Wednesday, January 3, 2018

2000-01 Regular Season

Probably the most popular subject for hockey fans to discuss in the year 2000 was the fate of the New Orleans Sound. The struggling franchise was entering its sixth season in Louisiana and having a hard time finding its footing in the market. Rumours abounded that the franchise was headed to either Houston or Ottawa and it didn’t help that the team had failed to reach the post-season since it played in Halifax. As the 2000-01 season began, the team was putting all its hopes on 19-year-old Brad McNair, who had played a key role for Team Canada at the World Hockey Challenge. McNair responded in a big way, scoring thirty goals by Christmas, while veteran Mike Bidden also benefited from playing with McNair, reaching a career high in points.  The Sound looked like a playoff team until disaster struck on January 8, when McNair suffered a broken arm in a game against Carolina. McNair missed two months of action while the Sound went on a 9-game losing streak which ultimately cost them a playoff spot.

In October, 2000, three new arenas opened including one in a new city, as the Nuggets finally moved into their new home in Oakland, while Detroit and Quebec left their storied homes for brand new facilities. For the Nationale, the move coincided with the franchise’s 50th anniversary. The team brought back several legends from their past including Guy Benoit, Ben Williams, and Gilbert Giroux. It would be the only bright spot in a tough season in Quebec, as the Nationale finished last place in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the Nationale’s provincial rivals, the Montreal Royale, were forced to play most of the season without their franchise player as Vincent Ducharme missed the season after undergoing knee surgery in the summer. Despite missing their best player, the Royale still managed to win the division thanks to a big effort from young star Zdeno Kadlec and veteran defenseman Jonathan Adams, who led the league in hits and plus/minus. For Adams, the successful year was a statement after the 32-year old was left off Canada’s WHC roster. “It definitely feels good to have a year like this, especially after the disappointment of missing the World tournament” said Adams.

The Eastern Conference belonged to the Philadelphia Redshirts in 2000-01. The Redshirts won the division for the first time since 1989 as Jared Baxter enjoyed a career year, winning the scoring title with 112 points while playing with Brendan Carnes, who had 80 points of his own in a career year. Elsewhere in the East, Miami returned to the playoffs after a big win over the Carolina Raiders in their final game of the regular season, which eliminated the Raiders from the playoffs. In Boston, the Bulldogs endured another rebuilding year, though the Boston fans were treated to a final season with their longtime captain Craig Bush. The 40-year-old Bush played in 48 games for the Bulldogs, including their final games of the season. In his last game in Philadelphia, Bush was given a standing ovation from the Philadelphia crowd, who were normally hostile to any Boston player, especially Bush. “It was a classy move on their part” said Bush. Two nights later, Bush played his final home game in Boston. The crowd gave him a standing ovation that lasted nearly an hour after the game as Bush waved to the crowd. “I am very grateful for the two decades in Boston” said Bush.

In the West, the defending champion Kansas City Twisters were eyeing a repeat. With 110 points, the Twisters were the top team in the league while Scott Drayton took home top defenseman honours, and Brett Delaney led the team with 102 points, fifth in the league. The Twisters trailed Minnesota by just one point heading into their final game against St. Louis. After the Lumberjacks lost to Chicago, the Twisters had an opportunity to seal top spot. The Spirits, long out of the playoff picture and playing spoiler, held a 2-0 lead over Kansas City heading into the third period. Goals from Delaney and Jeremy Kitchen tied the game to send it to overtime, where Taylor Coldwell beat goaltender Travis Pulford to win the game and clinch first place for the Twisters.

In Seattle, the Grey Wolves won the Pacific Division for the first time in eleven years. Though Randy McAllen struggled, Drake Klausen had a big year, while head coach Bruce Dickenson was named coach of the year. For the Grey Wolves, it was the reward for a dark decade for the franchise, as the team had only made the playoffs four times in the 1990s. “It feels great to have success like this again” said longtime captain Jason Radford, who had been with the team for 19 seasons. “For a few years I wondered if we’d be this good again during my career.” In Dallas, the Desperados enjoyed their best season ever, winning 40 games for the first time in franchise history. Young power forward AJ Vernon was the driving force for the Desperados, scoring 43 goals while putting fear in opposing defensemen with his size and speed. Dallas also made a trade in late November that would set off a historic few weeks for one player. Elliot “U-Haul” Andrews was already playing for his sixth PHL team when the Desperados dealt him to the Cleveland Cosmos on November 27. After Andrews played just nine games for the Cosmos, he was then dealt to the Vancouver Bighorns on December 17. Andrews not only now had the record for most teams played for in PHL history, he also set the mark for most teams played for in a single season. “It’s not exactly what you expect going into the year but I like Vancouver and hopefully I can stick around for a while” said Andrews.

Vancouver acquired Andrews in an attempt to return to the playoffs and by the end of the regular season, the Bighorns sat just two points out of the final spot in the West, which was held by Milwaukee Choppers. If Vancouver tied Milwaukee, they would get the final spot as they had swept the season series with the Choppers. On the last day of the season, Milwaukee faced Winnipeg, while Vancouver faced Oakland. The Bighorns trailed the Nuggets with only 29 seconds to go when Sergei Zolotov tied the game, sending it to overtime. Early in the overtime, Trevor Kerwick blasted a point shot past Bradley Pope to give the Bighorns the win and forcing Milwaukee to beat the Pioneers if they wanted to keep their playoff hopes alive. Milwaukee and Winnipeg also went into overtime where Dan Crow broke the Choppers’ hearts with a big goal near the end of the extra frame. The Bighorns celebrated in the locker room as they were headed back to the post-season to face the powerful Twisters in the first round.

The hockey world received some shocking news on March 20, 2001. It started with good news when Vincent Ducharme began skating again. He then stated that he would return in time for the playoffs, followed by the stunning announcement that he would retire after playoffs were over. Plagued by knee problems, Ducharme stated that he wanted to maintain his health for the sake of his family while he was still young. “This is a very difficult decision to make but I think it’s the right one” said Ducharme. “I’ve been incredibly lucky to have the career I’ve had and I look forward to giving it one last shot in the playoffs.”

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