WHL makes “commitment” for 24-game schedule; no starting date yet . . . Virus finds Dallas Stars . . . Former WHL coach added to Coyotes’ staff

The WHL’s board of governors chatted on Friday, after which the league announced that it had “made a commitment” to play a 24-game 2021 season.

The news release stated: “The start date for the season will be determined once WHL2final approval has been received from the health authorities in each provincial and state jurisdiction and it is anticipated the approvals will be received soon.”

In other words, there isn’t anything new for a league that has announced starting dates of Oct. 2, Dec. 4 and Jan. 8, only to watch COVID-19 make those goals impossible to reach. The WHL and its fans continue to play the waiting game as they have for almost 10 months now.

As I have written here on numerous occasions, the virus will decide if/when the WHL and other leagues will play, and let’s be honest — short of announcing that it was cancelling the season, what else could the WHL say?

On Dec. 15, when it announced that a Jan. 8 start date wouldn’t be happening, the league said the governors would “meet in January to consider potential start dates.”

That is the meeting that took place on Friday.

When the WHL states that it needs final approval from health officials and that “it is anticipated the approvals will be received soon,” you are free to wonder if someone in the Calgary-based office has some inside information. Again, though, what else would the WHL be expected to say?

But the coronavirus-based numbers in the six jurisdictions in which the WHL operates haven’t exactly provided anyone with warm and fuzzy feelings of late. (See The COVID-19 Chronicles further down in this piece.)

You also wonder if the governors started their meeting yesterday by discussing DallasStarsgoings-on in the NHL where the Dallas Stars shut things down after six players and two staff members tested positive, and the Columbus Blue Jackets held 17 players out of practice.

The Stars were to have opened the NHL’s regular season against the host Florida Panthers on Jan. 14, but that obviously won’t happen. In fact, the Stars also have had to postpone two others games — Jan. 15 at Florida and Jan. 17 at the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Stars’ first game now is scheduled for Jan. 19 in Tampa Bay.

In the meantime, the Stars players and staff who tested positive are self-isolating and the team’s training facilities are closed.

The Blue Jackets, who are scheduled to open on Jan. 14 against the Predators in Nashville, held 17 of 38 players off the ice “out of an abundance of caution and in accordance with NHL COVID-19 protocols.”

Aaron Portzline, who covers the Blue Jackets for The Athletic, tweeted that the non-practising players were: forwards Emil Bemstrom, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Max Domi, Nick Foligno, Nathan Gerbe, Liam Foudy, Mikhail Grigorenko, Boone Jenner, Mikko Koivu, Eric Robinson, Alexandre Texier, and defencemen Adam Clendening, Vladislav Gavrikov, Seth Jones, David Savard, Andrew Peeke, Michael Del Zotto.

After discussing the NHL situation, maybe the WHL govs talked a bit about NCAA hockey where a number of schools have found out that their hockey teams have been bitten by COVID-19.

Nothing explains all of what has happened better than the National Collegiate NCHCHockey Conference (NCHC). It took eight teams into Omaha in early December and played 38 games. They didn’t call it a bubble; rather, it was a pod. Teams were limited to their hotel and the arena. There was regular testing; there weren’t any positive tests.

However, once that experience was over and the teams returned home, well, the virus licked its lips and went to work.

The U of Omaha has been unable to play four straight games against North Dakota, including two scheduled for this weekend. Mike Kemp, an associate athletic director at Omaha, told The Associated Press: “We got it in spades.”

Elsewhere in the world of NCAA men’s hockey, Lowell’s program is on pause and at least its next three games are off the schedule; Canisius has put things on hold due to protocols and contact tracing; Michigan Tech had to put things on hold after positive tests in its program earlier this week; Northern Michigan has been able to play six games, while having eight postponed or cancelled . . . and on and on it goes.

Where it stops . . . only the virus knows.


F Logan Stankoven of the Kamloops Blazers told CFJC-TV’s Chad Klassen that he is looking at going to the USHL.

“I know nothing’s been confirmed yet, but I’ve talked to Fargo Force from down in the States,” Stankoven, 17, said. “I think they’re pretty interested in me, maybe having me come down, but obviously nothing’s set in stone.”

