Friday, November 17, 2017

1999-00 Regular Season





As the 20th century drew to a close, the Minnesota Lumberjacks finally moved into their new home. The Oval Center opened on November 8, 1999 as the ‘Jacks faced the Denver Bulls. In front OF 22,000 fans, the Lumberjacks won the opening game 4-0. “It’s a great building” said captain Jason Crowley. “It’s like something from the future, just in time for the year 2000.” Crowley enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career, winning the league scoring title with 117 points and climbing to ninth on the all-time scoring list. Brendan Marlo also had a breakout season for Minnesota with 91 points. The Lumberjacks finished second in the Western Conference with 107 points. First place in the conference and the league went to the Chicago Shamrocks, thanks to a 110 point effort from Sergei Krayev. Goaltending was a big question mark for Chicago entering the season but the duo of Dan Pilford and rookie Jake Likens performed admirably in net. With the team in first place and favoured to win the Lewis Cup, 74-year-old longtime head coach/GM Don Saleski announced he would retire at season’s end after 31 years at the helm for the Shamrocks.

1999-00 was a big year for a few teams who had been down on their luck during the 1990s. The Milwaukee Choppers finally returned to the post-season for the first time since 1994 thanks to strong seasons from Brent Zahorsky and Marc Brunelle. In Dallas, the Desperadoes finally reached the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, finishing sixth in the Western Conference. The Desperadoes clinched the playoffs on March 28, and the fans gave the team a standing ovation. “It’s been a long time coming” said GM Ross Becker. “I’ve said all along that the success will come and our patience has finally paid off.”

The Los Angeles Wizards got off to a slow start in 1999-00, until they pulled the trigger in November on a blockbuster deal with St. Louis, acquiring Spirits captain Adam Lawless in exchange for young Czech star Petr Slavik. The deal gave the Wizards another veteran with championship experience, as Lawless was one of the few remaining pieces of the Spirits’ dynasty of the 1980s. After the trade the Wizards went on a tear, winning eleven games in a row in January and ultimately taking the Pacific Division.

In the east, Washington finished first in the conference despite Igor Zharkov missing ten games with a knee injury. Tomas Axelsson stepped up big for the Generals, who also relied heavily on defensemen Justin Hill and Brendan O’Connor and of course, goaltender Jake Borman. The Generals became one of the tightest teams to play against, taking the division thanks to their ability to shut down other teams’ offense. The defending champion Montreal Royale won the Northeast Division with Vincent Ducharme finishing second in league scoring. Former Calgary Wranglers defenseman Jonathan Adams provided a big physical presence on the blueline, while new head coach Todd Beirness picked up right were Don Shelburne had left off, coaching the team to 45 wins.

After missing out on the Lewis Cup Playoffs for the better part of a decade, and after two very disappointing finishes in 1998 and 1999, the Detroit Mustangs finally returned to the post-season. Igor Kharitanov scored 93 points, but the big hero was veteran goaltender Jeff Pelton, who finished second in Whyte Trophy voting, earning 34 of Detroit’s 37 wins. Carolina also returned to the playoffs, while Cleveland dropped out of contention. Miami appeared to be on track to make the playoffs until February when defenseman Theo Sprouse went down with a severe back injury, forcing him to miss the remainder of the season. The Stingrays lost 20 games down the stretch, falling out of playoff contention.


On New Years’ Eve, one of the most bizarre instances in PHL history occurred in a game between the California Nuggets and LA Wizards. Only five minutes after Midnight, Eastern time, the power went out in the Golden State Coliseum, leading to a near-panic from the 17200 fans in attendance, many of whom believed it was the anticipated “Y2K Bug”. After a twenty minute delay, the power was restored in the building, and order was restored as well. The incident served as a reminder that it was definitely time for the Nuggets to move into their new home. As one millennium closed and another began, three players from the late 70s hit the four-decade mark. Toronto’s Stuart Burns and Philadelphia’s Jeff Waters had both begun their careers in 1979, while Kansas City’s JC Girard had made his debut in 1978. Burns announced he would retire at seasons’ end, while Girard and Waters both indicated they could keep playing. “I’ve been in Philly for over two decades, I have never won a championship” said Waters. “I still feel like I can play.” Waters’ Redshirts’ team had a solid year in 1999-00, finishing fifth in the Eastern Conference, just half a game out of fourth. Facing the Toronto Racers in the first round, the team was confident they could make a big run. “We have a great team” said head coach Clint Allen. “I think we can surprise some people.”



