Friday, September 15, 2017

1997 Off-Season

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

Notable Retirements:

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.

Notable Trades

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.

Sergei Krayev (CGY) signs 6-year deal with Chicago worth $12 Million/year.
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.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Pioneers, Spirits Unveil New Uniforms

Just a few weeks after the 1997 playoffs came to an end, two more teams revealed new looks for the 1997-98 season. The St. Louis Spirits and Winnipeg Pioneers both introduced all-new jerseys, but unlike most teams in recent years, simply updated their classic logos rather than reinvent them completely.

The Spirits maintained the basics of their logo while modernizing it and updating the color scheme to navy, red, silver, and white. There are also two new alternate logos, one that appears on the sleeve of the jerseys and one that may appear on a third jersey someday. "We really didn't want to change too much" said GM Toby Griffith. "The Spirits have a rich tradition and we wanted to keep the brand instantly recognizable yet modern."

The Winnipeg Pioneers also made some changes to their uniforms. The original logo from 1966 remains, the only alteration being a tan-colored outline, but the uniforms have been changed drastically for the first time in the team's 33-year history. The striped "coonskin" design on the sleeves is now gone, but a design has been added along the waist meant to resemble a log fence. In addition to the uniform changes, a new alternate mark has been added featuring a covered wagon with a stylized "W". "We're excited about this new look" said GM Jacques Fortune, who had begun working on the new look when he was hired in the spring of 1996. "We tried different logos and even different colors but ultimately decided to stick with what was familiar and just tweak it. Personally, I think it works well."

Meanwhile, the third jersey trend continued in 1997, as four teams introduced alternate looks. Cleveland's third jersey got the most attention from fans, featuring a constellation of an electric guitar on a black backdrop, a tribute to the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, located near the team's arena. The Minnesota Lumberjacks unveiled their second alternate jersey a year after discarding the black one. This one is green with white tree designs on each side and the team's classic logo on the front. The jersey also features collar laces, something not seen on a PHL jersey since the early '80s. New York's alternate is black featuring the Manhattan skyline and the team's "NYC" alternate logo, while the Los Angeles Wizards will wear a "Colossuem Blue"  third Jersey with a sublimated pattern and an alternate logo reminiscent of the team's original logo.

Monday, September 4, 2017

1997 Lewis Cup Finals

The 1997 Lewis Cup Finals began in New York City on May 30 with the hometown Civics facing the Kansas City Twisters. There was a buzz throughout the city as 22300 fans packed into Broadway House for game one. The Civics had not reached the final since their last Cup victory in 1975, while the Twisters, founded in 1989, were making their first appearance in the championship series.

Game one was close, with 19-year veteran Clark Pratt opening the scoring in the first period. It appeared the Civics had the win as both Jason Wyley and Jason Lind playing very well in net. Suddenly, just a minute after Pratt’s goal, Magnus Swedberg scored for Kansas City to tie the game. Despite a late push from each team, the game would go to overtime, where Darian Ashmore proved to be the hero, as Kansas City took game one. Game two would also go into overtime, with Ashmore once again getting an opportunity to win it. Wyley made the save, then stopped several more KC chances, before Aaron Duplacy finally ended the game and tied the series near the end of the first overtime. “We obviously would’ve like to win both games at home but this is a big win for us. We’ll take the split” said Duplacy.

The series moved on to Kansas City, where the Twisters hoped to use the home ice advantage they had stolen. However, the Twisters couldn’t even get on the board in game three. Jason Wyley stopped 42 shots in a 2-0 New York win. Game four was closer, as the teams battled through a 2-2 tie until Jeremy Kitchen scored to put the Civics ahead. Tim Dixon sealed the win with an empty-netter and the Civics were now just one win away.

A win was critical for Kansas City in game five back on Broadway if they wanted to continue the series. The building was packed once again as New York anticipated a home-ice victory. Though the Civics opened the scoring, Kansas City quickly responded with a pair of goals from Brett Delaney and Dave Mack to give the Twisters the lead. New York pushed to regain it but could not solve Lind while Ashton Nichol and Elliot Andrews each scored to increase the gap to 4-1 and secure a key win for the Twisters. The series would now head back to Kansas City with the pressure now on the Civics.

