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.
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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.
At some point in the late 1990s, while I was the sports editor at the Regina Leader-Post, I put together a brief history of the Western Hockey League. I had pretty much forgotten about it until recently when I was asked if I might post it again. So I am in the process of doing just that. . . . 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 that are posted here are pretty much as originally written. . . . Here is Part 2. . . .
When the 1970-71 season ended, the Western Canada Hockey League was still very much a prairie circuit, what with 10 teams spread over Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
But that wasn’t the case when the 1971-72 season rolled around.
By then, there were three teams in British Columbia — Ernie McLean and Bill Shinske had packed up their Estevan Bruins, moved west and taken up residence in New Westminster, and two expansion franchises, the Vancouver Nats and Victoria Cougars, had set up shop. (Interestingly, the Nats’ logo used an apostrophe — Nat’s — but in print the nickname always seemed to be Nats.)
The WCHL had, indeed, become a western league.
And there would be just two franchise shifts (Vancouver to Kamloops, Swift Current to Lethbridge) by the time the league completed its 10th season in the spring of 1976.
But it was an announcement out of New York that made the biggest news in the summer of ’71. Bill Hunter, one of the WCHL’s founding fathers, was involved, as was Ben Hatskin (Winnipeg). It would change the face of hockey forever.
“We announced we’d start the World Hockey Association with 12 franchises and we would have parity,” Hunter said.
In an interview in 1988, Hunter maintained he wanted nothing to do with drafting under-age juniors.
“Ben (Hatskin) and I made an agreement with the CAHA (Canadian Amateur Hockey Association) that we would not sign under-age juniors,” Hunter recalled. “The NHL made the same agreement. We had two separate meetings. The very next day: Baby Bulls.”
The WHA’s Birmingham Bulls signed half-a-dozen under-age juniors, including Rob Ramage and Ken Linesman.
“We couldn’t control the owners within our league,” Hunter said.
Prior to the birth of the WHA, the WCHL was the only game in town everywhere but Vancouver. In the next few years, pro hockey would come to Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg and junior hockey would lose out in the process.
Everyone was fighting with someone in those days, on and off the ice. The juniors in the west, in Ontario and in Quebec were fighting with the NHL, with the WHA, with the CAHA, with themselves.
The WHA continued to romance under-age juniors. Dennis Sobchuk, a flashy centre with the Regina Pats, was courted by the Los Angeles Sharks after his second WCHL season.
The House of Commons in Ottawa threatened to get involved. WCHL president Ed Chynoweth said his league was thinking about obtaining an injunction against players who sign pro contracts while still holding junior eligibility.
The action off the ice was hot and heavy. It’s a wonder they could find time to play the games.
The Edmonton Oil Kings had won the 1971-72 championship, their second straight and the last junior title that city would win. But it was the Medicine Hat Tigers, in only their second season, who had everyone talking.
The Tigers, with Tom Lysiak winning the scoring title and Stan Weir and Lanny McDonald finishing second and eighth respectively, were fourth in the West Division, five games over .500.
That was a harbinger because the Tigers, coached by Jack Shupe, won it all the next season, in only their third season of operation. Lysiak won his second straight scoring title, with McDonald finishing third.
It was at meetings in Medicine Hat in February of 1973 that the WCHL took a giant step forward, announcing plans to establish an office, with a full-time administrative staff, in Saskatoon. Chynoweth would replace Thomas K. Fisher of New Westminster as executive secretary.
And there was more talk of shifting franchises. Lethbridge was on the verge of getting a $2-million sports centre for the 1975 Canada Winter Games.
The first mention of Lethbridge actually getting a franchise came on Feb. 15, 1973, when Chynoweth, in discussing possible franchise moves, said: “Swift Current is another possibility, even though (owner) Bill Burton would like to keep the club in that city. Economically, it might not be possible.”
Meanwhile, Regina Pats owner Del Wilson said he was tired of “scrimping and saving, trying to operate in a building like (Exhibition) Stadium. It’s like beating your head against a brick wall.”
Regina met the Flin Flon Bombers in the first round of playoffs in ’73. The series opened in Flin Flon with the Bombers winning, 3-1 and 5-3. There was no Agridome in Regina then and Exhibition Stadium was booked by the annual Regina Horse Show. So, the Pats played their home games in Moose Jaw, and lost, 5-1 and 4-3.
A glorious season awaited the Pats, though, as they would win the Memorial Cup in the spring of 1974. Under coach Bob Turner, the former Montreal Canadiens defenceman and five-time Stanley Cup champion, the Pats became the first WCHL team to win the Canadian championship.