Monday, November 13, 2017

Portland, Atlanta Welcomed as PHL Franchises

Beginning in October, 2001, the cities of Portland, Oregon, and Atlanta, Georgia will be home to PHL franchises. The PHL expansion committee voted Portland, Atlanta, and Houston as the top three candidates with Portland receiving the most votes. The three cities then went to a league vote among the 28 owners where Atlanta was unanimous and Portland barely edged out Houston. "We're very excited to welcome these two great communities to our league" said commissioner Darryl Byrd. "I believe these markets have a lot to offer to the league and the game itself." Even Portland's biggest opponent, Seattle owner Kevin Emms, welcomed the new franchise to the league. "We want to give a big welcome to the city of Portland" said Emms. "We couldn't defend our territory in the boardroom so I guess now we'll just have to do it on the ice. I can't wait to see how this rivalry develops." For Atlanta, the announcement marks the end of a long road that began during the 70s, when the city seemingly did not stand a chance against the likes of Edmonton, Long Island, or Washington to get a franchise. With the PHL boldly moving more into the south during the 1990s, the dream was suddenly in reach for the city.

The Eastern Conference will not be realigned, Atlanta will be inserted right into the now-four-team South Division. In the West, Denver will move back to the Central in time for 2000-01 while Portland will play in the Pacific. No team names have been settled on yet,

Monday, November 6, 2017

1999 Off-Season

1999 Entry Draft

The 1999 draft was projected to be a fairly strong one. Brad McNair became the first Newfoundland native ever drafted first overall, going to the New Orleans Sound. McNair was a superstar in the Atlantic Junior league, scoring 67 goals for the Cape Breton Scotties in 1998-99. The Denver Bulls selected Danny Brassard second out of the Quebec Hockey League, while Boston took Swedish defenseman Matt Andersson third. The Redshirts were particularly busy at the draft, selecting Russian Alexei Ivanov 20th, then trading Gustav Mattsen to Chicago for Ben Kerrigan and the 22nd pick, which they used on American defenseman Ryan Schwimmer. Only one player with PHL bloodlines was selected. Jefferey Ricketts was chosen by Carolina at number 10. Ricketts is the son of Calgary Wranglers head coach and former center Bruce Ricketts.

1.      New Orleans – Brad McNair, F, CAN
2.      Denver – Danny Brassard, D, CAN
3.      Boston – Matt Andersson, D, SWE
4.      Edmonton - Brandon Kelso, F, CAN
5.      St. Louis – Stanislav Lukin, F, RUS
6.      Milwaukee – Henrik Akerman, F, SWE
7.      Calgary – Vincent Cote, D, CAN
8.      Quebec – Jay Phoenix, F, USA
9.      Dallas – Antti Pulkkinen, F, FIN
10.   Carolina – Jeffrey Ricketts, F, CAN
11.   Miami – Ryan Woods, F, USA
12.   Detroit – Patrick Tremblay, D, CAN
13.   Vancouver – Philippe Gagnon, G, CAN
14.   Long Island – Nikolai Nazakov, F, RUS
15.   Seattle – Oskar Sandin, D, SWE
16.   Cleveland – Blair Kelsey, G, USA
17.   Pittsburgh – Shane Phillips, F, CAN
18.   Winnipeg – Justin Powell, F, USA
19.   California – Luca Schober, D, SWZ
20.   Philadelphia – Alexei Ivanov, F, RUS
21.   Toronto – Chris Kolakowski, D, CAN
22.   Philadelphia (from Chicago) – Ryan Schwimmer, D, USA
23.   Los Angeles – Kevin Bishop, F, CAN
24.   Kansas City – Josh McKenzie, F, CAN
25.   New York – Brad Carroll, F, USA
26.   Washington – Damian Lewicki, D, CAN
27.   Montreal – Scott Dixon, F, CAN
28.   Minnesota – Petr Martinek, CZE