Prior to game six, the Civics received devastating news. Goaltender Jason Wyley had been hit high with a shot late in game five and woke up with severe concussion symptoms. Backup Brad Thorne would start for New York as the Civics had another opportunity to claim the title. Thorne was tested early, as the Civics took two penalties early on. Kansas City pressed for the opening goal but Thorne met every challenge. Finally, with the second penalty over, Grant Sibley scored a big goal to give New York the lead. Midway through the second period, Gustav Janssen made it 2-0. Kansas City finally got on the board three minutes later on a goal from Scott Drayton, but the Twisters couldn’t keep pace with the Civics, who extended the lead thanks to a goal from Darian Higgins. New York clung to a 3-1 lead until just four minutes remaining, when Travis Watson brought the Twisters to within one. As Kansas City pulled Jason Lind for the extra attacker. The Twisters pushed hard for the tying goal but Brad Thorne met the challenge. With just four seconds left, Dave Mack had the puck on his stick with an open net, but Thorne slid across the goalmouth just in time to get his stick on the puck a redirected it away from the net just as the final buzzer sounded. As the Civics mobbed their goaltender, Back in New York Broadway House erupted as fans watched on a big screen. For the first time since 1975, the New York Civics were Lewis Cup Champions. Aaron Duplacy accepted the Cup from Darryl Byrd and after skating a lap with it, passed it off to Clark Pratt, who would likely announce his retirement after 19 PHL seasons, all with the Civics. The Twisters remained optimistic in spite of the disappointing loss. “We just weren’t quite ready yet” said Dave Mack. “I think these kids are getting better every year and winning a championship is the next step. We’ll get there.”

Friday, September 1, 2017

1997 Playoffs

After losing their hold on first place in the Western Conference, the Chicago Shamrocks hoped to redeem themselves in the playoffs. Fans figured it would be relatively easy as the Shamrocks faced the Edmonton Northern Lights in the first round. In game one, the Northern Lights stunned the Shamrocks 4-2. Game two would go into overtime, where Joey Hamilton scored for Edmonton, silencing the crowd at the Lincoln Sports Arena in what would go on to be the final playoff game in the building. The Northern Lights went on to win another overtime thriller in game three before completing the sweep and one of the biggest upsets of the decade.

Meanwhile, the Kansas City Twisters faced a rematch with the California Nuggets. Kevin Hoyle and the Nuggets were determined to finally break through to the second round. Both teams won their first two home games, as the teams skated to a 2-2 series tie. The trend would continue in game five, as Brett Delaney’s two goals gave Kansas City a 5-2 win and a chance to take the series on the road in game six. The Twisters jumped to an early 3-0 lead in game six on goals from Scott Drayton, Magnus Swedberg, and Darian Ashmore. It looked like the Twisters had the game and the series in the bag when California suddenly scored two quick goals to start the third period. The Nuggets pushed for the tying goal but could not solve Jason Lind as the Twisters hung on to advance to the second round.

In other Western Conference action, the Los Angeles Wizards brought Winnipeg’s return to the playoffs to a quick end in four-straight, while the defending champion Lumberjacks eliminated Vancouver in five games.

In the East, the New York Civics defeated the Boston Bulldogs in five, while Washington took out the Stingers in six games.

The Toronto Racers, determined to finally end years of playoff frustration, faced the Cleveland Cosmos, who were playing in their first playoff series in franchise history. Toronto predictably won the first two at home, including a 5-0 blowout in game one. The Cosmos quickly responded in Cleveland, however, winning two overtime games in a row to tie the series. Suddenly, Toronto fans were starting to get nervous. Game five at the Queen Elizabeth Arena would be critical for the Racers. Marc Brunelle and Joe Murdock each had three points in a 5-1 win to give the Racers the series lead. Back in Ohio, the Racers finished things off with a 3-1 victory to advance to the second round.

Meanwhile, the Carolina Raiders had made the most of their return to the playoffs, taking the heavily favored Montreal Royale to a seventh game. The Raiders held a 3-2 lead in a hard-fought game entering the third period. Goaltender Kevin Stroud made save after save as Montreal pushed for the tying goal. In desperation, the Royale finally pulled goaltender Jonathan Bouret for the extra attacker. With just four seconds left, rookie Todd Paterson’s shot found its way into the net to tie the game. The goal took the wind out of Carolina’s sails, but they managed to bounce back fairly quickly in overtime. Former Royale Trevor Ramsey nearly ended it late in the first OT when his shot on an open net went wide. Just 19 seconds into the second overtime, Sergei Vetrov finally ended the marathon with a quick shot that Stroud never saw. Montreal advanced to the second round.

