Friday, May 26, 2017

1993 Playoffs

After just barely making the playoffs, the Washington Generals were not expected to go very deep in the post-season, especially as they had to face the defending champion Montreal Royale in the first round. The Royale won game one 5-2 and immediately jumped to a 3-0 lead in game two. A sweep seemed inevitable, when suddenly the Generals offense exploded for three unanswered goals from Rob Wentzel and two from Igor Zharkov. The game was now tied entering the third period. Early in the third, Tomas Axelsson beat Victor Malmsten to give Washington a 4-3 lead, one they would hang on to to win game two. The Generals never looked back after the big comeback, winning both games in Washington, including a thrilling double overtime victory in game four, to take a stunning 3-1 series lead. Back in Montreal for game five, the Royale were in unfamiliar territory, facing elimination in only the first round. “We know we can win, we just need to keep things simple and force them to play our game” said Vincent Ducharme prior to the game. Game five was a close one, tied 2-2 through two periods, until Wentzel scored a big goal to make it 3-2 midway through the third before Grant Sibley sealed it with an empty-net goal in the dying seconds. Washington completed one of the biggest upsets in PHL history and advanced to the second round for the first time since 1981.

The Quebec Nationale finished the year with 13 fewer points than their first-round opponent, the Boston Bulldogs. But that didn’t stop them from giving Boston all they could handle in a hard-fought first-round series. After splitting the first four games, Quebec took a 3-2 series lead in game five to put the Bulldogs on the brink of elimination. Ron Buckner had struggled in goal throughout the series, even allowing the game five winning goal to trickle between his legs as he attempted to pick it up with his glove, so Gary Shantz decided to give rookie Kevin Washer the start in game six. Washer was spectacular, stopping 39 shots for the shutout as Boston won 4-0 to force game seven. Washer turned in another strong effort in game seven, as Boston won the game 4-1 to move on to the second round. In other Eastern Conference action, Long Island upset the Philadelphia Redshirts in six games, while Toronto defeated Detroit in five.

Out West, the Edmonton Northern Lights and Calgary Wranglers met in the “Battle of Alberta” for the first time ever in the playoffs. The teams split the first four games setting up a pivotal game five in Edmonton, where the bad blood that had been brewing all series finally boiled over. When Shannon Michaels laid out Edmonton’s Gary Clayton with a clean but devastating hit, Joey Hamilton went after him, engaging him in a fight while two other fights broke out of the ensuing scrum. Edmonton went on to win the game but shortly afterwards it was announced that Clayton could miss the remainder of the playoffs with a concussion. Upon news that Calgary star Sergei Krayev would be returning to the lineup for game six after being out since March, Tough Edmonton defenseman Dwight Ingram hinted at retribution for the hit on Clayton. “I’m just saying, we lost one of our star forwards for the rest of the playoffs, their guy is coming back tonight. If the game gets out of reach, they may want to sit Krayev.” The league fined Ingram for uttering what certainly seemed to be a threat and Calgary defenseman Jonathan Adams made sure Krayev would have the space he needed in game six, dropping the gloves with Ingram right off the opening faceoff. The fight seemed to settle everything down, at least for a while, as Krayev scored his first goal in over a month in a 5-3 Calgary win to send the series to a deciding game in Edmonton. Game seven was face-paced and hard-hitting. After a week of controversy, Ingram played a very focused game for Edmonton and ultimately became the hero, scoring late in the second period to give the Northern Lights a 2-1 lead. The goal would eventually be the winner, as Edmonton won the provincial battle to advance to round two.

Elsewhere in the West, Minnesota defeated Milwaukee in five games, Chicago took out St. Louis in six, while Vancouver eliminated LA in six games.

In round two, the Toronto Racers faced a tough test of their will against the Long Island Concordes. The series went back and forth, with Long Island winning game one, then routing the Racers 9-0 in game three after Toronto had tied the series in game two. The blowout seemed to be a clear indication of who was in control of the series, as Stuart Burns was enjoying the performance of a lifetime with seven goals in three games, including four in game three. Toronto managed to tie the series once again in game four, only to once again give the Concordes the lead in game five on an overtime goal from Doug MacIntyre. The Racers now faced elimination and needed a big win on the road to extend the series. Goals from David Havel, Alexei Yolkin, and Tory Partridge gave Toronto a 3-0 lead in game six, before Burns and Mike Wheeler answered with two for Long Island to make it a one goal game. The Concordes nearly tied in late in the second period when a Craig Davidson shot hit the crossbar, but minutes later, Long Island defenseman Brandon Fox was given a penalty for roughing. Randy Fernandez scored on the powerplay with a booming point shot and Toronto once again held a two goal lead. The Racers ultimately won game six 5-3 to force game seven at home. The deciding game was tied 1-1 with just seven minutes to go when Scott Whitmore was sent on a breakaway. Whitmore made no mistake, beating Jeff Pickard to give Toronto the lead. Partridge scored the empty-netter to seal the victory as the Toronto Racers advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1979.

