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Deep Rewind: The Century Men


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Credit to @Motzaburger for turning back time with this beauty.

 

Hello VHL, and welcome to the Season 73 edition of Deep Rewind! In this segment, we'll explore the vast history of the Victory Hockey League, as a league such as this doesn't make it more than 70 seasons without having good stories to tell. Whether it's some of the greatest achievements of the league's legendary players, the marks left by top teams, or the outright bizarre, the history of the VHL has a story for everyone. Through Deep Rewind, these stories will be told.

 

As the playoffs draw nearer, catch up on the events of both the VHL and VHLM with our Weekly Reviews! @Berocka is back with VSN Australia, giving us a behind the scenes look at what it's like to be an updater in the VHL. Lastly, learn about one of the greatest VHLM teams to not win the Founder's Cup in the latest instalment of Ringless, while Kevin Brooks' legendary career is featured on The Talents Behind the Trophies.

 

Under 250: the VHLM Review | VSN Weekly Review | VSN Australia | Ringless | The Talents Behind the Trophies

 

Season 73 has been a historic year for the VHL for a multitude of reasons. The obvious one, of course, was the massive expansion, seeing the Chicago Phoenix, London United, Los Angeles Stars, and the Warsaw Predators join the league. Never before has the VHL had sixteen teams, ushering in yet another new era. A result of this has been reflected in individual scoring numbers across the league, with 24 players already having hit 72 points, guaranteeing they will finish with a point-per-game average. Additionally, there is a very real possibility that, with 13 games left for most teams at the time of print, that we could see multiple players break 100 points this season, something that has not happened since Season 68.

 

Scoring 100 points in a season has always been a mark of excellence in hockey, whether it's the NHL or the VHL. When Matt Thompson won the Mike Szatkowski Trophy in Season 68 for leading the league with 122 points, it was the 68th straight season a player had led the VHL in points with 100+. That streak came to an end in Season 69 (nice), when Julian Borwinn led the league with 93 points. Jet Jaguar came close with 97 points in Season 70, but Season 71 saw an ominous occurrence: Ambrose Stark and Hunter Hearst Helmsley tied for the league lead in points with 88 points. Suddenly, a trophy that required well over 100 points traditionally had been won with less than 90 points. Individual scoring had hit an all-time low, but it ended just as quickly as it began, with Condor Adrienne hitting 100 points in Season 72. Today, scoring numbers appear to be returning to a more traditional pace, with players like Sigard Gunnar, HHH and Benny Graves seemingly locks to break the century mark (Gunnar actually achieved this just prior to the completion of the article, as a matter of fact), with others having very real chances to do so as well. But before that happens, let's wind the clock back to Season 68, and a group of players that it almost seemed certain would be the last players to crack the century mark for ages to come. 

 

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With two of the VHL's three 100 point scorers in Season 68, the Malmo Nighthawks were a force to be reckoned with.

 

Season 68 marked an expansion as well, with the DC Dragons and Prague Phantoms joining the VHL, with the league reaching 12 teams again. The North American Conference was dominated by the Seattle Bears, who coasted to the #1 seed, finishing 12 points ahead of the #2 seeded Vancouver Wolves. The European Conference, on the other hand, was a hotly contested affair, featuring the three players to break 100 points. Just three points separated the first three seeds at season's end, with the fourth seed just eight points out of first. In the end, however, it was the Malmo Nighthawks who took the first seed, bolstered by two 100 point scorers, Matt Thompson and Ryan Sullivan Jr. Thompson proved to be the most dominant player in the VHL, scoring a league-leading 60 goals and 62 assists for 122 points, winning the Mike Szatkowski Trophy for leading the league in points. With Ryan Sullivan Jr. on the opposite wing, opposing defences had their hands full. While Sullivan wasn't as prolific a goal scorer, with a still-impressive 33, he was the team's playmaker, with 70 assists. With two of the league's top scorers on one team, slowing down the Nighthawks' top line was an unenviable task. 

