Thursday, July 14, 2016

1979-80 Regular Season

In the aftermath of one of the most controversial trades in PHL history, many Chicago fans were very angry with the team’s management. Gary Johnson had been a fixture on the Shamrock’s blue line for seven years and to see the team trade him for Vladimir Gaganov, a player they saw as a “commie”, a player who could never leave the Soviet Union to play in America even if he wanted too. The media was quite critical of the move as well and even Alan Garcia expressed concern over the fairness of the trade. What those people didn’t know was that Gaganov had been trying to get out of the Soviet Union for nearly two years. To try to escape the “Iron curtain” was essentially a death sentence, or at least an easy way to get sent to Siberia. But Gaganov was determined both to make a better life for himself and to follow his dream of playing in the PHL. On August 1, 1979, Shamrocks owner Fred Garfield Jr made the stunning announcement that Gaganov, with assistance from the Shamrocks, had fled the Soviet Union ad was currently in the United States. Team management had secretly begun working to bring him over the day they made the trade. When the Soviet national team traveled to London for an exhibition series with the British national team, staff members from the Shamrocks met Gaganov in the UK. After an intense 48 hours of hiding in London while waiting for the proper documents to go through, Gaganov found himself on a plane headed for Chicago. By December, 1979, Gaganov was granted Refugee Status and on December 29, 1979, made his PHL debut with the Shamrocks, notching two assists in a win over Calgary. Gaganov would finish the year with 27 goals and 35 assists, winning rookie of the year honours while helping the Shamrocks to fifty wins, good enough for second in the Central Division. 

The defending champion Minnesota Lumberjacks took first in the division and second overall in the league, while LA returned to their dynasty form, finishing first overall in the league. Three players entered their fourth deacade in the league in January, Detroit's Bobby Kitchen, LA’s Gilbert Giroux, and St. Louis’ Bjorn Rasmussen had all begun their careers in the late 1950s. All three enjoyed fairly productive seasons too with Giroux and Kitchen both playing in their final year. Stuart Burns enjoyed a big rookie season on Long Island, putting the Concordes in playoff position as late as February until a 8-game losing streak dropped them out of playoff contention once again. Stuart Holly and Danny Stevenson tied for the league scoring title, with each player putting up identical numbers, 51 goals, 72 assists. It was the first time the scoring race ended in a tie since 1949, when George Allen and Johnny Williams tied for first place.

 Perhaps one of the biggest stories took place in the Lone Star State, where the Dallas Metros found themselves in position to make their first-ever playoff appearance. The Metros struggled mightily throughout the first half of the season, losing 13 straight games at one point. In January, the team suddenly caught fire, winning 11 straight games to pull themselves out of last place and into playoff contention. Star forwards Mike Fleming and Bruce Gratton led the surge as both players enjoyed breakout years. With just four games left on the schedule, the Metros trailed Edmonton by two points. After a loss in LA, and an Edmonton win, Dallas was now even more desperate. They managed to win the following game against Minnesota, who was resting their stars, while an Edmonton loss in Vancouver meant that the gap was once again just two points. The Metros would play Edmonton in the second-last game of the season and a win would put them ahead by virtue of the number of wins. Late in the third period against the Northern Lights, Gratton finally broke a 2-2 tie to put Dallas ahead. After Craig Perry made some big saves, the Metros hung on for the win. Now in the driver’s seat, a win on the last day of the season would close the deal for the Metros, but they had to beat the Chicago Shamrocks while Edmonton faced Calgary. A third challenger for the final spot, Seattle, was eliminated the day before when they lost to LA. Unfortunately for Dallas, Don Newman and Vlady Gaganov each scored while Tim Massey pitched a shutout to give Chicago a 2-0 win. The Metros players watched intently as Edmonton led Calgary into the third period. With nine minutes remaining, Calgary veteran Gary Mendoza tied the game. Just two minutes later, Don Taylor scored to give the Wranglers the lead before Warren Jensen sealed it with the empty-netter. The Metros jumped for joy. They had needed some help but it didn’t matter. After six long years the Dallas Metros were finally headed to the Lewis Cup playoffs for the first time.

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