The Edmonton Northern Lights also faced an uphill battle in their second-round series with Vancouver. The Bighorns took 1-0 and 2-1 series leads and forced Edmonton to play from behind throughout most of the first four games. The Northern Lights finally caught a break in game four, trailing 3-2. Tommy McGuire was hooked on a breakaway and was awarded a penalty shot. McGuire made good on the rare opportunity and tied the game. Just two minutes into overtime, McGuire scored his second of the game as Edmonton tied the series. The penalty shot proved to be a turning point as the Northern Lights never looked back, winning game five 5-3 and taking game six 3-2 to win the series and advance to the Western Conference Finals for the third time in five years. In other second round action, Boston ended the Washington Generals run in six games, while Chicago defeated Minnesota in five.

For the first time since 1987, the Conference Finals would both go to seven games. Edmonton continued their resilient play against the heavily favoured Shamrocks. After losing game one 4-0, the Northern Lights battled back, earning a 2-2 split after the first four games. The Shamrocks knew they had to get a win at home in game five, and would get a big boost from an unlikely hero. 40-year-old Rudy Hunter, playing in his 21st and final season, scored two goals in a 3-1 win as Chicago now had an opportunity to advance to the Lewis Cup Final in game six. The celebration would have to wait, however, as Dwight Ingram and Kevin Wyatt did an excellent job shutting down the Russian Connection line while Wes Simmons stopped 35 shots in a 2-0 win. Game seven would only bring more frustration for the Shamrocks, as Joey Hamilton enjoyed a two goal night while Ingram and Wyatt continued to physically wear down the talented Russian trio as the Northern Lights finally advanced to their first-ever Lewis Cup Finals appearance with a 4-2 game seven victory.

The following night, the Northern Lights gathered together to watch game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals, they would play the winner for the Cup beginning in four days. Boston and Toronto had played a tight series, trading the lead back-and-forth until the seventh and deciding game. With the game tied 2-2 after two periods, Toronto had a golden opportunity when Alexei Yolkin found himself on a breakaway. Yolkin deked Kevin Washer and slipped the puck between his legs to give Toronto a 3-2 lead. The Racers now stood just 16 minutes away from facing Edmonton in what would be the first all-Canadian final since 1941. Unfortunately for Toronto, Boston’s Jason Luna scored with just three minutes left to send the game to overtime. Overtime would last just 28 seconds, enough time for the Racers to get a big opportunity on an odd-man rush, which was broken up by Dale Knight, who passed it ahead to captain Craig Bush. Bush found Colin Fleming through traffic, springing him on a breakaway. Fleming slapped it from the top of the faceoff circle to beat goaltender Tom Branson and send the Bulldogs to their first final since 1976. For Fleming, a Bulldog since his rookie year in 1974, it was a dream come true. When asked if this would be his final year, the 39-year-old answered “we’ll see, we do have one more hill to climb, but if we win, I can’t imagine a better way to say goodbye.”

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

1992-93 Regular Season

1992-93 marked year two of the “Russian Invasion” in the PHL, as players from the former Soviet Union dominated the league. Chicago once again benifited enormously from their Russian trio, as Vladimir Gaganov, Alexander Orlov, and Vladimir Kozakov all made up the top three in team scoring as the Shamrocks finished atop the League with 108 points, while Gaganov finished second in league scoring. In Washington, rookie Igor Zharkov took the league by storm, finishing fifth in league scoring and taking home the Garfield Trophy for rookie of the year as Washinton returned to the post-season with an eighth place finish. As dominant as the Russians around the league were, however, the most dominant performance in the league came from a player hailing from another European country. 32-year-old Finnish defenseman Jari Pukki enjoyed the best season of his career, earning an incredible 87 assists while adding 27 goals to finish third in league scoring, the highest ever for a PHL defenseman. Pukki’s end-to-end rush had been thrilling PHL fans for nearly 15 years, but now playing in sports-mad Boston, Pukki was finally earning the recognition he had deserved, taking home top defenseman honours, as well as the Veteran’s Cup for league MVP.

Montreal returned to the top of the Eastern Conference standings in 1993, thanks mostly to Vincent Ducharme’s league-leading 122 points, while veteran playmaker Trevor Ramsey earned 63 assists setting up the superstar forward. “He’s just so much fun to play with” said the former Calgary Wrangler Ramsey about Ducharme. “I don’t even have to look, he knows exactly where to be, I just have to put the puck there and he does the rest.” A classic rivalry was revived in ’92-93, as the Toronto Racers also continued their rise to prominence. Alexei Yolkin ignited the Racers’ offence, with Randy Fernandez proving to be an enormous threat from the blueline, especially on the powerplay. Fernandez was coming off a huge performance for the American team in the 1992 World Hockey Challenge and he carried it over to the regular season. When the Racers met the Royale for the first time in 1992, fans were treated to a performance for the ages by two superstars, as Yolkin and Ducharme each scored hat-tricks in a 5-4 Toronto victory. Despite Ducharme’s performance, the Royale were embarrassed by the loss and when the teams met again on December 12 in Montreal, tension boiled over as Montreal’s Ron Borden and Toronto’s Tory Partridge dropped the gloves just three minutes in for what would the first of two fights between the two. Toronto managed to win again, as the Royale were simply unable to find room on the ice with Toronto’s hard-nosed, tight-checking play. Ultimately, the Racers won the season series and finished fifth, surrendering fourth place to Detroit on the final day of the season.

