Empty seats in Buffalo. What the heck happened? . . . WHL returns to action tonight with 11 games. A preview

Well, the 2018 World Junior Championship is through one day. Day 1 in Buffalo featured two routs, a pair of close games and a whole lot of empty seats.

Yes, it would appear that attendance — or lack of same — is going to be a big story at the BuffaloWJC for a second straight year . . . or have you forgotten what happened in Toronto and Montreal a year ago?

“There might have been 2,000 folks in the KeyBank Center stands to see the Czech Republic’s upset of Russia in the opener,” writes Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News. “Canada got better as its 4-2 victory over Finland went along in a game played in front of maybe 8,000 fans. Team USA battered Denmark in front of a pathetic house of maybe 5,000 — and officials closed the 300 level and offered fans comp seats down below. Which had to make folks who paid for that level super-duper happy about the extra money they shelled out.

“Organizers have to be choking on their hot chocolate after the intimate gatherings that entered the building. The Canada-Russia game played here on Dec. 26, 2010 drew a sellout crowd of 18,690. The US-Finland game that day drew 14,093.  So what the heck happened Tuesday?”

In his column, that is right here, Harrington goes on to detail what he thinks happened, and it doesn’t portend well for the rest of the tournament.

Following the 2017 WJC, Harrington wrote a column that warned of what might happen if . . .

After Team USA won the gold medal, Harrington wrote: “But the bigger story should serve as a cautionary tale for the Sabres, USA Hockey and the International Ice Hockey Federation, which seems bent on squeezing every dollar out of this tournament it can. The Saskatoons, Halifaxes and Grand Forkses of the world need no longer apply because the IIHF clearly want big cities, big dollars.

“That led to embarrassing scenes of empty seats all over the Air Canada Centre in Toronto during the opening rounds and in the Bell Centre in Montreal up through the semifinals. The problem here is simple: Price point, price point, price point.

“And packages, packages, packages.”

That column from almost a year ago is right here.


The WHL swings back into action tonight (Wednesday) after a Christmas break that began following games of Dec. 17.

Of course, that also means that the annual trade moratorium has been lifted, and you whlcan expect the dealing to resume anytime and to run through Jan. 10, when the trade deadline arrives.

Since Nov. 13, the WHL’s 22 teams have combined to make 13 trades involving 25 players, 14 bantam draft picks and three conditional bantam picks.

Tonight, there are 11 games on the schedule; yes, all 22 teams are to play. It’s worth noting that 26 of the WHL’s best players won’t be playing, at least not in the WHL; that’s because they are with various teams at the World Junior Championship in Buffalo.

Here’s a brief look at tonight’s schedule (all times local):

REGINA (16-17-3) at BRANDON (24-8-1), 7 p.m. — The Pats are without F Sam Steel, while the Wheat Kings won’t have D Kale Clague. Both are with Team Canada in Buffalo. . . . Brandon has won nine of its past 10 games and is third in the East Division, 14 points ahead of Regina, which is to be the host team for the 2018 Memorial Cup but hasn’t yet played much like a contender. The Pats, who hold down the Eastern Conference’s first wild-card spot, have lost four in a row (0-3-1) and are 3-6-1 in their past 10. . . . Regina isn’t expected to have D Josh Mahura in the lineup after he was cut by Team Canada for a second time on Tuesday. Mahura had been dropped after Canada’s selection camp, but then was brought back as insurance in case D Dante Fabbro couldn’t answer the bell. Fabbro was pronounced OK to play on Tuesday, so Mahura was released. Again. He has flown home to Edmonton and the Pats have given him some family time. Whether he returns for the rematch with Brandon in Regina on Thursday remains to be seen.


PRINCE ALBERT (13-14-7) at SASKATOON (15-17-3), 7:05 p.m. — The Raiders and Blades are tied for the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot, each with 33 points. . . . The Raiders are 3-4-3 in their past 10 outings; the Blades are 5-5-0. . . . Saskatoon is 1-0-1 in the season series; Prince Albert is 1-1-0. . . . Prince Albert is missing D Voytech Budik (Czech Republic), while the Blades are without D Libor Hajek (Czech Republic). Interestingly, the two formed one defensive pair as the Czech got past Russia, 5-4, in Buffalo yesterday. . . . These teams will play again Thursday, this time in Prince Albert.


MOOSE JAW (27-6-2) at SWIFT CURRENT (25-7-2), 7 p.m. — The Warriors have the WHL’s best record, with the Broncos second, just four points in arrears. . . . Tim Hunter, Moose Jaw’s head coach, is with Team Canada in Buffalo as an assistant coach, meaning that assistant coach Mark O’Leary is in charge. . . . Warriors F Brett Howden (Canada) also is in Buffalo.while the Broncos have three players there — D Artyom Minulin (Russia), F Tyler Steenbergen (Canada), F Aleksi Heponiemi (Finland). . . . The Warriors are 2-1-1 in the season series; the Broncos are 2-2-0. . . . They’ll continue the series on Thursday in Moose Jaw.