The USHL deadline to add Hockey Canada-released players to team rosters is Sunday. Klassen reported that should Stankoven go that route, he would be required to spend the remainder of the season there.

“As much as I don’t want to head down to the States and play for a whole different team and in a whole different country, things got to be done,” Stankoven said. “It’s part of our development and players need to play hockey. It’s our life. As much as people say it’s not our job, it’s part of our job. It’s our careers.”

You wonder what impact, if any, the WHL’s Friday news release might have on Stankoven’s decision.

Earlier this week, the Dubuque Fighting Saints announced that they were adding F Matt Savoie, 16, of the Winnipeg Ice to their roster. The Fighting Saints played Friday night — they lost 5-2 to the host Youngstown Phantoms — but Savoie has yet to be placed on their roster.


At least two B.C. junior B leagues — the Kootenay International and Vancouver Island leagues — had hoped to return to regular-season play on Jan. 15. However, those hopes were dashed on Thursday when the B.C. government and health officials extended a series of province-wide restrictions until Feb. 5. . . . The junior A BCHL now is talking about starting its regular season on Feb. 8. . . . Steve Ewen of Postmedia tweeted that the BCHL couldn’t get approval for its Penticton hub idea from health officials so that idea is dead.


THE COVID-19 CHRONICLES . . .

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CJOB Radio, Winnipeg: As Manitoba announced nine additional COVID-19-related deaths Friday, the province’s top doctor said hundreds of recent cases have been linked to gatherings over the holidays.

Scott Billeck, Winnipeg Sun: From the province: 355 cases and 1,900 contacts from holiday gatherings to date.

CBC News: Saskatchewan is reporting 336 new cases of COVID-19 and 7 new deaths related to the illness. It’s the highest daily case count since Dec. 6. There are currently 180 COVID-19 patients in the province’s hospitals, including 26 people in intensive care.

Jason Herring, Postmedia: Here are Friday’s COVID-19 Alberta stats: 1,183 new cases (total now 109,652) . . . 24 new deaths (total now 1,241) . . . 851 currently in hospital, 135 in ICU (yesterday: 871 in hospital, 139 in ICU) . . . 13,628 active cases (up from 13,298) . . . 16,765 tests conducted (~7.1% positive).

Justin McElory, CBC Vancouver: 617 new cases of COVID-19 announced in B.C. on Friday, a big drop from Thursday but part of a small rise since Christmas. . . . 18 new deaths, the highest number since Dec. 23. . . . Hospitalizations and active cases down.

Tacome News Tribune: The Washington state Department of Health reported 4,829 new cases of COVID-19 and 65 deaths Friday. . . . Statewide totals from the illness caused by the coronavirus are 268,607 cases and 3,699 deaths. The case total includes 11,160 cases listed as probable. Those numbers are up from 263,778 cases and 3,634 deaths on Thursday.

Daily Hive Portland: The Oregon Health Authority has reported 1,755 new and presumptive COVID-19 cases and seven new deaths. The state has now seen a total of 122,847 COVID-19 cases, and the death toll has risen to 1,575.

Public Health Agency of Canada, Friday, 4 p.m. PT — People tested: 15,420,760 . . . Total cases: 644,348 . . . Active cases: 81,670 . . . Recovered: 545,971 . . . Deaths: 16,707.

CNN, Friday, 3 p.m. PT: 368,000 people in the United States have died from coronavirus.

CNN, Friday, 3 p.m. PT: 21.8 million people in the United States have tested positive for coronavirus.

AFP News Agency, Friday, 8 p.m. PG: US sets new record with nearly 290,000 Covid cases in 24 hours: Johns Hopkins.

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Curling Alberta has cancelled its 2021 men’s, women’s and mixed doubles championships “due to Alberta’s continued state of public health emergency.” All were to have been held in Sylvan Lake, Jan. 25 to Feb. 5. . . .

With the B.C. government and health officials having extended various restrictions, including one restricting adult team sport, through Feb. 5, Curl BC has cancelled the men’s and women’s championships that had been scheduled for Kamloops and the mixed doubles event that was to have been held in Chilliwack. . . .