Elsewhere in the East, The New York Civics were dealt a devastating blow when superstar forward Aaron Duplacy went down with a season-ending separated shoulder in the middle of a tight playoff race in late February. The Civics had held the final playoff spot throughout most of the year with Washington and Miami in close pursuit. After Duplacy’s injury, New York lost their grip on the coveted eighth spot and ultimately fell out of the post-season picture, as did Miami, despite their first 30-win season in franchise history. While star defenseman Theo Sprouse enjoyed a big first year in the Windy City, his former team, the Long Island Concordes, missed him terribly on their blueline. Just three years removed from their first Lewis Cup, Long Island dropped to seventh place and actually found themselves battling for their playoff lives right into the month of April.

In the Western Conference, the Minnesota Lumberjacks continued their climb up the standings as Jason Crowley finally began to establish himself as one of the premier players in the game. Though his scoring totals were not as impressive as that of Gaganov or Ducharme, Crowley’s ability and willingness to do everything from dropping the gloves to scoring a big goal when it was needed made the Lumberjacks one of the most difficult teams to play against. Crowley gave Minnesota a true franchise player for the first time since legends Guy Dupont and Bobby Sorel had left in the early 80s and the Lumberjacks took fourth place in the west. The Calgary Wranglers hit a bump in the road late in the year when Sergei Krayev went down with a fractured wrist. However the Wranglers still managed to get into the playoffs as Shannon Micheals and Jay Lydon both stepped up to lead the offence while Ron Tatum was spectacular in net. In Kansas City, it looked like Twisters fans could finally witness playoff hockey for the first time as the team’s young core, led by Scott Drayton and Travis Watson, proved more than capable of competing with anyone in the league. Entering the final day of the season, The Twisters were tied with state rivals St. Louis for the final playoff spot. Age had finally caught up with David Appleby and the Spirits, who were in danger of missing the post-season since the mid-70s. In the final game, however, it was experience, especially in a desperate situation, that won out. Niklas Ekberg broke a 2-2 tie late in the third period, before Appleby hit the empty net as St. Louis ended the Twisters’ playoff hopes to claim the final spot. For St. Louis, the win served as a reminder to the league that they still knew how to win, even if they were no longer as fast or as strong as they had been. For Kansas City, the heartbreaking loss simply meant they were a good team, just not quite ready to take the next step. “It’s certainly a bitter pill to swallow” said head coach Kevin Haysbert. “I think we’re close though. We don’t just want to make the playoffs, we want to win a championship and I think we have a group here that can do just that, we just have a little more growing up to do.”

Saturday, May 13, 2017

1992 World Hockey Challenge

After several changes to the political landscape, the 1992 World Hockey Challenge had a very different look from previous tournaments. With the Soviet Union having broken up, the team would now compete as the Commonwealth of Independent States, while a unified German team would compete for the first time. The Germans would not fare much better, however, losing all three of their Round Robin games. With ongoing political uncertainty in the former Soviet Union, the CIS team was unable to recruit a few of their star players. Vladimir Gaganov declined the opportunity to return to the National team, while Sergei Krayev and Alexander Orlov also declined to play. Wanting to help his chances of making the PHL in his rookie season, 18-year-old Igor Zharkov did commit to playing in the Tournament and would be heavily counted on to lead the Russian attack. The team predictably looked strong against Great Britain, defeating them 7-1 with Zharkov scoring two goals. In their second game against Finland, Zharkov’s goal early on gave CIS a 1-0 lead, before Jari Pukki rushed the puck up the ice and tied the game. Antero Parvainen played incredibly throughout the rest of the game as did CIS goaltender Alexei Teryoshin in what turned out to be a 1-1 tie. Facing the Americans in the final game of the Round Robin, the CIS team needed a win, while Team USA was looking to complete a perfect record heading into the Medal Round. The Americans, backstopped by brilliant goaltending from Ron Buckner, had yet to allow a goal in the tournament, while Jason Crowley had three goals in the first two games. The Americans got off to a strong start with goals coming from Craig Davidson and Matt Pope. Dimitri Kronin brought CIS within a goal and Teryoshin held the team in the game until goals from Crowley and Craig Bush put the game out of reach as the Americans took first place in Group B.

