The 1988-89 Season was a historic one for the PHL as the league entered its 50th anniversary. Special ceremonies were held across the league on opening night, as several teams brought back some of their greatest players in history. In Detroit, one of those players was 90-year-old Johnny Chadwick, the oldest living former PHL player. Although he only played in the PHL’s inaugural season, Chadwick, the grandfather of current PHL star Alan Chadwick, actually began his pro career in 1923, in the American Professional Hockey Association. Appropriately, the PHL’s current stars continued to make history as well. On October 25, Stuart Holly finally passed George Allen for second place on the all-time points list. Two months later, Allen found himself fourth on the list as David Appleby also passed him for third place. Appleby finished the year only 26 points behind Holly for second. In January, the Philadelphia Redshirts, fighting with the Long Island Concordes for first place in the Atlantic Division, were dealt a slight blow when veteran Dave Tobin suddenly retired after 20 seasons. It was later revealed that Tobin’s mother had been diagnosed with cancer and the 39-year-old decided to return to Regina to care for her. Needing to add depth in Tobin’s place, the Redshirts pulled the trigger on an enormous trade, sending prospect Shawn Kelly and a conditional draft pick to LA in exchange for Stuart Holly. “Captain Hollywood”, who had spent 18 years in LA, had requested a trade earlier in the season so he could play for a contending team. Holly immediately made an impact for Philly, finishing the year with 70 total points and helping them to a first-place finish in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia just edged out Long Island for the top spot on the very last day of the season. The Redshirts needed the Concordes to lose their final game against Boston in order take first place. Craig Bush scored in overtime to give the Bulldogs the win and the Redshirts secured first place. “I’ve never been so happy to see that team win a game” said captain Gary Johnson. The loss relegated Long Island to third place as Nova Scotia once again took the Northeast Division in what would be captain Russell Buchanan’s final season. “My body and my heart... and for that matter my wife… are all telling me its time” said Buchanan. “I’m looking forward to making one last run.”
Montreal took a step back in ’88-89. Vincent Ducharme played well but goaltender Victor Malmsten struggled to stay healthy while new addition Gerry Stokes clearly had nothing left in the tank. During the stretch run, Stokes was frequently a healthy scratch, until the last game of the year, when the Royale needed a win and some help to make the playoffs. Head Coach Don Shelburne put Stokes in as a motivational tactic for his team. It seemed to help, as the 20-year veteran even scored a goal in a Montreal win. In a cruel twist of fate for Stokes, his former team, the Washington Generals, won their final game against Pittsburgh, eliminating the Royale.
In the Western Conference, the top three teams in the conference, Seattle, St. Louis, and Milwaukee found themselves deadlocked in the final week of the season. It was ultimately the Grey Wolves who emerged as the top team, winning both the West and the League title for the first time in franchise history. Milwaukee just edged out the Spirits for the Central crown, giving St. Louis their lowest finish in years at third place. Edmonton enjoyed a strong 96-point season and another fourth place finish, despite an ugly incident that threatened to derail their season. On December 5, defenseman Dwight Ingram was given an unprecedented 25-game suspension after a vicious cross-check to the face of Chicago’s Graham Boswell that left the Shamrock forward with a broken jaw and eight missing teeth. Without their top defenseman, the Northern Lights endured a rough patch through December and January before Ingram returned to the lineup January 29. Boswell missed twelve games from the incident before returning with a full face shield. “He’s a dirty player and I think the suspension was well deserved in this case. There’s no room in the game for guys like that” said Shamrocks head coach Don Saleski. Chicago once again finished in seventh place with Vladimir Gaganov once again winning the league scoring title.
After the dust settled on April 6, following one of the most exciting closing days in PHL history, there was no shortage of intriguing narratives entering the playoffs. After making history and winning the regular season, Seattle was looking to finally finish the job and bring a championship to the city. Milwaukee had an opportunity to become the league’s next dynasty while St. Louis hoped to continue theirs. Long Island desperately needed to prove all their off-season acquisitions had been worth it, Nova Scotia wanted to send off their longtime captain with a ring, while Philadelphia, who had actually held a “Donald Graves Night” in an effort to lift the curse, hoped to finally win their first-ever Lewis Cup, 50 years after joining the brand-new PHL.