WHL exempt from Alberta gov’t restrictions . . . AJHL has another team on virus leave . . . Rebels’ Sexsmith opens up about the season


If you’re paying attention, you already know that COVID-19 had another good day on Thursday.

In fact, you have to wonder if behind closed doors junior hockey operators are WHL2starting to wonder if the 2021-22 season is going to start anywhere close to on time, at least in Western Canada. Because — and let’s be honest here — we aren’t anywhere close to seeing the end of this.

When Alberta released its Thursday numbers, they were the worst the province has seen since the pandemic began in the early days of 2020.

So, from the Department of Better Late Than Never, the Alberta government responded with restrictions that cover various cities with particularly horrendous numbers, like Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge and Red Deer, each of them home to a WHL franchise.

Part of those restrictions included this:

“All indoor fitness activities are prohibited. This includes: all group physical activities, such as team sports, fitness classes and training sessions; all one-on-one lessons and training activities; all practices, training and games.”

But never fear WHL fans because it seems your favourite teams are exempt from these restrictions. With Red Deer playing on Thursday night, Rebels interim radio voice Troy Gillard tweeted that a “team official tells me the WHL does indeed remain exempt and games will continue as scheduled.”

Other areas under the restrictions are Airdrie, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie and Strathcona County, which includes Sherwood Park.

It would appear that the AJHL, like the WHL, is exempt from the restrictions because the Grande Prairie Storm is at home to the Sherwood Park Crusaders tonight (Friday) and Saturday, with the teams to play next weekend in Sherwood Park.


Plague


The AJHL has suspended the team activities of another team — the Calgary Canucks — after a positive COVID-19 test result was identified within the ajhlteam’s cohort. As per the league’s return-to-play protocols, the Canucks are on hold for at least 14 days. They were scheduled to play the Drayton Valley Thunder in Calgary tonight (Friday), on the road Sunday and May 7, and May 9 in Calgary, but those games all have been cancelled. . . .

On Tuesday, the AJHL halted team activities for the Whitecourt Wolverines and Bonnyville Pontiacs for 14 days because of a positive test in the Wolverines’ group. Those two teams had played each other on Saturday and Sunday. . . .

On Sunday, the Okotoks Oilers were put on hold for 14 days because of a positive test in their cohort. . . .

On April 23, the Drumheller Dragons experienced a positive test and they, too, were shut down for 14 days. . . .

On Wednesday, the Fort McMurray Oil Barons announced that they were ending their season out of an abundance of concern for the safety of players, billets and their community, which is under a local state of emergency. . . .

The league has seven teams up and running — Drayton Valley, Grande Prairie Storm, Sherwood Park Crusaders and Spruce Grove Saints in the North Division, and Brooks Bandits, Camrose Kodiaks and Olds Grizzlys in the South Division.

With seven teams and three two-team cohorts, the Spruce Grove Saints were left without a partner. That problem went away with the news regarding the Canucks. So the Saints are to play the Thunder tonight (Friday) in Spruce Grove and Saturday in Drayton Valley.

The AJHL schedule is to conclude on May 8.


File this under The Best Laid Plans: The Los Angeles Rams rented and outfitted a 9,000-square-foot beach house in Malibu from which their personnel was to set up shop and conduct the NFL draft. . . . On Thursday, general manager Les Snead announced that he has tested positive so will isolate at home and conduct the draft from there.


Retire


Mark Brennan, the Portland Winterhawks’ equipment manager, announced Thursday that he will retire at the end of this season. He has been the club’s equipment manager since 2012, after also working with, among others, the Detroit Red Wings and Florida Panthers. When Portland’s season ends on May 11, Brennan will have worked 2,251 games. The Winterhawks’ news release is right here.

Brennan wasn’t behind a bench on Thursday night — he’ll be there tonight with Portland playing host to the Everett Silvertips — but there were three other WHL games . . .

In Lethbridge, the Medicine Hat Tigers broke a 1-1 tie with two shorthanded Tigersgoals and went on to beat the Hurricanes, 6-2. . . . Medicine Hat (13-6-1) had lost its previous three games. . . . Lethbridge is 8-11-2. . . . F Brett Kemp gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead at 6:44 of the first period, with F Jett Jones (5) getting the Hurricanes even at 12:07. . . . D Cole Clayton (9) sent the Tigers out front with the first shorthanded goal, at 3:51 of the second period, with F Nick McCarry (7) adding the second one at 10:48. . . . Medicine Hat put it away with the next three goals, too — Kemp’s second and 12th of the season, and two from F Lukas Svejkovsky, who also has 12. . . . F Ty Nash (2) got Lethbridge’s second goal on a late PP. . . .