In group A, Team Canada once again dominated the rest of the field. Vincent Ducharme led the tournament in scoring with eight goals in three games, including hat-tricks against Germany and Czechoslovakia. Only Sweden gave the Canadians any considerable resistance in their second game, holding them to a 2-2 tie until Stuart Burns scored early in the third period, ultimately giving Canada the win. A 5-1 win over the Czechs in their final game secured top spot in Group A, while Sweden managed to salvage a second-place finish after a surprisingly tough battle with Germany.

In the Medal Round, Canada continued their dominance against Great Britain, jumping ahead to a 5-0 lead. In the third period, a goal from Harry Hayes put the British on the board, before Brett Caldwell’s point shot brought them within three goals. Finally, Hayes hit the post with three minutes left. Brent MacDonald was forced to make a few big stops during the last two and a half minutes but the Canadians held on for the win. In one of the other Quarterfinal matchups, Finland met Sweden in an all-Scandinavian battle. The teams were tied 3-3 after regulation as the game headed to overtime. Just minutes into the extra frame, Swedish forward Tomas Axelsson had a big opportunity at the side of the net, but Parvainen was able to get across the crease in time to make the stop. With the game still tied after overtime, a shootout would commence. After each team had shot three times, the shootout remained scoreless. Roni Laukanen was up next for Finland and made no mistake, beating Victor Malmsten to give the Fins the lead. Ulf Linden tied it, meaning if Malmsten could stop the next shot, the Swedes would have a chance to win. Pasi Villanen shot next for Finland, beating Malmsten to give Finland the lead again and Antero Parvainen a chance to win the game. Magnus Swedberg would shoot next for Sweden. Swedberg attempted to deke his Philadelphia teammate, but Parvainen was a step ahead of him, stopping him with his glove. Finland was moving on to the Semifinals. In Group B, The Americans routed Germany 11-1, while Czechoslovakia defeated the CIS team 4-2. The Americans and Czechs were tied 3-3 in the dying minutes of the game, when Gary Johnson, playing competitive hockey for the final time, broke the tie with a point shot that found its way to the net. Craig Bush sealed the win with an empty net goal to send the Americans to the final game for the first time. Canada defeated Finland 4-1 in the other semifinal to set up a North American showdown for the World Challenge Cup.

In the championship game, 23,100 packed into the CanaDome in Winnipeg to see hockey’s two superpowers face off for the world title. David Appleby opened the scoring for Canada, then Jonathan Stafford made it 2-0. The Americans needed a boost, so coach Gary Shantz called a timeout. It seemed to work as Team USA began to apply the pressure. MacDonald made several big saves until finally, early in the third period, Stuart Burns put USA on the board. Minutes later, Jason Crowley tied the game with a hard wrist shot from the high slot. The pressure was now on Canada. Late in the third period, Adam Lawless nearly gave the Canadians another lead but was stopped cold by Ron Buckner. The game went into overtime where just eleven seconds in, Tommy McGuire beat MacDonald to complete the comeback and give the United States their first-ever world title. Jason Crowley was named tournament MVP, while Gary Johnson, who previously had never won any kind of league or world title at the professional level, was able to retire a champion.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

1992 Off-Season

1992 Entry Draft

The Washington Generals made history in  the 1992 entry draft, taking Igor Zharkov with the first overall pick. Zharkov, a 6’3” power forward was the first-ever Russian player to be selected number one overall, and will add valuable size and speed up front for the Generals. Winnipeg selected another big forward Kevin Rose second overall, while Ottawa stunned the hockey world when they chose to bypass the third-ranked prospect in the draft, Pavel Kulikin, to select Calgary native Alyn Bryan. Pundits criticized the Beavers for what seemed to be a clear bias toward Canadian-born players. Beavers GM Will Gilliard defended the pick, citing Kulikin’s size (5’8”) as a concern. Another interesting pick was Long Island’s Brandon Fox, a former all-state basketball star who only began playing hockey at age 13. Fox continued to develop his skills on the ice, eventually earning a scholarship to North Dakota. Philadelphia selected goaltender Pierre Noel with the 21st pick. Noel had to overcome a great deal of adversity to get to this point. As a 17-year-old rookie in junior, he was diagnosed with cancer, forcing him to miss a full year of hockey. Returning in his draft year after beating the illness, Noel regained the starter’s job and led his team to the semifinals in the Quebec League playoffs.