Notable Retirements:

Don Shelburne, Head Coach, LA, MTL, 1975-1999

Arguably the greatest head coach in PHL history, Don Shelburne began his career with three consecutive Lewis Cup victories with the LA Wizards from 1976-1978. As the Wizards began to rebuild during the 1980s, Shelburne left Los Angeles, taking a job with the Montreal Royale. Under Shelburne’s guidance, the Royale also became a dynasty, winning three titles in the 1990s while playing in five Lewis Cup Finals. Shelburne retires as one of the winningest coaches of all time.

Vladimir Gaganov, F, CHI, 1979-1999

The greatest European player ever to play the game, Vladimir Gaganov certainly had one of the most dramatic backstories of any PHL player. Growing up in the Soviet Union, Gaganov’s father spent time in the Gulag and his family was poverty stricken. Still, Gaganov went on to become one of the brightest hockey stars in the Soviet system and turned in an incredible performance at the 1976 World Hockey Challenge at only 16 years of age. In 1979, with help from Chicago Shamrocks staff, Gaganov defected to Chicago and went on to play 20 years for the Shamrocks, leading them to the Lewis Cup in 1983 and 1994. Gaganov retires as the third all-time leading PHL scorer, with 1844 points.

Dwayne Ingram, D, EDM, WSH, 1980-1999

One of the most feared hitters in PHL history, Dwayne Ingram patrolled the Edmonton blueline for the better part of two decades, helping lead them to a Lewis Cup Finals appearance in 1993. Though suspensions and a few ugly incidents put somewhat of a black mark on the hard-nosed defender’s reputation, he is remembered fondly by Edmonton fans, who gave him a 15-minute standing ovation when he returned to Edmonton for the first time as a Washington General in 1999.

Harry Hayes, F, NS, MIL, 1983-1999

Born in Manchester, England, Harry Hayes was one of the first Brits to make a significant impact in the PHL. Hayes played for the Nova Scotia Claymores for ten seasons, playing a big role in their Lewis Cup Final run in 1987. In 1993, Hayes signed with the Milwaukee Choppers. Despite the Choppers’ struggles through the late ‘90s, Hayes was seen as a leader and a fan-favorite. With a degree in business, Hayes will now focus his time on entrepreneurial endeavors and has spoken frequently about his dream to someday attempt to bring big-league hockey back to Halifax.


Notable Trades

St. Louis trades F Shawn Marchinski to Calgary in exchange for D Ali Leino.
Leino is on the move again as the Wranglers begin their rebuild. Marchinski hopes to be a key centerpiece after struggling in St. Louis.

Philadelphia trades F Gustav Mattsen to Chicago in exchange for G Ben Kerrigan and 1st round pick.
Disappointed in his role in Philly, Mattsen demands a trade after just one season. Chicago picks him up with the hope he will serve as Gaganov’s replacement. The Redshirts get minor league MVP Kerrigan in return as well as a pick.

Denver trades F Alex Leblanc to Philadelphia in exchange for G Nathan Bowman.
With the acquisition of Ben Kerrigan, Bowman becomes expendable in Philly but will become Denver’s future in net. Feisty Leblanc will add grit and scoring up front for the Redshirts.

Kansas City trades F Blair Horton to Vancouver in exchange for D Brady Kyle.
In a cap move, the Twisters manage to also add a solid prospect in Kyle. Vancouver adds secondary scoring.

