This hasn’t been a banner few days for the WHL.
First, it announced on Saturday that it had suspended four players off the Moose Jaw Warriors’ roster for “standard of conduct violation.”
For part of Wednesday, this was the dominant headline on the Winnipeg Sun’s home page — CRACK IN THE ICE: First-place WHL team could be on last legs in Winnipeg.
Sports columnist Paul Friesen pulled together all the off-ice noise that has been surrounding the Winnipeg Ice of late and, with the WHL’s board of governors meeting in Las Vegas, wrote:
“With still no arena deal in sight — a source confirms the WHL has already fined the franchise half a million dollars for failing to come through on that front — the league’s first-place team appears to be on its last legs in Winnipeg.”
Mike Sawatzky of the Winnipeg Free Press reported on Dec. 14 that the WHL had fined the Ice $500,000, something that was vehemently denied by the WHL and the team a few days later.
Friesen points out that if was on Jan. 29, 2019, when Greg Fettes, the chairman of 50 Below Sports + Entertainment, the Ice’s parent, told a news conference that “we’re building a 4,500 seat arena. We’re expecting it to be full.”
Today, more than four years later, a shovel has yet to be put into the ground.
Fettes, meanwhile, didn’t attend the WHL meetings in Vegas that ran through Tuesday. Matt Cockell, a former WHL goaltender who is Fettes’ partner and the Ice’s general manager, was in Vegas.
Without a new arena, one that meets WHL standards, the Ice is playing in the Wayne Fleming Arena on the U of Manitoba campus, a facility that seats around 1,600. As a result, the Ice, the top-ranked team in all of the CHL, is last in attendance in the 22-team WHL.
I was told on Thursday that the Ice’s situation was to be high on the agenda for the WHL meetings in Las Vegas, that the league was contemplating taking over the franchise and that it already was looking for a potential new home for the franchise.
I also was told that Chilliwack, B.C., and Wenatchee, Wash., were high on the list of possibles. Of course, the WHL had a franchise in Chilliwack not that long ago, but the Bruins were sold and left after five seasons, relocating to Victoria as the Royals in time for the 2011-12 season. The 5,000-seat Chilliwack Coliseum now is home to the BCHL’s Chilliwack Chiefs.
Wenatchee, meanwhile, is home to the 4,300-seat Town Toyota Center, which is where the BCHL’s Wild plays. David White, the Wild’s owner, has long said he is quite content in the BCHL and hasn’t expressed interest in being involved in the WHL. According to figures compiled by hockeydb.com, the Wild’s average announced attendance this season is 2,534, behind only the Penticton Vees (3,069). Troy Mick, a former WHL player and coach, is with the Wild as hockey director and head coach of the 18U AAA Wolves and 16U AAA Wilderness.
(BTW, Chilliwack is third in the BCHL attendance chart, at 2,316, and the Cranbrook Bucks are fourth, at 2,296.)
Friesen also wrote that the WHL, after repeatedly being asked about the Ice situation, issued a brief statement saying that it and the Ice “continue to work closely to evaluate options for a facility that meets WHL minimum standards.” The WHL also took time in that brief statement to deny the Ice had been fined.
We can only imagine how frosted some WHL organizations are at the way the Ice has been able to circumvent those minimum standards. The WHL came up with minimum standards a number of years ago — they dealt with such things as seating, boards and glass systems, ice quality controls, arena lighting and broadcast standards — something that resulted in some cities and teams spending millions of dollars to upgrade facilities.
The establishment of those standards also helped lead to the construction of a new arena in Moose Jaw, with the 4,500-seat Mosaic Place opening on Aug. 19, 2011.
You also are free to wonder how other teams feel about the way the WHL, considering the Ice’s off-ice situation, allowed the team to deal away numerous draft picks as it loaded up this season’s roster.
Friesen wrote: “According to WHL blogger Alan Caldwell, who tracks these things, the Ice have traded away picks in the first, second and fourth rounds in this year’s draft, all their picks from Rounds 1 through 6 in 2024, their top four picks in ’25, and their first six picks in ’26.”