Round two saw three series’ go the distance, as the Civics and Generals, Royale and Racers, and Wizards and Twisters all went to a game seven. The Twisters surprisingly routed Los Angeles 6-1 in their deciding game, while the Civics had to overcome a 3-2 series deficit, then a 3-2 deficit in game seven, where captain Aaron Duplacy proved to be the hero, scoring both the tying goal and the OT winner to send New York to the Eastern Conference Finals. Meanwhile, Toronto faced Montreal in a series for the ages. After splitting the first four games, the Royale pulled ahead in game five on the strength of a two-goal night from Vincent Ducharme. Facing enormous pressure to come through in game six on the road, the Racers found themselves down 1-0 throughout most of the game as Jonathan Bouret turned in a spectacular performance in the Montreal net. Finally, Randy Fernandez’ point shot beat Bouret and the game was tied. With only five minutes to go, Stuart Burns beat Bouret with a goal that would prove to be the winner as the Racers forced game seven. The deciding game was all Montreal early on, as Ducharme and JC Girard each scored to give the Royale a 2-0 lead. Murdock scored for Toronto midway through the second period, but it would not be enough, as Bouret made 57 saves in a Montreal victory. “This is beyond disappointing” said Fernandez. “I don’t know what more we can do at this point.”

Elsewhere in round two, Edmonton’s magic ran out against the defending champions, as the Lumberjacks defeated them in a very physical 5-game series.

The Eastern Conference Finals began at Broadway House between the New York Civics and the Montreal Royale. Game one was a huge disappointment for the Civics as the Royale took it 3-1. The Civics’ undisciplined play was mainly to blame for the loss, as all three Montreal goals came on powerplays. After the game, head coach Bruce Irvine ripped into his team, telling the media his players played like “a bunch of spoiled brats.” Fans and media wondered how the Civics would respond to their coach’s criticism, but the Civics came out a focused and motivated team, winning the next three games to take a 3-1 series lead. Now Montreal was on the ropes heading back to Broadway fro game five. Vincent Ducharme responded the way a captain should, carrying the team on his back and scoring two goals in a 4-2 Royale win. In game six, he followed it up with a goal and an assist in a 3-1 victory to force a seventh game in New York.  New York’s priority in game seven was to shut down Ducharme at all costs. The Civics’ checkers were all over Ducharme from start to finish, frustrating him to the point where he even took an uncharacteristic penalty in the third period. Duplacy, Lamar Jackson, and Grant Sibley each scored as New York finally eliminated the Royale to reach their first final in 22 years.

Meanwhile, in the Western Conference Final, the defending champion Lumberjacks immediately had their hands full with the Kansas City Twisters as Jason Lind earned a shutout in a 4-0 KC victory. The ‘Jacks would pull ahead before Kansas City tied the series in game four to make it a best-of-three. Game five in Minnesota was critical and Jason Crowley showed up in a big way when the team needed a hero in the second overtime. Crowley deked three Twister defenders before beating Lind low to give Minnesota a 3-2 win and a chance to return to the finals. Lind needed to come up big again in game six  at home if the Twisters were going to stay alive. After allowing a bad goal from Minnesota defenseman Jeff Winslow in the first minute, Lind shook it off and played one of the best games of his career, stopping 53 shots while Blair Horton and Travis Watson each scored in a tight 2-1 KC victory to send the series to game seven. Carrying the momentum from their thrilling game six victory, the Twisters never really allowed the Lumberjacks into game seven, as Watson, Delaney, Elliot Andrews, and Dave Mack each scored to send the team to the Lewis Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history. “This is what we’ve been working towards for the last eight years” said ecstatic team owner Ken Milliken. “To finally get there, to finally have the opportunity to bring a winner to Kansas City is a dream come true.”

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

1996-97 Regular Season

The 1996 rookie class was projected to be among the deepest in league history and the rookies around the league did not disappoint. 1st-overall draft pick Sergei Gulinov scored 102 points for Cleveland, finally leading the Cosmos to their first-ever playoff berth, In Philadelphia, Jared Baxter scored 43 goals, while second and third picks Kris Whittle and Andrei Alexeev each scored 41. Nobody, however, could’ve predicted the year that Racers’ pick Joe Murdock would have. Selected 27th in the draft, Murdock was a relative unknown, not even expected to crack the loaded Toronto lineup. Murdock stole the show at training camp, scoring eight goals in Toronto’s five exhibition games, a performance that included a hat-trick. Once the season started, the 18-year-old from Kelowna, BC did
not slow down. Murdock became the second rookie in PHL history to win the scoring race with 131 points, including 62 goals as the Racers took second place in the Eastern Conference. Murdock’s incredible performance even prompted the Racers to trade aging star Magnus Swedberg in order to give him more ice time. “I can’t believe what this kid has accomplished this year” said head coach Bob Lacey. “He’s definitely a special player.” Murdock wasn’t the only Racer making headlines in 1996-97, veteran winger Stuart Burns’ first year in Toronto was a success, as the 36-year-old became one of the oldest players to score 100 points.