Holly Rowe, a veteran ESPN sideline reporter, revealed on Friday that she has tested positive, meaning she won’t be working on Monday when Alabama and Ohio State meet in the college football championship game in Miami. . . . Rowe admitted to having some symptoms and not feeling great. . . . She also is a cancer survivor, having battled melanoma. . . .

The Maine Red Claws, a G League men’s basketball team affiliated with the NBA’s Boston Celtics, have opted out of the 2021 season. . . .

Mike Lange, the veteran play-by-play voice of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, won’t start the approaching NHL season out of an abundance of caution. He says he’ll be back once he is able to be vaccinated and when he feels it is safe to return. Lange, who will turn 73 in March, missed the 2019 playoffs due to pneumonia. . . .

Kurt Warner, an analyst with the NFL Network, announced Friday night that he has tested positive so won’t be working on any studio shows this weekend. Warner, 49, has been with the NFL Network for 10 years. . . . Also on the NFL broadcast front, NBC’s Mike Tirico will call the play of the Tampa Bay-Washington game from home because of COVID-19 protocols, while CBS-TV’s Tony Romo will provide analysis of the Chicago-New Orleans game from a remote site for the same reason.


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JUST NOTES: Former WHL coach Jay Varady, who is the head coach of the AHL’s Tucson Roadrunners, has been added to the coaching staff of the parent Arizona Coyotes. Varady, 43, spent seven seasons (2003-10) on the coaching staff of the Everett Silvertips. He had been the Roadrunners’ head coach for two seasons. . . . The NHL’s San Jose Sharks has left K-FOX, its play-by-play station since 2020-21, and now will stream its games on the Sharks Audio Network, available on the team’s website and app. . . . Lethbridge has been chosen as the host city for the 2022 Tim Hortons Brier (aka the Canadian men’s curling championship). It is scheduled to run March 4-13, which means the Hurricanes will be out of the Enmax Centre for a couple of weeks in the waning days of the WHL’s 2021-22 season.

More allegations of abuse in junior hockey . . . Lawyer busy adding players to lawsuit . . . Former NHLer likely to join


A spokesperson with the WHL has told TSN that it would open an investigation after a former player alleged “he was a victim of sexual and physical abuse” during stints with two teams.

According to TSN’s Rick Westhead, the player sent an email of his complaints to the WHL and copied the email to TSN.

In the email, the player wrote:

“The abuse transformed me from a driven, happy, engaged young man and a solid NHL hockey prospect into a black mass of anger, untrust of people, self-isolation and alcohol abuse. The recent CHL allegations of abuse triggered anger in me and brought forward flashbacks and anguish.”

The player went into the brutish details of the complaints in the email, all of which is in Westhead’s story that is right here.

At one point, Westhead writes: “The complainant confirmed the identities of the alleged assailants to TSN. Several have prominent roles in the hockey industry.”


The WHL has had at least one opportunity in years gone by to deal with a player who has said he was humiliated and “physically assaulted” during his WHL career.

In the book Sudden Death: The Incredible Saga of the 1986 Swift Current Broncos, which was published in 2012, Peter Soberlak described some of what happened to him during his first WHL season with his hometown Kamloops Blazers.

“It was really horrible,” Soberlak, who was 16 at the time, said. “In a lot of cases, I feared going on the bus, feared going on road trips . . . just because of the humiliation and constant verbal abuse. . . .

“What I went through in Kamloops destroyed my confidence. I can deal with that now, but it was just horrific for me. It sucked the life out of me. . . . I was physically assaulted.

“You think I have not suffered — have not had repercussions from what I went through there — serious, absolutely long-term, continuous major repercussions of what happened to me in that situation. I guarantee you I have.”

Seen by some observers as the best player in his age group in Canada at one time, Soberlak was out of the game at 23.

“That’s the only thing I am bitter about in my hockey career,” he said. “My first year in Kamloops . . . it was the worst year of my life.”

Soberlak, now 51, has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology, with a minor in sociology, from the University of British Columbia and a Master’s Degree in sport and exercise psychology from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. He is a lecturer and works with the athletic department and its teams at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops.