Edmonton had won it in 1966, the year before the major junior league was formed. Between ’66 and ’74 the WCHL wasn’t always eligible for the Memorial Cup, what with the CAHA outlawing it at various times.
By the time that 1973-74 season arrived, the Vancouver Nats were gone, purchased by Kamloops interests and reborn as the Chiefs.
There was concern, too, over the Winnipeg Junior Jets, who were struggling because of the presence of the WHA. Ben Hatskin soothed the troubled waters, saying he didn’t “plan to sell the franchise, or move it out of Winnipeg.” Shortly after, Hatskin sold it and the team was renamed the Clubs.
At the 1973 annual meeting in Saskatoon, Chynoweth, who had joined the league in December of 1972 as assistant executive secretary and was named executive secretary in February of 1973, was named president.
On July 16, it was revealed that the WCHL, Ontario Hockey Association Junior A Series and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League had united under the umbrella of the Canadian Major Junior Hockey League.
It was during the 1973-74 season where things started to get out hand on the ice.
On Oct. 12, 1973, a brawl between Swift Current and Regina spread to the stands. Three days later, the WCHL had a board meeting in Regina and put the onus for increased security on its teams and arena operators.
Unfortunately, people in Regina were slow to react to this directive and the Broncos were in the stands during a playoff game on April 20. Three days later, two Broncos — Dave Williams and Terry Ruskowski — were charged by police.
On Aug. 23, Ruskowski and Williams were fined a total of $450, both pleading guilty to charges of common assault.
The two “disgraced themselves,” said Judge Howard Boyce. “Hockey is considered tops with many among body contact sports. It contains controlled violence. When control and direction are lost, it deteriorates into a criminal spectacle and that’s what happened.”
It would happen again and again through the 1970s.
On March 27, 1974, Chynoweth took what was then believed to be a drastic step. He announced that an undercover agent (an official from a neutral team) would attend each playoff game. It is a policy the league follows to this day.
There were good things happening on the ice, too. After centre Ron Chipperfield scored three goals in a 3- 1 victory in Regina, Brandon Wheat Kings GM/head coach Rudy Pilous said: “Ron Chipperfield is the greatest box-office attraction this league has ever had or ever will have.” Chipperfield would score 261 goals in 252 games, a career record that stood until 1989-90 when Glen Goodall (Seattle Thunderbirds) finished with 262 goals (in 399 games).
By late in the 1973-74 season, the Pats were talking about moving. “We certainly don’t want to leave Regina but we may be forced to,” Wilson said, admitting that he had talked with operators of the Spokane Coliseum. “Like I said before, we don’t want to leave Regina. But unless there is a firm commitment on a new building forthcoming, we have no other choice but to look elsewhere.”
And by now Burton was admitting that he was thinking of moving: “I will be in Lethbridge to discuss the move with a committee they have formed to study the possibility of joining the league.”
The Broncos changed cities on May 6.
On April 30, 1974, things heated up as Sobchuk signed a 10-year, $1.7-million contract with the WHA’s Cincinnati Stingers. Charles Hillinger of The Los Angeles Times wrote: “The kid earns only $300 a month. Come fall his paycheque soars to $472 a day, $14,166 a month, $170,000 a year.”
Sobchuk was thrilled: “I’ve been skating since I learned to walk, but I sure never expected anything like this. It all happened so sudden. My name on a piece of paper and I’ve gone from farmhouse to penthouse.”
Two weeks later, Chynoweth revealed the three major junior leagues were looking at using a limited number of 20-year-old players to compensate for losing under-age players to the pros.
The 1974-75 season signalled the beginning of the New Westminster dynasty. Shinske, McLean and the Bruins would win four straight league titles.
But before that happened, there were some interesting developments.
On Oct. 17, 1974, Chynoweth, Wilson and Scotty Munro were given the OK by the board to visit Spokane.
“Regina has the right of first refusal on the Spokane question,” Chynoweth said, “but we are just testing the waters.”
They were also to visit Portland, the first time the Oregon city had been mentioned publicly as a possible franchise site.
On Jan. 14, 1975, the stuff hit the fan as the WCHL announced it had decided to withdraw from the CAHA. The WCHL said it would increase its age limit from 19 to 20 and would seek separate agreements with NHL and WHA.
“We now will control our own destiny and we’re through dealing through a third party (CAHA) comprised of people who have no direct investment in the sport,” Chynoweth said. “We operate a $1-million business and some guy who doesn’t own one puck comes along and tells us what to do. It’s time we started looking after ourselves.”