F Cael Zimmerman’s OT goal gave the visiting Calgary Hitmen a 4-3 victory Calgaryover the Red Deer Rebels. . . . The Hitmen improved to 9-7-2. . . . The Rebels (2-15-3) have lost 13 in a row (0-12-1). . . . F Josh Prokop (9) put Calgary out front, while shorthanded, at 2:39 of the first period and the teams exchanged goals through game’s end. . . . F Carter Anderson (2) got Red Deer even at 13:19, with D Jackson van de Least (3) replying for Calgary at 17:40. . . . Red Deer tied it on D Jace Weir’s second goal at 19:52. . . . F Riley Fiddler-Schultz (5) put the Hitmen back out front, 3-2, at 10:18 of the second period. . . . F Chris Douglas (6) forced OT with a Red Deer score at 12:48 of the third. . . . Zimmerman won it with his sixth goal of the season, at 4:19 of extra time. . . . Calgary F Sean Tschigel had two assists, giving him 18 points, including 10 goals, in 18 games. He went into this season with five goals and nine assists in 64 games. . . .

BTW, if you are interested in a good story about what life’s been like with the RedDeerstruggling Rebels who have been living in the arena since this season began, here’s a taste from D Joel Sexsmith:

“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t really tough,” the 19-year-old told Byron Hackett of the Red Deer Advocate. “It hasn’t been easy here. It certainly hasn’t been easy when you’re losing, too. I think the dynamic would shift if we’d been winning all the time and we haven’t been, that’s just the reality.

“We live here, we look at the rink every day and it kind of serves as a reminder that we are where we are in the standings. I think that’s really tough mentally. I would say I’m really grateful that I’m able to go through this with this group of guys. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I love this group of guys on this team.” . . . Hackett’s complete piece is right here and it’s well worth a read. . . .

F Alex Swetlikoff broke a 3-3 tie at 18:27 of the third period as the Kelowna RocketsRockets beat the visiting Vancouver Giants, 4-3. . . . The Rockets (7-2-0) have won four in a row. . . . The Giants (9-7-0) have lost four straight. . . . Swetlikoff’s fourth goal of the season stood up as the winner. . . . Kelowna D Jake Lee (2) had tied the game at 14:29 of the third. . . . Vancouver led this one 2-0 on two first-period goals from F Zack Ostapchuk, at 9:03 and 9:40. . . . Ostapchuk, who has six goals in 16 games this  season, finished last season with five in 44 games as a freshman. . . . F Dillon Hamaliuk (4) got Kelowna’s first goal, on a PP, at 13:21. . . . The Rockets tied it on F Turner McMillen’s first WHL goal, shorthanded, at 4:19 of the second. That was Kelowna’s fifth shorthanded score in nine games. . . . McMillen was a ninth-round pick in the 2018 bantam draft. He played two games last season and this was No. 9 this season. . . . Vancouver went back out front when F Bryce Bader (4) scored at 7:40. . . . Watching the replay of the winning goal, it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s changed to F Mark Liwiski, who appeared to score off a Swetlikoff rebound.


Belarus (2-1-0) secured a quarter-final berth in the IIHF U18 World U18Championship in Texas on Thursday, with a 6-2 victory over Latvia (0-3-0) in Group A. . . . Sweden (2-1-0) beat Switzerland (1-2-0), 3-1, in the other Group A game. . . . In Group B, G Kaidan Mbereko stopped five shooters in the shootout as Team USA beat Czech Republic, 2-1. . . . In the other Group B game, Russia (2-0-1) skated past Germany (0-3-0), 6-1. . . . There are two games scheduled for today — Canada (2-0-0) meets Switzerland in Group A, while Finland (2-0-0) plays Germany in Group B.


My wife, Dorothy, is preparing to take part in her eighth Kamloops Kidney Walk, albeit virtually, on June 6. If you would like to be part of her team, you are able to make a donation right here.