Toronto trades F Greg Parker to New Orleans in exchange for F Chad Mclean.
The Racers once again face major cap issues in 1999. Toronto begins the off-season by trading the horribly overpaid Parker to the Sound, a team needing to reach the salary floor.

Toronto trades F Alexei Yolkin to Denver in exchange for F Taylor Coldwell.
The Racers rid themselves of another albatross contract, sending the former Russian superstar to the Bulls for young, scrappy forward Coldwell.


Key Free Agents

Jared Baxter signs new 12-year deal with Philadelphia worth $9 Million/year.

Alexei Rolonov signs new 10-year deal with Dallas worth $8 Million/year.

Joe Murdock signs new 8-year deal with Toronto worth $7 Million/year.

Brendan Marlo signs new 6-year deal with Minnesota worth $7 Million/year.

JP Belanger signs new 7-year deal with Dallas worth $6 Million/year.

Shawn Marchinski signs new 6-year deal with Calgary worth $6 Million/year.

Lamar Jackson signs new 4-year deal with New York worth $5 Million/year.

Stuart Burns signs new 1-year deal with Toronto worth $4 Million/year.

Jonathan Adams (CGY) signs 3-year deal with Montreal worth $5 Million/year.
The hard-hitting star defenseman gives a huge boost to the defending champions’ blueline.

Trevor Ramsey (CAR) signs 2-year deal with Edmonton worth $1 Million/year.
Ramsey becomes the first player ever to play for both Alberta franchises.

JC Girard (MTL) signs 1-year deal with Kansas City worth $1.5 Million/year.
The 21-year veteran will play into his fourth decade with the hopes of winning one last ring.

Scott Whitmore (TOR) signs 3-year deal with Washington worth $4 Million/year.
Whitmore is released by the Racers, and will now face immense pressure in Washington after the Generals had to move key pieces to fit Whitmore under the cap.


News

The summer of 1999 began with three teams announcing new arenas. Milwaukee would finally move out of the 52-year-old Milwaukee Arena and in to a new 18,500-seat arena in the fall of 2001, with the St. Louis Spirits moving into a new arena as well the same year. The Seattle Grey Wolves also finally secured a new building to replace the 39-year-old Emerald Forum. The arena will be built in downtown Seattle and will open in the fall of 2002.

In coaching news, the Quebec Nationale fired head coach Jacques Colette, replacing him with former winger Dennis Lambert. Colette found a new job as the new coach of the Denver Bulls, who had fired Grant Dunlop after seven seasons behind the Bulls’ bench. Meanwhile, New Orleans fired longtime head coach Randy Kane and replaced him with minor league coach Garth Cullins. Kane had coached the Sound/Claymores franchise since 1977. Finally, Montreal replaced Don Shelburne with former Toronto Racers captain Todd Beirness. Beirness had been coaching the Racers’ minor league affiliate since his retirement, leading them to two championships during the ‘90s.


One of the biggest stories of the year in 1999 was the anticipated expansion announcement. Darryl Byrd would announce the two newest PHL cities on September 1, 1999. Representatives from Houston, Portland, Phoenix, Tampa, Atlanta, and Baltimore, as well as several important people from around the hockey world all gathered in Toronto for the final vote. “I can’t comment on the process itself until it is complete” said Byrd. “All I can say is we have some fine cities to choose from and some solid bids. We’ll just have to see what happens.”

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Mustangs Update Logo, Uniforms

After a decade of teams making significant changes to their identities, things slowed down a lot in the summer of 1999. The Detroit Mustangs were the only team to make any changes at all to their primary logo or home and away jerseys. The logo still features the classic white horse but with some detailing added. On the uniforms, the colors have been updated, featuring a darker blue, while the team has also added collar laces to both sweaters, a feature not seen on a home or away uniform since the Philadelphia Redshirts last used it in the early 1980s.