1.      WSH – Igor Zharkov, F, RUS
2.      WPG – Kevin Rose, F, CAN
3.      OTT – Alyn Bryant, F, CAN
4.      DEN – Pavel Kulikin, F, RUS
5.      MIA – Wade Briggs, D, USA
6.      KC (From California) – Sami Helminen, D, FIN
7.      PIT – Jared Hawkins, D, USA
8.      SEA – Sean Herrington, G, CAN
9.      KC – Darian Ashmore, F, CAN
10.   NS – Mike Bidden, F, USA
11.   CHI – Wesley Coley, D, USA
12.   NYC – Brent McGill, D, CAN
13.   STL – Ilya Sakharov, F, RUS
14.   DET – Luke Ferguson, D, CAN
15.   MIN – Mattias Strom, F, SWE
16.   LI – Brandon Fox, D, USA
17.   QUE – Patrice Labrecque, F, CAN
18.   CGY – Owen Betts, F, CAN
19.   LA – Shawn Fitzgerald, F, USA
20.   TOR – Greg Parker, D, CAN
21.   PHI – Pierre Noel, G, CAN
22.   VAN – Brady Kyle, D, CAN
23.   MIL – Anders Akerlund, F, SWE
24.   MTL – Olli Tuomola, D, FIN
25.   EDM – Randy Schmidt, F, CAN
26.   BOS – Blake Holland, F, USA

Notable Retirements:

Gary Johnson – CHI, PHI, 1971-1992
For over two decades, Johnson established himself as one of the game’s most reliable defensive defensemen. Drafted by Chicago in 1971, Johnson partnered with Shamrocks star Ronald Crane to anchor the Chicago blueline until 1979, when he was dealt to Philadelphia in exchange for Russian phenom Vladimir Gaganov. Johnson was a valuable addition the Redshirts, eventually becoming their captain. Johnson led the Redshirts to a Lewis Cup Finals appearance in 1989, but unfortunately that was the closest Johnson ever came to winning a championship. He will retire officially after the 1992 World Hockey Challenge.

Dave Farris – PIT, MIA, 1975-1992
Dave Farris served as one of Pittsburgh’s top-tier forwards throughout the 1980s. playing alongside legend Danny Stevenson, Farris helped lead the Stingers to a Lewis Cup title in 1985, as well as three other appearances in the finals during the ‘80s. In 1989, Farris was selected by the Miami Stingrays in the expansion draft, where he played the final three years of his career.

Don Taylor – CGY, LI, 1973-1992
Taylor played for the Wranglers for 15 seasons, winning a Lewis Cup with them in 1981. In 1988, Taylor was traded to Long Island, where he would win his second championship in 1990.

Bobby Ford – PHI, 1972-1992
Ford was a fan-favorite in Philadelphia for 20 years. He helped the Redshirts to Lewis Cup Finals appearances in 1974 and 1989.

Brian Westin – SEA, 1976-1992
Brian Westin was one of the top goaltenders of the 1980s, backstopping Seattle to an appearance in the finals in 1985.

Notable Trades

Kansas City trades D Reijo Rantala to California in exchange for 6th overall draft pick.
The Nuggets add an elite defenseman, while Kansas City adds a second top-10 pick.

Miami trades D Elliott Andrews to Calgary in exchange for F Jonas Andersson.
Andrews joins his fourth team in his seven-year career, hoping to find a more permanent home in Calgary. Miami adds a top-level prospect in Andersson.

Calgary trades D Brett Swift to Philadelphia in exchange for F Jay Lydon.
The Wranglers get a young depth player in Lydon, Philadelphia strengthens their defensive corps with Swift.

Key Free Agents

David Appleby signs new 4-year deal with St. Louis worth $3 Million/year.
The deal all but guarantees Appleby will retire with the Spirits.

Theo Sprouse (LI) signs five-year deal with Chicago worth $3.5 Million/year.
In one of the biggest moves in recent history, Sprouse is now the third-highest paid player in the game behind only Vincent Ducharme and new teammate Vladimir Gaganov.

Mike Wheeler (WPG) signs four-year deal with Long Island worth $2.5 Million/year.

Wheeler adds forward depth to a Concordes team whose championship window is beginning to close.

Owen Kennedy (NS) signs three-year deal with Detroit worth $2 Million/year.
The cash-strapped Claymores are forced to let Kennedy walk while the Mustangs add a big piece up front.


On June 30, 1992, PHL Commissioner Darryl Byrd officially announced that Dallas and Cleveland would be awarded expansion franchises to begin play in the 1994-96 season. The announcement came after years of talks between the league and potential owners including Clint Love from Dallas and David Farber from Cleveland. Farber, now 68, had been attempting to land a franchise for Cleveland since the early 70s and was quite emotional when the decision was made. “This represents many years of hard work for myself and the city of Cleveland, I cannot express how excited I am that we have finally succeeded” said Farber, whose son James will take over the team once it gets off the ground in 1994.

This will be the second time Dallas has been awarded a PHL franchise. The first time was in 1974 when the Dallas Metros were added. The Metros played eleven years in the league before relocating to Milwaukee in 1985. Darryl Byrd decided to give Dallas a second chance after owner Clint Love finally secured approval for a new downtown arena. “We have to find a way to make things work in Dallas if we want to continue to expand our footprint in the United States” said Byrd. “I’m very confident that Mr. Love is the man that can make this happen.” Love stated that he had a few names in mind for his new team, but had not decided on anything yet. He did confirm, however, that the name “Metros” will not be used again.

