1992-93 marked year two of the “Russian Invasion” in the PHL, as players from the former Soviet Union dominated the league. Chicago once again benifited enormously from their Russian trio, as Vladimir Gaganov, Alexander Orlov, and Vladimir Kozakov all made up the top three in team scoring as the Shamrocks finished atop the League with 108 points, while Gaganov finished second in league scoring. In Washington, rookie Igor Zharkov took the league by storm, finishing fifth in league scoring and taking home the Garfield Trophy for rookie of the year as Washinton returned to the post-season with an eighth place finish. As dominant as the Russians around the league were, however, the most dominant performance in the league came from a player hailing from another European country. 32-year-old Finnish defenseman Jari Pukki enjoyed the best season of his career, earning an incredible 87 assists while adding 27 goals to finish third in league scoring, the highest ever for a PHL defenseman. Pukki’s end-to-end rush had been thrilling PHL fans for nearly 15 years, but now playing in sports-mad Boston, Pukki was finally earning the recognition he had deserved, taking home top defenseman honours, as well as the Veteran’s Cup for league MVP.
Montreal returned to the top of the Eastern Conference standings in 1993, thanks mostly to Vincent Ducharme’s league-leading 122 points, while veteran playmaker Trevor Ramsey earned 63 assists setting up the superstar forward. “He’s just so much fun to play with” said the former Calgary Wrangler Ramsey about Ducharme. “I don’t even have to look, he knows exactly where to be, I just have to put the puck there and he does the rest.” A classic rivalry was revived in ’92-93, as the Toronto Racers also continued their rise to prominence. Alexei Yolkin ignited the Racers’ offence, with Randy Fernandez proving to be an enormous threat from the blueline, especially on the powerplay. Fernandez was coming off a huge performance for the American team in the 1992 World Hockey Challenge and he carried it over to the regular season. When the Racers met the Royale for the first time in 1992, fans were treated to a performance for the ages by two superstars, as Yolkin and Ducharme each scored hat-tricks in a 5-4 Toronto victory. Despite Ducharme’s performance, the Royale were embarrassed by the loss and when the teams met again on December 12 in Montreal, tension boiled over as Montreal’s Ron Borden and Toronto’s Tory Partridge dropped the gloves just three minutes in for what would the first of two fights between the two. Toronto managed to win again, as the Royale were simply unable to find room on the ice with Toronto’s hard-nosed, tight-checking play. Ultimately, the Racers won the season series and finished fifth, surrendering fourth place to Detroit on the final day of the season.
Elsewhere in the East, The New York Civics were dealt a devastating blow when superstar forward Aaron Duplacy went down with a season-ending separated shoulder in the middle of a tight playoff race in late February. The Civics had held the final playoff spot throughout most of the year with Washington and Miami in close pursuit. After Duplacy’s injury, New York lost their grip on the coveted eighth spot and ultimately fell out of the post-season picture, as did Miami, despite their first 30-win season in franchise history. While star defenseman Theo Sprouse enjoyed a big first year in the Windy City, his former team, the Long Island Concordes, missed him terribly on their blueline. Just three years removed from their first Lewis Cup, Long Island dropped to seventh place and actually found themselves battling for their playoff lives right into the month of April.
In the Western Conference, the Minnesota Lumberjacks continued their climb up the standings as Jason Crowley finally began to establish himself as one of the premier players in the game. Though his scoring totals were not as impressive as that of Gaganov or Ducharme, Crowley’s ability and willingness to do everything from dropping the gloves to scoring a big goal when it was needed made the Lumberjacks one of the most difficult teams to play against. Crowley gave Minnesota a true franchise player for the first time since legends Guy Dupont and Bobby Sorel had left in the early 80s and the Lumberjacks took fourth place in the west. The Calgary Wranglers hit a bump in the road late in the year when Sergei Krayev went down with a fractured wrist. However the Wranglers still managed to get into the playoffs as Shannon Micheals and Jay Lydon both stepped up to lead the offence while Ron Tatum was spectacular in net. In Kansas City, it looked like Twisters fans could finally witness playoff hockey for the first time as the team’s young core, led by Scott Drayton and Travis Watson, proved more than capable of competing with anyone in the league. Entering the final day of the season, The Twisters were tied with state rivals St. Louis for the final playoff spot. Age had finally caught up with David Appleby and the Spirits, who were in danger of missing the post-season since the mid-70s. In the final game, however, it was experience, especially in a desperate situation, that won out. Niklas Ekberg broke a 2-2 tie late in the third period, before Appleby hit the empty net as St. Louis ended the Twisters’ playoff hopes to claim the final spot. For St. Louis, the win served as a reminder to the league that they still knew how to win, even if they were no longer as fast or as strong as they had been. For Kansas City, the heartbreaking loss simply meant they were a good team, just not quite ready to take the next step. “It’s certainly a bitter pill to swallow” said head coach Kevin Haysbert. “I think we’re close though. We don’t just want to make the playoffs, we want to win a championship and I think we have a group here that can do just that, we just have a little more growing up to do.”