At the time, the WCHL claimed the NHL and WHA owed it $640,000 for players drafted in 1974.
“Eight NHL clubs and six from the WHA have yet to pay for players they’ve been using since October,” said Chynoweth. “We have an obligation to support minor hockey leagues, our source of supply, and we’ll live up to any agreements we make. All we ask is that the pro leagues do the same.”
Chynoweth was quickly becoming one of the most popular hockey people in the country. Accessible and blessed with a dry wit, the media was going to him with more and more frequency.
In the press box at the Calgary Corral one night, Chynoweth was clowning with the press. Chatting about some of the owners who were losing money, he said: “You know something. When it comes to it, we’ve got some guys in this league who wouldn’t get to first base in a women’s prison with a handful of pardons.”
Chynoweth continued to have his hands full with the likes of Pat Ginnell, who by now was in Victoria as head coach of the Cougars, and McLean. At one point, Chynoweth fined and suspended Ginnell, who in turn threatened to hit Chynoweth with an injunction.
Then, on March 11, 1975, McLean became physically involved with Regina sportscaster Mal Isaac and police were called. McLean was hit with a five-game suspension and had to post a $1,000 bond.
The Pats announced on April 30 that they would stay in Regina and that a new building should be completed by Christmas of 1976.
The Bruins, down 3-2 in the best-of-seven final to Saskatoon, won 4-1 and 7-2 to claim the title. They became only the second B.C. team, after the Trail Smoke Eaters in 1944, to advance to the Memorial Cup final.
“We moved the franchise here from Estevan four years ago,” McLean said, “and it’s taken us that long to get the farm system where we want it. We’ve got a solid system now with plenty of good, young talent on the way and we’re going to be OK for a long time.”
He was right.
But before the Bruins could continue to build their dynasty, the WCHL turned down expansion bids from Portland and Vancouver. Brian Shaw, coach of the WHA’s Edmonton Oilers, Nat Bailey and Oil Kings coach Ken Hodge wanted to move the Oil Kings to Vancouver. Of course, Shaw and Hodge would later move the team to Portland.
The 1975-76 season would be perhaps the ugliest in WCHL history.
It began with Victoria mayor Peter Pollen leaving his seat to have a heated discussion with Ginnell in the middle of a game against Calgary. Pollen, angry after a 20-minute second-period brawl, left his seat behind the penalty bench, circled the rink, climbed on the Cougars’ bench and gave Ginnell a tongue-lashing.
“I asked him if he was going to get his animals under control,” Pollen explained. “Is this the example we set for our young people? This is a complete disgrace. If I have my way, they won’t play here anymore. This isn’t sport — it’s barbarism.”
On Nov. 4, Ginnell said he had proposed two rule changes that were designed to reduce fighting and that both would soon come into effect. One forced players not involved in a fight to go immediately to the player benches or be given game misconducts. The other called for a match penalty and a suspension for anyone charging a goaltender in his crease.
Twelve days later, Ginnell was hit with a game misconduct after he jumped on the ice to protest a game misconduct that had been given to one of his players.
It was on Feb. 20 when the situation bottomed out.
In Saskatoon, Blades defenceman Bryan Baron was struck in one eye by a high stick belonging to Victoria’s Tim Williams. That touched off a brawl involving all players, and it took 50 minutes before play was resumed.
Moments before the brawl, Saskatoon’s Bruce Hamilton, who would go on to own the Tacoma/Kelowna Rockets, was taken to hospital with a concussion. He later was joined by Glen Leggott, who got a concussion in the brawl. And teammate Fred Williams needed 14 stitches to close a cut.
Before this one blew over, politicians at the city and provincial levels were involved, as were police. On Feb. 22, Saskatoon council, fearing another outbreak of violence, voted unanimously to shut down the Arena for the evening, forcing postponement of the rematch.
On Feb. 24, Ginnell resigned as coach of the Cougars during a 4-1/2 hour governors’ meeting in Saskatoon. He returned for the playoffs and apparently never was fined or suspended for the brawl. Ginnell said he wasn’t pressured into resigning, but “if I am responsible for violence in hockey, I don’t want to be in it.”
With the Bruins in Saskatoon on Feb. 24, Blades coach Jack McLeod and McLean signed an agreement in which they pledged to do everything in their power to see that the game was played within all rules and regulations for proper conduct. New Westminster took five of eight minors and won the game, 5-2.
On March 16, three players — Victoria’s Greg Tebbutt and Williams and Saskatoon’s Peter Goertz — were charged with assault causing bodily harm. The charges later were dismissed.
