 2003. Finally, one of the biggest sporting equipment giants in the world, Duke Sports, made a bid for the uniforms. Duke pledged to “reinvent” the hockey uniform while maintaining the Aesthetic traditions. Duke had perhaps the most impressive pedigree of the three companies, providing equipment and uniforms for everything ranging from the Olympics to College Football for almost 100 years.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

2002 Lewis Cup Finals

The 2002 Lewis Cup Finals began on May 29 in Seattle. It was Seattle’s first time in the Finals since 1985 while the Miami Stingrays made their first appearance. Across the city of Seattle, Grey Wolves colors could be seen everywhere. The Space Needle had a giant banner with the words “Go Wolves!!” hanging from it.

Miami opened the scoring in game one with a point shot that was deflected by Jonas Andersson. The lead didn’t last long though, as Drake Klausen tied it just two minutes later. Two quick goals from Jason Radford and Randy McAllen gave Seattle a 3-1 lead and Miami never recovered, as the Wolves took a 1-0 series lead. Game two was all Seattle, as Olli Heikkinen and Luke Mann each scored while Sean Harrington made 34 saves in a 2-0 Seattle win.

The series shifted to Miami for game 3, where the excitement throughout south Florida was at least equal to that in Seattle. The Castillo Center was packed with screaming fans nearly an hour before puck drop. With the crowd behind them, the Stingrays jumped to an early 2-0 lead with goals from Eric Moon and Theo Sprouse. The lead held until the beginning of the third period, when Randy McAllen’s powerplay goal cut the lead to 2-1. With 1:21 left, the Wolves pulled Harrington and pressed hard for the tying goal, until Stingrays captain Jeremy Sutton shot the puck the length of the ice into the empty net to seal the win.

After a hard-fought win in game 3, the Stingrays were still alive. “I think we have the momentum we need to get back in this series” said Sutton. “We just can’t stop pushing.” Game four went into overtime with the game tied 1-1. Both Sean Harrington and Brandon Ward stood on their heads in net as both teams had several quality chances. Just as the second overtime began, Eric Moon thought he had the winner, even raising his arms in celebration. But Harrington made one of the most spectacular saves in Lewis Cup Finals history, spinning around to swat the puck out with his stick. 40 seconds later, Syong Li hit Klausen with a pass and Klausen made no mistake, beating Ward to give the Grey Wolves a 2-1 win and a chance to claim the cup on home ice. The Stingrays tried to stay positive, but it was obvious that the loss affected them, especially after Moon’s missed opportunity. “That’s a tough one to take to be honest” said Moon. “We just need to find a way to regroup for game five.”

Both teams came out flying in game five, with four goals coming in the first ten minutes as the teams entered the second period tied 2-2. The Stingrays took the lead early in the second on a goal from Sutton, but Jason Radford quickly tied it. The 3-3 tie held until just under two minutes left in the third period, where Drake Klausen scored to give Seattle a stunning last-minute lead. Miami suddenly found themselves scrambling to tie the game, where Derek Snyder nearly beat Harrington to send it to overtime. But Jean-Francois Belanger cleared the puck into the empty Miami net to secure Seattle’s first-ever Lewis Cup victory. Drake Klausen was named playoff MVP with 17 goals in 24 playoff games. The victory was especially sweet for longtime captain Jason Radford, the only remaining player who had suited up for the Wolves in the 1985 final, and for Syong Li, who took nearly a decade to make the PHL after being drafted, then played for four teams in five years as well as several minor league teams before landing in Seattle in the summer of 2001. “This was a collective effort” said head coach Bruce Dickenson. “Everybody played their role to perfection, that’s why we’re the champions.”

Sunday, February 18, 2018

2002 Playoffs

Round 1

Eastern Conference

Philadelphia (1) vs New Orleans (8)
The Sound made their first playoff appearance since their Atlantic Canada days against the defending champion Philadelphia Redshirts. New Orleans proved to be no match for the powerful Redshirts, as Philly jumped to a 3-0 lead right away. In game four, The Sound finally got their act together, forcing the game to overtime, where Darren Reid scored to give the team their first playoff win in New Orleans. Two nights later, Philadelphia ended the series with a decisive 3-0 win.

Miami (2) vs New York (7)
The home teams won the first four games and the series turned ugly towards the end of game four, as two line brawls followed a 6-0 New York rout. Game five was tied 2-2 until the final 20 seconds, when Derek Snyder scored the winner before Jeremy Sutton sealed it with an empty netter. In game six, Miami finally became the first road team to win a game, taking the series with a 3-1 game six win.

Montreal (3) vs Detroit (6)
Montreal’s first playoff run without Vincent Ducharme was surprisingly brief, as Detroit immediately took a 3-1 series lead. Igor Kharitonov was Detroit’s best player, scoring three big goals in the first four games. Montreal salvaged a win in game four at home, then had an opportunity to force it to a seventh game when game six went to overtime, but Detroit would complete the upset thanks to a goal in the second overtime from Eric Woods.

Pittsburgh (4) vs Boston (5)
The Boston Bulldogs made their return to the playoffs for the first time in five years against the favoured Pittsburgh Stingers. The series was tight, ultimately reaching a seventh game. In game seven, the Stingers scored early to take a 1-0 lead, which they would hold onto until the final minute of the third period, when Boston tied it with a goal from Scott Rose. In the first overtime, the Stingers pressed when Boston took two penalties to give Pittsburgh a 5-on-3. Rookie goaltender Chad Cohen made save after save for the Bulldogs as they managed to kill off both penalties. The game remained tied after two overtimes where rookie Chris Haines scored on a breakaway to win the series for Boston. “We all feel sick right now” said Pittsburgh captain Scott Lindsay.