Oh, and let’s not forget that the WHL allowed the Ice to leave Cranbrook without settling its lease with the city. Trevor Crawley of the Cranbrook Townsman tweeted on Wednesday that “as far as I’m aware, the City of Cranbrook lawsuit against the WHL/Kootenay Ice/Winnipeg Ice for breach of contract related to the franchise relocation is still active.”
On the ice, the Ice is running away with the East Division and is atop the Eastern Conference. As mentioned, the Ice again is the CHL’s top-ranked team this week. All of which has people wondering whether the WHL will try to force the Ice out of the Wayne Fleming Arena and into a larger, more TV-friendly venue at some point during what could well be a deep playoff run.
What it all amounts to is that there is lots of meat on this bone, more than enough to keep us tuned in to this messy story.
Friesen’s column is right here and it is well worth your time.
On the COVID-19 front, we have this tweet from Cole Beasley, an anti-vaxxer who sometimes plays for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills: “Y’all I was trying to take my family to the beaches resort in Turks & Caicos but apparently it’s required to be vaccinated. Y’all still out here doing this? I thought we were done . . . lol.”
To which Chris Smith (@chrissmithnymag) responded: “3,500 Americans still out here dying each week, y’all.”
This is a good time to remind you that, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, the U.S. death toll as of Wednesday evening was at 1,114,990. The number of deaths for the past week: 2,716. . . . Johns Hopkins U shows Canada with 50,998 deaths in all, with 199 of those in the past week.
And we are entering into our fourth year of this pandemic. Isn’t that just lovely?
F Zachary L’Heureux of the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads has been suspended for 10 games. The decision was announced on Wednesday, after he was suspended indefinitely on Friday. . . . His crime? He got into an altercation with a fan as he was exiting the ice surface following a Feb. 8 game against the host Gatineau Olympiques. . . . Interestingly, the league at first said there wouldn’t be any action taken because of a lack of evidence. However, a video of the incident surfaced on social media and the suspension came afterwards. . . . This isn’t L’Heureux’s first run-in with the QMJHL law. In fact, this is his ninth suspension, and when this one runs its course he will have sat out 37 games in total. . . . L’Heureux, 19, has 37 points in 24 games this season. He was a first-round selection by the Nashville Predators in the NHL’s 2021 draft. . . . Willy Palov has more right here.
The Travellin’ Bedards have done it again. Yes, they have sold out another road game. The Prince Albert Raiders announced on Wednesday morning that the Pats’ visit to the Art Hauser Centre on Friday is “SOLD OUT.” . . . The Pats last appeared in Prince Albert on Dec. 30 when they beat the Raiders, 4-3 in OT. Bedard wasn’t with the Pats for that one; he was busy helping Canada win gold at the World Junior Championship. The announced attendance that night was 2,548. . . . Prince Albert’s largest crowd this season came on opening night when 2,798 fans watched the Saskatoon Blades beat the Raiders, 5-2. Second on the list is from Dec. 9 when the Pats, again without Bedard who had left for Canada’s selection camp, beat the Raiders, 3-2, in front of 2,781 fans.
WEDNESDAY’S WHL HIGHLIGHTS:
A five-goal second period carried the host Winnipeg Ice to a 5-3 victory over the Swift Current Broncos. . . . Trailing 1-0, the Ice took over on goals from F Owen Peterson (26), F Matt Savoie (23), D Ben Zloty (9), F Evan Friesen (9) and F Josh Medernach (3) in a span of 7:55. . . . F Connor Hvidston (16) scored twice — one on a PP and one SH — and added an assist for the Broncos. . . . G Daniel Hauser earned the victory with 28 saves. This season, he is 26-3-1, 2.44, .911. Hauser, who turned 19 on Jan. 29, is 67-6-3, 2.28, .911 in 79 career appearances. . . . Winnipeg (41-7-1) has won four in a row. It leads the overall standings by three points over the Seattle Thunderbirds. The Ice, which has clinched a playoff spot, leads the Eastern Conference by seven points over the Red Deer Rebels. . . . Swift Current (25-23-3) is tied with the Regina Pats and Calgary Hitmen for sixth, just one point ahead of the Medicine Hat Tigers. . . .
