Friday, June 9, 2017

1994 Playoffs

The first round of the 1994 playoffs was full of rivalry matchups, perhaps the most intriguing of which was the “Subway Series” between the New York Civics and the Long Island Concordes. It would be the first time the two teams ever met in the post-season and the series promised to be an instant classic. 22300 packed into Broadway House for game one, the first playoff game in the arena, and the home fans were treated to a 4-2 win for the Civics. Long Island won game two in double overtime thanks to a goal from Doug Lyons to tie the series. Things began to finally get tense in game three on the Island. Pushing and shoving around the nets followed nearly every whistle, at one point culminating in two fights. The action even spilled into the stands as security was forced to break up a few altercations between fans as Long Island won to take an unexpected lead in the series. The violence in the crowd worsened in game four after Long Island’s Ashton Nichol and Brandon Fox teamed up on Civic’s star Jeremy Kitchen, tackling him to the ice. This led to a line brawl when Lamar Jackson, Brent McGill and Dennis Aguilar jumped in to defend Kitchen. When some Civics fans began yelling at the Long Island fans, calling the Concordes “thugs”, a full scale brawl broke across two sections of the arena. The game was stopped and NYPD was called in to assist the helpless security guards. As many as 19 people were arrested, while eight were taken to hospital with minor injuries. When the game finally resumed over an hour later, New York hung on for a 4-2 win. 

After the game, the league issued a strong warning that both teams would face discipline if the violence continued. Unfortunately there was another incident at the start of game five in Manhattan when more fights broke out at the gate just before the game started. Both teams were fined $10,000 and warned that the fines would be worse next time. However the increased security at both arenas did nothing to calm the tension on the ice. Game five was a physical affair that the Civics won 3-1, but there was an ugly incident toward the end of the game when New York defenseman Brent McGill sucker-punched Long Island’s Bruce Evans in front of the net, knocking him out. McGill was ejected from the game while Evans had to be stretchered off the ice. When Evans was revealed to have a severe concussion and a small spinal fracture, McGill was handed on of the most severe suspensions in PHL history at 20 games, likely the remainder of the playoffs. Evans would miss the remainder of the playoffs but was expected to recover in time for the next season. Long Island would win a tight game six, forcing a game seven back in Manhattan. Game seven fully lived up to the hype it received, going to double overtime where Clark Pratt finally ended it for the Civics, sending them to round two.

Unlike the Civics and Concordes, the Boston Bulldogs and Philadelphia Redshirts did have decades of history with eachother, and 1994 was no different than the previous meetings with fights and scrums breaking out throughout the series. The Redshirts never really showed up for the series, narrowly avoiding a sweep in game four with a 4-2 win before the Bulldogs finished them off in game five to advance. Though not as violent as the other two series, Montreal and Quebec also had their share of hostilities in a tough six-game series that went to the heavily favored Royale. In other Eastern Conference action, the Washington Generals gave Toronto all they could handle before finally succumbing to the Racers in six games.

With fewer rivalry matchups, the first round was not nearly as eventful in the Western Conference. The Kansas City Twisters made their playoff debut, facing the heavily favoured Calgary Wranglers. After dropping the first game, the Twisters bounced back with a big win in game two to steal home-ice advantage. A capacity crowd packed the KC Sportsplex for game three, the first playoff game ever played in Kansas City and the Twisters rode the loud crowd presence to a 4-2 win and a series lead. Calgary was desperate, knowing they had to win game four or their very successful season would be in jeopardy. Head coach Bruce Ricketts decided to sit goaltender Ron Tatum, who had struggled mightily in the first three games, in favour of Darren Beauport for game four. The decision proved to be a good one as Beauport played very well as the game was tied at the end of regulation. However, just minutes into overtime, Wranglers defenseman Drew Morgan turned the puck over to Travis Watson. Watson deked Beauport and beat him on the left side as the Kansas City crowd erupted. The Twisters now led the series 3-1 and had a chance to complete the upset in Calgary in game five. Beauport played well again in game five, stopping 32 shots as the game went into overtime. This time the game turned into a marathon as one extra period turned into two, then three. Less than five minutes into overtime number three, Twisters captain Scott Drayton blasted a shot from the point that found its way through traffic and into the net. The crowd exploded again as the Twisters scrambled off the bench and mobbed Drayton. The Twisters had pulled off the biggest upset of the playoffs.

In other Western Conference action, Chicago defeated Milwaukee in five very physical games. The Shamrocks lost Vladimir Gaganov in game three when Choppers defenseman Ray Decker took him out with a devastating hit. Gaganov suffered a mild concussion and missed the rest of the series, but was optimistic about returning in the second round. Meanwhile, Minnesota beat LA in six games, while Vancouver upset Edmonton in a four-game sweep.

Coming off the upset over the Northern Lights, the Bighorns entered their second-round series with Minnesota full of confidence. Vancouver jumped to a 3-0 series lead, going into game four with an opportunity to pull off a second-straight sweep. Game four was a tight one, as Jason Crowley’s late-third period goal gave the Lumberjacks a 2-1 win. Minnesota would win game five as well, before Vancouver finally finished off their second-straight upset and advanced to the Western Conference Finals. Chicago, with Gaganov back in the lineup, ended any hopes of a Cinderella run in KC with a four-game sweep of the Twisters.

The Toronto Racers ran into immediate trouble against the defending champion Boston Bulldogs. Boston jumped ahead to a 2-0 series lead with Kevin Washer appearing to be nearly unbeatable in the Boston goal. Now needing to win at least two games in Boston, the Racers’ backs were against the wall heading into game three. Magnus Swedberg scored twice in a 4-3 Toronto win, followed by another dominating win in game four to tie the series. Heading home with all the momentum now going their way, the Racers now had an opportunity to take the series lead. Marc Brunelle scored in overtime to give the Racers the win and a chance to close out the series in Boston. The Racers came back from a 2-0 deficit in game six, earning another 3-2 win and advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second year in a row. The Montreal Royale also faced an uphill battle in their series against New York. It seemed that the Royale were playing the whole series from behind. After coming back from a 2-0 deficit, the Royale’s struggles in the Big Apple continued in game five, as New York once again took the series lead. A big 2-0 victory at home sent the series to game seven, where the their Broadway woes finally came to an end in a 5-3 win.

The Royale continued to play from behind in the Eastern Conference Finals, as Toronto jumped ahead to a 2-0 series lead at home. Back in Montreal for game three, Montreal needed a big win to avoid a 3-0 hole. Game three would be a close one, as the teams were tied 1-1 through two periods before Sergei Vetrov scored to give Montreal the lead. JC Girard scored with just two minutes left to seal the win and put the Royale back in the series. needing another victory in game four, Vincent Ducharme stepped up big, scoring a hat-trick in a 4-2 Montreal win. Two nights later in Toronto, Ducharme became the first player in PHL history to score back-to-back hat-tricks in the playoffs as the Royale won 5-1 to take a 3-2 series lead and an opportunity to win the series at home. The Racers never really got into game six, as Ducharme scored again along with Vetrov , Trevor Ramsey, and Jarkko Vesa as Montreal won 4-1 to take the series and return to the Lewis Cup Finals.

The Royale would face the Chicago Shamrocks in the Finals, who were coming off a five-game win over Vancouver and hoping to end their dominating season with a sixth championship. The 1993 final was a battle between two of the league’s most physical teams, the 1994 final would be the opposite, played between two fast and offensively gifted teams, both with a rich history. It would be the first time in 20 years that two of the PHL’s original clubs would battle for the ultimate prize.

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