Gaglardi ‘suspects’ Lajoie will be back. . . . Habscheid, Love in war of the words. . . . Ice, assistant coach go separate ways


MacBeth

F Aaron Gagnon (Seattle, 2001-07) has signed a one-year contract extension with Langnau (Switzerland, NL). This season, he had 14 goals and 14 assists in 39 games.


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It seems that a lot of folks who follow the WHL are wondering about the coaching situation with the Kamloops Blazers. Specifically, they want to know if Serge Lajoie will be back for a second season as the head coach.

You will be aware that the Blazers went 28-32-8 this season, then beat the Kelowna Kamloops1Rockets in a tiebreaker to get into the playoffs, where they were beaten in six games by the Victoria Royals in a spirited first-round series.

Let’s break down the Blazers’ season a little bit.

Darryl Sydor, one of the franchise’s five owners, was named a full-time assistant coach on Feb. 12. A former Blazers defenceman who went on to play and coach in the NHL, Sydor is a two-time Stanley Cup winner and also won a Memorial Cup.

When the Blazers made that announcement, they were 20-27-5. With Sydor officially on board, they finished the regular-season 8-5-3, won that tiebreaker, then went 2-4 in the playoffs.

So, all told, they were 11-9-3 after the Sydor announcement.

Which brings us to an interview that Marty Hastings of Kamloops This Week did with Tom Gaglardi, the Blazers’ majority owner. Here are three questions and answers:

Hastings: Will Serge be the head coach to start next season?

Gaglardi: I suspect so. He’s got a long-term contract and we haven’t had any conversation about anything other than that. We’re very happy with where we are. We had a great finish to the year and we’re excited about next season, but this week is just a week to lick our wounds. This is a series (vs. Victoria) we truly thought we could win.

Hastings: What do you think assistant coach Darryl Sydor brought to the team?

Gaglardi: Darryl really understands what it takes to win and what a successful bench feels like. He’s been a long-time player and had success at the junior level, had success at the NHL level, won a couple of Stanley Cups. He knows what benches need. I think he was really instrumental in figuring out what his role could be to help. Sometimes you’ve got a coach that’s a hard coach and the kids need to be brought up and built back, and Darryl really understands the ying and yang, the methods, and figured out a role that he could help in. He really worked hard to make sure the kids believed they could actually get the job done. He perhaps brought something to the staff that was missing. Darryl is a tremendous guy and I was thrilled when he agreed to join full-time and come on board and he made a difference.

Hastings: Does Darryl have what it takes to be a head coach here or somewhere else?

Gaglardi: I’ve got to think so, if that’s what he wants to do. He’s come home and I think he’d like to be involved in some way. We’ve had lots of talks around this for a long time. What this blossoms into, I’m not sure. He’s a tremendous guy and we’d love to have him involved. He’s got kids playing competitive hockey. I’m not sure where he’s going to be, in terms of level of commitment next year, whether he’s ready to step in and take on some sort of full-time role again with the club. I’m not sure. He did make a big difference to us down the stretch.

That complete interview is right here.

I don’t have any idea what the future holds here. I do know that in the 12 seasons under the ownership of Gaglardi, Sydor, Shane Doan, Jarome Iginla and Mark Recchi, the Blazers have gotten out of the first round twice, been a first-round casualty six times, and have missed the playoffs on four occasions.

Lajoie is the 10th head coach or interim head coach, including Guy Charron on two occasions, this franchise has employed over those 12 seasons.


It’s ‘Game On’ in the Eastern Conference seminal between the Prince Albert Raiders and Saskatoon Blades.

The series resumes tonight in Saskatoon, with the Raiders holding a 2-0 lead. Game 3 will be televised by Sportsnet.

Other than the quotes in the above tweets, Ryan Flaherty of Global TV in Saskatoon also Saskatoontweeted this quote from Blades head coach Mitch Love:

“There was four head-whipping incidents (Sunday) night, three of which led to penalties on our side, by their players. So is that embellishment? I don’t know. Is it? I hope they’re getting their necks fixed over there today.”