In other news the Denver Bulls hired former PHL goaltender Bill Kelly as their new General Manager, Kelly’s first move as GM was then to fire head coach Jacques Fortune, who had coached the Bulls for a decade. Fortune was then replaced by Grant Dunlop, who had coached Seattle through the late ‘80s.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Nuggets & Bulls Unveil New Logos, Uniforms

Two teams will have new looks when the 1992-93 season gets underway. The California Nuggets and Denver Bulls have both completely revamped their identities with new logos, color schemes, and uniforms.

The Nuggets were the first team to unveil their new look in a press conference on June 15. The primary logo features the word "Nuggets" above a pickaxe and a gold nugget below all superimposed over a distorted triangle in the new team colors of black, teal, and metallic gold. The home uniforms are white trimmed in black, teal, and gold, while the road uniforms are black trimmed in teal and gold. Team owners Neil Gantt and Bill Pike both wanted to reinvent the Nugget's identity after taking over the club in 1990. "Our team is entering an exciting new era and I think this new look represents that" said Gantt. "We of course appreciate the classic look with the blue and the red but this is an opportunity to focus on the future of our franchise."

Less than a week later, the Denver Bulls were the second team of the summer to unveil a new identity. The Bulls new primary logo now features the snarling head of a bull placed over a stylized letter "D" in the new color scheme of navy, gold, and red, a slight tribute to the Colorado state colors. The secondary logo features a mountain with a speeding puck in front, also stylized as a tribute to the state flag. The uniforms will be white at home and navy on the road both trimmed in gold and red. The new look further distances the team from it's Buffalo days just over 20 years after relocating from Western New York. "As we prepare for our big move into the new building a year from now, we really wanted to take that next step to truly make this 'Denver's team'. I believe this new look really connects the franchise to the city of Denver and the state of Colorado" said team owner Mark Kirkpatrick. 

At the 1992 PHL draft, a spokesperson from SporTech, the official supplier of PHL uniforms, suggested that several more PHL clubs are considering making "significant changes" to their identities over the next few seasons. Pittsburgh, Calgary, and Long Island in particular are rumored to be looking into making changes in the near future, possibly as early as the 1993-94 season.

Friday, May 5, 2017

1992 Lewis Cup Finals

The 1992 Lewis Cup Finals would pit the Milwaukee Choppers, in search of their third championship in five seasons, against the Montreal Royale, a team in search of their first since 1968. Game one in Montreal was dominated by the home team, as Vincent Ducharme’s three-point night helped the Royale to a 6-3 victory. Game two would be much closer, as the lead went back-and-forth until the game went into overtime. 20 seconds into the extra frame, Travis Curry nearly ended it for the Choppers but Victor Malmsten made a brilliant save to preserve the tie. Near the end of the first overtime, Evan Flowers hit Trevor Ramsey with a long pass, springing Ramsey on a breakaway. Ramsey beat Scott Daffney top shelf to win the game for Montreal and give them a 2-0 series lead.

Heading home for games three and four, the Choppers were full of confidence. The front page of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal the morning of game three featured a quote from Pete Holloway, guaranteeing a series win. Game three would be another overtime epic, as the teams skated to a 2-2 deadlock after regulation. Veteran goalies Malmsten and Daffney both played spectacular in net as one overtime turned into two. Midway through the second overtime, Holloway would put his bold words into action, beating Malmsten for the game winner to bring the series to 2-1. Game four would be a huge game for both teams. Milwaukee knew a Montreal victory would mean a chance for them to win the Cup on home ice two nights later. Bruce Gratton opened the scoring before Joe Pickard increased the lead to 2-0. It appeared the Choppers were in command. Suddenly JC Girard scored just seconds after Pickard to bring the score within one. Early in the second period, Terry Hawkins was called for tripping, giving the Royale a powerplay. Just 23 seconds into the man advantage Sylvain Landry tied the score. Milwaukee regained the lead late in the second period when Olivier Meloche’s blast from the point found its way past Malmsten. The Royale pressed hard for the tying goal throughout the third period but simply could not solve Scott Daffney. Finally, their persistence paid off when Ducharme found Trevor Ramsey in the slot, who scored to tie the game at 3-3. As the clock wound down, Milwaukee made a last-minute push to win in regulation. With only 34 seconds left, defenseman Ray Decker’s point shot was blocked by Hannes Rhenquist. The puck deflected out to Sergei Vetrov, who found himself on a breakaway. Vetrov beat Daffney five-hole and Montreal had the lead with 25 seconds remaining. The Royale would hang on and return home just one win away from the Lewis Cup.