EDMONTON (7-22-4) at RED DEER (10-18-6), p.m. — The Oil Kings have lost four in a row (0-3-1) and are 2-6-2 in their past 10 outings. They own the WHL’s poorest record and are 15 points out of a playoff spot. . . . The Rebels have points in three straight (1-0-2) and in six of 10 (1-4-5). However, they are seven points away from a playoff spot. . . . Rebels F Brandon Hagel, 19, has 23 points, including 16 assists, in 27 games but has sat out the past six games with an undisclosed injury. . . . Red Deer F Kristian Reichel (Czech Republic) is in Buffalo, but D Alex Alexeyev, 18, should be back after he was released Tuesday by the Russian junior team. . . . F Arshdeep Bains, who turns 17 on Jan. 9, remains with the Rebels after playing two games with them prior to the break. When he joined the Rebels, he was leading the B.C. Major Midget Hockey League in scoring, with 57 points, 41 of them assists, in 22 games with the Valley West Hawks. . . . These teams haven’t met since the Rebels opened the regular-season with a doubleheader sweep (7-3, 5-3). . . . They’ll play again Thursday, this time in Edmonton.


CALGARY (10-18-5) vs. KOOTENAY (15-17-2), at Cranbrook, B.C., 7 p.m. — The Ice is tied with Lethbridge for second in the Central Division, six points behind Medicine Hat. Kootenay has points in three straight (2-0-1) and is 5-4-1 in its past 10 games. . . . The Hitmen are 11th in the 12-team Eastern Conference. They have lost two in a row (0-1-1) and are 4-5-1 in their past 10. . . . This will the third straight game in which these teams have played each other. They close out the pre-Christmas schedule with a home-and-home series, Kootenay winning them both — 5-1 at home on Dec. 16 and 4-3 in OT on Dec. 17. . . . And guess what? Yes, they’ll make it four in a row on Thursday in Calgary. . . . The Hitmen are without their best player in D Jake Bean, who is with Canada in Buffalo, and D Vladislav Yeryomenko (Belarus). . . . Kootenay D Martin Bodak is with Slovakia.


LETHBRIDGE (15-16-2) at MEDICINE HAT (18-14-2), 7 p.m. — Each of these teams won its last game before the break. . . . Lethbridge is 5-4-1 in its past 10 and has closed to within six points of the Central Division-leading Tigers, who are 3-5-2 over their past 10. . . . The Hurricanes lead the season series 2-1-0, but the teams haven’t met since Oct. 22. . . . Medicine Hat F Mark Russell has three goals and three assists in the three games against Lethbridge. . . . Tigers F Mason Shaw, who put up 27 goals and 67 assists in 71 games last season, has yet to play this season after suffering a knee injury while with the Minnesota Wild’s entry at an NHL rookie tournament in Traverse City, Mich. . . . The Tigers also are waiting for freshman F Josh Williams to recover from a collarbone injury suffered during a practice at the U-17 World Hockey Challenge almost two months ago. . . . The Hurricanes have lost F Ryan Vandervlis, 19, for the rest of the season with shoulder woes. He had 19 points, 11 of them goals, in 19 games. Lethbridge GM Peter Anholt acquired F Lane Zablocki, 19, from Red Deer in the hopes that he can fill the void created by Vandervlis’s absence. Zablocki, who had 19 points in 31 games with Red Deer this season, has one assist in two games with Lethbridge. . . . The Hurricanes and Tigers will resume hostilities on Thursday in Lethbridge.


TRI-CITY (18-10-3) vs. PORTLAND (21-11-1), 7 p.m. — The Americans have won three in a row and are 5-4-1 over their past 10 games. . . . The Winterhawks (21-11-1) have lost two in a row and have stumbled of late — they are 2-7-1 in their past 10. . . . It all leaves Portland second in the U.S. Division, one point behind Everett and four ahead of the Americans. . . . Tri-City is without D Juuso Valimaki (Finland), while Portland is missing F Joachim Blichfeld (Denmark), F Kieffer Bellows (U.S.) and D Henri Jokiharju (Finland). . . . The host Winterhawks beat the Americans 5-2 on Nov. 11 in the only previous meeting between these teams this season. . . . They’ll meet again Friday in Kennewick, Wash.


EVERETT (21-13-2) vs. VANCOUVER (18-13-4), at Langley, B.C., 7 p.m. — The Silvertips won their last two pre-Christmas games and nine of their past 10. That streak has lifted them to the top of the Western Conference, one point ahead of Portland, Kelowna and Victoria. . . . The Giants are the WHL’s hottest team, having won six in a row and eight of 10. They are third in the B.C. Division, three points behind Kelowna and Victoria. . . . Vancouver will be missing F Milos Roman (Slovakia), who leads all WHL freshmen with 29 points. . . . Everett is without Carter Hart, the WHL’s top goaltender, who started for Canada in its 4-2 victory over Finland in Buffalo on Tuesday. In his absence, freshman Dustin Wolf, a 16-year-old from Tustin, Calif., will get the bulk of the work. A fifth-round pick in the 2016 bantam draft, he is 5-2-0, 2.00, .942 this season. . . . The Giants return from the break to play Everett twice (they’ll meet again Friday, this time in Everett), and then return to Langley for a doubleheader with Prince George. Vancouver then will journey into Alberta for three games in four nights (Edmonton, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat), before travelling to Prince George for games on Jan. 9 and 10. . . . Yes, that stretch of nine games in 15 days may end up defining the Giants’ season.