F Andrew Cristall, who hadn’t played since Jan. 7, struck for four goals to lead the host Kelowna Rockets to a 5-2 victory over the Everett Silvertips. . . . This was Cristall’s first WHL hat trick after 15 two-goal games. . . . Cristall missed 14 games but still returned as the team’s leader in goals and points. He now has 66 points, 30 of them goals, in 37 games. . . . Cristall scored Kelowna’s last four goals, the third one coming at 18:56 of the second period for a 4-0 lead. He got the fourth one into an empty net. . . . F Gabriel Szturc had a goal (18) and three assists for Kelowna. . . . F Jackson Berezowski (37) scored both of Everett’s goals. . . . Kelowna got 41 saves from G Jari Kykkanen, who is 9-9-2, 3.55, .899 this season. . . . The Rockets (18-30-3) had lost their previous four games. They are eighth in the Western Conference, three points ahead of the Victoria Royals. . . . Everett (27-23-2) had points in each of its past five games (4-0-1). It is tied with the Tri-City Americans for fourth in the conference. . . .
G Bryan Thomson turned aside 36 shots to lead the Hurricanes to a 3-0 victory over the Calgary Hitmen in Lethbridge. . . . Thomson, 20, has put up back-to-back shutouts; he beat the visiting Medicine Hat Tigers, 3-0, on Friday. He has two shutouts this season. This one was the fourth of his career and came in his 104th appearance over five seasons. . . . Injuries have limited Thomson to 11 games this season. He is 6-3-2, 1.81, .940. . . . The winners got PP goals from F Anton Astashevich (7) in the first period and F Logan Wormald (20) in the second. . . . F Cole Shepard (19) got the empty-netter. . . . Lethbridge (29-18-6) has points in three straight (2-0-1). It is a comfortable fifth in the Eastern Conference. . . . Calgary (23-23-7) has lost 10 in a row (0-7-3). It is tied for seventh in the conference with the Regina Pats and Swift Current Broncos, one point ahead of the Medicine Hat Tigers. . . .
In Spokane, the Chiefs snapped a 1-1 tie with four second-period goals en route to a 6-2 victory over the Portland Winterhawks. . . . The Chiefs scored four times in 6:34 early in that second period, with F Berkly Catton (16), F Grady Lane (4) and F Ty Cheveldayoff (18) getting the goals. . . . Catton, the first overall selection in the WHL’s 2021 draft, also had an assist. He turned 17 on Jan. 14. In his freshman season, he’s got 16 goals and 21 assists in 46 games. . . . G Dawson Cowan stopped 25 shots to earn the victory. . . . Portland (36-12-4) has lost two straight. It remains second in the Western Conference, four points behind the Seattle Thunderbirds. . . . Spokane (10-35-6) had lost its previous nine games (0-6-3).
Steve Ewen of Postmedia reports that F Samuel Honzek may be back in the Vancouver Giants’ lineup on Saturday for the first time since he left the team in December to play for Slovakia at the World Junior Championship. While there, he suffered a skate cut to one leg and has yet to return to action. . . . He could play Saturday against the visiting Saskatoon Blades. . . . Ewen’s story is right here.
THINKING OUT LOUD: I have never been able to understand what it is that causes some players on a team to subject usually younger teammates to hazing. As Buck Showalter, the manager of the New York Mets, put it: “The guy’s got your uni on and he’s trying to help you. Why don’t you make his path a little easier?” . . . Just spitballin’ here, but do you think new head coach Rick Tocchet realizes that “what you see is what you get” with these Vancouver Canucks? . . . What a night for long-time favourite Connor Ingram, who blocked 47 shots to record his first NHL shutout as his Arizona Coyotes snuck past the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning, 1-0. . . . Michael Amato (@amato_mike) points out that Ingram has faced 47, 44, 45, 42, 39 and 40 shots in his past six starts. “And he has a .934 save percentage over that stretch. Incredible run.” . . . When I’m watching a hockey game, I really don’t need the play-by-play voice to keep telling me what a great game it is. Do you?.
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One thought on “Report: Ice could be on last legs in Winnipeg . . . Big return for Cristall . . . Another shutout for Thomson”
Re play by play. I also don’t need to be told what I’m capable of seeing. Play by play works for radio; on TV, less is more. Announcers should watch an EPL soccer game to see how it’s done.