The WHL’s Kelowna Rockets weren’t considered as a potential host for the 2023 Memorial Cup tournament after an audit found that the team’s home arena, 24-year-old Prospera Place, wasn’t up to standards. As the Rockets posted on their website shortly after the Kamloops Blazers were named as the host team, an audit discovered “significant deficiencies that needed to be upgraded for the facility to meet the Canadian Hockey League standards for hosting the Memorial Cup.” . . . Bruce Hamilton, the Rockets’ majority owner, president and general manager, has told Rob Munro of infotel.ca that he would like to bid again in 2025. But there’s a problem in that most of the improvements needed have yet to be implemented. . . . And now Hamilton is even hinting that it might be time to look for a new home. As he told Munro: “We’ve still got five or six years left on our lease. We’ll see what happens here. It would be pretty unusual for someone to be on a 30-year lease and get into the last five years and not have a plan. You can read between the words on that. I’m not threatening anything but we’re running a big business here.” . . . Munro’s complete story is right here.
The WHL website shows that the Saskatoon Blades, the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, will play host to the opening game in a first-round playoff series on March 31. However, if the Blades’ first-round opponent is the Regina Pats, it seems that the series may begin on March 30, with Game 2 on March 31 . . . That’s because TSN apparently is interested in climbing on board the Connor Bedard bandwagon in time for the playoffs and would like to have a March 30 game to televise. . . . While it isn’t yet guaranteed, all signs point to Bedard and his Pats meeting the Blades in the first round. . . . I don’t have any idea if TSN would like to show more than one game. . . . The original plan was for the Pats and Blades to play at the SaskTel Centre on March 31 and April 2. The NLL’s Saskatchewan Rush have a home game scheduled for April 1.
If the WHL playoffs started today (x-locked in):
Winnipeg (1) vs. Medicine Hat (8)
Red Deer (2) vs. Calgary (7)
Saskatoon (3) vs. Regina (6)
Moose Jaw (4) vs. Lethbridge (5)
x-Seattle (1) vs. Kelowna (8)
x-Kamloops (2) vs. Vancouver (7)
x-Portland (3) vs. Everett (6)
x-Prince George (4) vs. Tri-City (5)
TUESDAY’S WHL HIGHLIGHTS:
The Seattle Thunderbirds wrapped up first place in the Western Conference with a 6-3 victory over the Kamloops Blazers in Kent, Wash. . . . The two teams will meet again tonight, this time in Kamloops. . . . F Dylan Guenther (11) scored twice for Seattle, which erased a 2-1 first-period deficit. . . . Kamloops D Olen Zellweger (31) scored twice. He is the first defenceman to get to 30 since Connor Hobbs finished with 31 with the Regina Pats in 2016-17. . . . G Thomas Milic stopped 34 shots for Seattle, while the Blazers got 28 saves from Dylan Ernst. . . . Seattle (53-9-3) has points in 19 straight (18-0-1). It has set a franchise record for victories in one season. The previous record was set in 1989-90. . . . The Blazers (47-12-6) had won its previous nine games. . . . Results on Tuesday set up first-round Western Conference playoff series between No. 1 Seattle and No. 8 Kelowna, and No. 2 Kamloops and No. 7 Vancouver. . . . The Thunderbirds swept the season series with the Rockets, 4-0, outscoring them 15-7 in the process. . . . Kamloops went 6-1-1 against Vancouver this season; the Giants were 2-6-0. The Blazers held the scoring edge, 33-19. . . .
#WHL VAN/POR: @WHLGiants Ty Halaburda scores on one of the team's first shots and game's last, and club's 18th, shot to down Portland and secure the 7th spot. Reaches 20 goals after recording 5 all of last campaign. Brett Mirwald mirrors 37 of 39, first win when stopping 35+.
F Ty Halaburda scored twice, the second coming in OT, as the Vancouver Giants beat the Winterhawks, 3-2, in Portland. . . . Halaburda scored his 20th goal of the season at 4:24 of OT. . . . Halaburda and D Tyler Thorpe (4) allowed the Giants to hold a 2-0 lead early in the third period. . . . The Winterhawks tied it on goals from F Robbie Fromm-Delorme (33), on a PP, at 7:14 of the third period and F Diego Buttazzoni (6), at 13:35. . . . Portland held a 39-18 edge in shots, including 26-11 through two periods. . . . The Giants got 37 saves from G Brett Mirwald. . . . Vancouver (27-31-8) had lost its previous two games. . . . Portland (39-20-7) has lost three in a row (0-2-1). . . . The Giants now will finish seventh in the Western Conference, so will meet the No. 2 Kamloops Blazers in the first round. . . . The No. 3 Winterhawks already knew that their first-round opponent would be the No. 6 Everett Silvetips. . . .
#WHL EDM/SC: @SCBroncos capture 30th win with their season determining head-to-head encounter with The 'Hat to come this weekend. Connor Hvidston matches career single game best with 3 assists. 8 points in 4 games vs. Edmonton this year, 6 over last two.
The Swift Current Broncos erased a 2-1 second-period deficit as they beat the visiting Edmonton Oil Kings, 5-2. . . . F Mason Finley (13) gave the Oil Kings a 2-1 lead with a pair of goals, the second one at 13:14 of the second period. . . . D Sam McGinley (9) pulled the Broncos even at 15:45 and F Caleb Wyrostok (22) broke the tie at 2:55 of the third period. . . . D Connor Hvidston drew three assists. . . . Swift Current (30-32-4) has won two in a row. With two games remaining, it is ninth in the Eastern Conference, one point out of eighth and two from seventh. . . . Edmonton (9-52-4) has lost five straight (0-4-1). The Oil Kings need to win their three remaining games to avoid equalling or setting a WHL record for the fewest victories in one season by a defending champion. The Broncos won the 2017-18 title, then went 11-51-6 in 2018-19.
The AJHL’s Camrose Kodiaks announced on Tuesday that they and head coach Clayton Jardine “have mutually agreed to part ways effective immediately.” . . . However, in the second paragraph of the news release, it indicates that “the organization has decided to make a change in leadership at this point in time.” . . . Jardine, 32, had been the club’s head coach since 2019-20. . . . This season, the Kodiaks finished 27-30-3, good for fifth in the South Division. They were swept from a best-of-seven first-round playoff series by the Okotoks Oilers.
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Some numbers on Regina Pats F Connor Bedard from Rob Vanstone of the Regina Leader-Post:
“By opening the scoring at 9:15 of Sunday’s first period, Bedard extended his goal-scoring streak to nine games. The Pats’ record of 15 was set by Dale Derkatch during the first 15 games of the 1982-83 season. Over the past nine games, Bedard has 20 goals. He also has 23 goals over his past 11 games.
“The game-opening goal also fattened Bedard’s point-scoring streak to 33. The Pats’ record of 47 was set in 1981-82 by linemates Jock Callander and Wally Schreiber. (The Prince Albert Raiders’ Jeff Nelson set the league record of 56 during the 1990-91 season. Bedard’s ceiling is 52, because the Pats have 19 regular-season games remaining.)”
Vanstone’s complete story, with even more numbers, is right here.
The Travelling Bedards take their show into Red Deer where they are to meet the Rebels tonight. This will be the first of four games for them in Alberta this week. . . . Yes, tonight’s game will be played in front of a sellout crowd. The Rebels tweeted Monday that they would be releasing about 300 “seating/standing room tickets” at some point today. . . . The road show moves into Calgary on Wednesday for a game with the Hitmen that is expected to draw about 17,000 fans to the Saddledome. . . . Then it’s on to games against the Lethbridge Hurricanes on Friday and the Medicine Hat Tigers on Sunday, both of which also are expected to draw sellouts. . . . At home, the Pats’ last two games were played in front of sellouts (6,499). They have drawn their five largest crowds of the season to their past five games.
Not a blue seat left to click on for February 5 at Co-op Place. Between @WHLPats & @tigershockey Looks like a complete sellout unless standing room seats will be released. May as well get started with the Feb 4th game Vs Rival Lethbridge as well this week #MedHat#WHLpic.twitter.com/bSxEvOQclx
Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle, after the 49ers were drubbed by the host Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday: “First of all, 49ers’ fans, be good sports and wish all the best for the Philadelphia Eagles’ fans. Nothing but mad props for a fan base proud of its rep as the most foul-mouthed, drunken bullies in the NFL! Egging the 49ers’ buses arriving before the game? That’s called a Philly Omelet.”
Ostler also wrote: “On TV, Terry Bradshaw reported that (48ers’ QB Brock) Purdy suffered a nerve injury and that his arm would be fine, sensation would return, though not necessarily during the game. Had I been in Philly, I would’ve tracked down Bradshaw to ask him about this painful lump on my knee.”
Bruce Hamilton, the owner, president and general manager of the Kelowna Rockets, has given head coach Kris Mallette a vote of confidence. . . . “Kris Mallette is going to coach this hockey club,” Hamilton told Regan Bartel, the radio voice of the Rockets on The Lizard. “He is a good, young coach. He has been very lucky coaching here because of lots of talent, and now this is a great challenge for him to make our team better.” . . . The Rockets (15-26-3) are tied with the Victoria Royals (14-28-5) for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot. They are nine points out of seventh place so it would seem that one of those teams will miss the playoffs. . . . Hamilton made no bones about who needs to get things together. “I am standing beside him,” Hamilton said. “We have to make sure the players aren’t running the show. This generation of players at times gets thinking they have more input than they do. This group should just worry about playing right now and less about everything else.” . . . Bartel’s piece is right here. . . .
The Rockets announced on Monday that F Max Graham is out for three to four weeks with an undisclosed injury. Graham, 18, has nine goals and six assists in 40 games. . . . He joins F Andrew Cristall and F Ty Hurley, both of whom are week-to-week, and D John Babcock and D Marek Rocak, both day-to-day, on the Rockets’ injury list. . . . In the meantime, they have added F Scott Cousins, who turned 19 on Jan. 6, from the BCHL’s Prince George Spruce Kings to their roster. He has played 52 games with the Rockets over three seasons. This season, he has two goals and five assists in 24 games with the Spruce Kings.
It has to be done!! In honouring Roger Nielsen we need to be all in on this one. We are bringing back the Towel Power. pic.twitter.com/zNqA9w5YgH
Jan Ludvig, the head coach of the junior B Kamloops Storm of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League, has been suspended for three games after receiving a gross misconduct during a 4-2 loss to the Posse in Princeton on Saturday night. Ludvig was penalized after putting a towel on a stick and waving it at 12:01 of the third period. . . . Ludvig is in his first season as the Storm’s head coach. He played one season (1981-82) with the Kamloops Jr. Oilers, before going on to play in the NHL with the New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres. He also was a long-time scout with the Devils and later the Boston Bruins. . . . The Storm, it seems, already is planning a Towel Power promotion.
Harold Kreis, who played 68 games with the WHL’s Calgary Wranglers in 1977-78, is the new head coach of Germany’s national men’s hockey team. . . . Kreis, originally from Winnipeg, played 18 seasons of professional hockey in Germany, always in Mannheim. . . . Kreis, 64, is the head coach of the DEL’s Schwenninger Wild Wings. . . . Martin Merk of iihf.com has more right here.
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It was on Jan. 29, 2019, when some members of the Winnipeg media gathered in Oak Bluff, Man., for a news conference involving the WHL and the Winnipeg Ice. This followed the decision by the WHL’s board of governors to approve the sale of the Kootenay Ice and the subsequent move to the Manitoba capital.
Officials at the news conference included Ron Robison, the WHL’s commissioner, and Ice owners Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell.
“A new 4,500-seat rink will be built, likely near Oak Bluff,” reported Sean Kavanagh of CBC News. “The team will for its first two years, play out of the University of Manitoba’s 1,400-seat Wayne Fleming Arena as the new arena is built outside Winnipeg.”
And now, here we are, almost four years later and halfway through the 2022-23 WHL season, with the Ice still playing out of the Wayne Fleming Arena.
On Dec. 14, the Winnipeg Free Press, in a story by Mike Sawatzky, reported that the WHL had fined the Ice $500,000 because it won’t have a new arena ready for the 2023-24 season.
On Dec. 17, the WHL and the Ice issued statements contradicting that story. Those statements are right here on the Ice’s website.
The WHL’s statement reads, in part: “Reports of the Western Hockey League issuing a fine against the Winnipeg ICE and its ownership group are false and inaccurate. The Winnipeg ICE (has) assembled a highly-competitive team this season and the WHL continues to work with the ICE regarding a solution to the Club’s long-term plans for a suitable facility in Winnipeg. Further information will be available in the new year.”
The Ice statement reads, in part: “The Winnipeg ICE were not and have never been fined by the Western Hockey League.”
It’s interesting that it took the WHL and the Ice three days to respond to a story of this magnitude. I mean, a $500,000 fine is nothing at which to sneeze.
It’s also interesting that the news release is on the Ice website but doesn’t appear anywhere on the WHL’s site.