——

If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:

Living Kidney Donor Program

St. Paul’s Hospital

6A Providence Building

1081 Burrard Street

Vancouver, BC V6Z 1Y6

Tel: 604-806-9027

Toll free: 1-877-922-9822

Fax: 604-806-9873

Email: donornurse@providencehealth.bc.ca

——

Vancouver General Hospital Living Donor Program – Kidney 

Gordon and Leslie Diamond Health Care Centre

Level 5, 2775 Laurel Street

Vancouver, BC V5Z 1M9

604-875-5182 or 1-855-875-5182

kidneydonornurse@vch.ca

——

Or, for more information, visit right here.


Monkees

Prepping for Tiebreaker Tuesday. . . . Blazers will play in front of huge crowd. . . . Winner moves on; loser goes home

There will be more than 5,800 hockey fans in the Sandman Centre in Kamloops tonight (Tuesday) as the Blazers and Kelowna Rockets play in the WHL’s first tiebreaker game in three years.

The winner will head for Victoria to open a first-round series with the Royals on Friday night. The loser is done for this season.

A tiebreaker is held only when teams are tied for a final playoff position.

The Rockets and Blazers finished tied for third place in the B.C. Division, each at 28-32-8. Kamloops1With each team having 28 victories, the league had to go to its second tiebreaker — the season series between the teams — to determine a home for tonight’s game. The Blazers won the season series, going 6-3-1; the Rockets were 4-4-2.

These teams last met on March 8 and 9, with the Blazers winning 2-1 in a shootout at home in the first game, then posting a 2-1 victory in regulation time in the second game.

The Blazers have played 10 games in March, going 5-3-2, while outscoring the opposition, 36-31. In their past six games, they are 5-0-1, having scored 24 goals while surrendering 10.

The Rockets are 2-3-3 in March — but in four of those games they were able to score only one goal. They won’t win tonight if they score only one goal.

——

Some notes before Tiebreaker Tuesday. . . .

The Rockets are expected to start G Roman Basran, who is 4-3-1, 1.61, .942 against the Blazers this season. It’s awfully hard to knock numbers like those ones. . . .

G Dylan Ferguson, 20, hasn’t dressed since appearing to suffer a groin injury during a 5-0 loss to the visiting Vancouver Giants on March 6. He did skate with the Blazers on Monday. However, G Dylan Garand, 16, has started six games in a row since Ferguson was injured. The Blazers are 5-0-1 in those Garand starts. Two of those were against Kelowna — Garand is 2-0-0, 0.96, .964. . . .

D Lassi Thomson, Kelowna’s Finnish freshman who is terrific on the PP, suffered a KelownaRocketsconcussion when he was checked by Kamloops F Jermaine Loewen in that March 8 game and hasn’t played since. Thomson skated on Monday, but he was wearing a yellow non-contact sweater, which would seem to indicate that he won’t play tonight. . . . His return, if it were to happen, would be huge. Thomson finished the season with 17 goals and 24 assists in 63 games. Against Kamloops, he had three goals and five assists in eight-plus games. . . .

Kelowna’s Matt Barberis, a defenceman with 179 games of WHL experience, also was in a non-contact sweater yesterday. However, he has played only 20 games this season — nine with the Vancouver Giants and 11 with the Rockets — and hasn’t been in a game since Feb. 9. . . .

The Blazers may have F Logan Stankoven in their lineup after he skated with them on Monday. He won the B.C. Major Midget Hockey League scoring championship, putting up 103 points, including 49 goals, in 38 games with the Kamloops-based Thompson Blazers. He was the fifth-overall selection in the 2018 bantam draft. . . . He had one assist from seven earlier appearances with the WHL’s Blazers. . . .

The Rockets may get F Trevor Wong into their lineup. From Vancouver, he played for the major midget Greater Vancouver Canadians, putting up 42 points, 30 of them assists, in 34 games. He was the 18th-overall selection in the 2018 bantam draft. The consensus is that he would have been taken earlier had he not indicated that he would be going to the U of Denver. Wong, 15, skated with the Rockets on Monday. . . . Wong played four earlier games with the Rockets, scoring once. . . .

F Alex Swetlikoff of the Rockets took a puck to the face during a 2-1 loss to the Vancouver Giants in Langley, B.C., on Friday night. That resulted in more than two dozen stitches. On Saturday, he scored Kelowna’s second goal and set up the OT winner as the Rockets beat the visiting Giants, 3-2. . . .