Though there were no other changes made to any home or away uniforms for the 1999-00 season, two teams added new alternate jerseys, while another decided to retire theirs. The Milwaukee Choppers scrapped their orange third jersey, used since 1995, opting to go with only the black road and white home uniforms. The team suggested it may look into another alternate in the future. Meanwhile, the Vancouver Bighorns and New Orleans Sound both unveiled new third jerseys. The Bighorns' black jersey features the same "V" logo found on its' secondary logo, as well as a v-shaped striping pattern on the bottom. The Sound will wear a third jersey unlike any uniform ever seen in the PHL. The jersey is two colors, green on the front and black on the back, with a purple stripe across the shoulders and down the arms, separating the two main colors.


Finally, to commemorate the fast-approaching new millennium, all teams in the PHL will wear a special "PHL2K" patch on the upper-right chest of their uniforms this season. It will mark the first time since the 50th anniversary in 1989 that a commemorative logo will be worn league-wide.





Monday, October 30, 2017

1999 Lewis Cup Finals

The 1999 Lewis Cup Finals was the first all-Canadian Final since the Windsor Wings defeated the Hamilton Kings in 1941. The Montreal Royale, the Lewis Cup winners in 1992 and ’95, faced the Winnipeg Pioneers, a team making their first-ever appearance in the Lewis Cup Finals. In the opening game, Zdeno Kadlec’s two-goal performance led Montreal to a 3-1 win, followed by a shutout for Jonathan Bouret in game two to give Montreal a 2-0 series lead. The series shifted to the CanaDome in Winnipeg for game three and the entire city was buzzing with excitement. Fans lined up down Portage Street hours before tickets went on sale. The Pioneers did not let their home crowd down, as Dan Crow and Brendon Dawson each scored in a 2-1 win. Two nights later, game four went into overtime, where Jason Whitaker scored the winner to tie the series.

Back in Montreal for game five, the Royale needed their top players to step up. Vincent Ducharme, who had not scored since game one, had a goal and three assists while Bouret stopped 43 shots as Montreal took the game 4-1 to earn an opportunity to take the Cup in game six. With the Lewis Cup in the building for game six, the Pioneers were in desperation mode. Ducharme opened the scoring, but Crow tied it just two minutes later. After Sergei Vetrov gave the Royale the lead again, Trevor Nolan tied it for the second time. The game went into overtime and just 42 seconds in, Vetrov had the Cup winner on his stick but put it just over the net. Luke Morrison stopped nine shots in the first overtime before finally, Ryan Cobb scored on a breakaway to force a game seven. “If we had been told at the start of the season that we’d be playing game seven of the finals, we’d take it” said Vincent Ducharme. “We just need to stay focused.”


Game seven was in Montreal but fans also packed the CanaDome back in Winnipeg to watch it on the big screen. Through the first period, both goaltenders stood on their heads, as the game remained scoreless. Six minutes into the second period, Sylvain Landry took a penalty for boarding and Winnipeg went on the powerplay. For two minutes, the Pioneers peppered Jonathan Bouret with shots, but Bouret stood tall as the Royale killed the penalty. Just three minutes into the third period, Jarkko Vesa’s slapshot made its way through traffic and into the net to give the Royale a 1-0 lead. Winnipeg pushed for the tying goal throughout the third period but Bouret was spectacular. The Pioneers pulled Morrison but could not solve Bouret. Finally, with just eight seconds left, Evan Flowers dumped the puck out as the clock ran down to zero. The crowd erupted as the Royale mobbed their heroic goaltender. Bouret was named playoff MVP and the Montreal Royale were presented their third Lewis Cup of the decade. As the team skated with the Cup, Head Coach Don Shelburne revealed in an interview that he had coached his final game. “I can’t imagine ending my career a better way” said the now six-time champion.