And it’s interesting that the Free Press, in reporting that the WHL and Ice were denying that a fine had been issued, didn’t indicate that it was (or wasn’t) standing by its story.
(UPDATE: On Dec. 19, the Free Press printed a correction on Page A2: “The Western Hockey League did not fine the Winnipeg Ice for delays related to the construction of a new arena, as the Free Press reported last week. . . . The Free Press regrets the error.”)
Anyway . . . I don’t know what happened in that instance, but it seems that there is something going on involving the WHL and the Ice, and I’m guessing it has something to with the lack of a new home for the Ice in the Winnipeg area.
WHL insiders have clammed right up on this one. In fact, about all I have been able to determine is that midnight on Dec. 31 had some kind of relevance — a deadline of some kind? — in whatever is happening.
As someone said, “I’m sure the coming days will be interesting.”
Old friend Dwight Perry has retired from the Seattle Times, meaning his column, Sideline Chatter, no longer appears in the newspaper’s pages. In honour of his departure, here are a couple of items from his final column . . .
Canada won its first Davis Cup title in the event’s 109-year history, beating Australia 2-0 in Malaga, Spain.
The euphoria quickly died, however, when the U.S. refused to trade the Stanley Cup for it.
Seattle has been declared the No. 1 city for singles, according to a study released by the personal-finance website WalletHub.com.
Heck, Ichiro could have told you that two decades ago.
And here is how Perry signed off . . .
With the world safely back on its axis — the Mariners finally back in the playoffs and the Huskies reclaiming the Apple Cup — I guess I can safely retire now.
Thanks for going along on this 23-year Sideline Chatter ride in The Seattle Times. Adios.
One of my favourite Bob Dylan lines has always been "Don't criticize what you can't understand" It's 2023 now and still so many have apparently not gotten the memo RS
Columnist Jack Todd, in the Montreal Gazette, after the host Washington Capitals dumped the Montreal Canadiens, 9-2, on New Year’s Eve:
“The hat trick Alexander Ovechkin scored on the hapless Canadiens propelled him closer to Wayne Gretzky’s career goal-scoring record, even as Ovechkin’s pal Vladimir Putin rains missiles on civilians and infrastructure in Ukraine and blocks humanitarian grain shipments from leaving Russian ports.
“Why is Ovechkin still playing in the NHL? Why has he not been suspended and deported in view of his vocal, active support for a murderous dictator? That question promises to be a continuing theme in 2023.”
Adam DiBella, the head coach of the junior B Nelson Leafs, has been suspended indefinitely by the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League“pending completion of an investigation . . . into his actions” in a New Year’s Eve game that featured a line brawl. The Leafs and the visiting Beaver Valley Nitehawks became involved in a brawl as the second period started. . . . On Tuesday, the league hit Nelson players with 35 games in suspensions, including eight-games each to four different players, while Beaver Valley players got eight games. . . . The KIJHL’s news release is right here.
Jim Bailey, the Black Press sports editor, described the incident like this: “After a physical but scoreless first period, as the puck dropped to open the second, each of the Nelson players attacked their Beaver Valley counterpart in an effort to start a brawl. Even the two Nelson defencemen skated to the opposite blueline to engage the Nitehawks’ defencemen.
“The intent from the Leafs’ bench was obvious, as Nelson coach Adam DiBella sent out his fourth line, prolific in penalty minutes but slight in points, to take some of the Nitehawks top skaters out of the game.”
BTW, the Leafs won the game, 3-1.
And if you’re interested in some social media reaction to all of this, check out KIJHLSniper (@KijhlS) on Twitter.
Oil Kings have been told by Arizona that winger Dylan Guenther definitely isn't returning to his old junior club after the worlds so there's no WHL trade possibility for lots of draft picks before upcoming deadline…
Andy Kemper, the Portland Winterhawks’ historian, points out that G Dante Giannuzzi picked up his 10th career assist the other night, and that set a franchise record. That record had been shared by Byron Dafoe (109 games, 1986-91) and Clint Malarchuk (77games, 1978-81). Giannuzzi, a 20-year-old from Winnipeg, has played in 89 games over five seasons. . . . Unfortunately, I don’t believe the WHL record book includes an entry for most career assists by a goaltender. . . . However, quanthockey.com has Randy Petruk and Dean Cook sharing the career record, each with 20. Petruk played 196 games over four seasons (1994-98) with the Kamloops Blazers. Cook got into three games with the Victoria Cougars (1985-86) and 147 with the Blazers (1986-89). . . .
Hey, wouldn’t it be great if the WHL and its other 21 teams followed the Winterhawks’ example by adding historians to their organizations? . . .
The Winterhawks are scheduled to open an East Division swing against the Brandon Wheat Kings on Friday night. And the six East Division teams better be ready because the Winterhawks Booster Club also is on the road. . . . Planning for the trek began four years ago. Stuart Kemp, the booster club’s president, reports that the travelling party of 30 will fly into Regina on Thursday, get settled there, and ride the bus to Brandon for Friday’s game. . . .
The Edmonton Oil Kings revealed on Tuesday that D Graydon Gotaas “has taken a leave of absence . . . due to personal reasons.” Gotaas, an 18-year-old from Camrose, Alta., had two assists in 15 games this season. He was acquired from the Prince Albert Raiders on Oct. 17, 2021, along with a conditional fifth-round pick in the 2024 WHL draft, for D Ross Stanley. In 43 career games, 23 with Edmonton, Gotaas has two goals and five assists. . . . The Oil Kings also announced that D Rhys Pederson, 16, will finish the season on their roster. A fifth-round pick in the 2021 WHL draft, he had been a regular with the NAX U18 prep team. He has been in seven games with the Oil Kings, but has yet to register a point. . . .
The Kelowna Rockets have signed Czech D Marek Rocak, 17, and he may be in their lineup as soon as Friday against the visiting Kamloops Blazers. Those same teams play again Saturday in Kamloops. . . . Rocak, a selection in the CHL’s 2022 import draft, has been playing with HC Frýdek-Místek in the Czechia2 league. He played for Czechia in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in Red Deer in August, recording one assist in five games. . . . Kelowna’s other import player is F Gabriel Szturc, 19, who has been playing for Czechia at the World Junior Championship. . . .
Bruce Hamilton, the owner, president and general manager of the Kelowna Rockets, has said that F Colton Dach, the team’s captain, “is likely out eight weeks for sure” with a shoulder injury suffered at the World Junior Championship. Hamilton told Regan Bartel, the Rockets’ radio voice, that Dach “will likely move right into the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks’ medical team and they will make a decision (on) how long he is going to be out.” . . . Dach remains with Team Canada in Halifax, where he was spotted at Tuesday’s practice with his right arm in a sling. . . . Bartel’s chat with Hamilton is right here. . . .
The Kamloops Blazers have acquired G Matthew Kieper, 18, from the Regina Pats for a pair of WHL draft picks — a fourth-rounder in 2023 that originated with the Edmonton Oil Kings and a sixth-rounder in 2025. . . . Kieper, from Winnipeg, will partner with starter Ethan Ernst as the Blazers prepare to play host to the 2023 Memorial Cup tournament. Ernst has been more than a pleasant surprise for Kamloops, having gone 20-5-2, 2.36, .919 in 28 games. . . . In 55 career games with the Pats, Kieper is 23-22-3, 3.88, .873. This season, in 12 games, he is 4-5-1, 4.39, .865. . . . Freshman Czechia G Michael Schnattinger, 18, would appear to be the odd man out in Kamloops. He is 1-2-3, 3.74, .880 in nine appearances. . . . The Blazers also have two other imports on their roster — Finnish D Aapo Sarell, 19, and Slovakian F Jakub Demek, 19. Demek was acquired from the Edmonton Oil Kings on Nov. 14, but has yet to play this season after having had offseason shoulder surgery. He is expected to return later this month. . . .
The junior B Castlegar Rebels have removed the interim from head coach Nick Headrick. The team’s board of directors has decided that Headrick will finish this season as head coach. He was an assistant under Arnie Caplan, who was fired in mid-November. . . . When that move was made, the Rebels were 5-12-1. They are 2-9-2 under Headrick. . . . Caplan also was the general manager. The Rebels now have hired Jesse Dorrans to fill that role. Dorrans is a former Castlegar GM and head coach. In fact, this will be his third go-round with the Rebels.
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Bob Tory, the general manager of the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, heard from a few potential goaltending coaches on Wednesday.
There was one problem . . . the Americans have a goaltending coach in Eli Wilson.
If you tuned in late, Wilson also is Kelowna’s goaltending coach, something that Rockets president/GM Bruce Hamilton announced on Monday.
A goaltending coach working with two teams in the same league? Only in the WHL, you say.
Well, here’s how it went down . . .
On Nov. 7, the Rockets acquired G Talyn Boyko, all 6-foot-7.5 of him, from the Americans for G Cole Tisdale, 19, and a third-round selection in the WHL’s 2024 draft.
Boyko, 19, a fourth-round pick by the New York Rangers in the NHL’s 2021 draft, has been a long-time student of Wilson’s, having attended his goaltending camps as well as working with him with the Americans.
After the trade, when Hamilton asked Tory if Wilson could work with Kelowna’s goaltenders, Tory said he didn’t have a problem with it, as long as it didn’t interfere with the one week a month that Wilson, who lives in Kelowna, is to spend with the Americans.
So that’s how Wilson came to be on the ice with the Rockets in Kelowna on Wednesday while the Americans were riding the bus to Kamloops where they spent the night. Tri-City is to practise in Kamloops this morning and then head to Prince George for a Friday-Saturday series with the Cougars.
With the Rockets, Wilson replaces Adam Brown, who no longer is with the organization. Brown, 30, spent four seasons (2008-12) tending goal for the Rockets and five (2016-21) on their coaching staff.
It was an exciting evening in this household on Oct. 24 when G Connor Ingram made 33 saves in his NHL debut and helped the visiting Nashville Predators to a 5-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild.
Ingram, 24, is a favourite in these parts for a couple of reasons. First, we had many conversations as he put up 81 victories during his three seasons (2014-17) with the Kamloops Blazers. Second, his folks, Joni and Brent, have long supported Dorothy in her annual Kidney Walk fund-raising efforts.
In January, Connor left the Predators and voluntarily entered the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program, going on to spend 40 days at a facility in Malibu, Calif.
Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet has lots on Ingram and the subsequent diagnosis of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in his latest 32 Thoughts.
“This is the kind of OCD you do not hear about,” Ingram told Friedman. “You hear about repeatedly washing hands or being incredibly organized. My apartment is a disaster, I’m not one of those people.”
It’s worth reading to understand what Ingram has been through.
But it was something that Brian Poile, Nashville’s assistant GM and director of hockey operations, told Friedman that really struck me. When Ingram decided that he needed help, the Predators were in Dallas and it was Poile who stayed with him in a hotel as things were put in motion to get help.
“In professional sports,” Poile told Friedman, “we sometimes forget these are young men, some of them not fully developed physically or mentally. In many cases, they leave their homes and families in their prime development years to chase their NHL dreams. These young men devote the majority of their days and years to hockey, and in some cases at a significant compromise to the other areas of their life, to become exceptional at the game they love.”
If you are a follower of junior hockey take a few moments to think about that because Poile hit the nail squarely on the head.
Friedman’s complete 32 Thoughts is right here. Items 23 through 27 deal with Ingram.
The events of the last few days in the area to the west of my world are almost beyond comprehension. After getting through a horrendous summer that included devastating wildfires — one wiped the community of Lytton right off the map — and a heat bubble that took temperatures into the high 40s and resulted in hundreds of deaths, areas of B.C. are faced with surveying untold damage, mopping up and eventually rebuilding after a weekend of torrential rain.
Blake Shaffer, an assistant professor in the economics department of the U of Calgary, tweeted on Wednesday that this will be the “costliest natural disaster in Canadian history . . . won’t even be close.”
The resulting landslides, mudslides and flooding has left the highways into the Lower Mainland — generally recognized as the area west of Hope — all shut down. (Highway 7 opened to westbound passenger vehicles from Hope on Wednesday at 5 p.m., allowing more than 1,000 people who had been stranded there to head for home, and then was closed two hours later. . . . There are reports that Highway No. 3 could be open to some traffic at some point over the approaching weekend.)
People being people, of course, grocery stores throughout B.C. — from Prince George to Vancouver — found themselves hit by hoarders on Tuesday and many quickly ran out of a whole lot of stuff, from toilet paper to produce to milk products and meat, bringing back memories of the same thing happening in the early days of the pandemic. For people in places like Kamloops, Kelowna and Prince George, it didn’t seem to matter that highways to the east remain open to trucks bearing supplies. Hoard on, Garth!
Anyway . . . the transportation issues have resulted in a number of hockey leagues having to keep a close eye on their schedules.