Amidst everything, Chynoweth offered his resignation. “It isn’t a play for more money; it is simply that there is too much hassle,” he reasoned. “It is starting to bother me that all my friends in Saskatoon are going to the airport to take flights out for winter holidays. I go to the airport and fly to Flin Flon.”
Some of the hassle was relieved when it was announced the league office would move from Saskatoon to Calgary at season’s end.
Meanwhile, Shaw and Hodge put together a group that bought the Oil Kings from World Hockey Enterprises, owners of the WHA’s Oilers, for more than $150,000.
And Chynoweth revealed in January that the WCHL was increasing its playoff teams from eight to 10. “We added the two teams simply for financial reasons,” Chynoweth said.
Still, the goofiness wouldn’t go away.
Lethbridge coach Mike Sauter and defenceman Darcy Regier, who wasn’t dressed for the game, spent almost two hours in a Medicine Hat jail after a bench-clearing incident.
Winnipeg owner/GM/coach Gerry Brisson pulled his team from the ice in New Westminster. The game, won by the Bruins 17-0, was delayed 30 minutes after Winnipeg’s best player, defenceman Kevin McCarthy, had his nose broken in the first minute of play. “I think (McLean) recruits his players in a lumber camp,” Brisson said. “Playing in New Westminster is like sending a pig to slaughter, and hoping he comes out alive.”
McLean responded: “Whatever happens in our building we get blamed for it. The other teams know they can start anything and we’ll end up getting blamed for it.”
Through it all, the Bruins rolled to title No. 2. But the march to the title was marred by an incident involving McLean and linesman Harvey Hildebrandt.
On April 30, McLean was fined for criticizing the officiating in a 10-3 loss to the host Saskatoon Blades in the championship series. That night, during a game his team would lose 9-3 in Saskatoon to even the eight-point series at 4-4, McLean reached over the boards and yanked the toupee off Hildebrandt’s head. It was in the third period and the Blades had just scored their eighth goal.
“Losing causes some coaches to grasp at straws,” wrote Lyndon Little of the Vancouver Sun. “Ernie McLean grabs toupees.”
McLean had to post a $5,000 personal performance bond before the next game.
On June 11, the WCHL headed south of the 49th as Shaw announced the Oil Kings would move to Portland.
“The attitude of the people in Portland is fantastic,” Shaw said. “I really don’t think we could have picked a much better location. The first year I was involved with the (Oil Kings) was 1971. We drew something like 150,000 fans. The following year, when the Oilers moved in, we attracted 90,000, and the next year only 68,000. There is the charisma of a professional team that we can’t compete against. We had to make the move.”
Not everyone was thrilled. Alberta NDP leader Grant Notley spoke up when the WCHL declared Edmonton a protected area for the Portland Winter Hawks.
Notley said the arrangement “makes hockey players look like pigs and swine being sold at an auction.”
Leo LeClerc, a founder of the Oil Kings, added: “It’s change enough for a youngster to move from Stettler in central Alberta to Edmonton. Imagine moving to a foreign country. I’m frankly appalled that the ruling class in hockey — the board of governors of the WCHL — would even consider moving Canadian youngsters into a foreign country. The next thing you know they’ll be sending them to East Germany.”
There was a change in Saskatoon in June when Jim Piggott, who had been involved in ownership of a junior team in Saskatoon for almost 20 years, sold to McLeod, Nathan Brodsky and Joe Reich. Brodsky became the majority shareholder.
As you may have read, the QMJHL has asked the Quebec government for a $20-million subsidy to help the 12 teams that are based in the province through the pandemic. Ken Campbell of The Hockey News wonders whether the government may be able to convince the league to further reduce fighting in exchange for the dough. . . .Campbell writes: “Like all its other provincial counterparts, the Government of Quebec is more than willing to help junior hockey operators line their pockets. Early in 2020, it was persuaded by the QMJHL to change its own employment standards laws to classify players as ‘student athletes’ rather than employees. That alone represents savings in the millions of dollars. You’d think in the middle of a global pandemic, a government would have better things to do with $20 million than help prop up for-profit enterprises — granted, some teams are community owned — that exploit teenagers, but hey, it ain’t my money.” . . . Campbell’s complete column is right here.
The Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League, a nine-team junior B circuit, is planning to open its regular season on Oct. 1. According to a release from the league it will happen “subject to gaining final approvals.” . . . Earlier in the summer, the league had said it planned to begin on Sept. 21 or 28. . . . The teams, all of them based in Vancouver Island communities, will be split into three cohorts. They will play in those cohorts “to reduce the need for travel and to mitigate the extra risk of infection.” . . . According to the league, “Players leaving or entering a cohort are mandate to self-isolate for a minimum of 14 days as per Public Health guidelines.” . . . As for fans, the league said there will be “a limited number, and possibly NO spectators, allowed in some of the VIJHL’s arenas . . .” . . . A complete news release is right here.