The New York Civics enjoyed their best season in years, finishing first overall in the league for the first time since Skippy Cleveland led them there in 1957. Aaron Duplacy enjoyed his best year since 1994, scoring 46 goals to lead the team, Lamar Jackson was a runner up for defenseman-of-the-year, while 19-year veteran Clark Pratt announced 1996-97 would be his final season. The Civics headed into the post-season full of optimism. Montreal endured a tough year, losing Vincent Ducharme to a torn ACL in November, but still managed to finish fourth. Veteran Sylvain Landry picked up the slack for Ducharme with 92 points to lead the team. One of the most pleasant surprises of the year was in the PHL’s newest city, as the Carolina Raiders finished fifth in the East to secure the franchise’s first playoff berth since 1985 when the team played in Ottawa. Rookie center Shane Dutton played a big role with 78 points, while Gus Avery led the team in points with 84. “Obviously all the distractions from the last couple of years are gone” said captain Kevin Drake. “We’ve just been able to focus on hockey this year, and it’s been a fun year.”

Meanwhile, 1996-97 was a disappointing year for the defending Eastern Conference champion Quebec Nationale, who struggled to keep pace with the Cosmos and Bulldogs for the 8th and final playoff spot, the Nats had an opportunity to catch Boston for the final playoff spot in their final game of the year against Montreal. Quebec led the game after the first period, but ultimately lost 3-1, eliminating them from playoff contention.

Out West, it was the league’s oldest rookie that was getting all the attention in Dallas. Eight years after being drafted by the Milwaukee Choppers, Syong Li finally made his PHL debut after signing a contract with the injury-riddled Desperadoes. Li, whose parents had fled North Korea in the 1950s, played very well on a line with AJ Vernon and Jeff Jones, finishing second on the team in scoring. Unfortunately, it would only be enough to barely pull Dallas out of last place. “We’ve made some strides this year” said GM Ross Becker. “We’re moving in the right direction.” Chicago was finally unseated as the Western Conference champions in 1997, as the defending Lewis Cup champion Minnesota Lumberjacks took the crown. Jason Crowley continued his strong play from the previous season and from the World Hockey Challenge, while Christian Grayson claimed the Whyte Trophy as the league’s top goaltender. Kansas City also made a push for top spot in the conference, with help coming at the trade deadline in the form of Toronto star Magnus Swedberg. Swedberg played very well with Brett Delaney and Darian Ashmore as the Twisters earned a fourth place finish and home-ice advantage.

The Calgary Wranglers had a season to forget in 1996-97. First, captain Shannon Michaels was lost for the season after sustaining a serious concussion in an October fight with St. Louis tough guy Ryan McCarthy. Only a week later, Sergei Krayev suffered a potentially tragic eye injury. After losing 90 percent of his vision in his right eye, Krayev was finished for the year and his career was in doubt. The incident immediately sparked a debate about the use of visors, with the league desiring to make them mandatory. Krayev vowed to don a visor if he ever returned to the ice, while a few other players around the league also put them on, including LA’s Shawn Kelly, the player whose stick had injured Krayev. The Wranglers’ season was summed up perfectly on March 1 against Seattle when both Zambonis broke down on the same night, delaying the game by an hour. Ultimately, Calgary dropped to 9th place, out of the playoff picture.

Calgary’s loss was Vancouver’s gain, as the Bighorns returned to the playoffs. Off-season acquisition Tory Partridge flourished with his new team, taking advantage of the increase in ice time to score 73 points. Enforcer Cedric Thibault also enjoyed success of his own, setting a new league record for penalty minutes in a single season with 411. Between Thibault, Partridge, tough defensemen AJ Devries and Trevor Kerwick, and veteran Bruce Blackwell, the Bighorns were one of the league’s toughest teams, setting a PHL record for fighting majors by one team. The Bighorns weren’t the only team in the west to return to the post-season. The Winnipeg Pioneers finally reached the playoffs for the first time since 1990. Luke Morrison was spectacular in the net, while Dan Crow led the team in scoring with 82 points. “It’s been a long wait, especially for these fans” said head coach Craig Nelson. “We’ll be ready for LA, we proved this year that we’re better than people think, I think we can surprise some people.”

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

1996 World Hockey Challenge

The 1996 World Hockey Challenge once again had a very different look than previous iterations. The Soviet Union, who played the 1992 tournament as the Commonwealth of Independent States, now entered as Team Russia. The Russian team, with a lineup full of young talent, was seen as one of the favorites to win the tournament as Vladimir Gaganov returned to the team for the first time since the inaugural tournament in 1976. Canada, after a devastating loss in ’92, entered the tournament as the primary favorites to win it all. Led by Vincent Ducharme, the Canadian team was the deepest in the tournament, while the defending champion Americans, led by reigning Lewis Cup champion Jason Crowley, hoped to prove their upset over their Northern Neighbors in 1992 was no fluke.