Saturday, October 28, 2017

1999 Playoffs

After another strong showing in the regular season, many expected the Minnesota Lumberjacks to claim their third Lewis Cup of the decade in 1999. Facing the Vancouver Bighorns in the first round, a team that had not won a playoff series since 1993, many even predicted a sweep. After the ‘Jacks won game one, the Bighorns took the series lead with two stunning OT victories in games two and three. After Minnesota tied the series back up in game four, the Bighorns won a thriller in game five to retake the series lead. If they wanted to avoid the upset and defend their title, Minnesota had to win game six on the road. Game six was the third game of the series to go into overtime. Christian Grayson held down the fort for the Lumberjacks through the first overtime, but just minutes into the second overtime, veteran Bruce Blackwell ended the game and the series with a wrist shot that found the top corner of the net. Vancouver had pulled off one of the biggest upsets ever, while the Lumberjacks’ season was suddenly over. Elsewhere in the Western Conference, the Twisters took seven games to eliminate the Seattle Grey Wolves, the Winnipeg Pioneers had the second big upset of the year over the Los Angeles Wizards, defeating them in five games, and the Chicago Shamrocks took out the California Nuggets in six games.

In the east, the Long Island Concordes weren’t expected to put up much of a fight against the Montreal Royale. The Concordes stunned the Royale in the first three games, taking a 2-1 series lead. Knowing they could not afford to fall behind 3-1, the Royale eked out a 4-3 win in game four to tie the series. In game five, Vincent Ducharme was knocked out of the game after a devastating hit from Concordes defenseman Riley Gardiner. The Royale hung on for the win, but knew they needed to respond to the hit. In game six, the Royale dressed enforcer Ryan McCarthy and McCarthy immediately went after Gardiner, fighting him in the first period. The Royale had responded to the hit but without Ducharme in the lineup, lost the game 4-3. The series would go to a seventh and deciding game in Montreal. Ducharme returned for game seven and even scored the opening goal, while Zdeno Kadlec, Sergei Vetrov, and Todd Paterson each scored in a decisive 4-0 victory to take the series.

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Redshirts also went to seven games to upset the Toronto Racers, while the Washington Generals defeated the Cleveland Cosmos in six, and Pittsburgh upset the New York Ciivcs in five games.



In Round two, the Winnipeg Pioneers entered their series with Chicago determined to carry the momentum from their first round upset. After Winnipeg won game one, the Shamrocks managed to get their act together in game two, tying the series with a 4-3 win. In Winnipeg for game three, Luke Morrison was the hero in net, stopping 42 shots in a 2-0 shutout. After a 4-2 win in game four, the Pioneers held a commanding 3-1 series lead. Back in Chicago for game five, Vladimir Gaganov scored early to give the Shamrocks a 1-0 lead, but it would be the final goal of his career. Goals from Trevor Nolan and Ryan Cobb gave Winnipeg a 2-1 win and a 4-1 series victory. After the handshake line, Gaganov skated around the Garfield Center, waving and saluting the crowd.

In the Eastern Conference, the Washington Generals struggled to stay a step ahead of the Philadelphia Redshirts. After just edging out Philly in game one 1-0, the Generals were embarrassed on home ice in game two as the Redshirts took a 7-2 victory. After the teams split the two games in Philadelphia, they headed back to DC tied 2-2. Game five ended in controversy, Washington led 2-1 when Jeff Waters’ shot beat Jake Borman and appeared to roll across the goal line for just a split second. The goal was reviewed and ultimately disallowed due to lack of evidence that the puck actually crossed the line. The Redshirts were irate, especially when TV replays all but confirmed that the puck had crossed the line. Washington sealed the win with an empty-net goal to lead the series 3-2. Philadelphia had to quickly get over the hard feelings from game five, now facing elimination at home. Gustav Mattsen opened the scoring and Jared Baxter scored just minutes later to give Philly a 2-0 lead. Halfway through the third period, Dwayne Ingram brought the Generals to within a goal but it would be the closest they would get. The series would go to a game seven at JFK Arena. As if to redeem himself after the disallowed goal, Jeff Waters opened the scoring for Philly, but unfortunately it wouldn’t be enough. Washington exploded for four goals in the second period and never allowed the Redshirts back into the game. The Generals were headed to the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in four years.