F Connor Bedard, who is expected to play for the WHL’s Regina Pats in 2020-21 as a 15-year-old, will spend the next while practising in Sweden with HV71’s U-18 side. . . . But what if Bedard didn’t belong to the Pats? What if he was part of the HV71 program? Szymon Szemberg of eurohockeyclubs.com takes a look right here at the development process in that country.
COVID-19 CHRONICLES . . .
I tested negative to Covid yesterday and positive today. No symptoms what so ever. Covid had the courage to challenge me. Bad idea
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, one of the world’s most recognizable soccer players, has tested positive. Ibrahimovic, who plays for AC Milan, said via Twitter that he had tested negative one day and positive the next. . . . Ibrahimovic, 38, is in quarantine at home, so he didn’t play in host Milan’s 3-2 Europa League qualifier victory over Norway’s Bodo/Glimt on Thursday. . . .
The issues continue in the KHL where championat.com, a Russian sports site, reported that more than half the players and the entire coaching staff of SKA St. Petersburg tested positive. . . . In Wednesday’s game against visiting Sibir Novosibirsk, the bench was run by Roman Rotenberg, the team’s part-owner, vice-president and general manager, along with Daniel Bochner of Canada, the player development coach who last worked a bench in 2016 with the U-16 Don Mills, Ont., Flyers. . . . BTW, SKA dropped that game, 4-1. Of the 22 players it dressed, six were from its farm club and 10 from its junior team. . . .
Football’s Pac-12 Conference has reversed an earlier decision and its football teams will play this fall. Last month, the conference had announced that there wouldn’t be football in 2021. On Thursday, it said that it hopes to start up on Nov. 6, with teams playing seven-game schedules culminating with a championship game on Dec. 18. . . . This means that all five Power 5 conferences will be playing football this fall. . . As Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle writes right here: “The Power 5 conferences like to use the phrase ‘student-athlete.’ Maybe ‘lab rat’ is more appropriate.” . . .
The Mountain West Conference also has decided that it will have a football season this fall. Its board of directors voted to start an eight-game schedule on Oct. 24, “subject to approval from state, county and local officials,” according to the Fresno Bee. . . .
The Welland Jr. Canadians of the junior A Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League have taken a leave of absence for 2020-21. “Public health officials continue to advise that social distancing is the most effective strategy to prevent the spread of the virus,” the team said in a news release. “Ensuring the health and safety of our community, players, employees and volunteers is always our first priority. As a result, to do our part and help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the Jr. Canadians have made the difficult decision” not to play in 2020-21. . . .
There won’t be any high school football games between opposing schools in Regina this fall. There also won’t be any cross-country, soccer or volleyball. . . . In making the announcement, the Regina High Schools Athletic Association said that “schools will have the option within their school only to co-ordinate and organize extra-curricular athletics, practices or intramurals.” . . .
The Twin City Thunder of the U.S. Premier Hockey League’s National Collegiate Development Conference have had to put their season on hold after some players tested positive. The Thunder, which plays out of Auburn, Maine, was to have played Thursday and Friday nights. . . . Mark Divver, a New England-based hockey writer, tweeted on Wednesday that he had heard “of players on a couple of NCDC teams testing positive.” . . . Nathan Fournier of the Lewiston Sun Journal has more right here.
The province of B.C. is embroiled in an election campaign that will end with voting on Oct. 24. Bruce Hamilton, the president and general manager of the Kelowna Rockets and the chairman of the WHL’s board of governors, wonders if it will have an impact on his league. He told Travis Lowe of Global News that “we’ve got a return-to-play protocol that has been worked on all summer. That’s in the hands of all the governments in the west now.” But he wonders how much attention it will get in B.C. because of the election campaign. “This election . . . we are certainly not an item that would be on one of the burners right now.” . . . That story is right here.
Chris Clark has been named head coach of the BCHL’s Wenatchee Wild. He stepped in as interim head coach in December, taking over from Bliss Littler, who stepped aside citing health concerns. Littler remains the team’s general manager. . . . Clark, also the assistant GM, has been on the Wild’s coaching staff since the franchise’s inceptions in 2008. . . . The full news release is right here.
If the start of the WHL’s 2020-21 regular season is delayed for three months or more, it could be tough for some of the league’s 22 franchises.