For starters, the WHL has postponed a game that was to have had the Victoria Royals play the Blazers in Kamloops on Friday. It has been rescheduled for Feb. 16. The Royals, however, will travel to Langley, B.C., to play the Vancouver Giants on Saturday night. . . . The Blazers are to play the Seattle Thunderbirds in Kent, Wash., on Saturday night. Teams going south are able to bypass the Lower Mainland by travelling through Osoyoos, B.C., and entering the U.S. at the Oroville crossing. . . .
In the BCHL, a Wednesday night game between the visiting Merritt Centennials and the Penticton Vees was postponed with a rescheduled date yet to be announced. Merritt, with a population around 7,500, remains under an evacuation order after its wastewater treatment plant was compromised by flood water from the Coldwater River. . . . That evacuation order is expected to be in place for at least another week. . . .
The BCHL also postponed a pair of Merritt home games — Friday against the Vernon Vipers and Saturday versus the Prince George Spruce Kings.
All told, the BCHL has postponed eight weekend games and added a pair. There’s a news release detailing it all right here. . . .
Two BCHL teams were forced into extended road stays after being unable to get home after weekend games. The Victoria Grizzlies flew home from Penticton on Wednesday, one day after most of the Coquitlam Express drove from Kamloops to Kelowna and then boarded a plane for home. . . .
The junior B Kamloops Storm of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League was to have entertained the Chase Heat on Wednesday night. However, the Storm’s home arena at McArthur Island is being used to house evacuees from Merritt so the game was postponed. The Storm’s next home game is scheduled for Sunday against the North Okanagan Knights. . . .
The KIJHL had postponed a Tuesday game in Princeton that was to have had the Posse meeting the Kelowna Chiefs. Princeton was hit with an evacuation order for 295 homes after the Tumaleen and Similkameen rivers overflowed. The Posse next is to play on Friday in Summerland against the Steam, before returning home to face Chase on Saturday. . . .
In the junior B Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League, a game scheduled for Friday that was to have had the host Lake Cowichan Kraken meet the Victoria Cougars has been postponed with a new date yet to be determined. . . . Also postponed is a Friday game between the visiting Kerry Park Islanders and Saanich Predators and two Sunday assignments — the Campbell River Storm at Saanich and the Islanders at the Westshore Wolves. . . .
The Pacific Junior Hockey League postponed a Wednesday night game that was to have had the Aldergrove Kodiak visit the Richmond Sockeyes. . . .
The AHL’s Abbotsford Canucks were to have played host to the Bakersfield Condors on Friday and Sunday. Those games have been moved to Jan. 5 and Jan. 10. . . . Abbotsford’s next home game is scheduled for Nov. 30 against the Ontario Reign. . . .
The message here is that if you are planning on attending a sporting event in these times, you need to check a schedule to see if the game is still on, all the while being sure to see what pandemic-related restrictions are in place.
Using a whole lot of numbers, Rhianna Schmunk of CBC News put together a comprehensive look at the situation in B.C., and it’s all right here. It’s a scary read, especially when you realize that this is happening right down the road.
The Winterhawks spent the morning assisting with @SOLVEinOregon's cleanup project in downtown Portland, and you can get involved as well!
The NHL’s Ottawa Senators, who have had as many as 10 players and one coach on the COVID-19 protocol list, are scheduled to play the Colorado Avalance in Denver on Monday. By that point, eight of those players could be back, depending on how the testing process goes. . . . The Senators have had three games postponed. . . . Ottawa F Michael Del Zotto explained the situation to Toronto radio station TSN 1050 on Wednesday: ““Some guys have had some loss of taste and smell, and I think that’s about as serious as it’s gotten, at least to my knowledge. Everyone is vaccinated so that certainly helps, but it’s scary how quickly it can spread and how quickly it went through the team. This is 20 months now still talking about (COVID-19) and it would be nice for us to get past this.” . . .
The NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights have put three players — F Michael Amadio, F William Carrier and F Johnathan Marchessault on the NHL’s COVID-19 list since the start of the week. The Golden Knights are to entertain the Detroit Red Wings tonight.
The Los Angeles Chargers have some COVID-19 issues as they prepare to meet the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers in a Sunday night NFL game. Defensive linemen Joey Bosa, Christian Covington and Jerry Tillery are on the COVID-19 list, as is LB Drue Tranquill. The unvaccinated Bosa was deemed a close contact to Tillery, but has tested negative and could return to workouts on Saturday.
I have been told the same thing; he may have even coached games after he was fired because they didn’t have enough other coaches to be on the bench this past weekend https://t.co/Vp1ppD64ZE
JUNIOR JOTTINGS: The 2022 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game is scheduled to be played in Kingston, Ont., on Feb. 2. . . . You will recall that the Spokane Chiefs were to have spent last weekend in Victoria playing a doubleheader against the Royals. That, of course, didn’t happen after two Spokane players tested positive. Those two games now have been rescheduled for Jan. 11 and 12. . . . Steve Ewen of Postmedia reports that F Cole Shepard is back skating with the Vancouver Giants. He hasn’t played since March 2020 and has since undergone hip surgery. Shepard, 19, may be cleared to play at some point next week. . . . G Jack McNaughton, 20, who made 87 appearances over three-plus seasons (2018-22) with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen, has signed with the AJHL’s Okotoks Oilers.
If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:
Hello, Interior Health . . . anyone home? Call for you on Line 1 . . . and Line 2 . . . and Line 3 . . . and . . .
Hey, Interior Health, when you say there’ll be news on Friday and then you stiff the commoners without so much as a whisper, well, we’re into Wednesday and we’re still waiting. Oh, and the people whose livelihoods are being messed with also are waiting.
Maybe it’s time for you to lift the veil of secrecy or come out from under the cone of silence and explain why you do the things you do. Tell them the gypsy fortune teller didn’t show up for work, or that it’s the health ministry that operates the puppet strings that control the messages you send out. Tell them something. Anything.
Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer, announced on Oct. 19 that restrictions on attendance at some sporting events — including Vancouver Canucks’ home games — were to be lifted. (Yeah, I know. I was shocked at the timing of that one, too.)
When the announcement was made, the Kamloops Blazers and Kelowna Rockets were among those to express relief. But, wait, not so fast . . .
It turned out that while the lifting of restrictions also included the Vancouver Giants, who play their home games in Langley, and the Victoria Royals, it didn’t apply to the Prince George Cougars, who are in the Northern Health Region, or the Blazers and Rockets, who are within the Interior Health Authority. So those three teams are left to operate under a restriction that allows them to sell only 50 per cent of available seats in their arenas.
Why? If it really is because of the hospitalization (high) and immunization rates (low) out here in the boonies, why not say so? Why not tell that to the teams on Friday?
“We kind of felt when Dr. Henry made her announcement that would be all encompassing,” Bruce Hamilton, the Rockets’ owner and general manager, told Madison Erhardt of castanet.net for a story that is right here. “I understand they have decided now to have some regional rules put in where we didn’t have that most of the year. In the Northern region things are tougher up there right now than they are down here. But for you to allow Vancouver and Victoria to get going it has such a huge impact on our business and not just us.
“We just don’t understand it and we can’t get any answers and I guess that is the biggest frustration.”
The Western Hockey League has formally requested exemption from Interior Health’s indoor spectator limit of 50 per cent of a facility’s capacity — https://t.co/P3awhOMF1e
Marty Hastings of Kamloops This Week reported Tuesday morning that the WHL “has formally requested exemption from Interior Health’s indoor spectator limit of 50 per cent of a facility’s capacity.”
The newspaper got its hands on an email sent by Ron Robison, the WHL commissioner, to Dr. Sue Pollock, the IHA’s interim chief medical health officer, on Monday.
“Given the preventative measures we have taken, combined with the public health guidelines currently in place in the province of B.C., we believe that WHL games in Kamloops and Kelowna represent no significant risk to the Interior public health system,” the email reads.
“With this in mind and given our proven track record with the WHL hub centres in Interior B.C., we would formally request that the Kamloops Blazers and Kelowna Rockets be granted an exemption from the indoor events capacity order and be permitted to operate at 100 per cent spectator capacity.”
In his story, Hastings pointed out that “there has been some confusion as to whether the 50 per cent capacity limits in Interior Health were eliminated by last week’s decision to lift capacity limits. Interior Health stated it would have clarification by Oct. 23, but the health authority did not address the matter by that date and has yet to respond to myriad media requests for answers on the issue.”
At a media briefing on Tuesday, Dr. Henry claimed that the situation is fluid.
“We’re looking at this on a day-to-day basis,” she said, “and I do believe it will be settling in the next few days and I’m hoping that we’ll be able to lift restrictions and get back to those important hockey games and arts and other events safely and very soon.”
At the same time, Dr. Henry explained: “Where we are still seeing high rates of transmission and low rates of immunization, those are all things that are important and we take into account.”
She also stated that “we’re not at the point where we feel we can take that risk of allowing that type of activity to occur with the stresses that are on the healthcare system right now.”
It would seem then that the Blazers, Cougars and Rockets are out of lock for the immediate future.
As for Robison’s request, perhaps he should have emailed Dr. Henry because she’s the one who pulls the strings.
Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle, in a column on former football coaches Jon Gruden and Nick Rolovich, one of whom emailed his way out of the Las Vegas Raiders’ organization and the other of whom was fired as Washington State’s head football coach because he refused to be vaccinated:
“Too often coaches, operating in their own little fiefdoms, are insulated from the real world. They are awarded absurd amounts of power, compensation and fealty for coaching a sport. A study of the highest-paid state employees in 2021 reveals that in 41 states, the highest paid state employee is either a basketball or football coach (including California, where the dubious honor goes to UCLA football coach Chip Kelly).”
Yes, Rolovich was the highest paid state employee in Washington.
BTW, if you aren’t familiar with the Rolovich situation, well, Google is your friend. He has since filed a lawsuit against Washington State claiming that he was fired because of his — wait for it — Catholicism.
Headline at fark.com: “The NFL has investigated all the emails, and found it was only Jon Gruden being racist and homophobic. Trust us. Pinky swear. Honest.”
As you will be aware, Jon Gruden’s emails surfaced in an NFL investigation into the operation of the Washington Football Club. Despite going through 650,000 emails, the NFL claimed only some from Gruden were found to be sketchy. As Nick Canepa of The San Diego Union-Tribune put it: “Football’s Warren Report. Gruden acted alone.”
Three notes from Jack Todd in the Montreal Gazette: “With their roster, the Los Angeles Lakers are a lock for the 2012 NBA championship. . . . The only way a World Series between the can-banging Astros and the tomahawk-chopping Braves could be worse is if the Blue Jays had made it. . . . . Has it occurred to Tyler Bertuzzi that he’s a really rotten teammate?”
It’s believed that Tyler Bertuzzi, a forward with the Detroit Red Wings, is the only unvaccinated player left in the NHL. That’s because G Mackenzie Blackwood of the New Jersey Devils got his first vaccination last week. He has begun the process but will have to follow the NHL protocols for unvaccinated players until two weeks after he gets a second dose. . . . You wonder if the fact that he has a chance to be part of Canada’s Olympic team factored into his decision to finally get vaccinated?
We have news from Calgary . . .
Last week as we stood in line for our influenza immunization, a couple were standing around. To check if they were ahead of me, I asked, "are you getting your vaccine?" They answered, "No! we're never getting vaccinated, we're just waiting for our flu shot!"
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Chicago Blackhawks had five players in COVID-19 protocol — F Jonathan Toews, F Henrik Borgstrom, F Patrick Kane, D Riley Stillman and F Jujhar Khaira — along with assistant coaches Marc Crawford, Tomas Mitell and Jimmy Waite. . . . The Blackhawks, who have yet to win this season (0-5-1), face the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs tonight. . . .
The St. Louis Blues placed F Ryan O’Reilly and F Brandon Saad on the non-roster COVID list on Tuesday. . . . O’Reilly has tested positive and is experiencing symptoms. He will miss at least four games. . . . Saad sat out the past two games and is expected to miss at least two more, including Thursday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. . . . The Blues are 5-0-0 in the early going of this season. . . .
The Minnesota Wild is on a road trip without assistant coach Darby Hendrickson, goaltender coach Freddy Chabot and video assistant T.J. Jindra, all of whom are in COVID protocol. . . . Wild general manager Bill Guerin was in protocol and will rejoin the team in Seattle on Thursday. . . .
Matt Nagy, the head coach of the NFL’s Chicago Bears, announced on Monday that he has tested positive for COVID-19. They had placed RT Elijah Wilkinson and LB Caleb Johnston on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Sunday morning. . . . The Bears are scheduled to entertain the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday afternoon. . . .
The Green Bay Packers (6-1) have placed WR Davante Adams and WR Allen Lazard on the NFL’s reserve/COVID-19 list, meaning they’re not likely to play Thursday night against the host Arizona Cardinals (7-0). As well, Green Bay defensive co-ordinator Joe Barry tested positive on Monday. . . . Meanwhile, the Cardinals, who had bye last weekend, have activated DL Zach Allen and LB Chandler Jones from the list.