In the Conference Finals, the Generals would face the powerful Montreal Royale, who had eliminated Pittsburgh in five games in round two, while the Cinderella Winnipeg Pioneers would take on the heavily favoured Kansas City Twisters, a team coming off a hard-fought six game series against Vancouver. Though the Pioneers had been playing some of the best hockey in their history, nobody dreamed they would beat the Twisters, a team that finished 21 points ahead of them in the standings. Dan Crow was spectacular for the Pioneers in the first two games, scoring three goals in the two games as the Pioneers stunned the Twisters in Kansas City with two big wins. Back at the CanaDome in Winnipeg, the Pioneers made the most of home ice advantage, winning game three 2-1 and game four 1-0 in overtime to complete the sweep and advance to the Lewis Cup Finals for the first time in their 33-year history. “We’re ecstatic right now” said GM Jacques Fortune. “It’s been a long time coming for this franchise but we still have another big step to make.”


The night after the Pioneers advanced, the Montreal Royale faced a pivotal game five against the Washington Generals. With the series tied 2-2, game five would be critical. The teams were deadlocked 1-1 until the third period, when Vincent Ducharme scored two goals in what would be a 4-1 Montreal win, giving them a chance to meet Winnipeg in the finals. Washington would come out strong in game six as it went into overtime. Both Jake Borman and Jonathan Bouret played valiantly in net, as one overtime became two, then three. Finally, nearing the end of the third overtime, 21-year veteran JC Girard finally ended the marathon with 3:42 left, sending the Royale to the Lewis Cup Finals for the fifth time in the 1990s. 


Monday, October 23, 2017

1998-99 Regular Season



The 1998-99 PHL regular season got off to an unusual start, as six teams opened the season abroad. On opening night the Chicago Shamrocks and Toronto Racers played the first of a home-and-home series against each other in Moscow. It was the first time ever that the league played regular season games in Europe and it was a big success, as over 16,000 fans turned out to see the games. Just prior to the second game, Vladimir Gaganov took the opportunity to announce his retirement at season’s end. Gaganov was given a standing ovation after the game from the Russian fans. Two weeks into the season, Montreal and New York faced off in Stockholm, Sweden. 14,000 fans packed into the arena as the Royale defeated the Civics in both games. In December, Los Angeles and Minnesota completed the Europe Series in Prague, where the teams split the home-and-home and Minnesota’s Pavel Vana treated his hometown to a two-goal performance in the second game. Overall, the games in Europe were considered a big success, immediately leading to fan speculation about possible expansion overseas. Darryl Byrd quickly dismissed the rumours, saying it was more likely the league would continue to send teams over for a series each year then actually add franchises in Europe.

As his final season continued, Vladimir Gaganov inched closer and closer to two important milestones. On December 9, Gaganov became the third player in PHL history to scored 800 goals. Then, just three weeks later, he scored point number 1812 to pass Stuart Holly for third place on the all-time scoring list and confirm his status as the greatest European player in the league’s history.

The regular season belonged to the reigning Lewis Cup Champions, as the Minnesota Lumberjacks took first place overall with 112 points, as the only team in the league to win 50 games. Jason Crowley and Pavel Vana finished 1st and 2nd in league scoring, marking the first time ever that teammates took the top two spots. After an underachieving year in ’97-98, the Kansas City Twisters won the Central Division with 101 points as Brett Delaney enjoyed a 93-point season. Despite Gaganov’s successful fairwell season, Chicago slid to fourth, their lowest finish since 1992.

