Friday, November 17, 2017

1999-00 Regular Season

As the 20th century drew to a close, the Minnesota Lumberjacks finally moved into their new home. The Oval Center opened on November 8, 1999 as the ‘Jacks faced the Denver Bulls. In front OF 22,000 fans, the Lumberjacks won the opening game 4-0. “It’s a great building” said captain Jason Crowley. “It’s like something from the future, just in time for the year 2000.” Crowley enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career, winning the league scoring title with 117 points and climbing to ninth on the all-time scoring list. Brendan Marlo also had a breakout season for Minnesota with 91 points. The Lumberjacks finished second in the Western Conference with 107 points. First place in the conference and the league went to the Chicago Shamrocks, thanks to a 110 point effort from Sergei Krayev. Goaltending was a big question mark for Chicago entering the season but the duo of Dan Pilford and rookie Jake Likens performed admirably in net. With the team in first place and favoured to win the Lewis Cup, 74-year-old longtime head coach/GM Don Saleski announced he would retire at season’s end after 31 years at the helm for the Shamrocks.

1999-00 was a big year for a few teams who had been down on their luck during the 1990s. The Milwaukee Choppers finally returned to the post-season for the first time since 1994 thanks to strong seasons from Brent Zahorsky and Marc Brunelle. In Dallas, the Desperadoes finally reached the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, finishing sixth in the Western Conference. The Desperadoes clinched the playoffs on March 28, and the fans gave the team a standing ovation. “It’s been a long time coming” said GM Ross Becker. “I’ve said all along that the success will come and our patience has finally paid off.”

The Los Angeles Wizards got off to a slow start in 1999-00, until they pulled the trigger in November on a blockbuster deal with St. Louis, acquiring Spirits captain Adam Lawless in exchange for young Czech star Petr Slavik. The deal gave the Wizards another veteran with championship experience, as Lawless was one of the few remaining pieces of the Spirits’ dynasty of the 1980s. After the trade the Wizards went on a tear, winning eleven games in a row in January and ultimately taking the Pacific Division.

In the east, Washington finished first in the conference despite Igor Zharkov missing ten games with a knee injury. Tomas Axelsson stepped up big for the Generals, who also relied heavily on defensemen Justin Hill and Brendan O’Connor and of course, goaltender Jake Borman. The Generals became one of the tightest teams to play against, taking the division thanks to their ability to shut down other teams’ offense. The defending champion Montreal Royale won the Northeast Division with Vincent Ducharme finishing second in league scoring. Former Calgary Wranglers defenseman Jonathan Adams provided a big physical presence on the blueline, while new head coach Todd Beirness picked up right were Don Shelburne had left off, coaching the team to 45 wins.

After missing out on the Lewis Cup Playoffs for the better part of a decade, and after two very disappointing finishes in 1998 and 1999, the Detroit Mustangs finally returned to the post-season. Igor Kharitanov scored 93 points, but the big hero was veteran goaltender Jeff Pelton, who finished second in Whyte Trophy voting, earning 34 of Detroit’s 37 wins. Carolina also returned to the playoffs, while Cleveland dropped out of contention. Miami appeared to be on track to make the playoffs until February when defenseman Theo Sprouse went down with a severe back injury, forcing him to miss the remainder of the season. The Stingrays lost 20 games down the stretch, falling out of playoff contention.

On New Years’ Eve, one of the most bizarre instances in PHL history occurred in a game between the California Nuggets and LA Wizards. Only five minutes after Midnight, Eastern time, the power went out in the Golden State Coliseum, leading to a near-panic from the 17200 fans in attendance, many of whom believed it was the anticipated “Y2K Bug”. After a twenty minute delay, the power was restored in the building, and order was restored as well. The incident served as a reminder that it was definitely time for the Nuggets to move into their new home. As one millennium closed and another began, three players from the late 70s hit the four-decade mark. Toronto’s Stuart Burns and Philadelphia’s Jeff Waters had both begun their careers in 1979, while Kansas City’s JC Girard had made his debut in 1978. Burns announced he would retire at seasons’ end, while Girard and Waters both indicated they could keep playing. “I’ve been in Philly for over two decades, I have never won a championship” said Waters. “I still feel like I can play.” Waters’ Redshirts’ team had a solid year in 1999-00, finishing fifth in the Eastern Conference, just half a game out of fourth. Facing the Toronto Racers in the first round, the team was confident they could make a big run. “We have a great team” said head coach Clint Allen. “I think we can surprise some people.”

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