The Rockets will be host team for the 2020 Memorial Cup. They have missed the playoffs only once (2006-07) since moving to Kelowna from Tacoma in time for the 1995-96 season. . . . The Blazers, meanwhile, missed the playoffs last season and three of the past five seasons. . . .

F Kobe Mohr of the Blazers was on the Edmonton Oil Kings’ roster on March 22, 2016, the date of the last WHL tiebreaker game, but he didn’t get into the game. . . .

——

There have been six other tiebreakers in WHL history. The road team has won five of them. Here they are, courtesy of whl.ca . . .

2015-16: Edmonton Oil Kings 6 at Medicine Hat Tigers 4.

2013-14: Prince Albert Raiders 5 at Red Deer Rebels 3.

2008-09: Edmonton Oil Kings 2 at Prince Albert Raiders 1 (OT).

1989-90: Brandon Wheat Kings 4 at Swift Current Broncos 5.

1983-84: Calgary Wranglers 8 at Saskatoon Blades 7 (OT).

1980-81: Spokane Flyers 10 at New Westminster Bruins 9 (OT).

Jokiharju to WJC, not to Portland; Chicago assigns defenceman to Finnish team . . . Swetlikoff leaves Vipers for Rockets


ThisThat

On the seventh day of our annual Christmas countdown, with a special Christmas wish to friend Stu Walters, here are The Tenors, with Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. . . . It’s right here.


The NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks revealed on Tuesday that they have assigned D Henri Jokiharju to the Finnish national junior team, so he will play for his home country in the 2019wjcWorld Junior Championship that opens Monday in Vancouver and Victoria. . . . Jokiharju, 19, has 11 assists in 32 games with the Blackhawks while averaging 20 minutes of playing time. . . . He played the past two seasons with the Portland Winterhawks and is eligible to be assigned there by Chicago after the WJC. . . . However, it sounds as though Portland fans shouldn’t get too excited. Mike Johnston, the Winterhawks’ general manager and head coach, told Taking Note on Tuesday that “from what I understand there is no chance that would happen.” . . . Last season, Jokiharju had 12 goals and 59 assists in 71 regular-season games with Portland. In 2016-17, he had nine goals and 39 assists in 71 games. . . . He also played for Finland at the WJC a year ago, putting up two goals and two assists in five games.


If you feel so inclined, please click on the DONATE button over there on the right. Thanks in advance, and Merry Christmas.


And now for something completely different, it’s the Dropkick Murphys with The Season’s Upon Us, and it’s all right here. Yes, this one is a lot of fun.


The Kelowna Rockets have signed F Alex Swetlikoff, 17, to a WHL contract. The 6-foot-3 KelownaRocketsSwetlikoff, who is from Keolwna, had been playing with the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers, where he had eight goals and 12 assists in 27 games. . . . Swetlikoff was a third-round pick by the Seattle Thunderbirds in the 2016 WHL bantam draft. The Thunderbirds sent Swetlikoff to the Hurricanes on May 3 for D Kirby Proctor, 17, who is with the USHL’s Des Moines Buccaneers and has committed to the U of Nebraska-Omaha for 2020-21. . . . The Rockets acquired Swetlikoff from Seattle on Dec. 6 for a fourth-round pick in the 2022 bantam draft. . . . Earlier Tuesday, the Canadian Junior Hockey League announced the rosters for its Top Prospects Game and Swetlikoff was on the list. That, of course, won’t happen now. . . . Swetlikoff, who had committed to the U of Denver for 2020-21, should make his WHL debut on Dec. 28 in Kamloops against the Blazers. . . . He is the second highly touted prospect to have left the Vipers after the start of this season. F Josh Prokop, who had a goal and four assists in six games, left to join the Calgary Hitmen on Sept. 26. . . . Since the start of this season, the Vipers also have lost G Max Palaga to the Everett Silvertips, F Kjell Kjemhus to the Moose Jaw Warriors and F Sebastian Streu to the Regina Pats.


Tweetoftheday

Report: Ice announcement coming Monday . . . Rockets, Hurricanes make deal . . . Søgaard, Alexeyev get WJC opportunities


ThisThat

The Winnipeg Free Press is reporting that the worst fears of Kootenay-based WHL fans will be made official on Monday.

In a story carrying the bylines of Jeff Hamilton and Mike Sawatzky, the newspaper is Kootenaynewreporting that “the owners of the Kootenay Ice are preparing to announce Monday they are moving their Western Hockey League franchise to Winnipeg in time for the 2019-20 season, league sources have told the Free Press.”

