1996 Entry Draft
Though not as strong as the 1996 entry draft, the 1997 draft certainly had no shortage of talent. With the first pick, the Milwaukee Choppers selected big Swedish center Peter Lundholm, then traded for the number five pick, using it to take hard-nosed defenseman Todd Brownlow. Dallas took USA National team star Kyle Clark with the second pick, while the New Orleans Sound rounded out the top three when they selected offensive defenseman Sheldon Harrison. Other interesting picks included Boston’s Isaac Hart, the son of pro football legend Billy Hart, LA selected goaltender Ryan Blank, the league’s first California native who grew up a fan of the Wizards, and finally New York selected the first German player in PHL history, Tobias Krause, who played fairly well as a 17-year-old at the 1996 World Hockey Challenge.
1. MIL – Peter Lundhom, F, SWE
2. DAL – Kyle Clark, F, USA
3. NOS – Sheldon Harrison, D, CAN
4. LI – Patrick Murphy, F, CAN
5. MIL (From DEN) – Todd Brownlow, D, CAN
6. DET – Eric Woods, F, CAN
7. SEA – Olli Heikkinen, F, FIN
8. PHI – Sergei Dyatlov, F, RUS
9. STL – Ben Wagner, D, USA
10. MIA – Derek Snyder, F, CAN
11. QUE – Mikeal Johansson, D, SWE
12. CGY – Dominik Musil, F, CZE
13. BOS – Isaac Hart, F, USA
14. CLE – Dylon White, F, CAN
15. VAN – Andrei Yegorov, F, RUS
16. PIT – Vladimir Rezek, F, SVK
17. WPG – Trent McCulloch, D, CAN
18. EDM – Igor Zhabin, F, RUS
19. CAR – Corey Powell, D, CAN
20. CAL – Jared King, D, USA
21. MTL – Zdeno Kadlec, F, CZE
22. WSH – Brant Brown, F, CAN
23. KC – Jamie Reid, D, USA
24. CHI – Chris Butler, F, CAN
25. LA – Ryan Blank, G, USA
26. TOR – Toivu Niskala, F, FIN
27. MIN – Murray Bennett, D, CAN
28. NYC – Tobias Krause, F, GER
Travis Curry, F, DAL/MIL, 1981-1997
One of the last great players to have played for the Metros/Choppers franchise in both locations, Curry served as Bruce Gratton’s best sidekick throughout the 1980s. The duo led Milwaukee to back-to-back Lewis Cup championships in 1988 and 1989 with Curry scoring the Cup-winning goal both years. In 1992, Curry once again played a key role in leading the Choppers to their third appearance in the finals, where they would lose to Vincent Ducharme and the Montreal Royale. Curry would play five more years with the Choppers until his contract expired in 1997. With Milwaukee opting not to resign him, Curry retired rather than hit the free agent market.
Alexander Orlov, F, CHI, 1991-1997
One of the greatest players in the history of the Soviet national team, Alexander Orlov became a national hero in 1976 at the inaugural World Hockey Challenge when he scored the tournament winning goal against the heavily favoured Canadians. It would be 15 years before Orlov was finally allowed to leave the Soviet Union to play in the PHL for the Chicago Shamrocks. Teaming up with countryman Valdimir Gaganov, Orlov helped the Shamrocks to two straight Lewis Cup finals appearances in the mid-90s, where they would win it all in 1994.
Clark Pratt, F, NYC, 1978-1997
Though he was never considered a true superstar, Clark Pratt was one of the most popular players ever to wear a Civics uniform thanks to his toughness and work ethic. A broken leg endangered Pratt’s career in 1981, but the tough winger returned the following season. Pratt played 19 years in New York and his longevity was finally rewarded in 1997 when the Civics won the Lewis Cup, the first in Pratt’s career.
Brent MacDonald, G, NS/NOS, LA, 1982-1997
A native of Pictou, Nova Scotia, MacDonald grew up a huge fan of the Nova Scotia Claymores and finally realized his lifelong dream of playing for them in 1982. Throughout the 1980s, MacDonald backstopped the Claymores to an incredible seven straight Division titles, as well as an appearance in the Lewis Cup Finals in 1987. Unfortunatly, the Claymores were forced out of Halifax in 1995 and the team relocated to New Orleans that summer. MacDonald played one year in New Orleans before being traded to Los Angeles, where he split the goaltending duties with Jim Cochran before retiring.
Magnus Skoglund, F, DET, 1978-1997
Skoglund served as Detroit’s top player during a relatively dark time in the franchise’s history. The Mustangs missed the playoffs during the last five years of Skoglund’s career and made it past the first round only twice during the 19 season Skoglund wore the Blue and Gold. Nevertheless, Skoglund still went on to become one of the greatest players ever to wear a Mustang’s uniform, retiring as the team’s second-leading scorer of all time.