For the first time in their brief history, the Dallas Desperadoes looked like a playoff contender throughout the year. AJ Vernon had a breakout season with 36 goals while Alexei Rolonov finished third in Whyte Trophy voting in only his third season. The Desperadoes were engaged in a tight race with the Vancouver Bighorns throughout the final weeks of the regular season. Dallas held the final playoff spot until an 8-game winning streak for the Bighorns put them in eighth place. After winning their final game of the season in Denver, Dallas only needed a Vancouver loss. The Bighorns trailed Los Angeles until the third period, when Tory Partridge tied the game. Early in overtime, Andrei Yegorov scored to send Vancouver back to the post-season and eliminate the Desperadoes from playoff contention. It was a disappointing end for what was a breakout season in Dallas, but the Desperadoes remained optimistic about their future. “As disappointing as this is, we made some huge steps as a franchise, next year, the playoffs will be our goal” said GM Ross Becker.

In the East, the Philadelphia Redshirts were celebrating a century of hockey. On opening night, several Redshirt legends were honoured in a pre-game ceremony including Gil Parsons, David Zimmer, Gary Johnson, Tom Lapin, and Ben Jenkins, the oldest living player from the team’s history. The Redshirts also wore three retro jerseys throughout the season from different periods of the teams’ history and held special “Vintage Nights” were all the food prices reflected those of the era being celebrated. “I think the fans really enjoyed the five cent beers in 1940s night” said team president Bob Wells Jr. The Redshirts’ performance on the ice was solid throughout the year. Jared Baxter led the team in scoring while Jonathan Stafford’s veteran leadership also came with 67 points as Philly took second place in the Atlantic.

 In Montreal, the talented Royale were enjoying a strong year when in late November, New Orleans forward Chad McLean attacked Vincent Ducharme with a vicious cross-check to the face. Ducharme suffered a fractured cheekbone and missed only two games, returning with a full-facemask, but head coach and GM Don Shelburne had seen enough. Tired of seeing Ducharme targeted night after night, Shelburne made a trade with St. Louis, acquiring 6’6”, 246 lb tough guy Ryan McCarthy to act as Ducharme’s “bodyguard”. In McCarthy’s first game with the Royale, he immediately dropped the gloves with Washington defenseman Dwayne Ingram, sending a clear message to the league that Montreal would not be pushed around. No longer having to look over his shoulder all the time, Ducharme won the Cleveland Cup as the league’s top scorer and the Royale took first place in the Eastern Conference, just barely edging out Washington and New York. The Toronto Racers, despite losing some talent to the new salary cap, still managed a fourth-place finish as Joe Murdock proved his incredible rookie season was no fluke, leading the team in scoring once again with 91 points.


Heading towards the end of the regular season, the Eastern Conference once again saw one of the tightest playoff races ever. Long Island, Detroit, Miami, and Carolina all battled for the eighth and final spot with Quebec also emerging as a dark horse as the season drew to a close. Carolina, bogged down by injuries all year, was the first to fall out of the race with two tough road losses in early April. Miami held the final position with the Concordes and Mustangs in close pursuit. The Stingrays needed only a win in their final game against Washington to clinch the spot, but lost in a heartbreaker as the Generals, involved in a race of their own for first place, won with just six minutes left. Now the Rays needed help form two teams as Detroit faced Cleveland and Long Island faced Boston. If Detroit won, their record would be identical to Miami’s but they would get in as they had swept the season series. The Mustangs fought hard to come back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the Cosmos, before receiving the devastating news that Long Island had beaten the Bulldogs, clinching the final playoff position. As the heartbroken Mustangs prepared for overtime, head coach Cliff Lyle spoke up. “We still need to win this game, for our fans and for each other” said Lyle. Eric Thorn was the hero for Detroit, scoring with 20 seconds remaining in overtime to end the season with a win. Meanwhile, the Concordes were ecstatic to be returning to the post-season for the first time in five years. Their chances were slim facing the powerful Royale in the first round, but the team was just proud to be back. “This is the best moment of my career!” said star forward Ryan Shelton, who had yet to play in a playoff game. “I’m just excited to finally play some playoff hockey.”