Western Conference

Minnesota (1) vs Los Angeles (8)
The Lumberjacks entered the playoffs as the overwhelming favorites to win the Lewis Cup, and certainly to win their first round series against the Los Angeles Wizards, and so the hockey world was stunned when LA won the first two games both in overtime, both 3-2, with veterans Adam Lawless and Ted McDougal scoring the winning goals. Game three also went to overtime, where Jason Crowley hit the post before Lawless scored his second OT winner of the series. Game four was the fourth straight overtime game and LA defenseman Eric Hunt proved to be the hero as the Wizards completed one of the biggest upsets in PHL history in a series that was the first-ever four game sweep where all four games went to overtime.

Kansas City (2) vs Vancouver (7)
The Twisters and Bighorns met for the third time in four years and after losing game one 8-0, the Bighorns came closer than ever to finally beating the Twisters, taking them to a game seven after a hard-fought series. In game seven, Jimmy Otterburn made 31 saves in a shutout for Kansas City as the Twisters took the game 2-0 to eliminate the Bighorns once again.

Seattle (3) vs Milwaukee (6)
The Choppers struggled to find offense throughout the series, as the Grey Wolves shut them out by a combined score of 5-0 in the first two games. Milwaukee finally got a win at home in game three with thanks to goals from Patrice Goulet and Graham Boswell. The Choppers looked great in game four, but still lost 4-3 in overtime as Seattle took a 3-1 series lead. Boswell fought Scott Sherwood off the opening faceoff in an attempt to turn the momentum around. It wouldn’t work as Seattle shut the Choppers out once again 3-0 to take the series in what would be Boswell’s final PHL game.

Dallas (4) vs Chicago (5)
In a rematch from the 2001 playoffs, the Desperados hoped to exorcise some demons against the Shamrocks after a heartbreaking game seven loss. Chicago came out strong early in the series, taking a 2-1 series lead. But Dallas wasn’t finished, winning a hard-fought game four 3-2 thanks to a late goal from AJ Vernon. Dallas then won game five at home 4-1. Back in Chicago for game six, there was some controversy, as an early goal for Chicago was disallowed when it appeared that Chicago forward Cedric Thibault had interfered with Alexei Rolonov, even though Brent McGill had clearly pushed Thibault. Chicago never recovered, as Dallas won the game 4-2 to win their first series in franchise history.

Round 2

Eastern Conference

Philadelphia vs Detroit
The Detroit Mustangs entered the second round on a huge wave of momentum after their upset over Montreal. Still, they weren’t expected to continue their run facing the defending champions. In game one, the Mustangs continued to surprise the hockey world with a 3-0 win, then followed it up with two more wins to take a commanding series lead. Despite the shock of finding themselves facing elimination, the Redshirts still managed a 1-0 overtime win in game four. Game five was tight until the third period, when goals from Andrei Alexeev and Mikael Forsberg gave Detroit a 4-2 win and another upset.

Miami vs Boston
The Bulldogs were confident after their upset over the Stingers, but regular season leading scorer Eric Moon stole the show once again for Miami. Moon had two goals in game one, then a hat-trick in game three, as the Stingrays immediately jumped to a 3-0 series lead. Boston won a face-saver in game four but it was too little too late, as Miami advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Western Conference

 Kansas City vs Los Angeles
After two consecutive finals appearances, including a Lewis Cup victory in 2000, the Twisters couldn’t be blamed for a feeling of entitlement as they entered their second round matchup with the LA Wizards, a team coming off one of the biggest upsets in PHL history. After the teams split the first two games, the Twisters won game five 6-3 and never let the Wizards back into the series, taking game six 4-2 to return to the Western Conference Finals once again.

Seattle vs Dallas
After taking out Milwaukee in the first round, the Grey Wolves were once again the favorites in their second round matchup against the Dallas Desperados. The first four games were close and physical, as both teams tried to establish their physical presence. With the series tied 2-2 entering game five, both teams came out hitting. An AJ Vernon hit early in the game forced Drake Klausen out and he would not return. Despite losing Klausen, Seattle prevailed in a high scoring game 5-4. Heading home for game six, Dallas was now on the ropes. The Desperados put up a valiant effort in game six, but it would not be enough, as Seattle advanced to the Western Conference Finals with a 3-2 win.

Conference Finals

Miami vs Detroit
The Eastern Conference Finals featured the red-hot Miami Stingrays against the Detroit Mustangs, a team appearing in the conference finals for the first time in 28 years. Miami took control of the series early, taking a 3-1 lead. Game five went to triple overtime where Patrick Fletcher won it for Detroit to bring the Mustangs back into the series. After the marathon in game five, both teams were tired in game six, where early goals from Eric Moon and Ryan Woods gave Miami a 2-0 lead. Kharitonov scored for Detroit on the powerplay but that was all the Mustangs had left, as the Stingrays took game six and advanced to the Lewis Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history.

Kansas City vs Seattle
It was déjà vu in the Western Conference Finals, as the Kansas City Twisters and Seattle Grey Wolves met in a rematch from the previous year. Like the year before, Kansas City took an early 2-0 series lead, followed by a Seattle home win in game three. In game four, however, the Twisters dominated the third period en route to a 5-2 win and a 3-1 series lead. It appeared that the expansion class of 1989 would be the matchup for the 2002 Lewis Cup Finals. In game five, Seattle staved off elimination with a big 3-1 win on the road, then took the Twisters to double overtime in game six, where 20-year veteran Jason Radford beat Jimmy Otterburn to give Seattle the win and force game seven. In game seven, Syong Li was the unlikely hero, scoring what would prove to be the winning goal while Sean Harrington made 46 saves in a 1-0 Seattle win. The Grey Wolves had come all the way back from a 3-1 deficit and would now play for the Lewis Cup.