In the fall of 1990, the eyes of the hockey world were on David Appleby as he drew closer to Skippy Cleveland for the all-time PHL points record. Entering a home-and-home series with Kansas City on November 2, Appleby sat just one point away from the record. The first game was in Kansas City and as the clock wound down, the Spirits’ captain remained without a point. Finally, with just 43 seconds left, Appleby assisted on a Niklas Ekberg goal to tie the record as St. Louis skated to a 2-0 win. Two nights later in St. Louis, Appleby was determined to surpass Cleveland in front of the home crowd. They wouldn’t have to wait long, as Appleby beat goaltender Chris Withrow just three minutes in to give St. Louis a 1-0 lead. Appleby was now officially the PHL’s all-time leading scorer. The game was stopped temporarily while Appleby was honored by commissioner Darryl Byrd and Rob Cleveland, Skippy’s oldest son, who congratulated Appleby on behalf of his late father. “My father always said records are made to be broken and I know he would be very happy to see such a great player break his record tonight” said Cleveland. Appleby finished the year with 84 points, his lowest total since the mid-1970s, but nonetheless led St. Louis to first place in the Western Conference.
In Montreal, Vincent Ducharme and the Royale enjoyed their best season yet, winning the Eastern Conference title and first place overall in the league with 108 points. Ducharme also won the scoring crown for the first time in his career with 112 points including 58 goals while Don Shelburne was named coach of the year. Boston also had their best regular season in years, winning the Atlantic Division with 107 points. The addition of star defenseman Jari Pukki paid dividends for the Bulldogs, as Pukki scored 103 points, the most for a defenseman all year while Ron Buckner enjoyed a career year, finishing as a finalist for the Whyte Trophy, awarded to the league’s best goaltender. The defending champion Concordes had another strong season, finishing third in the East as Stuart Burns once again led the team in scoring with 92 points while Pascal Renaud won his first career Whyte trophy. The Toronto Racers followed up their return to the post-season in 1990 with a big 90-point season in ’91. Defenseman Randy Fernandez became the first defenseman in franchise history to lead the Racers in scoring. With his booming slapshot, the 6’10” defenseman excelled as a powerplay quarterback. Racers freshman Tory Partridge earned rookie of the year honors with 47 goals while also proving to be a physical force playing alongside longtime enforcer Rex Hull. Elsewhere in the East, Miami endured another tough year, while Pittsburgh dropped out of the post-season picture for the first time in 14 years. The New York Civics finally returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1982 as Aaron Duplacy, Jeremy Kitchen, and Lamar Jackson all enjoyed breakout years. There was, however, one dark moment early in the season when Lamar Jackson was suspended for six games after jumping into the Pittsburgh bench to fight Stingers forward Scott Lindsay after Lindsay had crosschecked him in a scrum in front of the bench. “He’s a good kid but he’ll need to learn to control his emotions. That comes with experience and discipline” said Civics coach Bruce Irvine.
1990-91 was the season of the enforcer out west, as heavyweight showcases were frequent. Vancouver tough guy Cedric Thibault proved himself as one of the most feared fighters in the league after more than holding his own against seasoned pugilists like Rex Hull, Shayne Boggs, and Roy Jones. One of the most anticipated fights took place in February when Edmonton’s Dwight Ingram knocked out Bighorns’ star forward Brett Townsend with a clean but devastating hit. “I think there’s no choice but to respond” said Thibault. “This is why I’m here and when we go to Edmonton, I need to do my job and make sure they get the message.” The next meeting came on March 1 and there was not an empty seat in the house as everyone eagerly awaited the promised tilt. It finally came in the third period. With Thibault already on the ice, Edmonton coach Rick Camford tapped Ingram on the shoulder and the hulking defenseman lined up beside his rival as the crowd began to roar. Before the puck even hit the ice, Thibault and Ingram immediately dropped their gloves, removed their elbow pads as the roar from the crowd grew louder. They sized eachother up for a few seconds, then held nothing back for nearly a minute and a half. Though Ingram appeared to have the victory by a slim margin, Thibault had held his own against one of the most intimidating players in the game. While Thibault helped his Bighorns to a fifth place finish – and a first-round date with their Pacific Northwest rivals Seattle, Ingram and the Northern Lights continued to crash and bruise their way to a Pacific Division title.
It was a tough season in Winnipeg, the lowlight being when star defenseman Dwayne Gibbons was arrested for a DUI in November. Gibbons, who had battled addiction throughout his career was forced to check into rehab and he would not return to the club until March. Just weeks after Gibbons’ arrest, winger Mike Wheeler was sidelined with a knee injury and also missed most of the season. The Pioneers fell all the way to last place in the PHL with a horrific 23 wins. “This was a year I think we’d all like to forget” said head coach Bruce Winter. In Calgary, the Wranglers received a big surprise in January, when Sergei Krayev snuck away from the Soviet National team while playing in a tour across the United States. Krayev quickly signed with the Wranglers and was in their lineup by mid-February. The Soviet superstar gave Calgary a huge boost, taking them from the league basement into a neck-and-neck battle with LA for the final playoff spot. After playing their final game of the season, Calgary held the final seed. A California win over LA would ensure the Wranglers would stay in eighth place. However, the Wizards, who had reaped the benefits of a 109 point season from Viktor Skogg, returned to the post-season after a decisive 7-0 win to close out an eventful regular season for themselves and the PHL.