You’ll recall that prior to the series Marc Habscheid, the Raiders’ head coach, offered up PrinceAlbertthese thoughts to Darren Zary of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix:

“They embellish. That’s what they do. They led the league in drawing minors. It’s known around (the league) that they do that. Hopefully, that stops because it’s not a good thing. You look at a guy like Kirby Dach. He’s a good player. I met the young man at the Prospects game. A great kid, awesome kid and really great player. He doesn’t need to embellish. He’s better than that. He’s a good enough player. He doesn’t need to that.”

As Zary reports in a story posted on Monday evening, Love went so far as to suggest that the WHL office needs to be paying more attention to player safety.

“I really chose not to say too much about it up until this point,” Zary quotes Love as having said, “but after watching two games in which I felt there were several incidents — especially (Sunday night’s) hockey game where there was a lot of contact towards players’ heads — I know our league stresses player safety, so I think the real story here is how people have turned a blind eye to that kind of thing, based on comments that were made previously, prior to the start of the series.”

Zary’s story is right here.

And, in case you missed it, here’s some video of Habscheid off the Sportsnet telecast early in Game 2 on Saturday night. . . .


The Winnipeg Ice revealed via Twitter on Monday that the organization and assistant coach Gord Burnett “have agreed to part ways.” Burnett, a native of Regina, just completed his fourth season on the Ice’s coaching staff. . . . According to the Ice’s website, its coaching staff now comprises head coach James Patrick and associate coach Jon Klemm. . . . Patrick, from Winnipeg, and Klemm, who is from Cranbrook, have been with the Ice through two seasons.


F Kyle Olson of the Tri-City Americans has joined the San Diego Gulls, the AHL affiliate of the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks, on an ATO. From Calgary, Olson was selected by the Ducks in the fourth round of the NHL’s 2017 draft. He hasn’t signed an NHL contract. . . . This season, Olson, who turned 20 on March 22, had 21 goals and 49 assists in 62 games with the Americans.


The Edmonton Oil Kings have signed D Matt Smith to a WHL contract. An Edmonton native, Smith was a third-round selection in the WHL’s 2018 bantam draft. . . . He played this season with the midget AAA Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., Rangers, recording two goals and 10 assists in 41 regular-season and playoff games.


Rick Westhead of TSN filed another story regarding the minimum-wage lawsuit on Monday, and this one really involves the WHL.

“A fight is unfolding in the Western Hockey League minimum-wage class-action lawsuit over the privacy of current and former players who pursue a claim against the league for minimum wage, back pay and overtime,” Westhead writes.

“A year and a half after an Alberta judge certified a minimum-wage lawsuit against the WHL, lawyers for the plaintiffs and the league are now battling over how to notify those players about their right to proceed with a case or, if they choose, withdraw from the litigation.

“The two sides will appear at a hearing in Calgary on Monday to make arguments about the notice the players will be given regarding the lawsuit.”

The complete story is right here.

Westhead also mentioned that “the CHL and its three leagues have been battling minimum-wage lawsuits for the past five years.”

It is hard to fathom that it already has been that long. Wouldn’t you like to know how much money the WHL has spent on legal fees over that time?


F Joachim Blichfeld of the Portland Winterhawks will play for Denmark’s national men’s team in a pair of exhibition games against visiting Finland this week. The games are scheduled for Thursday in Aalborg and Saturday in Vojens. . . . The Danish team, under head coach Heinz Ehlers, dropped eight players from its training camp after weekend workouts. . . . Blichfeld, who won the WHL scoring championship with 114 points in 68 games this season, is hoping to earn a spot on the national men’s A team that will play in the IIHF World Championship in the Slovakian cities of Bratislava and Košice, from May 10 through May 26.