Back in Montreal, the entire city was ready to explode. Montreal had long been one of the most passionate and faithful fan basses in the league and had waited 24 long years to see their beloved Royale take home a championship. Game five was all Montreal from the get-go. Ramsey scored early, followed by Ducharme before Vetrov made it 3-0 home team. Milwaukee knew they were in trouble. After the third Royale goal, The Choppers adjusted their lines, which seemed to work as Travis Curry scored early in the second period on a beautiful pass from Joe Pickard. Only two minutes later, however, Ducharme scored what would be the eventual winner as the Royale ultimately won 5-3 to claim the third Lewis Cup in franchise history and the first in the Vincent Ducharme/Don Shelburne era. When asked if he regretted “the guarantee” back in game three, Pete Holloway said he did not. “I made a statement to try to spark our team” said Holloway. “I thought we responded well initially, we just couldn’t finish the job.” For Montreal native Ducharme, the win was a dream come true. “This is the greatest feeling I’ve ever had playing the game, especially to do it here in front of my family, with the team I grew up watching, I can’t even begin to describe it.”

Thursday, May 4, 2017

1992 Playoffs

One of the more intriguing first-round playoff matchups, the Chicago Shamrocks and their flashy “Russian Connection” line met the hard-nosed Western Conference Champions, the Edmonton Northern Lights. The series was tight, with the teams deadlocked at 2-2 after the first four games. In a pivotal game five in Edmonton, the Russians carried Chicago as each player on their line scored in a 3-1 win. The Shamrocks had an opportunity to complete the upset in game six and they would not disappoint. Ted MacDougall took a stretch pass from Scott Benson in overtime and beat goaltender Wes Simmons to send Chicago to the second round. The loss was a bitter pill to swallow for Edmonton, who had shown so much promise in the regular season. “We just couldn’t match their speed and skill” said defenseman Dwight Ingram. “It’s devastating when you have a big year like this and come up short.” Meanwhile, Alberta’s other team, the Calgary Wranglers, fared much better in their series against the LA Wizards. Also entering game five tied 2-2, Sergei Krayev’s two-goal performance gave the Wranglers a 3-2 series lead. In game six at the Calgary Exhibition, The teams were knotted at three until veteran Ron Chambers scored what proved to be the winner while Patrick Garnier hit the empty net to seal the game and the series for Calgary. In other Western Conference action, Vancouver and Minnesota would be the only teams in the first round to go the full seven games and that seventh game would go into double overtime where Bighorns’ captain Joe Tyler would prove to be the hero, beating Ron Tatum to seal the series victory for Vancouver. The Defending Champion St. Louis Spirits were eliminated by the rival Milwaukee Choppers.

In the Eastern Conference, the Boston Bulldogs made short work of the New York Civics, sweeping them in four straight games, while Vincent Ducharme and the Royale swept the Detroit Mustangs, who suffered a devastating blow when captain and star defenseman Gustav Janssen went down with a knee injury in game two. Janssen would not return and the Mustangs never really found their way into the series without him. The Philadelphia Redshirts, projected by many to contend for the Cup, found themselves in trouble against the Long Island Concordes. The Concordes jumped to a 3-0 lead early, as Stuart Burns led the way in scoring while Dawson Robb proved to be a valuable off-season addition. Desperate to stay alive in game four, the Redshirts skated to a 5-2 win, then won game five 4-2. A win on the Island would force the series to a seventh game. The Concordes, not wanting to return to the PhillyDome for a deciding game, took care of business on home ice with a 2-0 win to advance. It would be the final game in the careers of Gary Johnson and Bobby Ford, both of whom failed to win a championship in their 2-decade careers.

The Quebec Nationale also got themselves into a tight spot in their series against the Toronto Racers. The Racers managed to take a 3-1 lead in the series, putting the Nationale on their heels in game five. Quebec had to overcome a 2-0 deficit to survive game five, with Rostislav Stransky’s hat-trick turning the game around before Graham Boswell sealed the win with an empty-netter. Game six nearly went into overtime, when Marc Brunelle scored for Toronto in the final minutes to push them into the second round.

