There were more power shifts in the 1981-82 season. The Quebec Nationale rose from last place in the Northeast Division all the way to second. The 34-point improvement was thanks in large part to a breakout year from rookie goaltender John Gage, an undrafted 22-year-old the Nationale had signed to be Andy Poole’s backup.Gage had not only taken the starter’s position, he ended up winning the Whyte Trophy as the league’s top goaltender. The Nova Scotia Claymores also enjoyed a breakout year, finishing third in the division and returning to the playoffs. Young forwards Dave Mack and Owen Kennedy were largely responsible for the Claymores success as the two players enjoyed breakout years. Meanwhile, the aging Montreal Royale dropped all the way to fourth in the division and seventh in the Eastern Conference. Toronto and Detroit both dropped out the playoffs.
Injuries were a common thread in the Atlantic Division. The Pittsburgh Stingers were enjoying a strong season when on February 12, 1982, in a game in Montreal, goaltender Gary Bowen took a hard shot to the collarbone, breaking it. Bowen would miss the remainder of the regular season as the Stingers called Ron Buckner up from the minors. Buckner did an admirable job filling in for Bowen, winning 13 of his 17 starts as the Stingers won the Atlantic Division. The New York Civics also had the division title in their sights when disaster struck on November 4 against Detroit. Civics’ star defenseman Claude Clark got caught in a race with Detroit’s Bobby Vail after Vail had iced the puck. Vail pushed Clark as the two approached the boards and Clark went flying feet first into the boards, shattering both legs. After three surgeries, doctors came to the conclusion that Clark would be unable to return to the ice. After just nine seasons, Clark’s career was over. The Civics struggled without their top defenseman and with morale problems in the wake of Clark’s injury. The Civics would salvage their season, however, finishing strong with 85 points, good enough for third in the division. Meanwhile, the Boston Bulldogs finally made their return to the post-season, finishing eighth in the Eastern Conference as second-year center Craig Bush led the team in scoring with 89 points.
Out west, the California Nuggets were back on top of their game, finishing first overall in the league. Dennis Yates was on fire, scoring 54 goals and 122 points to lead the league. St. Louis took the Central Division and second place in the League as David Appleby finished second in scoring with 118 points. The Chicago Shamrocks enjoyed another strong year despite falling short of a division title once again. It was the younger players like Valdimir Gaganov and Rob Saskin who made the difference for the Shamrocks as aging stars like Don Newman and Dave Hawthorne began to take more of a background role. In LA, Stuart Holly was hampered by injury problems, but still managed to finish third in league scoring while the Wizards finished second in the Pacific Division with 88 points. Mike Wheeler and Theodore Gill enjoyed breakout season while Adam Hanson won defenseman of the year honours as the Winnipeg Pioneers returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1976.