That’s according to Bruce Hamilton, the owner of the Kelowna Rockets and the chairman of the WHL’s board of governors.
“I think all of us are prepared to get into January,” Hamilton told Rob Munro of infotel.ca. “Then it will get real tough for a whole bunch of people.”
The WHL issued a statement last week indicating that it is aiming to open the regular season on Oct. 2. The 2019-20 season, which was shut down on March 12, opened on Sept. 20.
With Hamilton telling Munro that “70 per cent of our business is ticket driven,” it is obvious that the WHL needs fans in the seats in order to play. If teams don’t get the OK from health officials to open the doors to at least 50 per cent capacity, the season won’t start on time — if at all.
But if the season does get rolling, Hamilton indicated that fans will see a few changes.
For starters, physical distancing will play a part in seating configuration. In fact, Hamilton said the WHL has heard from a company that has developed software to help with that.
“There is one company in particular that I know about,” Hamilton told Munro, “that has reached out to our league instead of coming to all the teams individually, that has created the software and it will be used whether it’s baseball, football, hockey, basketball.
“It’ll be that kind of thing, where they take your manifest for your building and then design it out of that.”
We are almost into July and are waking up to discover that events scheduled for November are being cancelled.
And that can’t be good for junior hockey leagues that are hoping to get started in September and October.
On Wednesday, the 2020 Canadian Finals Rodeo was cancelled by the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association. It was to have been held at the Westerner Park Centrium in Red Deer, Nov. 3-8, with more than 43,000 fans expected to attend.
Don’t forget that the 2021 World Junior Hockey Championship is to be held in Red Deer and Edmonton, from Dec. 26, 2020, through Jan. 5, 2021.
Meanwhile, two marathons fell by the wayside on Wednesday, with organizers of the Berlin (Sept. 27) and New York City (Nov. 1) events cancelling the 2020 races.
Dr. Mike Silverman, an infectious disease specialist, on the Blue Jays' request to play games in Toronto this summer: "Why would you give a sports team an exemption from the mandatory 14-day quarantine period everyone else must observe? No way the government should allow that."
An undisclosed number of players and staff with the Toronto Blue Jays have tested positive after being at the team’s training facility in Dunedin, Fla. . . . The facility has been shut down. . . . The Blue Jays now are looking to find a training camp site with players to report in a week. They have asked the Canadian government for an exemption from quarantine regulations in order to train and play regular-season games in Toronto. . . . Shi Davidi of Sportsnet has more right here. . . .
That sad moment when ESPN headlines are more about positive COVID-19 tests than actual sports stories…
F Jabari Parker of the Sacramento Kings and G Malcolm Brogdon of the Indiana Pacers revealed on Wednesday that they have tested positive. Both plan on being back with their teams in time to resume the NBA season in Orlando, Fla., next month. . . .
Caddies who work for Graeme McDowell and Brooks Koepka have tested positive. As a result, McDowell and Koepka withdrew from the Travelers Championship that opens today (Thursday) in Connecticut. McDowell tested negative but apparently suspects that he has the virus, so he has gone home. . . . Webb Simpson also withdrew, as did Cameron Champ, who actually tested positive. . . . Simpson, last weekend’s winner on the PGA Tour, withdrew, saying a family member had tested positive. . . .
The U of Connecticut has eliminated men’s cross-country, men’s swimming and diving, men’s tennis and women’s rowing because of budget issues brought on by the pandemic. . . . UConn also has implemented a 15 per cent cut in operating budgets of all sports. . . .
There are reports that WWE has had as many as two dozen wrestlers and staffers test positive in Orlando, Fla.
The University of Toronto Schools won the 1919 Memorial Cup, the first time the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association had put the trophy into competition. It was to go to the champion of junior hockey.
The Memorial Cup has been awarded every single year since then — not even the Second World War could get in the way.
However, it won’t be awarded in 2020, the COVID-19 virus haven’t knocked the major junior hockey season for a loop.
The 60-team CHL announced Monday afternoon that the major junior hockey season is over. That means that there won’t be any playoffs in the OHL, QMJHL or WHL.
Nor will there be a Memorial Cup tournament. This year’s four-team affair was to have been played in Kelowna, March 22-31. Interestingly, it would seem that the 2021 Memorial Cup won’t be decided in Kelowna, but in an OHL city.
The last line of the CHL’s Monday statement:
“We look forward with hope that next season will provide new opportunity to celebrate, and that the MemorialCup will be presented at our prestigious national championship, hosted by the OHL in May 2021.”
The CHL follows a three-year rotation among the three leagues. The QMJHL is to be the host in 2022, with the WHL back for 2023.