Kevin Kaminski is the new general manager and head coach of the SJHL’s La Ronge Ice larongeWolves. Kaminski, who is from Churchbridge, Sask., signed a three-year contract. . . . Kaminski, 50, spent three seasons (1986-89) with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades before going on to a pro career that included 139 games in the NHL. . . . For the past three seasons, he has been the head coach of the Western States Hockey League’s Fresno Monsters. . . . The Ice Wolves also announced that Gaelan Patterson, another former Blades skater, will be turning, but as associate GM and associate coach. Patterson finished the season as the team’s interim head coach after the firing of Evan Vossen. . . . The team also said that Travis Hegland will be returning as athletic therapist and trainer.


EdChynowethCup

NOTES: D Jake Kustra of the Victoria Royals has been suspended for two games after taking a cross-checking major and game misconduct for a hit on F Jared Dmytriw of the DisciplineVancouver Giants at 2:54 of the second period on Saturday. That was in Game 2 of the series. The Giants won, 2-1 in OT, and hold a 2-0 leading going into Game 3 tonight in Victoria. . . .

Meanwhile, the Giants have been fined $750 for, according to the WHL website, “actions of player at end of game” on Saturday night. There was a bit of a brouhaha after Vancouver F Tristen Nielsen scored the game-winner at 3:29 of OT. G Griffen Outhouse of Victoria came out of it with a roughing minor, while Giants D Alex Kannok Leipert was hit with a roughing minor and a game misconduct. I would think it’s safe to assume that he is the “player” in question. . . .

In these playoffs, the WHL’s Dept. of Discipline now has issued 13 suspensions totalling 30 games, and handed out six fines worth a total of $4,250. . . . In all of last season’s playoffs, there were six players suspended for a total of 12 games, and two fines meted out worth $1,250. . . .

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After a quiet Monday night, there are three second-round games on the schedule tonight. . . .

As mentioned, the Vancouver Giants hold a 2-0 lead as they play Game 3 against the Royals in Victoria. The Royals obviously will be without D Jake Kustra, while F Kody McDonald serves the fifth of a six-game suspension. . . . Victoria D Ralph Jarratt left late in Game 3 with an apparent injury to his left shoulder or arm and didn’t return. . . . The Giants are expected to again be without F Aidan Barfoot, who was injured in the first round. . . .

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In Calgary, the Edmonton Oil Kings, with a 2-0 lead, will meet the Hitmen as the Battle of Alberta resumes. . . . Here’s a note from Derek Van Diest of the Edmonton Sun involving the first two games:

“Two games and two won face-offs have ended up the back of the Hitmen net so far in the series.

“The Oil Kings won 3-2 in overtime Saturday after (Mark) Kastelic won a clean draw in his own zone and pulled it back through the legs of an unsuspecting (goaltender Jack) McNaughton and off the goal post. Jake Neighbours was then first to the rebound and knocked it into the net for the game-winner.

“On Sunday, Carson Focht pulled one back from the same face-off circle past McNaughton and into the net to give the Oil Kings a 2-1 lead in the second period.”

As Calgary head coach Steve Hamilton told Van Diest: “It’s not everyday you win two faceoffs and shoot two pucks into your own net in two games. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that. That was a bid odd, but it was probably par for the course, too.”

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The Prince Albert Raiders, with a 2-0 lead, venture into Saskatoon to meet the Blades in a game that will be televised by Sportsnet, which also showed the first two games of the series. . . . With the two head coaches firmly involved in a war of the words, it will be interesting to see the attendance in the SaskTel Centre tonight.

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The other second-round series, between the Everett Silvertips and Spokane Chiefs, is to resume on Wednesday. The Chiefs went into Everett and won twice, so they take a 2-0 lead on to home ice. The next three games, if necessary, are scheduled for Spokane because the Cirque du Soleil is in the Angels of the Wind Arena in Everett through Sunday.


