As the 1980s drew to a close, the PHL was once again transitioning into a new era. Alan Garcia was serving his final season as league commissioner, while the league welcomed two new franchises, the Kansas City Twisters and the Miami Stingrays. The Twisters opened their inaugural season against the Denver Bulls on October 8, 1989. Former Calgary Wranglers defenseman Brian Trask scored the first goal in Twisters history, while Chris Withrow made 28 saves as Kansas City earned their first win in franchise history. In Miami, the Stingrays inaugural game was not quite as successful. Facing the Nova Scotia Claymores, the Stingrays never got into the game, losing 9-0. They would be shut out again by Washington in game two before finally redeeming themselves in their second home game with a 3-2 win against Toronto. Brett Flores scored the first goal in Stingrays history, and the fans gave their new team a standing ovation in the final minutes of the game. It would be one of the only bright spots in the Stingrays inaugural season, as the team finished the year with only eleven wins. The Twisters, on the other hand, actually looked like they could make good on Bill Truman’s bold aim of making the playoffs when they actually came within two points of eighth place in late January. Ultimately, the team finished just shy of the post-season with a very respectable 30 wins with Roni Laukkanen making the most of his increased playing time with his first-ever 40-goal season.
The California Nuggets started the season strong, winning their first four games in a row, before disaster struck. The LA Wizards were in town in October 17, and the teams were just arriving at the rink when the building suddenly began to shake violently. A magnitude 6.9 earthquake had hit San Francisco, forcing the league to postpone the game as the Golden State Coliseum suffered severe damage. The Nuggets had to scramble to find a temporary home while the city recovered and engineers assessed the damage to the arena. On October 20, the Nuggets played the Vancouver Bighorns in Vancouver as the home team. On October 25, the team played another home game against the Twisters at the 5,000-seat Sutter Arena in Sacramento. When the assessment of the Coliseum was complete, it was determined that the work to restore it to safety standards would be extensive, the team would be unable to return home until at least late November. The Nuggets and the PHL began to search for a consistent home until the repairs were complete. The solution would come in the form of the Dallas Metroplex, the former home of the Dallas Metros. The Professional Basketball League’s Texas Marshalls had moved into a new arena the previous year and the Metroplex now sat vacant. The Nuggets played seven home games in Dallas, each one to a full house. Many Nuggets fans made the journey to Texas to see their team but several locals came out as well, excited to have a team back in town, if only for a few games. Surprisingly, the team actually seemed to bond over the experience, winning five of the seven games in Texas. After returning home to the Coliseum on November 29, The Nuggets continued their strong play, remaining in playoff contention until the final day of the regular season, when they were barely edged out by Winnipeg.
Meanwhile, in St. Louis, the Spirits enjoyed another very successful season, finishing first place in the Western Conference and second overall in the league. One of the highlights of the season occurred on December 15, 1989, when David Appleby scored his 1812th PHL point to pass the recently retired Stuart Holly for second place in the all-time scoring list. By season’s end, Appleby had 1881 career points and was poised to pass Skippy Cleveland as the PHL’s all-time leading scorer in 1990-91, sitting just 25 points away from the top spot. The Spirits finished just a single point ahead of the two-time defending champion Milwaukee Choppers. The Choppers finished with 106 points despite losing start forward Travis Curry for two months with a dislocated shoulder.
In the Eastern Conference, Vincent Ducharme and the Montreal Royale finally enjoyed the breakout season they had been waiting for, winning the Northeast Division with 94 points while Ducharme scored 61 goals to lead the league. However, it was not enough for first place in the East as the Long Island Concordes took the league regular season title with an all-time franchise high 114 points. Unlike past off-seasons, the Concordes had avoided making changes to their roster, choosing to rely on team chemistry. It seemed to work, as the Concordes finished the regular season as the clear-cut favorite to win the Lewis Cup. In Pittsburgh, Danny Stevenson announced this would be his final season as a PHL player. The aging Stingers finished in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, while Stevenson scored 29 goals. In his final regular season game at the Beehive, the crowd gave their captain a standing ovation that lasted 45 minutes.
The Eastern Conference saw several power shifts during the year, but few were as dramatic as the turnaround in two of the league’s biggest markets, Toronto and New York. The Racers, boosted by a big year from rookie goaltender Tom Branson and a breakout year from towering defenseman Randy Fernandez, made a big push for the playoffs late in the season, fighting tooth and nail with the Civics for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Civics were enjoying a breakout year as well from several of their young stars. Aaron Duplacy and rookie Tim Dixon emerged as one of the league’s new dynamic duos, while Lamar Jackson showed steady improvement on the blueline. It would come right down to the wire between the two clubs. By the time the Civics’ season ended on April 4, they held the final position with 77 points, while the Racers had 76 with two games in hand. The Racers faced Montreal for their second last game and came up big, winning 3-2 to clinch only their second playoff berth since 1981. Fans in Toronto were ecstatic as their team was finally making some huge strides. Civics’ fans were disappointed, but encouraged, as their club had shown huge improvement during the season, finally climbing out of the league basement.
Throughout the year, the entire hockey world had been keeping an eye on the situation in eastern Europe, as communism began to fall in several countries, the climax coming when the Berlin Wall separating East and West Germany was torn down on November 9. During the season, negotiations had also begun between the PHL and the Soviet government about the possible release of Soviet players. On February 3, 1990, following the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, Czech forward Pavel Vana was allowed to leave the country and would join the Minnesota Lumberjacks in time for the playoffs. The Soviet Union was still unwilling to part with star players Sergei Krayev and Alexei Yolkin, but PHL officials were satisfied that progress was being made. “We’re very confident about the possibility of Russian talent arriving in our league very soon, we’ve made some big strides” said deputy commissioner Darryl Byrd.