According to the Kelowna Daily Courier, Bruce Hamilton, the Rockets’ owner, president and general manager, said that the city “may not have had the steam to muster a tournament in 2021.” The newspaper added that “it could tax volunteers, staff, players and sponsors too much.”
Hamilton also expressed doubts that he and his hockey staff would be able to ice a Memorial Cup-calibre team.
According to the newspaper, “Hamilton said he’d also been building a team that could compete for a national title this season, and he’s losing too many veterans to be ready for next spring.”
After cancelling the remainder of the regular seasons on March 12, the CHL said in a news release on Monday that it “continued to monitor the latest updates and advice from all public health agencies and medical experts, and worked tirelessly to determine a scenario by which the balance of our season could be played. Unfortunately, given the troubling state of our global climate and public welfare, there is still too much risk and uncertainty to move forward in good conscience.” . . .
Losing a handful of regular-season games and the playoffs is going to hurt a few WHL teams. When WHL teams are preparing their budgets, they usually look upon playoff revenue as gravy. But how much gravy might that be?
Well, let’s take a look at the Lethbridge Hurricanes, one of the WHL’s community-owned teams, which means they hold an annual general meeting and announce profits and/or losses.
After the 2017-18 season, the Hurricanes announced a net profit of $422,443, with playoff revenue of $885,558. That came after a playoff run that included 16 games, nine of them at home.
One year earlier, the Hurricanes had played 10 home playoff games during a 20-game run. At the 2017 AGM, they announced a profit of $737,710, with playoff revenue at $685,000.
A year ago, the Hurricanes’ playoff run was short-circuited when they lost a first-round series in seven games. Four of the games were played in Lethbridge, some of them in the 1,200-seat Nicholas Sheran Arena because the world men’s curling championship was being played in the ENMAX Centre. At the 2019 AGM, the team announced a profit of $282,168, with $336,397 in playoff revenue, some of that was compensation from the City of Lethbridge for having been forced from their home arena.
Yes, there was a lot of money — A LOT OF MONEY — at play in the decision to pull the plug on the playoffs. The story will become more explicit when the Hurricanes hold their 2020 AGM.
The WHL’s other publicly owned teams are the Moose Jaw Warriors, Prince Albert Raiders and Swift Current Broncos. The Raiders are the WHL’s defending champions and finished atop the East Division this season. The Warriors and Broncos wouldn’t have qualified for this season’s playoffs. . . .
The Portland Winterhawks have laid off employees from their front office and from their hockey staff, Taking Note was told on Monday morning. . . . The Winterhawks and Kamloops Blazers both have laid off staff and implemented pay cuts. . . . According to one WHL insider, the league, with the playoffs and Memorial Cup having been cancelled, also is expected to lay off some of its office staff. . . . The 22-team WHL suspended its regular season on March 12 and then cancelled it on March 18. The Winterhawks finished atop the U.S. Division and won the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy as regular-season champions; the Blazers finished first in the B.C. Division. . . . On Monday, Marty Hastings of Kamloops This Week wrote that Blazers president Don Moores, in a text, had confirmed the “layoffs and pay cuts and opted to make no further comment.” . . .
Dick Pound of Montreal, a longtime influential IOC Committee member, told Christine Brennan of USA TODAY on Monday: “On the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided. The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the Games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know.” . . . Her story is right here. . . .
Here’s how Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times began his Monday column:
“We are surrounded by a cacophony of chaos, our lives filled with words of warning and dread and doom.
“I need a sound of spring. This being the formerly opening week of the postponed baseball season, I crave the melodious tones of the ballpark, the bunting, the hope.
“So, what the heck, I call Vin Scully.
“And, wouldn’t you know, he answers on the first ring.”
This is what we need in these trying times, and it’s all right here.
The southern Alberta Hamlet of Walsh, just east of Medicine Hat, has the lowest price for regular unleaded gas in the province right now. The Petro-Canada is selling for 55.9 cents/litre. I don't want to date myself but I was learning to drive when I last saw prices that low 😱
Jack Finarelli, aka The Sports Curmudgeon, has his thought for the day, courtesy of H.L. Mencken: “Laws are no longer made by a rational process of public discussion; they are made by a process of blackmail and intimidation, and they are executed in the same manner. The typical lawmaker of today is a man wholly devoid of principle — a mere counter in a grotesque and knavish game. If the right pressure could be applied to him, he would be cheerfully in favor of polygamy, astrology or cannibalism.” . . .
During a brief drive on Sunday afternoon, I spotted two curb-side signs advertising Garage Sale. . . . Seriously! . . . Yeah, like I want to buy and bring home garage sale items during a pandemic. Yikes! . . .
