Like its predecessor, the 1987-88 season was about milestones. Danny Stevenson and Stuart Holly both joined the 700-goal club, while David Appleby spent most of the first half of the year chasing Gilbert Giroux for fourth on the all-time points list. Appleby tied Giroux on November 8 just before going into an out-of-character four-game scoring drought. The superstar forward admitted he was starting to feel the pressure. “I just need to break this thing so I’ll stop thinking about it” said Appleby. “I know It’s getting to me and that’s affecting my game, but it’s coming, I know its coming.” It finally came on November 19 against the Denver Bulls when Appleby’s pass to Niklas Ekberg found the back of the net, giving Appleby 1602 career points, good enough for fourth place all-time. Appleby finished with 98 points on the year, just four points shy of scoring champion Vladimir Gaganov as the Spirits once again clinched first overall in the league.In the wake of their inspiring 1987 playoff run, the Nova Scotia Claymores also enjoyed a big year from Dave Mack, who scored 42 goals, as well as brilliant goaltending once again from Brent MacDonald, who took home the Whyte Trophy while the Claymores finished first in the Eastern Conference and second overall in the league.
After a series of off-season moves, the Long Island Concordes enjoyed the first 100-point season in their history and had many of their fans dreaming of a Lewis Cup parade across Long Island. “It’s taken us just over a decade but I think we finally have all the right pieces in place to get the job done” said head coach Cam Norton. Long Island’s success was mostly attributed to a huge year from captain Stuart Burns, who finished fourth on PHL scoring with 91 points. In their first season under Jacques Corbet, the Pittsburgh Stingers slid just slightly in the standings, finishing third in the Eastern Conference. Danny Stevenson led the team in scoring for the 16th year in a row, while Nate Carroll, who had changed his mind about retirement, also played some of his best hockey, scoring 74 points. Rookie coach Gary Shantz guided the Bulldogs to a 6th place finish in his first season in Boston, while his predecessor, Bill Truman, managed to find work as the GM of the new Kansas City franchise. In Quebec, the Nationale found themselves back in the playoffs for the first time since 1983 thanks to a big performance from goaltender John Gage. The battle of Quebec also heated up again on January 8 when the Vincent Ducharme and the Royale visited. With Montreal up 3-0 late in the third period, rugged Nationale winger Troy Dowdy threw Ducharme violently into the boards from behind, sidelining him for ten games. Dowdy was suspended for three games but returned to the lineup in time to face the Royale again on February 16 in Montreal. Dowdy took on Silvain Landry in a spirited second period fight before the main event took place between heavyweights Roy Priest of Quebec and Ron Borden of Montreal. Royale head coach Don Shelburne was quick to slam the Nationale and their head coach, JP Boisvert; “That’s just the kind of gutless play I expect from them, a team that wouldn’t matter anyway if not for their goaltending.” Boisvert was quick to respond; “It’s a little ironic to hear him talk about gutless when he’s built a career on tanking seasons and joining teams that were pre-built for him.” Commentator Ben Williams summed it up best; “Boy I hope these two teams meet in the playoffs.”
In the Western Conference, St. Louis and Seattle once again ruled their divisions, but Milwaukee made a strong push, finishing just six points shy of their first conference title. The “Bulldozer Line” of Bruce Gratton, Travis Curry, and Mike Flemming proved to be one of the deadliest combinations in hockey, combining for 223 points, while Scott Daffney’s effort in net was nothing short of spectacular. Edmonton returned to the post-season while LA dropped back out, and Chicago, despite a record-breaking year from Vladimir Gaganov, dropped down to seventh place in the Western Conference. The Winnipeg Pioneers, with the PHL’s only all-Canadian roster, scratched and clawed their way to fifth place despite losing star goalie Pascal Renaud to Long Island in the off-season. The gritty Pioneers now faced a first-round matchup not for the faint of heart, against the hard-hitting Edmonton Northern Lights. “We’ve been playing that way all year” said Pioneers captain Adam Hanson. “That’s how the game should be played, fast and tough. We can’t wait to get this series going.”