Brett Townsend, F, VAN, 1981-1997
Townsend’s accomplishments were largely overlooked as he played for one of the PHL’s weakest franchises for his entire career. Townsend nearly tied the PHL’s “Iron man” record, never missing a game from 1988 until his retirement in 1997. Townsend also retires as Vancouver’s all-time scoring leader and only 1000 point scorer in franchise history.
Chris Blythe, F, EDM, 1981-1997
One of the more popular players to wear a Northern Lights sweater, Chris Blythe won fans over with his natural scoring ability. Blythe helped Edmonton to their only Lewis Cup Finals appearance in 1993, where they lost to the Boston Bulldogs.
Edmonton trades D Dwayne Ingram to Washington in exchange for D Jordan O’Reilly.
Nearing the end of his career, Ingram gets an opportunity to pursue a title with the Generals, the Northern Lights begin their rebuild with the addition of O’Reilly, a similar player to Ingram but at only 20 years old.
Milwaukee trades D Jed McKenzie to Denver in exchange for 5th overall draft pick.
The Bulls acquire a solid young defenseman, while the Choppers continue their rebuild with two picks in the top five.
Key Free Agents
Aaron Duplacy signs new 5-year deal with New York worth $9 Million/year.
The Civics lock up their franchise player and captain for five years.
Randy McAllen signs new 10-year deal with Seattle worth $11 Million/year.
Seattle is forced to match a massive offer sheet from Detroit, making the 21-year-old the second-highest paid player currently in the league.
After a career-threatening eye injury, Krayev will return to the league as one of its richest players. Chicago gains a replacement for Orlov, while Calgary’s status as a playoff team is now in jeopardy.
Craig Bush (BOS) signs 3-year deal with Seattle worth $3.5 Million/year.
After 17 years in Boston, Bush leaves the Bulldogs to chase another championship and provide leadership to an up-and-coming Grey Wolves squad.
The summer of 1997 was an ominous one for the PHL. The collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players’ association was set to expire September 1, and little to no progress had been made in negotiations. Darryl Byrd refused to budge on a salary cap, while Brian Hunt and the players vowed they would never allow it. Since retiring from a long playing career with Denver in 1990, Hunt had earned his law degree in order to better serve the PHPA, and now was prepared to take them to war. “If Darryl wants to shut the game down that’s his decision, we will not accept a cap” said Hunt.
As fans and players braced for the worst, the summer proved to be quite interesting. Immediately after the draft, the Detroit Mustangs presented budding Seattle superstar Randy McAllen with the largest offer sheet ever seen in the PHL, $11 Million for ten seasons. The problem for the Grey Wolves was that the franchise was in the process of being sold. Original owner John Dyson had found a local buyer, software developer Kevin Emms, but was still processing the transaction when the offer was given. Grey Wolves GM Bobby Vail had been told to wait for the official sale of the franchise before making any big moves, but he only had 48 hours to match the offer. The sale of the franchise was finally completed on June 30 just hours before the deadline and Emms gave Vail his blessing to match the Mustang’s offer. McAllen would be in Seattle for at least a decade.
In Chicago, the new Garfield Center was set to open when the season kicked off. In July, the arena was named the host of the 2000 World Hockey Challenge. “We’re very pleased to be able to bring this tournament here to Chicago” said Shamrocks owner Fredrick Garfield Jr. The Shamrocks would play all their pre-season games at Lincoln Sports Arena and make their last exhibition game a final farewell to the old building.
Two teams announced new arenas in 1997. The city of Detroit approved a new arena for the Mustangs. A 20,000-seat facility would be built on the outskirts of downtown Detroit as part of a new big league sports development that would also include a new Ballpark and a new outdoor stadium. The arena would open for Mustangs hockey in time for the 2000-01 season. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Lumberjacks announced their plans for a 22,000-seat arena, which will be located just southeast of downtown Minneapolis on the Mississippi river. The arena would open in the fall of 1999.
The summer came and went with no collective agreement in place. On the morning of September 1, Darryl Byrd announced the PHL would initiate a labor lockout until an agreement could be reached. “This is a regrettable day to say the least” said Byrd. “I had hoped the players would be willing to work with us on something, especially given that they knew the consequences of no agreement, but it appears that they value their own wealth above the overall health of the game, which is unfortunate.”
“The fact that he would try to blame this on the players, when they decided to lock us out, that’s disappointing” said Brian Hunt. Despite their distaste for each other, the two sides did resume talks throughout September in a desperate attempt to salvage the start of the season. Unfortunately, the season start date of October 10 arrived with no deal. Darryl Byrd cancelled all games for the month of October, the first time since 1985 that a work stoppage actually cancelled PHL games. Byrd was asked if he would ever be willing to lose an entire season. “That’s up to the players” he responded. When talks through October also went nowhere, all games in November were also cancelled, leaving fans to wonder if 1997-98 would even take place at all.