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Thursday in WHL: Two indefinite suspensions, two $1,000 fines, two playoff games. . . . Will Glass return tonight?


MacBeth

D Michal Plutnar (Tri-City, 2011-14) signed a one-year contract with Karlovy Vary (Czech Republic, Extraliga). He had been assigned on loan by Liberec (Czech Republic, Extraliga) to Karlovy Vary for this season. In 45 games, he had four goals and 10 assists.


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The WHL’s Department of Discipline came down on two players, a head coach and a general manager on Thursday, less than 24 hours after what was a wild Wednesday on the ice.

Before he was done, Kevin Acheson, a former referee who handles discipline for the DisciplineWHL, had handed out two indefinite suspensions and $2,000 in fines.

For starters, F Kody McDonald of the Victoria Royals has been suspended indefinitely after being hit with a match penalty for intent to injure during a 6-3 loss to the Blazers in Kamloops.

F Sean Richards of the Seattle Thunderbirds also has been suspended indefinitely after taking a checking-from-behind major and game misconduct during a 4-3 victory over the Vancouver Giants in Kent, Wash.

Michael Dyck, the Giants’ head coach, was fined $1,000 “for public comments” that he made to Steve Ewen of Postmedia for a story that he wrote on Wednesday.

Finally, Alan Millar, the general manager of the Moose Jaw Warriors, was fined $1,000 “for actions following” a 3-2 loss to the visiting Saskatoon Blades on Tuesday.

The WHL went so far as to issue news releases related to the suspensions of McDonald and Richards, although each one was only four paragraphs in length and contained minimal information.

Ron Robison, the WHL commissioner, was quoted in the McDonald news release: “The WHL takes incidents of this nature very seriously. Actions of this kind are unacceptable to the WHL. The WHL Director, Player Safety is undergoing a complete review of the incident at this time.”

And here is Robison in the Richards news release: “Player safety is the first priority for the WHL at all times. The WHL will continue to take a strong position in dealing with checking-from-behind penalties and players classified as repeat offenders. As Sean Richards has been suspended previously, the WHL Director, Player Safety is undergoing a complete review of this latest incident at this time.”

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If you missed it, McDonald was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty at 5:34 of the third period of Wednesday’s game with the teams tied, 3-3. As he skated to the penalty box, he kept trying to show the officials that he was bleeding from the mouth area.

After the Royals killed the penalty, McDonald returned to the players’ bench. He was standing at one end when, apparently riled by chatter of some kind coming from Kamloops F Zane Franklin, McDonald swung his stick a couple of times at the Blazers bench. He appeared to connect once with Franklin’s helmet, and also struck Kamloops trainer Colin (Toledo) Robinson, whose glasses were damaged.

McDonald was quickly escorted from the ice surface. Franklin was given an unsportsmanlike minor. The Blazers scored on the 4-on-4 and again on the PP, jumping out front 5-3. They would win the game, 6-3, and the series now is tied, 2-2. They’ll play Game 5 in Victoria on Saturday, then return to Kamloops for Game 6 on Monday.

There may be more to the McDonald story, too.

Blazers broadcaster Jon Keen tweeted Thursday morning that McDonald was “involved in incident with vendor staff under the stands while coming off the ice. I couple of high school students taking the garbage out from concessions. Security intervening. Report filed.”

Meanwhile, Marty Hastings of Kamloops This Week reported: “Kamloops brass is looking into an alleged fracas that took place while the Victoria forward was making his way to the dressing room, with security guards allegedly involved. Security would have to report the incident to the WHL to spark a league investigation, according to a Blazers’ source.”

McDonald, 20, won’t play again in the series with the Blazers, and that will be a tough blow for the Royals, who will miss his scoring — he put up three goals in the four games — and his experience.