Round two would feature one of the most classic matchups in PHL history as the Toronto Racers took on the Montreal Royale. The heavily favoured Royale appeared to have the upper hand early on, taking the first two games in Montreal with Ducharme scoring three goals over the first two games. Toronto responded in game three with a big win of their own on home ice, with Alexei Yolkin scoring the winner before Tory Partridge added the insurance marker to seal the win. The Racers looked like they could mount a comeback when they opened game four with a 3-0 lead after one period. However, Ducharme scored twice early in the second, Sergei Vetrov, Trevor Ramsey, JC Girard all scored toward the end of the period, and Ducharme completed the hat-trick while Ramsey scored his second as the Royale scored seven unanswered goals to take the game 7-3. Toronto never recovered after the offensive explosion from the Royale, finally succumbing to Montreal in game five as the Royale advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second year in a row with a 5-2 victory. Elsewhere in the East, the Boston Bulldogs and Long Island Concordes met yet again and the intensity from the ’91 series picked up right where it had left off. Boston took a very physical game one 5-3, while the Concordes managed to tie the series and steal home-ice advantage with a 4-3 win in game two. The teams each won a game in Long Island as well and the series was tied 2-2 heading into game five in Boston. Tension boiled over in game five, as two big fights broke out when the Concordes felt that Boston forwards Craig Bush and Jason Luna were getting to close to goaltender Jeff Pickard. Bush and Luna both answered the bell, fighting Doug Macintyre and Ashton Nichol respectively. Despite the Bulldogs aggressively crashing the net, Pickard made 37 saves while Stuart Burns and Craig Davidson led the charge offensively in a 5-1 win. Game six was a must-win for Boston on the road. Craig Bush scored midway through the second period to give the ‘Dogs a 3-2 lead before Colin Fleming and Kyle Boone each added to it in a 5-2 victory to force game seven in Boston for the second straight year. Boston Arena was full beyond seating capacity for the deciding game, while fans in Long Island watched on a big screen in the Nassau County Arena. The game was close, tied 4-4 at the end of regulation. In overtime, controversy hit when Long Island rookie Niklas Jonsson appeared to trip Boston goaltender Ron Buckner as Buckner was heading back to his net after attempting to clear the puck. The puck found Theo Sprouse’s stick and the veteran defenseman easily flipped the puck into the goal. Buckner was irate, throwing his equipment while chasing down referee James McCullough, demanding an explanation. To the Bulldogs’ satisfaction, and that of the Boston crowd that was ready to jump the glass, McCullough called the goal back. Now the Concordes were incensed, insistent that Jonsson had gotten control of the puck and Buckner had skated into his stick. Cam Norton yelled at McCullough from across the ice, calling him a “homer”. Norton was ejected but wouldn’t leave the ice without sharing a piece of his mind with Boston coach Gary Shantz as he passed the Bulldogs’ bench. Despite losing their coach, Long Island soon scored again, as Doug Macintyre nailed Boston’s Tuevo Heiskanen with a hard hit, taking out his left knee, then passed the puck to a streaking Doug Lyons who beat Buckner on a breakaway to end Boston’s magical year. The Bulldogs immediately responded to the hit on Heiskanen - who was slow to get up – and went after Macintyre right in the middle of the Concordes’ celebration. It took the officials several minutes to break up the melee before sending both teams off the ice, foregoing the traditional handshake line. “For a team that likes to bully there way through the playoffs, they sure are whiny when they get hit” said Cam Norton after the victory. “They run our goalie all series and he never says a word, just stops the puck. Their goalie runs into one of our guys and it’s the end of the world.” Boston captain Craig Bush responded. “They won the series, not sure what the problem for them is. Maybe they’re still bitter about last year, I thought the officials made up for it this time so I’m not sure what their problem is.”

There was no question that Boston/Long Island had become the premier rivalry in the PHL. Meanwhile, another decent rivalry matchup took place in the Central Division between the Milwaukee Choppers and the Chicago Shamrocks. The series was tied 2-2 with each team having won both its home games heading into a pivotal game five. The Choppers made good use of home ice once again in game five, winning 3-1 to give themselves a chance to take the series in game six. The Shamrocks put up a valiant effort in game six, playing with the lead twice before the game went into overtime. It would take two extra periods but Pete Holloway finally found the back of the net late in the second OT to send Milwaukee to the Western Conference Finals. In other Western Conference action Vancouver forward Brett Townsend’s goal early in overtime in game five against the Wranglers gave the Bighorns an opportunity to advance to the Conference finals for the first time in franchise history. They would not disappoint as Bruce Blackwell’s two-goal night propelled Vancouver to a 4-1 win.

Few gave the Bighorns a chance facing Milwaukee in the Western Conference Finals. Sure enough, they would find themselves facing elimination in game six. After the Choppers opened the scoring late in the second period, Joe Tyler tied the game just minutes into the third before unlikely hero Cedric Thibault gave Vancouver the lead. The Bighorns held on for a 3-1 win to force game seven in Milwaukee. Game seven would be a wild one. The Choppers, on goals from Travis Curry, Bruce Gratton, and Shayne Boggs, jumed to a 3-0 lead. The lead held until early in the third period, when Tyler, Blackwell, and Gene Callahan each scored to bring the game back to a tie. With the clock running down and overtime approaching, Milwaukee’s Joe Pickard suddenly scored to give the Choppers the lead. Seconds later, Gratton hit the empty net to seal the victory and send Milwaukee to the Lewis Cup Finals.

In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Montreal Royale found themselves in a tough spot against the Long Island Concordes. Long Island led the series 2-1 and was leading game four 2-0 at home when Trevor Ramsey finally put the Royale on the board. Minutes after the Ramsey goal defenseman Jarkko Vesa scored to tie the game 2-2. Theo Sprouse put Long Island back on top early in the third period and Montreal was on their heels once again. It was the captain, Ducharme, who would show why he was labeled as hockey’s ultimate clutch performer. Ducharme tied the game 3-3 to send it to overtime, then added the winner just four minutes into the extra frame to give Montreal a win and tie the series. The Royale never looked back, beating the Concordes with back-to-back 4-2 victories, sending them back to the Lewis Cup Finals to face Milwaukee.