Attention fans! The use of blowhorns📣will be prohibited while under current Covid-19 protocols inside the Sandman Centre for the safety and comfort of all our fans. Thank you for understanding #BlazerNation🔥 pic.twitter.com/NH1LJBGkNb
You may be aware that there was some nasty weather off the West Coast coming out of the weekend and that it resulted in the cancellation of a number of ferry sailings to and from Vancouver Island. As a result, the WHL had to reschedule a Tuesday night game that had been scheduled for Prince George. The Victoria Royals were to have been in Prince George for the fifth straight game between these teams — the Cougars won the first four. . . . But the Royals weren’t able to get off the island, so that game has been moved to Jan. 18. . . . The Royals are still scheduled to be in Prince George for a game tonight. . . . Victoria, with nine roster players injured, is scheduled to meet the Blazers in Kamloops on Friday and the Rockets in Kelowna on Saturday. . . . BTW, the Royals have dropped Austrian G Sebastian Wraneschitz, 19, from their roster. He was selected in the CHL’s 2021 import draft. . . .
Meanwhile, there was one WHL game on Tuesday night . . .
In Red Deer, the Winnipeg Ice ran its record to 10-0-0 with a 3-1 victory over the Rebels. . . . The last WHL team to open a season with 10 straight victories? The 2014-15 Kelowna Rockets. . . . F Skyler Bruce (6) broke a 1-1 tie at 1:48 of the third period and F Connor McClennon (9) iced it with the empty-netter. . . . F Arshdeep Bains played in his 200th regular-season game with the Rebels (6-4-1). . . . The Ice has outscored its opponents, 61-18. . . . The Ice is scheduled to visit the Calgary Hitmen (4-3-0) tonight and the Edmonton Oil Kings (6-2-1) on Friday.
Dwight Perry, in the Seattle Times: “St. Louis pitching prospect Dalton Roach was bitten by a black bear while bow hunting in Wisconsin. Cubs-Cardinals vitriol, it appears, knows no offseason.”
Perry also spotted this tweet from Mark Whicker of the Orange County Register: “Congratulations to the first person who said Kyrie Irving finally found a shot he couldn’t take.”
Headline at @TheOnion: Astros Hope Victory Will Inspire Kids To Break Rules Without Punishment.
Headline at The Beaverton: No one on Raptors has the heart to tell Drake he’s not on the team.
I’ve got a couple of early Christmas presents for you, both from Jeff Pearlman, who knows his way around a keyboard. Both of these pieces are lengthy, so don’t think you’ll read them both in one sitting. Set one aside for a different pot of coffee or tea.
First, right here is a list of what Pearlman calls his “64 favourite sports writers of 2021.”
And then there’s this right here. . . . Pearlman’s list of what he considers to be the top 50 all-time sports books.
Nellie Fox struck out 216 times over 19 major league seasons from 1947 to 1965, a span of 10,351 plate appearances.
JUNIOR JOTTINGS: The SJHL’s Weyburn Red Wings have signed general manager and head coach Cody Mapes to a three-year contract that will run through the 2023-24 season. Mapes had been an assistant coach with the Red Wings for two years. He was promoted on Aug. 4 after the Red Wings dropped GM/head coach Rich Pilon on Aug. 4, with team president Brent Stephanson saying at the time that “there are no further details at this time due to legal reasons.” . . . The Red Wings are 3-6-2 and tied for third place in the four-team Viterra Division. . . .
The Prince Albert Raiders have added F Carter Massier, 20, to their roster and dropped F Michael Horon, 20. After being dropped by the Regina Pats, Massier had been with the AJHL’s Okotoks Oilers. . . .
Former Kamloops Blazers D Nolan Baumgartner, now an assistant coach with the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks, will be inducted into the AHL Hall of Game on Feb. 7 in Laval, Que. Baumgartner played in 878 AHL games, splitting them between the Portland Pirates, Norfolk Admirals, Manitoba Moose, Philadelphia Phantoms, Iowa Stars and Chicago Wolves. He also was an assistant coach for five AHL seasons with Vancouver affiliates in Utica, N.Y., and Chicago.
If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:
Hey, is this a great time to be alive, or what? . . . I mean, some of the walking dead who live among us are taking their anti-everything protests to various hospitals on Sept. 1, choosing for some reason to thumb their noses and everything else at healthcare workers who mostly are in crisis after almost two years of this crap. . . . Some restaurant owners, who should be thankful that governments haven’t shut down eat-in dining again, say they won’t be checking for vaccination status when the mandates arrive. . . . And some of the New York Mets have taken to flashing thumbs down to their fans at Citi Field. Why? Javier Báez, the chief rocket scientist on that roster, says: “To let (the fans) know when we don’t get success we’re going to get booed, so they are going to get booed when we have success.” . . . Yeah, that’ll work. Especially in the Big Apple.
Saw this comment on Facebook earlier: “pages that are protesting vaxx passports say, if you don’t follow the rules you can’t join, haha oh the irony.”
TheBachman-Cummings Band rocked Shaw Park in Winnipeg as part of the Unite 150 show on Saturday night. I was fortunate enough to catch a lot of it on my laptop and, yes, it was a whole lot of fun, and a whole lot of Guess Who memories. . . . And, yes, it’s still hard to comprehend the decision by CBC Radio pooh-bahs to axe Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap after 16 years. . . . BTW, you are aware that Burton Cummings now calls Moose Jaw home, aren’t you? Seriously. You can look it up. . . . That has to stick in Regina’s craw, don’t you think?
While I was away from here for a few days, Don Hay, the winningest head coach in WHL history, had his title changed by the Portland Winterhawks. Where he was an assistant coach for the past three seasons in Portland, he now is the club’s associate coach. And here — silly me! — I thought he had retired in May 2018 after spending four seasons as head coach of his hometown Kamloops Blazers.
This snuck past us earlier this week. Vaccination proof required, masks at all times unless actively eating or drinking, no bags allowed, all transactions are cash-free, and the smoking section removed. Could be the standard to come across the division. https://t.co/not4nCOAvm
Ian Henry, who had been the media relations, communications and digital media director with the Seattle Thunderbirds, lost his job last month in one of those mind-numbing COVID-19-related moves. Henry, who had been with the Thunderbirds since July 2002, really was one of the WHL’s good guys, and if there is a team or organization out there in need of a communications/public relations-type with a boatload of experience, well, look no further. . . . Hey, Seattle Kraken, how about it?
Sorry, ESPN, I tried to watch the Sunday night game with the New York Yankees in Oakland against the A’s. I really tried. But there is way too much chatter. The game just doesn’t get a chance to breathe and a baseball telecast needs some of that in order to be watchable.
ICYMI, the state of Oregon has imposed a mask mandate for people who gather outdoors. You’re right. This isn’t going away. . . . If you’ve been paying attention, you know that the numbers, trending and modelling aren’t good in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan, along with Washington state. . . . Throw in Manitoba, where various mandates and restrictions are in place, that covers the six jurisdictions in which the WHL operates. . . . And don’t forget that indoor games being played in B.C. are limited to 50 spectators at least through Sept. 20.
Meanwhile, I would suggest that the WHL, which has teams scheduled to open training camps on Wednesday, will be coming up with a revamped 2021-22 regular-season schedule. . . . Bruce Hamilton, the owner of the Kelowna Rockets and the chairman of the league’s board of governors, has told Regan Bartel, the team’s long-time play-by-play voice, that “we do have plans in place that if we have to adjust for a month or two, we can.” . . . The original schedule doesn’t include any interlocking play between conferences. But the B.C. Division teams, for example, are supposed to play games against their U.S. Division counterparts. I wouldn’t bet on that happening, at least not before Christmas. . . . Hamilton told Bartel that having teams cross the U.S.-Canada border remains “in question.” Keep in mind that while the border is open to Americans wanting to visit Canada, the reverse isn’t true, with the next update expected around Sept. 21. . . . “To have our team travel (to the U.S.),” Hamilton explained, “we would have to take a rapid test going down and a PCR test coming home, so you are looking at $5,000 to $6,000 each time for every trip you make across the border.”
BTW, just because WHL training camps open in a couple of days doesn’t mean you should expect to see pre-season team-by-team rosters on the league’s website. As of Sunday evening, only the Edmonton Oil Kings and Kamloops Blazers had posted rosters. . . . It is absolutely mind-boggling that the WHL, which one might think needs a strong marketing effort after being mostly out of sight and perhaps also out of mind for far too long, isn’t able to provide its fans with something as basic as rosters.
Janice Hough, aka The Left Coast Sports Babe: “One of those stories I had to double check to make sure it wasn’t satire: National Rifle Association just announced they’ve canceled Sept 3-5 annual meeting because of worsening Covid-19 situation in Houston. Is this first time Texas has behaved too stupidly for the NRA?”
It isn’t often that I will pre-order a book, but I jumped all over the opportunity to do just that when I found out about Year of the Rocket: John Candy, Wayne Gretzky, a Crooked Tycoon, and the Craziest Season in Football History. . . . It was written by Paul Woods, a long-time fan of the Toronto Argonauts who was an editor with The Canadian Press. . . . The Rocket, of course, was Raghib Ismail and the Crooked Tycoon was Bruce McNall. . . . The bottom line is that the early-1990s was an amazing time — take that any which way you want — to be around the CFL, and this sounds like it will be a fun book. . . . Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun has more on it right here.
We are sorry to say that our beloved patriarch passed away this morning peacefully. Words cannot express the sadness we feel. With a kiss on your head- Goodnight dad. We love you.
So . . . the Winnipeg Rifles travelled to Regina for a Prairie Football Conference clash with the Thunder on Sunday afternoon. Uhh, the Thunder turned a 64-3 half-time lead into a 64-19 victory. Now that’s calling off the dogs.
Scott Ostler, in the San Francisco Chronicle: “Here’s an idea for the NFL: Put all the non-vaccinated players on a new team named the Freedom Fighters. Each Sunday, tell the Freedom Fighters that their game is canceled due to COVID concerns, and they have been awarded a forfeit victory. At the end of the season, announce on some murky internet site that the Freedom Fighters have been declared Super Bowl champs by default. The team’s players will believe it, because they believe anything they read on the internet. The rest of the NFL players can play football. Everyone is happy.”
If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:
You will recall that the Kelowna Rockets were to have played host to the 2020 Memorial Cup. However, the virus had other ideas and the four-team tournament was cancelled. Later, the 2021 event, which was to have been played in an OHL centre, also was cancelled. The 2022 tournament belongs to the QMJHL with a host city yet to be declared.
That brings us to the 2023 Memorial Cup, with the rights belonging to the WHL. One would think that it might be a fait accompli to return hosting rights to Kelowna. In fact, Bruce Hamilton, the Rockets’ owner and general manager, has agreed to another two-year stint as the chairman of the WHL’s board of governors. So you might think things are in place for the Rockets to get another chance to be the host team.
Not so fast, my friends.
Tom Gaglardi, the majority owner of the Kamloops Blazers, has let it be known that his franchise is interested . . . very interested.
“If that’s the right thing to do, then that could be the right thing to do,” Gaglardi, who also owns the NHL’s Dallas Stars, told Marty Hastings of Kamloops This Week. “I haven’t been involved in any formal conversation around that, but if that happens, we’ll deal with it as it comes. Just because you have the market size and ability financially to host a Memorial Cup, I don’t think is enough, so if Kelowna is going to want the Cup again in 2023, they’re going to need to have a competitive team, and so we’ll see if they do.”
Don’t forget that Gaglardi wasn’t happy with the decision to award the 2020 Memorial Cup to Kelowna. No, not at all!
Here’s what he told Hastings in February 2020: “Yeah, it was our turn. It should have been ours. It was the wrong thing. The league did the wrong thing. It’s the 25th anniversary (of the Blazers’ 1995 Memorial Cup victory, right in Kamloops), we were judged to have probably the best team of the host bids and it was our turn. We put together a heck of an offer and we didn’t win. Yeah, I’m sour, for sure. I’m disappointed.”
The bidding for the 2020 tournament also included the community-owned Lethbridge Hurricanes.
Hastings’ latest story on Gaglardi and the Memorial Cup is right here.
The accesso ShoWare Center, the Kent, Wash., home of the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds, lost US$1.14 million in 2020, a year in which it was only open for the first two months. . . . Steve Hunter of the Kent Reporter writes that “the 6,200-seat arena had expenses of $2.45 million and revenue of $1.3 million, according to the ShoWare Center income statement released last week by SMG, which operates the $84.5 million facility.” . . . All told, the facility had 58 events cancelled. It also has lost $162,635 in the first quarter of 2021. . . . Still, Hunter reports, the arena will have a new $500,000 scoreboard in place when the Thunderbirds open the 2021-22 season in October. . . . Hunter’s story is right here.