 

The Riga Reign did their best to keep pace with Malmo, remaining neck-and-neck with them throughout the season. At the trade deadline, however, they decided to bring in extra firepower when they acquired centre Rauno Palo from the Vancouver Wolves, a surprising move considering Vancouver was in the thick of things in the North American Conference. Riga certainly wasn't about to complain, as the centre had racked up 70 points (30 goals, 40 assists) in 50 games for Vancouver. Playing in Riga's last 23 games (giving Palo an extra game to pad his numbers), he recorded 20 goals and 15 assists, taking a role as more of a scorer for the Reign. With 50 goals and 55 assists, his 105 points were good for second in the VHL. Although Riga finished second, just two points behind Malmo, they were in a great position to contend for the Continental Cup. 

 

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A trade deadline acquisition of Rauno Palo, who scored 105 points, put the Riga Reign in great position to compete for the Continental Cup.

 

The first round, however, gave both Riga and Malmo all they could handle. The Helsinki Titans, led by Julian Borwinn and Kronos Bailey, along with goaltender Alexander Pepper, shocked Riga by jumping out to a 2-1 series lead. The Reign, however, were undeterred. Three straight one-goal wins followed, with Lincoln Tate feeding Pat Svoboda for the series-clinching goal in overtime to propel the Riga to the next round. They needed to wait for Game Seven between the HC Davos Dynamo and Malmo to see who they would be facing, however. Davos was simply not content to reach the playoffs, with a big 6-5 win in the opening game of the series. The Nighthawks went on to take a 3-1 series lead, only for the HC Dynamo to win the next two games and force a Game Seven. Malmo jumped out to a two-goal lead in the first period, with Jack Lynch tacking on what wound up being the game-winning goal in the second period. Davos rallied furiously in the third period, but came up just short, with Malmo winning 3-2 and advancing to face the Riga Reign. 

 

However, despite all the effort to keep pace with Malmo, Riga was simply outmatched in the European Conference Finals. After a narrow, 3-2 loss in Game One, the Reign pulled out a 5-2 win behind a balanced attack, including two goals from Elias Dahlberg. From there, however, it was all Malmo, as the Nighthawks won the next three games to punch their ticket to the Continental Cup Finals. However, they proved to be no match for Rayz Funk and the Seattle Bears, who swept Malmo to win the Cup. Three of the games were decided by a 4-3 score, making it a much closer series than it appears to have been, but I doubt the Nighthawks took any comfort in that. 

 

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Even with two of the league's top scorers, the Malmo Nighthawks were swept in the Continental Cup Finals by the Seattle Bears.

 

As Season 73 enters the home stretch, all eyes will surely be on the tight playoff races, with some seeds likely to be determined on the final day of the season. While all three 100 point scorers played in the post-season in Season 68, that will not be the case in Season 73. Hunter Heart Helmsley's Warsaw Predators have been eliminated, and while Sigard Gunnar's Los Angeles Stars are still in the hunt, it will absolutely be an uphill battle to reach the playoffs for them. The DC Dragons could have two 100 point scorers in Benny Graves and Guy Lesieur, but their playoff status is up in the air as well, in the midst of a fierce battle for the final three seeds in the North American Conference. Some great hockey lies ahead of us, and some players are a big part of that, boasting numbers that fit in place with the records of old. Dare we say that the dead puck era is finally coming to an end? We'll have to wait and see, but at least we'll be treated to some fantastic hockey along the way!

 

Player Mentions: @Beketov, @Jubo07, @gorlab, @Banackock, @Beaviss, @OrbitingDeath, @Big Mac, @STZ, @Advantage, @jRuutu, @Quik, @Sonnet, @Tate, @StamkosFan, @xsjack, @Nykonax, @Rayzor_7, @KC15

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Palo did not enter the league as a scorer, but over the years working with the mean Beaviss started to take a toll on his game and he transformed into a solid scorer. Was it the talent that through hard work showed itself in goals OR Palo's anger of being manhandled by the strongest man in Vancouver into a certain mould, which then poured over and goals followed?

 

We might never know the answer.

 

 

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