The WHL franchise will play out of the Wayne Fleming Arena on the U of Manitoba campus for likely two seasons while a new arena is being built in the Manitoba capital’s southwest corner.

The Free Press also reports that Ice owners Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell, who is the president and general manager, “have not commented publicly on news reports and WHL commissioner Rob Robison has not made himself available for an interview on the subject.”

The Free Press story is right here.


COUNTDOWN TO DEADLINE

(WHL trade deadline: Jan. 10, 3 p.m. MT)

Thursday’s action:

No. of trades: 1.

Players: 1.

Bantam draft picks: 1.

Conditional draft picks: 0.

——

Total deals (since Nov. 26):

No. of trades: 10.

Players: 31.

Bantam draft picks: 18.

Conditional draft picks: 4.

(Note: On Nov. 30, Kelowna traded F Jack Cowell, 19, to Kootenay for a third-round selection in the 2020 bantam draft. Cowell chose not to report and the deal was voided, so isn’t included in these totals.)

——

The Kelowna Rockets have acquired the WHL rights to F Alex Swetlikoff from the Lethbridge Hurricanes for a fourth-round selection in the 2022 bantam draft.

Swetlikoff, a 17-year-old from Kelowna, has committed to the U of Denver for the 2020-21 KelownaRocketsseason. He was a third-round pick by the Seattle Thunderbirds in the 2016 bantam draft. Seattle traded his rights to Lethbridge on May 3, getting back D Kirby Proctor, who is from Okotoks, Alta. He is with the USHL’s Des Moines Buccaneers, and has committed to attend the U of Nebraska-Omaha for 2020-21.

This season, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Swetlikoff is playing with the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers, with whom he has eight goals and 12 assists in 27 games. He will play for Canada West at the World Junior Challenge that opens this weekend in Bonnyville, Alta.

The Rockets will be the host team for the 2020 Memorial Cup, so you can bet that will be a major selling point as the organization works to recruit Swetlikoff.


The Medicine Hat Tigers have dropped F Dawson Heathcote from their roster. He is expected to join the junior B Nanaimo Buccaneers of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League. . . . Heathcote, 18, is from Nanaimo. . . . Last season, as a freshman with the Tigers, he had six goals and three assists in 47 games. This season, he had two assists in 27 games. . . . Heathcote was a seventh-round pick by the Tigers in the 2015 WHL bantam draft.


Two more WHLers are on national junior team selection-camp rosters. . . . G Mads Søgaard of the Medicine Hat Tigers will attend Denmark’s selection camp, while D Alex Alexeyev will be in camp with the Russian national junior team. . . . Søgaard is to join the Danish team after the Tigers game against the visiting Kelowna Rockets on Dec. 15. Should he make the Danish team, he could miss as many as six of the Tigers’ games after the Christmas break. . . . The 2019 World Junior Championship is to open in Vancouver and Victoria on Dec. 26.


F Spencer Gerth of the Trinity Western Spartans is on the B.C. Intercollegiate Hockey League’s Young Stars’ roster that will play against Kazakhstan’s national junior team on Dec. 17. . . . Gerth, 20, played the previous three seasons in the WHL, with the Everett Silvertips and Victoria Royals. . . . This season, he has two goals and five assists in 11 games. . . .  The Young Stars will be part of a College Hockey Showcase that also is to include U of Victoria, with the three games at the Langley Events Centre. . . . Kazakhstan is scheduled to meet the Victoria on Dec. 11 and Trinity Western on Dec. 13, then will play the Young Stars on Dec. 17. All three games are to start at 7 p.m., and will be streamed at hockeytv.com. . . . Kazakhstan opens the 2019 World Junior Championship against Finland in Victoria on Dec. 27.

As part of the Kazakhstan visit, organizers are holding Hockey Day in Langley on Dec. 10. From a news release: “The Kazakhstan . . . team will be partnering with BC Hockey to host a Hockey Day in Langley event that will allow local minor hockey teams and academies an opportunity to meet the Kazakhstan team and take part in a skills competition. Coaches will also have a chance to meet and learn from some international-level coaches.” . . . For more info, email Barret Kropf at barret.kropf@twu.ca.



If you stop off here and enjoy what you see — or even if you don’t — feel free to click on the DONATE button over there on the right and make a contribution. Thanks in advance.


Tweetoftheday