The UBC Thunderbirds revealed the names of four members of their newest recruiting class on Tuesday, and each of them is a former WHL player. . . . F Scott Atkinson played the past four seasons with the Edmonton Oil Kings and is coming off two seasons as the team’s captain. . . . F Liam Kindree split four-plus WHL seasons between the Kelowna Rockets and Lethbridge Hurricanes. . . . F Chris Douglas spent his entire WHL career, all four-plus seasons of it, with the Red Deer Rebels. . . . G Ethan Anders played the past four seasons with the Rebels. . . . The Thunderbirds’ head coach is Sven Butenschon, a former WHLer (Brandon Wheat Kings, 1993-96). He has been UBC’s head coach since 2016-17. . . . UBC’s news release is right here.
Hockey Canada has announced the sites for three 2022 championship tournaments, each of which was cancelled for 2020 and 2021. . . . The Esso Cup, the women’s U18 club championship, is scheduled for the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert, April 17-23. . . . The Telus Cup, the U18 men’s club championship, is to be played in Cape Breton, N.S., at Sydney’s Membertou Sport and Wellness Centre, April 18-24. . . . The Centennial Cup, the national junior A men’s championship, is scheduled for Estevan’s Affinity Place, May 20-29. . . . Previously announced sites and dates for 2021 championships: National women’s U18, Dawson Creek, B.C., Oct. 31 through Nov. 6; Para Hockey Cup, Bridgewater, N.S., Dec. 5-11; and World Junior A Challenge, Cornwall, Ont., Dec. 12-18.
It wasn’t a good day for the lacrosse world as the Major Series Lacrosse (MSL) in Ontario and B.C.’s Western Lacrosse Association (WLA) cancelled their 2021 seasons, including the Mann Cup senior men’s box lacrosse championship. . . . Both organizations had been forced by the pandemic to cancel their 2020 regular seasons and the national championship, too. The Peterborough Lakers are the last team to win the Mann Cup, in 2019. . . . A news release is right here.
Are you ready for June 6? On that day join Western Canadians online and walk in your communities for Kidney Walk.
Dorothy will be taking 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. . . . Thanks in advance for your generosity.
If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:
JUST NOTES: The QMJHL announced Tuesday that it is taking No. 4 out of use across the league in honour of Guy Lafleur. He played two seasons (1969-71) with the Quebec Remparts, putting up 233 goals and 146 assists in 118 regular-season games. He helped the Remparts to the 1971 Memorial Cup championship, the first won by a QMJHL team. This will be the second number to have been taken out of circulation by the QMJHL, which retired Sidney Crosby’s No. 87 in September 2019. . . . Tim Green is the new head coach of the Augustana Vikings men’s hockey team that plays in the Alberta Colleges Athletics Conference. Green, the 14th-overall selection in the WHL’s 1996 bantam draft by Tri-City, split four seasons (1998-2002) between the Americans and Lethbridge Hurricanes. He also spent two seasons as a player with the Vikings. He grew up in Camrose, which is home to Augustana, and played minor hockey there. He also played with the AJHL’s Camrose Kodiaks. He has coached minor hockey in Camrose and with Hockey Alberta. Green takes over from Blaine Gusdal, the Vikings’ head coach for the previous 13 seasons.
How does the Prince George Cougars of Kamloops sound? Or how about the Victoria Royals of Kelowna?
The WHL announced on Friday that it has a “commitment” to play a 24-game 2021 schedule. The league didn’t announce any other particulars, other than pointing out that “he start date for the season will be determined once final approval has been received from the health authorities in each provincial and state jurisdiction, and it is anticipated the approvals will be received soon.”
Bruce Hamilton, the chairman of the WHL’s board of governors and the owner/general manager of the Kelowna Rockets, told Travis Lowe of CHBC-TV in Kelowna that the people running the show “thought that it was important that we let our players know that we’re going to do everything we can to get some kind of a season in for them,”
Taking Note was told Tuesday afternoon that one plan the WHL has looked at would have players reporting to teams on Jan. 22 in the hopes of starting a season on Feb. 8. However, that seems awfully far-fetched if only because, for example, the restrictions that presently are in place in B.C. are there until at least Feb. 5.
Hamilton told Lowe that a new season “probably” wouldn’t get started “until the end of February, early March.”
Lowe also reported: “According to Hamilton, the 24-game season will probably take about 60 days to complete. Teams would have a 21-day or 28-day training camp that would include a quarantine period for all players.”
Hamilton also told Lowe that “we may look at some kind of a setup where we would move one or two teams into Kamloops and one team into (Kelowna) and then limit the travel.”
A source told Taking Note that one option that has been discussed would have the Cougars spend the season playing out of Kamloops, with the Royals doing the same out of Kelowna.
Last week, the USHL’s Lincoln Stars added four players to their protected list, all of them American-born skaters off the roster of the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. On Tuesday, the Winterhawks released those four to play for the Stars. F Cross Hanas, 19, who is from Highland Village, Tex.; F Clay Hanus, 19, from Excelsior, Minn.; F Jack O’Brien, 17, from Denver; and F James Stefan, 17, from Laguna Beach, Calif., will stay with Lincoln until the Stars’ season ends. . . . “With the uncertainty of our start date due to restrictions in Oregon and Washington, we felt the opportunity for these four American players to play significant games could not be passed up,” Mike Johnston, the Winterhawks’ vice-president, general manager and head coach, said in a news release. . . .
Meanwhile, F Bear Hughes of the Spokane Chiefs has been given his release to play for the USHL’s Fargo Force. Hughes, 19, is from Post Falls, Idaho. . . .
On Jan. 5, the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints announced that they were adding F Matt Savoie, who turned 17 on Jan. 1, of the Winnipeg Ice to their roster. However, Savoie’s name has yet to appear on that roster. He is from St. Alberta, Alta. Savoie played six games this season with the AJHL’s Sherwood Park Crusaders, putting up three goals and three assists.
If you have been holding out hope that fans will be allowed into arenas to watch games when/if the WHL gets a season started, it really doesn’t seem likely to happen.
For proof, here’s part of message from the Lethbridge Hurricanes to their fans: “The Lethbridge Hurricanes Hockey Club has been working with the Ticket Centre and our ticket provider to begin the process of issuing full refunds to everyone who purchased 2020-21 season tickets.”
The WHL and the Winnipeg Ice are being sued by the City of Cranbrook. . . . Karin Larsen of CBC News reports that “a civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court says both the Winnipeg Ice (formerly Kootenay Ice) and WHL are responsible for breaking an arena deal that was supposed to run through June 2023. The claim says the city is out approximately $178,000 per year as a result.” . . . The Kootenay Ice franchise was purchased by 50 Below Sports and Entertainment, which is based in Winnipeg, from the Chynoweth family. The Ice played two seasons in Cranbrook under new ownership before moving to Winnipeg following the 2018-19 season. . . . Larsen’s story is right here.
With its 2021 regular season to start Wednesday night, the NHL revealed Tuesday that 27 players, 17 of them from the Dallas Stars, tested positive during the training camp period from Dec. 30 to Monday. . . . According to the NHL, about 12,000 tests were conducted on more than 1,200 players. . . . The other 10 positives tests involve players from eight other teams. . . . The NHL has said it will provide “regular updates on the results of tests administered to players, including the identities of the players” with the start of the new season. . . . The Stars have returned to the practice ice, although more than a dozen players were unavailable on Tuesday, but their first three games have been postponed. They also have had an undisclosed number of staffers test positive. . . .
D Jordie Benn and F J.T. Miller won’t play for the Vancouver Canucks when they open their NHL season Wednesday night against the host Edmonton Oilers. The Canucks aren’t saying why, but Matt Sekeres of TSN 1040 AM in Vancouver tweeted that the two are out “due to COVID-19 concerns” and that they will be out “for a couple of weeks.” Sekeres added: “Both players are quarantining. Miller had been staying at Benn’s Vancouver residence.” . . . Richard Zussman of Global BC reported via Twitter that he has been told either Benn or Miller “tested positive for COVID, then negative, then positive again and when tested a fourth time tested negative. The other is a close contact.”
THE COVID-19 CHRONICLES . . .
Justin Trudeau, Canadian prime minister — Update on the Canada-US border: We’ve extended the current border measures by another 30 days. Non-essential travel between our two countries remains restricted until at least February 21st. We’ll continue to do whatever is necessary to keep Canadians safe.
680 CJOB Winnipeg — Manitoba health officials reported 92 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday and said eight more Manitobans with the virus have died. It’s the first time the province’s list of new daily infections has dropped below 100 since Oct. 19.
CBC News — 248 new COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed in Saskatchewan. It’s the 1st time in a week the province has recorded fewer than 300 new daily cases. Health authorities also report 5 additional deaths from the virus. . . . The provincial government has extended current COVID-19-related public health orders until at least Jan. 29, due to current transmission rates.
CBC News — Alberta again breaks COVID-19 record with 38 deaths reported in single day. The province reported 652 new cases, 819 hospitalizations and 132 patients in ICUs. . . . Deaths from the illness are reported as Alberta Health compiles data, meaning not all 38 happened on the same day. The latest report includes deaths reported to the province from Dec. 30 to Jan. 12. But provincial numbers released over the last two days show that at least 21 people died from COVID-19 on Sunday alone. The total number of deaths since the pandemic began in March now stands at 1,345.
Richard Zussman, Global BC — There are 446 new cases of COVID-19, including 10 epi-linked cases, for a total of 58,553 cases in British Columbia. . . . There are 5,045 active cases of COVID-19 in the province. There are 368 individuals currently hospitalized with COVID-19, 72 of whom are in intensive care. . . . There are 7,238 people under active public health monitoring as a result of identified exposure to known cases and a further 51,144 people who tested positive have recovered. . . . There have been nine new COVID-19 related deaths, for a total of 1,019 deaths in British Columbia.
CBC News — Ontario reports 41 more deaths and 2,903 new COVID-19 cases. That’s the 1st time the number has fallen below 3,000 since January 3.
CBC News — Quebec reports 1,934 new COVID-19 cases and 47 additional deaths. It’s the 2nd day in a row where the number of new cases is below 2,000; it was above 2,000 for the previous 8 days.
Keith Baldrey, Global BC — No surprise the Canada/US border will remain closed. Here are the latest weekly (Jan. 4-11) COVID-19 stats for Washington state: 217 deaths. 20,251 cases. 818 hospitalizations.
CNN, Tuesday, 7 p.m. PT — So far today, Johns Hopkins University has reported 212,766 new cases and 4,212 new deaths.
CNN, Tuesday, 6:30 p.m. PT — 22.8 million people in the United States have tested positive for coronavirus.
CNN, Tuesday, 6:30 p.m. PT — 380,000 people in the United States have died from coronavirus.
Our daily update is published. States reported 1.9M tests, 214k cases, 131,326 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19, and 4,056 deaths. pic.twitter.com/5bBfNyaHYC
The number of postponements in this young NBA season has reached six, with the latest casualty a Wednesday night game between the Utah Jazz and Washington Wizards. Due to protocols, the Wizards don’t have the necessary eight players able to play. . . . Three of the postponed games have involved the Boston Celtics, including one that had been scheduled for Chicago on Tuesday night. . . . Five of the NBA’s six postponements have occurred since Sunday. . . .
The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association also have come up with some new rules aimed at keeping numbers down. From The Associated Press: “For ‘at least the next two weeks,’ the league and union said, players and team staff will have to remain at their residence when in their home markets and are prohibited from leaving their hotels when on the road — with exceptions primarily for practices and games. . . . Players also no longer will be allowed to have guests in their hotel rooms on the road. . . . Also from The AP: “Players have been told to limit on-court interactions with fellow players to elbow or fist bumps, with no extended socializing. And when a player is subbed out of a game, he can sit in a ‘cool down chair’ without a mask — but must put a mask on when he returns to the bench and sits in his assigned seat.” . . .
As if the NBA doesn’t have enough on its plate, Brian Windthorst and Zach Lowe of ESPN reported Tuesday that sources have told them “multiple players who previously tested positive for the coronavirus have recently tested positive a second time. That story is right here. . . .
Pro golfer Jhonattan Vegas has tested positive so has withdrawn from the Sony Open that is to open in Honolulu on Thursday. . . .
The Czech Republic pulled out of the world handball championship after 13 of its 21 players and a number of coaches tested positive. The event was scheduled for Egypt, Jan. 13-31.
If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:
JUST NOTES: The ECHL has sold two expansion franchises to Deacon Sports and Entertainment, which is owned by Dean MacDonald. The new teams will begin play in 2021-21 in Coralville, Iowa and Trois-Rivières, Que.Deacon Sports and Entertainment also owns the ECHL’s Newfoundland Growlers. From an ECHL news release: “Coralville will play out of Xtreme Arena, a 5,100-seat venue which was completed in September 2020, while Trois-Rivières will play out of Le Nouveau Colisée, a new construction that will host 4,390 fans.”
Ron Toigo, the majority owner of the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, said on Wednesday that the fallout in junior hockey from COVID-19 may take a year or two to be seen but that “it’s not going to be a pretty picture.”