For the first time ever, the tournament would feature ten teams. Czechoslovakia had split into two countries, Czech Republic and Slovakia. Both nations would be represented in the tournament while Denmark, led by young Washington star Jakob Olsen, entered the WHC for the first time. The Danes predictably struggled in their first tournament, but still managed a win against Germany in their second-last game. Both the Germans and the British went without a win in the round robin, disqualifying them from the playoff round. The three teams expected to contend for the championship all managed to survive the round robin without a loss. The Americans skated to a perfect 4-0-0 record as Jason Crowley led the team in scoring, while Bradley Pope and Christian Grayson were both spectacular in net.

The race for first place in pool A turned into a dogfight, as Canada and Russia entered their final round-robin game against each other both with undefeated records. Russian star Igor Zharkov led the round-robin in scoring, while Canadian goaltender, Zharkov’s Washington teammate Jake Borman was easily the top goaltender with two shutouts as Canada had only allowed one goal in their first three games. The teams played each other hard in one of the most exciting games in the tournament’s history. Borman and 19-year-old Russian goalie Alexei Rolonov both played the game of their lives, as the teams skated to a 2-2 tie. The Russians took first place on the basis they had more goals.

In the playoff round, the Americans finally had their first scare when Slovakia opened the scoring in their quarterfinal matchup. After Rostislav Stransky scored to make it 1-0, the Americans simply couldn’t solve 33-year-old PHL veteran Jaroslav Danek. Heading into the third period, the Slovaks still led 1-0. Danek still would not yield to the Americans until midway through the period, when Travis Watson finally found a hole and tied the game. Just minutes later, a Randy Fernandez slap shot gave team USA the lead. Mike Bidden sealed the win with an empty-netter and the Americans advanced to the semifinals. The Canadians also survived a quarterfinal scare against Sweden. The game was scoreless throughout regulation and went into overtime, where Martin Vannier finally scored to send team Canada to the semis. An upset over Finland sent the Czech Republic to the semis to face USA, while Russia routed Denmark 9-1 to earn another showdown with Canada.

The rematch between Canada and Russia was the most watched hockey game in Canada since the famous 1980 final between the same teams. It looked good for the Canadians early on, as Ducharme scored just minutes in. After nearly two full periods of a tense 1-0 game, grinder Tory Partridge made it 2-0 for Canada. With the Americans having beaten the Czechs to advance, it looked like it would be a North American rematch in the final. However, a different Russian team showed up for the third period. Gaganov scored six minutes into the third, then Igor Kharitanov tied it. The Moscow arena erupted while the living rooms and bars across Canada went silent. Borman and Rolonov both played very well into overtime, where Kharitanov scored again to win it for Russia. For the first time in the history of World Hockey Challenge, Canada failed to reach the championship game.

The building was packed for the final showdown between the host team Russia, and the defending champions, team USA. Both teams came out hitting and just two minutes in, American defenseman Scott Drayton hammered Russian star Alexei Yolkin, knocking him out of the game. Minutes later, Crowley scored to give the Americans a 1-0 lead. The Russians now had to find a way to overcome the deficit without one of their top players. The Russians attacked hard, but Christian Grayson always had an answer. Finally, veteran Alexander Orlov beat Grayson to tie the game. The tie would last through most of the third period, as both Igor Zharkov and Craig Bush hit the posts late in the third, Finally, Oleg Markov stunned Grayson with a slapshot from the blueline for the winner with just 11 seconds left. The clock ticked down as the Russian players piled off the bench and began celebrating. Even the fans began to pour onto the ice to celebrate with their heroes. Igor Zharkov had proven himself as one of the most dominating young players in the game, leading the tournament in scoring and claiming MVP honours. After a very eventful start to the decade, the Russians where World Champions for the second time in WHC history.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Carolina Raiders Unveil Identity

The newly relocated Carolina Raiders finally ended weeks of speculation when they unveiled their logo and uniforms for their inaugural season in Charlotte. The logo features a skull wearing a pirate hat in the team colors of black, red, and white, a scheme carried over from when the team played in Ottawa. The road jersey is black with silver and red trim and a pirate flag design featuring the team name on the bottom, while the home whites mirror the same style. "Given the faced-paced situation we're in, we didn't have a great deal of time to come up with a design. All things considered, I think it looks good and I think the fans will like it" said Raiders owner John Millbrook.