No one from the WHL has ever contacted him about his allegations in the book of which I was a co-author.


James Sayce, the lawyer working with Daniel Carcillo and Garrett Taylor on their class-action lawsuit against the CHL, has told Ken Campbell of The Hockey News “a lot” of players have joined the lawsuit since it first was filed. . . . Campbell writes: “If the people who run junior hockey in Canada were taken aback by this lawsuit, shame on them. They should have seen this coming because it’s not as though the warning signs were not there. In fact, in filing a lawsuit against the CHL, both Carcillo and Taylor were simply putting on the legal record things they’ve been saying for years now. Carcillo went public with the humiliation he suffered during his rookie season with the Sarnia Sting in 2002-03 two years ago.” . . . Campbell’s latest column is right here.


Dan Fritsche, a former NHLer, says he likely will be joining the class-action lawsuit filed by Daniel Carcillo and Garrett Taylor against the CHL and the three major junior leagues that operate under its umbrella. The lawsuit alleges “hazing, bullying, physical and verbal harassment, physical assault, sexual harassment, and sexual assault.” . . . Fritsche was a rookie on the 2002-03 Sarnia Sting of the OHL, as was Carcillo. . . . “There’s nothing I’ve read that isn’t true,” Fritsche told Aaron Portzline of The Athletic. “I was in that toxic atmosphere. I had to go through all of that rookie shit, all the disgusting things they would make us do. It was so awful, and people knew about it who absolutely could have stopped it. They’d put us in the (charter bus) bathroom, butt-ass naked, six to eight of us (rookies) for 45 minutes as we’re coming home from a road trip. They’d throw a coin in there to make us fight over it, naked, and whoever came up with it got to get out first. Stuff like that, just over and over.” . . . If you are an Athletic subscriber, Portzline’s complete story is right here.




An undisclosed number of Minnesota Twins players have tested positive, although none were at the team’s home park, Target Field, or its spring training facility in Fort Myers, Fla. . . . Derek Falvey, the president of baseball operations, told Fox 9 Sports: “We have players in many different locations. I don’t think this is necessarily a surprise that we may have some positive cases.” . . .

ESPN reported that the NFL has cancelled its Hall of Fame game that was to have featured the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 6. . . . It also is believed that the NFL will delay its induction ceremonies that were to have been held on Aug. 8. . . .

The NBA’s Sacramento Kings have at least three players on their roster who have tested positive — F Jabari Parker, C Alex Len and G Buddy Hield. . . . Sara Hodge of CBS Sacramento has reported that a fourth unidentified player also has tested positive. . . .

Orenburg, a team in Russia’s top soccer league, reported Thursday that it has six players and two staff members who have tested positive. . . . The Russian Premier League returned to play last week. . . . Apparently, Orenburg’s entire team tested negative as recently as Sunday. . . .

The seven-team Canadian Elite Basketball League, which was to have started its season early in May, is planning on opening a month-long tournament without fans in St. Catharines, Ont., on July 15. A single-elimination playoff will end with a championship game on Aug. 9. . . . Devin Heroux of CBC reports: “All seven teams will stay in a bubble-like setting in St. Catharines, playing games at the Meridian Centre and practising at a nearby facility. League officials said players, coaches and personnel will be separated from the general public and strict screening and COVID-19 protocols will be adhered to under the supervision of medical officials.”



Eric Ditto is returning for his seventh season on the coaching staff of the junior B Delisle Chiefs of the Prairie Junior Hockey League. Ditto is preparing for his sixth full season as head coach and his second as general manager. . . . Anthony Radke will be back for a second season as an assistant coach. . . . Ryan Pilon is the other assistant coach. He joined the Chiefs during last season after serving as an assistant coach with the Beardy’s Blackhawks U18 AAA team.


The RINK Hockey Corp., owner of the Rink Hockey Academy, has bought the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy (POE) and Edge of Excellence (EOE) in a deal that is to close on July 1. The sale is subject to the approval of BC Hockey and the Canadian Sport School Hockey League. . . . There is more right here.