Appearing on Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver, Toigo said:
“At some point, there’s going to have to be some government support for these things to survive, and without that I think you’re going to see failures across the country from (junior A) to major junior to junior B. It’s inevitable.
“From our perspective, we were already down half-a-million dollars when (last season) ended because we didn’t get the last home games in which is where you start to break even. All these things are more or less designed to break even if everything goes right, and then if you get a run in the playoffs you can recover some of the money.
“Most teams in general, not just the Western Hockey League, the BCHL, across the board, people don’t get into this to make a living. . . . These aren’t great models from an economic perspective. Now when you take all the revenue away but keep most of the expenses, it’s not a good scenario for any business.”
The end result, according to Toigo, could be disastrous.
“You might not see it this year,” he said. “It might take a year or two where a lot of these things will come to fruition. It’s not going to be a pretty picture.”
Toigo pointed out that he and the other WHL operators are hardly alone in having to face this pandemic.
“It is a scenario that virtually all walks of life are dealing with,” he said. “Every business is dealing with it. The catastrophic impact on small businesses across this province is something we are going to feel for many many years to come, and junior hockey is just one of those that are caught up in it.”
Bruce Hamilton, the Kelowna Rockets’ president and general manager and the chairman of the WHL’s board of governors, agrees with Toigo in terms of what’s ahead.
“We are going to have some teams that are going to really struggle,” Hamilton told Travis Lowe of Global News.“It’s up to the rest of us to help make sure that they make it through.”
But, at this point in time, Hamilton said, “We just don’t see there being any way that we can safely have our players back here.”
Hamilton also pointed out that the WHL and its teams aren’t about to question any of the public heath officials or the regulations that have been put in place in any of the six jurisdictions in which the league operates.
“We fully understand and fully, fully support what is going on,” Hamilton said.
There was a time when the WHL had hoped to open a regular season on Oct. 2. It later changed that date to Dec. 4 and then to Jan. 8. On Tuesday, the league announced that it has moved on from that date and that it now doesn’t have a starting date. Instead, its board of governors will meet in January and assess things at that point.
“I think we are being wise to not name a date,” Hamilton told Lowe. “To me, that becomes an issue for the players . . . they get their hopes up.”
Meanwhile, the OHL is hoping to open its regular season on Feb. 4.
The QMJHL tried to get its regular season started in October, and has gone in fits and starts. Like so many other leagues, it now is back on hold and is hoping to resume play in January. When it does get back on the ice, it could be in some sort of bubble format.
There are 12 Quebec-based teams in the league and seven of them want to play host to bubbles — the Baie-Comeau Drakkar, Chicoutimi Sagueneens, Drummonville Voltigeurs, Quebec Remparts, Rimouski Oceanic, Shawinigan Cataractes and Victoriaville Tigres.
These days, however, there’s more to life than playing hockey.
As Rockets head coach Kris Mallette told Lowe: “There’s a bigger issue at hand. This pandemic is not going away.”
Ron Robison, the WHL commissioner, said on Wednesday that the league’s is considering moving the bantam draft back on year because of what the pandemic has done to this season.
“Yes, absolutely,” Robison said on The Jason Gregor Show (TSN 1260, Edmonton). “It’s hard to evaluate players (and) it’s hard for players to develop under these circumstances. We are considering delaying the draft.
“We haven’t arrived at a decision on that but I think in fairness to the players and the system generally that is something we are seriously considering and we will hopefully make a decision real soon.”
Robison pointed out that scouting has “represented a challenge.” But, he said, the WHL wants to “do it right and give the players every opportunity.”
Under normal circumstances, the bantam draft is held on the first Thursday of May, although the 2020 draft was held virtually on April 23.
During his appearance, Robison also said that the WHL hasn’t had any conversations about scrapping the season, and added that there isn’t a drop-dead date by which time such a decision would have to be made.
“We’re just trying to find a window of time that’s going to make sense,” he said. “Our goal is to have all teams, all divisions playing. Our hope is to get everyone started. We may have to stagger our start. We’re not quite sure what that will look like. We’re prepared to do anything, quite frankly, to get the season in and find a way to make it a representative season for the players and our teams.”
In the end, Robison said, the league is well aware that a final decision will come down to the health authorities.
“We are in discussion with the health authorities in order to return to play,” he explained. “Our protocols are a little bit more extensive than the other levels of hockey, if you will. We have not received final approval from all jurisdictions in order to play. It’s a health-and-safety issue first and foremost for our players, and we want to make sure we do it right. We want to have a testing base and a protocol solution and we’re working through these with the various health authorities.”
The WHL announced on Tuesday that it wasn’t going to start its next season on Jan. 8 as it had hoped. Had it been able to go then, it likely would have had a 50-game regular season.
Now, with no start date even pencilled in, Robison said a determination hasn’t been made as to how many games is needed to have a season.
“We aren’t going to be in a position to deliver (50 games),” he said. “We’ve got to make a determination on whether we can play four full rounds of playoffs and a Memorial Cup. Once we have all that information we’ll set our schedule. But it’ll all depend on what our start date is . . . and what our end date will be.”
At the moment, restrictions in at least two provinces — Alberta and Saskatchewan — have been extended into mid-January. Whenever restrictions come off, Robison there will be about a three-week time frame before a regular season could start. That would include getting players into isolation, a testing procedure and holding some kind of training camp.
“There is a bit of a process we have to go through in preparation to start,” Robison said, adding that the WHL isn’t “in a position to project with restrictions into Jan. 15.”
Robison also touched on the financial picture involving the 22-team league.
“They’re all in a very difficult position,” he said. “This is something that is very challenging for a lot of organizations, a lot of teams at this stage. They’ve been holding on waiting to start play. They’ve got ongoing costs associated with that.
“Let’s not forget that we had to cancel the balance of our season, including the end of the regular season and playoffs and the Memorial Cup that we were scheduled to host (in Kelowna). A significant amount of losses has been accumulated by the teams to date.
“It’s a very difficult challenge for them to envision moving forward, especially when we’re a ticket-driven league and at this particular stage we are not envisioning spectators to be permitted. The whole financial equation is a very difficult one for our teams.”
The CHL and Hockey Canada on Monday asked a federal court judge to dismiss a proposed class-action lawsuit filed by former CHL players Anthony Poulin and Kobe Mohr. Their lawsuit alleges the player draft process in the CHL amounts to illegal anti-competitive behaviour. pic.twitter.com/QCEzBL7pez
Earl Seitz, the long-time sports anchor at CFJC-TV in Kamloops, opened his Wednesday evening sportscast with this:
“We hear about the impact that no hockey, no sports, is having on the mental health of some.
“Can’t disagree with that.
“But to put it in perspective — think of the seniors, the elders, who are dying by the hundreds, the thousands, from Covid-19 — and because of restrictions are alone without the presence of loved ones there to comfort them in their final hours.
“Or those loved ones who will live with the anguish of not being able to be there with a mother, a father, a grandparent or wife or husband in their final hours.
“Hockey and sports will be back — those who are dying from Covid-19 won’t be.”
🙏IN MEMORIAM: Julie, my wife of 57 years, passed away today from Covid-19. If you think Covid-19 is a hoax, you are woefully wrong! My family and I witnessed the pain. We need to unite as Americans to fight this virus war! Please wear masks!
Skylar Peters, CJOB Winnipeg: 15 more Manitobans have lost their lives to COVID-19, and the province reported 292 cases Wednesday. . . . Total: 21,286. . . . Active: 5,797. . . . Deaths: 523. . . . Hospitalized: 328. . . . ICU: 46. . . . WPG test positivity rate: 13.7%. . . . Prov. test positivity rate: 13.6%.
CBC News: 169 new COVID-19 cases reported in Saskatchewan, the 2nd day in a row the number of cases has been below 200. That’s hasn’t happened since November 24-25.
CBC News: Alberta reports 1,270 new cases of COVID-19 and 16 more deaths. Dr. Hinshaw points out that more Albertans have died from COVID-19 in 10 months, than from influenza over the past 10 years combined.
Kamloops This Week: B.C. health authorities are reporting 640 new cases of COVID-19 and 24 further deaths due to the disease. . . . Those new cases include 91 in the Interior Health region, which now has 843 active cases, including 28 in hospital and seven of those patients in critical care units. . . . In total, there are 9,950 active cases in the province. Of those, 362 are in hospital, including 91 in critical care. The province has now had 44,103 confirmed cases. Of those, 32,375 have recovered and 692 have died.
CBC News: Ontario reported 2,139 new cases of COVID-19 and 43 more deaths from the illness on Wednesday as hospitalization figures reached second-wave highs.
CBC News: 1,897 new COVID-19 cases in Quebec, well above the 7-day average of 1,791. 43 additional deaths are also reported. The number of people in hospital rose by 16 to 975; 128 are in intensive care.
CBC News: New household gathering limits announced for all of Nova Scotia during Christmas period.
CNN: The United States reported at least 3,453 coronavirus deaths on Wednesday, the highest number of new deaths in a single day since the pandemic began.
Jim Acosta, CNN: A devastating day in the pandemic for the US. So far today (Wednesday), Johns Hopkins has reported 242,490 new cases and 3,518 reported deaths (10:20pm eastern). This is the highest single day reporting of daily new deaths since the pandemic began.
The start of the Australian Open has been pushed back three weeks to Feb. 8. It was to have opened on Jan. 18 in Melbourne.
If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:
JUST NOTES: The NHL’s Calgary Flames have moved Jason LaBarbera from the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen to be their goaltending coach. LaBarbera spent four seasons as the goaltending coach with the Hitmen, who are owned by the Flames. LaBarbera, 40, also is Hockey Canada’s goaltending coach, so is in the Edmonton bubble with the national junior team. He played four seasons in the WHL (Tri-City, Portland, Spokane, 1996-2000). . . . The OHL’s Sudbury Wolves need a head coach after Cory Stillman left to join the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes as an assistant coach. He had been the Wolves’ head coach for three seasons. Prior to that, he spent five seasons as the Carolina Hurricanes’ director of player development.
Here is the fifth and final piece on the WHL’s first 25 years. The five stories were written in the late 1990s, while I was the sports editor at the Regina Leader-Post. I had pretty much forgotten about it until recently when I was asked if I might post it again. So I have done just that over the past couple of weeks. . . . As you read each piece, please remember that I wrote them more than 20 years ago and they cover only the league’s first 25 years. It isn’t an all-encompassing history, but hits on some of the highlights and a few lowlights. . . . The stories are pretty much as originally written. . . . Here, then, is Part 5 of 5. Thanks for reading along. I hope you have enjoyed these stories, and thank you for all of the positive feedback. . . .
The fifth five-year segment was easily the best of the WHL’s first 25 years.
There was success in the stands, particularly in the Pacific Northwest corner of the United States, and in Saskatoon where the Blades welcomed a new facility.
There was stability, too. Recent additions, like the Tri-City Americans and Lethbridge Hurricanes, settled in for what appeared to be long stays.
But the greatest success came on the ice where the WHL won four Memorial Cup championships during the five seasons, opening with three in a row and closing with a victory by the Spokane Chiefs.
The 1986-87 season actually started on something of a strange note. The Regina Pats signed Doug Sauter, who was under contract to the Medicine Hat Tigers, to a two-year deal as general manager/head coach. The result was that the Pats agreed to compensate the Tigers.
The compensation turned into two veteran players — defenceman Kevin Ekdahl and forward Kevin Clemens. It was the first time in WHL history that a coach had, in effect, been traded.
The Pats also welcomed back another familiar face with Dennis Sobchuk, the greatest and most-popular player in franchise history, signing on as assistant coach/assistant manager.
This was a time of great change in the front offices and behind the benches. Barry Trapp left the Moose Jaw Warriors, saying, “I wasn’t fired. It was just a mutual agreement. It was a very friendly parting.”
Medicine Hat signed Bryan Maxwell to replace Sauter, while Peter Esdale was the new coach in Spokane and Wayne Naka took over the Cougars in Victoria. In New Westminster, John Olver was the GM, with Ernie McLean the coach. Harvey Roy was out as the Bruins’ director of marketing, but he would surface in Moose Jaw as the GM and would hire Greg Kvisle to coach the Warriors. In Prince Albert, GM/head coach Terry Simpson left to coach the NHL’s New York Islanders and Rick Wilson took over.
Perhaps the biggest news in the summer of 1986 came on June 2 when the WHL announced it was doing away with round-robin playoff series in the East Division. Instead, the top two teams would get first- round byes.
In the WHL office, Richard Doerksen’s title was upgraded from executive assistant/referee-in-chief to vice-president.
There was trouble in Brandon, where the Bank of Nova Scotia called in a $77,000 demand loan, asking for payment on July 31. This resulted in the Wheat Kings’ board recommending to shareholders that the franchise be sold.