This is the second time this season that the Blazers have been involved in a situation that seemed to involve taunting. On Feb. 2, in a game in Kelowna, Rockets F Conner Bruggen-Cate appeared to say something that set off Blazers D Montana Onyebuchi. No one from either of the teams or the league has stated publicly what happened, but each of the players was given a two-game suspension.

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As for Richards, he was penalized at 4:16 of the first period for a hit on Vancouver F Aidan Barfoot, who left the game and didn’t return.

Barfoot isn’t likely to play tonight when the teams play Game 5 in Langley, B.C. The series is tied 2-2 after Seattle overcame a 3-0 deficit for a 4-3 victory in Game 4 on Wednesday.

Richards, 20, is a repeat offender, having been suspended twice earlier in the season, once for eight games and the other time for five, while with the Everett Silvertips.

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Dyck’s comments came in a story written by Ewen about the return of Seattle D Jake Lee Vancouverto the Thunderbirds’ lineup after he had served a two-game suspension. He was suspended after taking a cross-checking major and game misconduct for a hit on F Justin Sourdif with six seconds left in the Giants’ 7-1 victory in Game 1.

Sourdif, an offensive threat, hasn’t played since and isn’t expected to be in the lineup tonight for Game 5.

Dyck, who felt Lee should have received more than two games, was a defenceman with the Regina Pats in 1986-87 when F Brad Hornung was left a quadriplegic after being hit from behind.

“I played with Brad Hornung. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it,” Dyck told Ewen. “It was the same type of play. The only thing that saved Justin Sourdif was the net. It’s a terrible play. He (Lee) is a young guy. But somebody has to teach him. All two games is … I don’t know.

“It’s one of the worst plays in hockey. It had nothing to do with making a play. It’s emotion. I understand that. But you have to learn.”

You should know that Dyck is absolutely correct. I covered the game in which Hornung was injured and later wrote extensively about the aftermath. With some of the hits in danger areas that I witness, and the way in which those who manage the game at this level have allowed cross-checking to creep back into the game, I fear that what Dyck calls “one of the worst plays in hockey” is going to bring with it devastating consequences one of these games.

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As for Millar’s fine, perhaps he had something to say about the officiating, or to the officials, after the Warriors’ 3-2 series-ending loss. The Blades won that game when F Max Gerlach broke a 2-2 tie at 15:39 of the third period.

That goal came on a 5-on-3 PP after the Warriors were hit with two delay-of-game minors in 32 seconds.

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The Portland Winterhawks will be facing elimination when they meet the Chiefs in PortlandSpokane on Saturday night. After splitting the first two games in Spokane, the teams played Tuesday and Wednesday in Portland with the Chiefs winning twice in OT — 5-4 and 4-3. . . . Mike Johnston, the Winterhawks’ general manager and head coach, told Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune that “we played really well” in Game 4. . . . Johnston added: “All we have to do is play the same the next game. We’re going to be fine in the series. We win in Spokane, then we come back here (for Game 6) on Monday. (The Chiefs) don’t want to come back here. As the series has gone along, our team has gotten better every game.” . . . Johnston also told Eggers that “we expect Cody (Glass) to be able to play on Saturday.” . . . Glass, who will turn 20 on Monday, was limited to 38 games this season, thanks to knee woes and a stint with Canada’s national junior team. But he did big damage in those games, putting up 15 goals and 54 assists. . . . The Vegas Golden Knights selected him sixth overall in the NHL’s 2017 draft. Eggers reports the Golden Knights’ medical staff has cleared Glass to play, as have Portland’s medical people. . . . As Johnston said, “He’s the best player in the league. It’s huge to have him back. If we get that game and get momentum back on our side, that’s all we need.” . . . Of course, this being the WHL playoffs you have to remember that you can’t believe 90 per cent of what you hear or read about injuries, and you have to take the other 10 per cent with a huge grain of salt.

Eggers’ complete story is right here.

And if you haven’t read his new book, you should. It is titled Jail Blazers: How the Portland Trail Blazers Became the Bad Boys of Basketball.