PRINCE GEORGE (12-17-5) at VICTORIA (20-13-3), 7:05 p.m. — The Cougars have lost three in a row and are 3-6-1 in their past 10, as they have slid into the Western Conference cellar, four points behind Kamloops. . . . Victoria also has lost its last three, and is 3-5-2 in its past 10. But it is tied for first with Kelowna in the B.C. Division, and is only one point out of the Western Conference lead. . . . The Cougars will stay in Victoria for a game on Thursday night, then travel to Langley, B.C., for games with Vancouver on Saturday and Monday, before heading home for a weekend doubleheader against Tri-City and a Jan. 9-10 double-dip with visiting Vancouver. . . . F Vladislav Mikhalchuk of the Cougars is in Buffalo with Belarus. . . . The Royals are missing F Ivan Martynov, who also is with Belarus. . . . F Tyler Soy, who is six assists away from owning the Victoria/Chilliwack franchise record for career assists, left the last game before Christmas with an apparent shoulder injury. There has been no word on his status since then. . . . Victoria has been playing without F Regan Nagy (finger) and F Dante Hannoun (ill). Both are key offensive performers. . . . This is the sixth straight season in which these teams have returned from Christmas to play twice in Victoria. The Royals are 8-1-1 in the previous 10 meetings.


KAMLOOPS (16-17-1) at KELOWNA (20-11-3), 7:05 p.m. — The Blazers last their last game before the break and are 5-4-1 in their past 10 games. More importantly, they are 16-8-1 since opening the season with a nine-game losing skid. They are fourth in the B.C. Division, seven points behind Vancouver, and are just one point shy of the Western Conference’s second wild-card playoff berth. . . . The Rockets have won two in a row and seven of 10. Kelowna is one point out of the Western Conference lead and tied with Victoria atop the B.C. Division. . . . The Blazers lost two players to the WJC — D Ondrej Vala is with Czech Republic and freshman F Justin Sigrist is with Switzerland. . . . With Vala gone, the Blazers have added D Quinn Schmiemann from the midget AAA Notre Dame Hounds of Wilcox, Sask. . . . The Rockets are without D Cal Foote and F Dillon Dube, both of whom are with Canada. . . . Kelowna is 2-0-0 in the season series, but the teams haven’t met since opening weekend when the Rockets posted 8-2 and 5-1 victories. . . . The Rockets will play in Kamloops on Friday night. . . . Kamloops head coach Don Hay needs six regular-season victories to equal the WHL career record of 742, held by the retired Ken Hodge.


SEATTLE (15-14-4) at SPOKANE (18-13-3), 7:05 p.m. — The defending-champion Thunderbirds surged a bit going into Christmas as they won their last two games to finish a 10-game stretch at 4-4-2. They hold down the Western Conference’s second wild-card spot. . . . The Chiefs lost their last game prior to the break — 10-3 to the visiting Thunderbirds — but have won six of 10. . . . These teams will meet again on Friday, this time in Kent, Wash., meaning they will have played each other in three straight games. . . . They are 1-1-0 in the season series, the Chiefs having posted a 9-2 home-ice victory on Dec. 9. . . . Spokane has two players at the WJC — F Kailer Yamamoto (U.S.) and D Filip Kral (Czech Republic). . . . Seattle F Sami Moilanen was among the last players released by Finland.


Tweet of the day


Scoreboard

TUESDAY:

No Games Scheduled.


WEDNESDAY (all times local):

Regina at Brandon, 7 p.m.

Prince Albert at Saskatoon, 7:05 p.m.

Moose Jaw at Swift Current, 7 p.m.

Edmonton at Red Deer, 7 p.m.

Calgary vs. Kootenay, at Cranbrook, B.C., 7 p.m.

Lethbridge at Medicine Hat, 7 p.m.

Tri-City at Portland, 7 p.m.

Everett vs. Vancouver, at Langley, B.C., 7 p.m.

Prince George at Victoria, 7:05 p.m.

Kamloops at Kelowna 7:05 p.m.

Seattle at Spokane, 7:05 p.m.


THURSDAY (all times local):

Saskatoon at Prince Albert, 7 p.m.

Brandon at Regina, 7 p.m.

Swift Current at Moose Jaw, 7 p.m.

Kootenay at Calgary, 7 p.m.

Red Deer at Edmonton, 7 p.m.

Prince George at Victoria, 7:05 p.m.

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