In August, shareholders voted 1,411-404 in favour of selling the Wheat Kings. Offers were received from two groups — one in Edmonton headed by Vic Mah, the other comprising Brandon businessmen Bob Cornell and Stuart Craig, and Winnipeg businessman Dave Laing.
Cornell’s group purchased the Wheat Kings for more than $300,000 and then added a unique twist to the situation by signing a 10-year working agreement with the Keystone Centre. The Keystone took over operation of the club, and hired Bill Shinske to run the front office. Shinske hired Marc Pezzin as coach.
The WHL also welcomed the Swift Current Broncos to the fold. Behind the bench was Graham James, who had recently reached an out-of-court settlement with the Warriors over a lawsuit he had started the previous year.
“If we continue to average close to 2,000, we’ll have a real successful year and we’ll show a profit of about $80,000,” Gary Bollinger, the Broncos’ vice-president and alternate governor, said. “That doesn’t include playoff revenue. We were budgeting for an average of 1,600. If we averaged that, we’d still make a bit of a profit.”
The first coaching change of the 1986-87 season took place on Dec. 8 in Seattle when Sheldon Ferguson gave up the Thunderbirds’ coaching reins, but stayed on as GM. Dan McDonald was the new head coach, with former Portland Winter Hawks star Jim Dobson as the assistant.
Disaster struck on Dec. 30 when the Broncos, en route to Regina to play the Pats, were involved in a bus accident. Four players — Scott Kruger, Trent Kresse, Brent Ruff and Chris Mantyka — were killed.
“There has never been anything more devastating that has happened to me personally,” Ed Chynoweth, the WHL president, said. “The question I keep asking myself is ‘Why?’ My heart goes out to all the parents and the people involved. I wish someone would call and say this is all a mistake.”
John Foster, the Broncos’ publicity director, said: “This team will band together and win it for those guys who died. The (survivors) were absolutely professional under stress. If the people of Swift Current could have seen them, they would have been proud.”
There was never any thought of the team not continuing. As team president John Rittinger said: “It’s up to the players and the fans now. We aren’t ready to throw in the towel.”
Defenceman Ed Brost, talking about the club’s next game, stated: “It will be difficult. To go right back out on the ice would be cheating ourselves emotionally and physically. Right now people have to remember athletes are human beings, not robots.”
Moose Jaw centre Theoren Fleury was in Czechoslovakia with Canada’s national junior team at the time of the accident.
“I just can’t believe it,” Fleury said. “I just sat on the bus all the way to practice today thinking about what’s going on with all those guys on that team right now. It just blows me away. I don’t know what to say. There’s nothing we can do about it and I think being helpless is the most frustrating thing about it.”
As if losing four players in the accident wasn’t enough, Herman Kruger, 67, suffered a fatal heart attack as he entered the church for his great-grandson’s funeral.
And later the same day, Sauter and Regina trainer Stan Szumlak came to the rescue of Keith Giles, a member of the Prince Albert executive, who was choking on some food.
Donations in memory of the players poured into the Broncos’ office and an education fund was set up in their memory. Another fund was started to raise money that would go towards the cost of replacing the bus.
On Feb. 2, a longtime veteran of the WHL’s coaching wars returned for one last fling when John Chapman replaced Wally Kozak behind the bench of the Calgary Wranglers. Chapman also was the Calgary GM.
On Feb. 15, Portland won a game in Spokane and Ken Hodge took over as the winningest coach in WHL history. His 547 victories were one more than Ernie McLean.
Tragedy struck the WHL again on March 1 when Regina centre Brad Hornung was checked into the end boards at the Agridome and suffered a broken neck.
Dr. Chris Ekong, a neurosurgeon, said Hornung suffered a burst fracture of the third cervical vertebrae and a crushed spinal cord. “Brad has no feelings in his arms and legs,” Dr. Ekong said. “He is completely paralysed from the neck down.”
Hornung would never regain the use of his arms and legs, but that didn’t stop him from going on with his life.
As the WHL completed its 25th season, Hornung was continuing with his education, taking courses at the University of Regina.
Despite the bus accident, Swift Current made the playoffs in its first season. But there wouldn’t be a Cinderella story as the Broncos dropped a best-of-five series to Prince Albert, 3-1.
April was highlighted by three coaching changes — Esdale’s contract wasn’t renewed by Spokane, Kvisle resigned in Moose Jaw and McLean stepped aside in New Westminster.
And Medicine Hat won the WHL championship. The Tigers faced elimination twice in each of their last two series, and dumped visiting Portland 7-2 in the seventh game of the championship final.
The Tigers would win their first of two consecutive Memorial Cup championships, the first under Maxwell, the second under Barry Melrose. Both came with Russ Farwell as general manager.
John Van Horlick took over as coach in New Westminster for 1987-88, with
Butch Goring the coach in Spokane. Jim Harrison was the new head coach in Moose Jaw, with Ed Staniowski his assistant. Harrison and Roy, the GM, were friends from their days in Estevan, while Staniowski was a former all-star goaltender with Regina.
And the WHL was returning to Lethbridge. The Tier One Junior Hockey Club of Lethbridge purchased the Wranglers for about $350,000 from Brian Ekstrom. The Lethbridge franchise would be called the Hurricanes, causing Lethbridge Herald columnist Pat Sullivan to wonder if the logo would be an overturned mobile home.
The sale also meant that there wouldn’t be a franchise in the city in which the WHL office was located. But the office wasn’t about to be moved.
“It was decided that it was certainly the most central location for our league,” Chynoweth said.
Going into the new season, the WHL passed a rule cracking down on checking from behind.
“We do use (NHL) rules and the NHL doesn’t have hitting from behind instituted in its rule book,” Chynoweth said, “but I predict that within two years the NHL will have the same rule.”
That is exactly what happened.
There was change in the WHL’s boardroom, too, as Portland’s Brian Shaw stepped down as chairman of the board and was replaced by Saskatoon’s Rick Brodsky.
On June 5, Swift Current celebrated its first birthday by revealing the franchise was no longer in debt.
Rittinger said: “We bought the franchise and we borrowed money to buy the franchise. So we took the season-ticket money to pay the bank loan off. The bank loan is paid off. We don’t owe the bank anything. And that’s incredible because we just got the franchise last year.”
Maxwell left Medicine Hat, joining the Los Angeles Kings as an assistant coach. Lethbridge named Glen Hawker as its first GM/head coach. Before the season started, Lethbridge reorganized, with Wayne Simpson taking over as GM.
On July 6, Hornung, in his first interview since being injured, told the Regina Leader-Post: “You have to accept it. Life goes on and you do the best with what you have. At first, it was a time of change, shock really, but right now, it’s actually gotten easier because you get used to the adjustments. Like everybody else, I have my good days and bad days. But I don’t have many bad days.”
Separate pregame warmups came to the WHL on Sept. 28.
With Seattle off to a 2-15-0 start, owner Earl Hale told Ferguson, the GM, to take a leave of absence. On Nov. 16, Ferguson was fired. A couple of weeks later, Hawker was fired in Lethbridge, where Blaine Galbraith took over. And on Dec. 8, Moose Jaw fired Harrison and hired Gerry James, the only person to have played in a Grey Cup game and Stanley Cup final in the same season.
On Feb. 2, Saskatoon beat Regina 7-2 before 3,308 fans in the final game at the Saskatoon Arena. Regina coach Doug Sauter, for one, was glad to see the end of the old barn: “I get screwed every time I come in here and I haven’t been kissed yet.”
One week later, on Feb. 9, Saskatoon beat Brandon 4-3 in front of 9,343 fans at Saskatchewan Place. Chynoweth announced prior to the game that the 1989 Memorial Cup would be played in Saskatoon.
On March 11, amidst rumours that the Warriors were on the verge of major financial problems, it was announced that Roy’s contract wouldn’t be renewed.
WHL attendance figures compiled by the Regina Leader-Post showed that Swift Current drew 82,080 fans to 36 home games, which was 99 per cent of capacity. Portland led in total attendance — 200,911. The league drew 1,405,874 fans, an increase of almost 80,000 over the previous season.
For the first time in league history, the scoring race ended in a dead heat.
Two centres — Fleury and Swift Current’s Joe Sakic — finished the regular season with 160 points. Sakic had 78 goals, Fleury 68. But there was nothing in the WHL bylaws to deal with the situation so the scoring race was ruled a tie.
The rumours were true — there were financial problems in Moose Jaw. The Warriors began sorting things out by separating the hockey side of things from the business side. With an accumulated debt of $234,000, Joe Celentano, a former referee with basketball’s Harlem Globetrotters, was hired as business manager.
On April 17, Medicine Hat beat visiting Saskatoon 3-0 to win its third straight East Division title. The only other team to win three consecutive East titles was the Flin Flon Bombers, beginning in 1968-69.
On May 3, the Tigers beat visiting Kamloops 5-2 to win their second straight WHL title, this one in six games.
The very next day, Bob Vranckaert, who was in the construction business in Alaska, said he would like to put an expansion franchise in Anchorage in time for the 1990-91 season. Born in Drumheller, Alta., and raised in Burnaby, B.C., Vranckaert spent more than 20 years in general commercial construction 800 miles north of Anchorage.
The WHL said it would play two exhibition and four regular-season games in Anchorage and use that, plus the 1989 world junior championship, which was to be held in Anchorage, as a barometer.
On May 8, the Pats announced that Sauter’s contract wouldn’t be renewed.
A week later, Sauter’s old team, the Tigers, beat the Windsor Spitfires 7-6 in Chicoutimi to become the sixth team in the 70-year history of the Memorial Cup to win back-to-back championships.
The board in Moose Jaw put H.J. (Toby) Tobias in charge and then resigned en masse. Tobias was empowered to chair a committee whose immediate responsibility was to carry on a fund-raising campaign aimed at erasing the club’s debt. The immediate goal was to raise $150,000.
Tobias said he would look into the team’s accounting procedures, recommend constitutional changes and appoint an auditor to present a year-end statement at the club’s annual meeting.
“To me it’s a four-stage project,” Tobias said. “Stage 1: Solve the immediate debt crisis and give us some breathing room. Step 2: Have a look at the front office and see if there are some things we can tighten up. Stage 3: Come up with a budget we can live with in years to come. Stage 4: Make sure fund-raising becomes a year-round effort.”
In mid-May, Pezzin resigned as coach in Brandon. He would be replaced by Sauter, who was reunited with Shinske. The two were old friends, going back to the Estevan and New Westminster Bruins. Sobchuk replaced Sauter in Regina.
Celentano resigned in Moose Jaw, saying: “By my staying I become just another liability, one of those accounts payable that they have to make every day, and they don’t have the money.”
On May 31, Tobias announced that the Warriors had reached their goal of $151,800. That figure covered debts accrued up until March 31. Tobias said: “The phoenix has risen from the ashes. The financial health of the club remains fragile . . . but it’s business as usual from here on in.”
Indications were that New Westminster owner Ron Dixon would move the franchise to the Tri-Cities area of Washington State. He just happened to be building an arena, the Tri-Cities Coliseum, there.
In July, Farwell and Melrose resigned in Medicine Hat. Shortly after, they signed in Seattle. Wes Phillips was named GM in Medicine Hat and hired Ron Kennedy, a former Estevan player, as coach. Before the season started, Phillips quit, citing business and family pressures, and Tim Speltz replaced him.
Peter Anholt was named head coach in Prince Albert, where Wilson quit to join the L.A. Kings as an assistant coach. Brad Tippett was the GM in Prince Albert.
The WHL arrived in Anchorage on the weekend of Sept. 24 and 25, 1988.
Kamloops and Portland played two exhibition games in Anchorage, drawing 2,100 to the first game and 1,750 the next night.
A shakeup occurred in Spokane. It started on Oct. 14 when Spokane GM Bob Strumm acquired six players while giving up four others in trades that involved three other teams. The Chiefs were 1-4-0 and had given up 33 goals in those five games.
Twelve days later, with the Chiefs 2-9-0, Strumm relieved Goring of his duties. Strumm, with a three-year contract extension that would take him through the 1991-92 season, went behind the bench, went 2-4-0 and immediately installed Gary Braun as coach.
On Nov. 11, Moose Jaw dumped Gerry James and installed Kvisle as head coach/director of hockey operations.
Three days later, Regina shook up things. Sobchuk moved from coach to GM, with Bernie Lynch moving up from assistant coach to head coach.
It was announced on Nov. 17 that Vranckaert had purchased the Victoria Cougars from Fraser McColl. Ownership actually had changed hands 10 days after the end of the season.
“Bob has been after me for a long time,” McColl said. “He wants to get into the business with a passion. And, perhaps, that’s the type of enthusiasm this team needs right now.”
On Nov. 20, the Tri-City Americans, having played their first 17 games on the road because the Coliseum wasn’t ready, opened at home with a 4-3 overtime victory over Seattle in front of a sellout crowd of 6,004.