EdChynowethCup

NOTES: There were two games on Thursday night. . . . The Calgary Hitmen beat the visiting Lethbridge Hurricanes, 5-2, to even that series, 2-2. They’ll play Game 5 in Lethbridge’s Nicholas Sheran Arena on Saturday because the world men’s curling championship is in the Enmax Centre. The Hurricanes’ temporary home has 968 seats and room for 200 standees. . . . Game 6 will be played in Calgary on Sunday. . . .

Also last night, the Everett Silvertips beat the Tri-City Americans, 3-0, in Kennewick, Wash., to take a 3-1 lead. They will play Game 5 in Everett on Saturday. . . .

The Prince Albert Raiders and Saskatoon Blades, who have advanced to the second round, will open their series with games in Prince Albert on April 5 and 7. . . .

The Vancouver Giants and Seattle Thunderbirds are 2-2 as they go into Game 5 tonight in Langley, B.C. . . . Neither F Aidan Barfoot nor F Justin Sourdif practised with the Giants on Thursday. Sourdif hasn’t played since being cross-checked by Seattle D Jake Lee in Game 1. Barfoot left Game 4 following a hit by Seattle F Sean Richards. Lee has returned from a two-game suspension; Richards has been suspended indefinitely. . . . Seattle D Cade McNelly will complete a two-game suspension by sitting again tonight. It seems that while in the penalty box during Game 3, he made a throat-slash gesture in the direction of Vancouver D Bowen Byram. . . .

The only other game tonight will have the Medicine Hat Tigers in Edmonton to face the Oil Kings. That series is tied, 2-2. . . . Game 6 is scheduled for Medicine Hat on Sunday.

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THURSDAY HIGHLIGHTS:

The Calgary Hitmen broke a 2-2 tie with three third-period goals en route to a 5-2 victory Calgaryover the visiting Lethbridge Hurricanes. . . . The series is tied, 2-2, with Game 5 set for Lethbridge on Saturday. . . . The Hitmen took a 1-0 lead at 3:28 of the first period on a goal by F Riley Stotts (1). . . . Lethbridge F Jake Elmer (1) tied it at 1:36 of the second period. . . . Calgary took a 2-1 lead when F James Malm (1) scored at 8:53, only to have F Logan Barlage (1) tie it, on a PP, at 12:42. . . . Calgary F Josh Prokop (2) broke the tie at 1:44 of the third period, and D Vladislav Yeryomenko (1) added insurance, on a PP, at 5:04. . . . F Luke Coleman (2) added an empty-netter at 17:45. . . . The Hitmen got three assists from F Ryder Korczak, with Stotts adding two to his goal. . . . Calgary was 1-4 on the PP; Lethbridge was 1-5. . . . G Jack McNaughton earned the victory with 37 saves, seven more than Lethbridge’s Carl Tetachuk. . . . Calgary was without F Mark Kastelic, its captain, for a second straight game. He is in concussion protocol. . . . Calgary also is without F Jake Kryski, 20, who last played on Jan. 11.


G Dustin Wolf stopped 24 shots to help the Everett Silvertips to a 3-0 victory over the Tri-EverettCity Americans in Kennewick, Wash. . . . The Silvertips lead the series, 3-1, and get their first opportunity to wrap it up at home on Saturday. . . . Last night, the Silvertips scored once in each period. . . . F Bryce Kindopp (2) opened the scoring, on a PP, at 12:34 of the first period. . . . F Max Patterson (2) made it 2-0 at 7:56 of the second. . . . F Zack Andrusiak (2) got the empty-netter at 19:19 of the third. . . . Everett was 1-5 on the PP; Tri-City was 0-2. . . . Wolf posted his first playoff shutout. He has 11 career regular-season shutouts, seven of them this season. . . . The Americans got 35 stops from G Beck Warm.


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Having been born and raised in northern Manitoba, this tugs at the feelies . . .