Swift Current started the season with 12 straight victories, and went into the Christmas break at 28-5-0 and on a 10-game winning streak. Referring to the bus accident of two years previous, James said: “I think the bus accident galvanized the spirit of the community. I think that was a catalyst. Since then we’ve had to provide a product that’s been worthy of fans coming, but I think that incident certainly rallied the community.”
Added centre Tim Tisdale: “That’s all anybody in town talks about. It’s hard to believe. You go downtown and you’re eating in a restaurant and everybody at the next table is talking about the Broncos. It definitely helps your hockey.”
There was big news out of Calgary on Jan. 3, 1989, when Petr Nedved, a centre with a midget team from Litvinov, Czechoslovakia, defected after a midget tournament. His WHL rights belonged to Moose Jaw, but the Warriors would deal them to Seattle.
The season wasn’t over when Spokane owner Vic Fitzgerald said that Braun wouldn’t be returning.
On March 14, Chynoweth revealed that the WHL “had an inquiry from Terry Simpson about putting a team in Red Deer. They would have to get a new building.” A conditional franchise was sold to Simpson on Aug. 12, 1991. The Rebels would begin play in the fall of 1992.
Attendance figures compiled by The Regina Leader-Post showed that attendance was up 232,951 over 1987-88. Most of that was attributable to the first-year Americans who attracted 203,532 fans, which was 156,149 more than they drew the previous season in New Westminster.
There was a change in Seattle on April 11 when Medicine Hat businessman Bill Yuill bought the Thunderbirds from Earl Hale of Calgary.
The usual spate of front-office changes began in earnest with the news that: 1. Galbraith would not be back in Lethbridge; 2. Al Patterson, who quit in Victoria after the season ended, had signed as Tri-City’s GM; 3. Ron Byrne had signed as the GM in Victoria; 4. Sobchuk had resigned as GM in Regina; 5. Shinske had resigned in Brandon; and, 6. Tippett had quit in P.A.
Swift Current won 4-1 in Portland on April 30 to sweep the Winter Hawks in the championship final. The Broncos became the first team to sweep its way to the WHL championship — they also got past Moose Jaw and Saskatoon in four games each. The Broncos, just a season and a half after having four players killed in a bus accident, went 55-16-1, the best record in the CHL.
“This is a great accomplishment for our franchise,” James said. “But I don’t want the Memorial Cup to decide if we had a great year.”
Tisdale added: “We have the team to do it this year. If we can’t get up for four games, we don’t belong there. I’ll be disappointed if we don’t win the Memorial Cup.”
On May 14, Tisdale’s goal at 3:25 of the first sudden-death overtime period gave the Broncos a 4-3 victory over Saskatoon in the final game of the Memorial Cup. The game was played in front of 9.078 fans in Saskatchewan Place and brought to an end the most successful Memorial Cup tournament ever played.
Shortly after the Memorial Cup, the changes continued: 1. Lynch found out his contract in Regina wouldn’t be renewed; 2. Rick Kozuback signed a two-year contract as coach with Tri-City; 3. Simpson returned to Prince Albert as GM/head coach; 4. Bill Hicke was named GM in Regina; 5. Tippett signed as Regina’s head coach; 5. Maxwell returned from L.A. to sign as co-coach and director of hockey operations in Spokane; 6. Braun was Spokane’s co-coach and assistant director of hockey operations; 7. Melrose left Seattle to become head coach of the AHL’s Adirondack Red Wings; 8. Marcel Comeau signed a two-year deal in Saskatoon but shortly after resigned to become head coach of the AHL’s New Haven Nighthawks; 9. Anholt quit in P.A. to join Seattle as head coach; 10. Rob Daum signed as assistant coach/assistant manager in P.A.; and, 11. Terry Ruskowski signed to coach the Blades.
On June 14, 1989, Moose Jaw, so close to financial ruin just one year earlier, revealed at its annual meeting that there was a paper profit of $119,722 and that the Warriors had about $40,000 in the bank.
At its annual meeting, the WHL had two major announcements. It had decided for the first time to use full-time referees. “We’re hoping it leads to more consistent, professional refereeing,” Regina governor Ted Knight said. By the time all was said and done, the WHL had hired eight full-time and four part-time referees.
The WHL also said it would no longer allow teams to list 13-year-old players. From that point on, 14-year-olds would count for two spots on a list, players 15 and older for one.
Seattle set a single-game attendance record on Oct. 7 when 12,173 fans showed up to watch the Thunderbirds edge Portland, 4-3. “We could have sold 2,000 more tickets,” Seth Landau, the club’s director of marketing and public relations, said. “We were sold out the day before the game.” The previous attendance record belonged to Portland, which had attracted capacity crowds of 10,437 to Memorial Coliseum on numerous occasions.
The first coaching change came on Oct. 15 when Naka resigned in Victoria. Lyle Moffat replaced him.
On Nov. 1, Ken Hitchcock, 36 years of age and in the neighbourhood of 400 pounds, went public with the news that he was going on a serious diet.
“There comes a time in life when it becomes a case of now or never,” said the popular coach of the Kamloops Blazers. “I look down the road four or five years from now, what do I want to be doing? If that’s what I have to do to move up the ladder, that’s what I have to do.”
Victoria made another coaching change on Nov. 13 with Garry Cunningham becoming the Cougars’ third coach of the season. Moffat stayed on as marketing director.
A lawsuit launched by Hornung was settled out of court in November. Thirteen defendants, including the WHL, were named in the suit launched in July of 1987. Details of the settlement weren’t made public.
At a WHL board of governors’ meeting on Nov. 20, the chair switched bodies again. It was a case of deja vu, with Shaw taking over from Brodsky.
On Dec. 17, Sauter was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a disorder that strikes at the central nervous system. He would not return to coaching until late in the 1990-91 season when he finished the winter with the SJHL’s Estevan Bruins. Brandon GM Kelly McCrimmon moved in behind Brandon’s bench.
There was a player revolt in Tri-City when Dixon named Bill LaForge director of player personnel. LaForge said he had a five-year contract.
On Dec. 31, with Portland scheduled to play in Tri-City, the Americans players refused. A statement signed by 19 players read in part: “We will definitely not participate in any further games without the termination of Mr. Bill LaForge from the Americans organization.”
The players ended their holdout the next day, winning 8-4 in Portland. Dixon had contacted players earlier in the day and said LaForge would no longer have any contact with them.
Defenceman Colin Ruck later explained the Tri-City deal: “He came into the dressing room screaming and cutting guys down. To get to us, he said we had to call him Coach. He had (coach) Rick Kozuback picking up pucks during practice. That really upset us. Bill came out and ran a really brutal practice. We felt we had to do something.”
Byrne was gone as Victoria’s GM before January ended, while Cunningham was out as coach on Feb. 5. Moffat went back behind the bench. The Cougars would set a CHL record, losing 29 in a row.
On Feb. 7, Seattle centre Glen Goodall had an assist in a 5-3 victory over visiting Tri-City to break the WHL record for most points in a career. That lifted his point total to 530, one more than Craig Endean, who had played with Seattle and Regina.
Two nights later, Seattle broke the WHL single-game attendance record as 12,253 fans watched a 5-3 victory over Spokane.
Figures compiled by the Regina Leader-Post showed that attendance totalled 1,678,651, up about 40,000 over the previous season. Tri-City, which sold out every home game, led the way with total attendance of 216,360. Saskatoon, in its first full season in Saskatchewan Place, played in front of 209,542 fans. Seattle, which finished with its best-ever record (52-17-3; the best previous was 32-28-12 in 1977-78), drew 181,211 fans, up 66,189 from a year previous.
On March 28, Chynoweth admitted that two groups had applied for an expansion franchise for Tacoma, Wash.
The Spokane franchise changed hands on April 10, with Fitzgerald selling to the Brett brothers — Bobby, George and Ken — for more than $600,000. Bob Brett wouldn’t say what they paid, other than to say it was “too much.”
The postseason changes started in April when Speltz and Kennedy learned that Medicine Hat wouldn’t renew their contracts, and Rick Hopper was named head coach/director of hockey operations in Victoria. Jack Shupe, the Tigers’ first GM/head coach in 1970-71, was the new GM in Medicine Hat. He hired Tim Bothwell as coach.
On April 29, Kamloops scored a 6-5 overtime victory in Lethbridge to win the WHL final in five games. Kamloops lost the opener and then won four straight. The Blazers struck out at the Memorial Cup, though, as the Oshawa Generals, with Eric Lindros, won it all in Hamilton.
There was much expansion talk in the WHL, resulting in this comment from Brodsky: “It’s sort of like being in love. If you have to ask yourself whether you’re in love, you’re probably not. If we’re wondering why we should expand, then maybe we’re forcing the issue a bit. If expansion is right, we’ll know it.”
Farwell left Seattle to become GM of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers. Anholt added the GM’s nameplate to his door, and hired assistant GM Dennis Beyak from Saskatoon. Beyak had been in Saskatoon since 1981 and was the person deemed most responsible for the success of the 1989 Memorial Cup in Saskatoon.
Simpson left Prince Albert again, this time to become an assistant coach with the Winnipeg Jets. Daum was promoted to replace him.
There were shockwaves in Kamloops when Hitchcock resigned after six seasons with the Blazers. He signed as an assistant coach with Philadelphia. Tom Renney replaced Hitchcock, who left with a 291-125-15 regular-season record over six seasons, his .693 winning percentage the highest of any coach in WHL history.
Leaving wasn’t easy for Hitchcock, who said: “I got cold feet a couple of times. I almost went into (GM) Bob Brown’s office and said, ‘Call the whole thing off, I don’t want to go.’ ”
On Sept. 30, Chynoweth chatted about expansion: “There are what I like to call tire-kickers in Boise, Idaho; Eugene, Oregon; and, Tacoma, Washington. The WHL is in good shape and we’re aggressive to expand by one, possibly two teams in the West Division sometime soon. We are coming off our second record-setting attendance season. We’re also proud of the fact that this is the third year in a row we aren’t opening a new site. Believe it or not, but we’re stable.”
Bruce Hamilton, a former player and scout with the Blades, headed a group of Saskatoon and Tacoma investors who were eventually granted a franchise for Tacoma to start with the 1991-92 season.
On Oct. 30, with the 1990-91 season one month old, one night before Halloween, James went wild in Swift Current. Upset with referee Kevin Muench after the Broncos turned a 7-3 second-period lead into a 9-8 loss to visiting Medicine Hat, James went on to the ice in pursuit of Muench, then returned to the bench and threw sticks and water bottles onto the ice. James then removed his jacket, tie, shirt and one shoe and threw them onto the ice before his players escorted him to the dressing room.
Bothwell summed it up: “All I can say is, ‘Wow.’ I don’t know what words can describe what happened out there, from a lot of different aspects.”
James was suspended for six games and fined $2,000. “At least they didn’t ask me for the shirt off my back,” he said. The incident would show up on video on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and the David Letterman Show among others.
There was some silliness in Spokane, too. On Dec. 6, with Tri-City visiting Spokane, Maxwell and Americans assistant Gerry Johannson got into it after first period.
Here’s Maxwell: “He was waiting for me. He was yapping at me. He challenged me and I accepted the challenge.” Maxwell was said to have out-punched his opponent, 4-0.
Here’s Johansson: “He throws punches like marshmallows.”
Maxwell was suspended for three games and fined $500. Johansson got hit for $1,000 and four games.
Remember that $1 parking fee in Regina? Well, on Dec. 17, Regina Exhibition Park announced it was doubling it to $2. “I don’t think our fans will take very kindly to it if it does happen,” said co-owner/GM Bill Hicke. “If that’s the case it’ll drive another nail in the coffin.”
The Pats’ lease would expire after the 1990-91 season and Hicke had already made at least one trip into the Pacific Northwest to scout buildings.
A change in Prince Albert had Dale Engel move in as GM, with Rob Daum giving up that title but staying on as coach. It was no surprise when Daum left P.A. for Swift Current at season’s end.
On Feb. 4, Saskatoon fired head coach Terry Ruskowski, replacing him with former Blades defenceman Bob Hoffmeyer.
On March 17, Seattle was awarded the 1992 Memorial Cup.
The Leader-Post’s attendance figures showed that Tri-City, with 36 sellouts, again topped the WHL with 216,360 fans. Seattle was next at 215,248, up 34,037 from the season previous. But overall attendance was down 22,861 to 1,655,790.
On April 17, Marcel Comeau was named the first head coach of the Tacoma Rockets. Hamilton would be the GM, with Lorne Frey, most recently with Swift Current, as director of player personnel.
Spokane scored a 7-2 victory over home-town Lethbridge to sweep the WHL final. The Chiefs would go on to win the Memorial Cup, with goaltender Trevor Kidd and right-winger Pat Falloon wrapping up dream seasons. Both played for the Canadian junior team that won the gold medal in Saskatoon.
One thing more than any other summed up the WHL as it headed into its second 25 years. When the 1991-92 season opened, the league not only had the same 14 teams for the fourth consecutive season, but it had welcomed the Tacoma Rockets to the fold.