Spruce Meadows, one of the world’s best show-jumping facilities, announced Monday that it has cancelled its summer season, clearing its calendar through July 5. The cancellations include four tournaments that had been scheduled over a five-week span, starting on June 4. . . . The Masters, scheduled for Sept 9-13, remains on the calendar, at least for now. . . .
Psych doc gave me good tip other day. We are bombarded with COVID news, can't escape. But turn it off last 1 to 2 hours before bed. Don't let the scary be last thing see before eyes shut. #ottnews
The WHL’s board of governors is scheduled to talk on Tuesday, presumably to discuss where things are with the suspension of play that was put in place on Thursday in reaction to the COVID-19 virus and also to take a look ahead. . . . “The plan is to pause, not cancel, not do anything other than that and see if the wave slows down a little bit for everybody,” Bruce Hamilton, the chairman of the board of governors and owner of the Kelowna Rockets, told David Trifunov of the Kelowna Daily Courier. “If we end up with a number of players with it, then it’s a bigger concern. We’ve got a couple of weeks to play with here, because we’ve got two weeks left in our season, really, and then we can make plans from there.” . . . At the same time, preparations are continuing for the Memorial Cup, which is scheduled for Kelowna, May 21-31. Hamilton told the Vancouver Province on Thursday that organizers are checking to see if Prospera Place, the home of the Rockets, might be available in June should the schedule need to be adjusted.
The Canadian Junior Hockey League, the umbrella organization under which 10 junior A leagues operate, made it official on Friday, cancelling the 2019-20 season. “All hockey-related activities, including respective league playoffs, the CJHL’s four regional championship events (Fred Page Cup, Dudley-Hewitt Cup, ANAVET Cup, Doyle Cup) and the Centennial Cup national junior A championship won’t be held. . . . The national final was to have been held in Portage la Prairie, Man.
Scott Wheeler of The Athletic put together a comprehensive look at various junior hockey leagues, what went into the decision to suspend operations, the impact all of his might have, and some ideas on what the future might hold. USHL president Tom Garrity, OJHL commissioner Marty Savoie and CJHL president Brett Ladds all were co-operative and open in their answers. . . . When it came to major junior hockey, though, Wheeler got this: “The statement the league issued this afternoon is our only position and comment at this time.” . . . That story, which is quite insightful, is right here.
John Forslund, the TV play-by-play voice of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, is self-quarantined in his home. Why? Because he ended up staying in the same Detroit hotel room as Rudy Robert of the NBA’s Utah Jazz. Gobert was the first NBA player to test positive for the coronavirus. . . . The Hurricanes moved into the Detroit Westin Book Cadillac on Sunday, one day after the Jazz left. . . . Luke Decock of the Raleigh News & Observer reported that Forslund has moved into the basement of his home and his wife Natalie “is leaving his meals at the basement door.” . . . “It’s different. It’s a long time,” Forslund told Decock. “Today it doesn’t seem like much. As the days march on here, you’re just hoping nothing happens. That’s different. Every time I sneeze or I cough, you wonder, ‘Where’s this going?’ ”
The International Ice Hockey Federation cancelled four more men’s championships on Friday — the Division II, Group A event that was to have been held in Zagreg, Croatia; the Division II, Group B event in Reykjavik, Iceland; the Division III, Group A tournament in Kockelscheuer, Luxembourg; and the Division III, Group B event in Cape Town, South Afrida. . . . The first three were to have run from April 19-25, with the one in Cape Town going from April 20-23. . . .
Still on the calendar: Division 1, Group B, Katowice, Poland, April 27 through May 3; Division 1, Group A, Ljubljana, Slovenia, April 27 through May 3; and the big one, the World championship, in Zurich and Lausanne, Switzerland, May 8-24. . . . The IIHF Council is to hold a conference call on Tuesday during which the status of these tournaments will be the main topic of conversation.
The 15-team Finish Ice Hockey League, perhaps better known as the SM-liiga), cancelled the remainder of its season on Friday and announced that it won’t name a champion. It is Finland’s top pro league. . . . The final round of the regular season was to have started today (Saturday) without fans in the arenas. . . . How quickly things change. The regular season was proceeding nicely on Tuesday, with fans in the arenas. On Thursday night, games were played without fans. On Friday, it all came to and end.
What is some of the impact of shutting down March Madness? Here’s a few notes from Pete Blackburn of CBS Sports:
Nevada sportsbooks took $498.7 million in wagers on college basketball and the NBA combined in March 2019 and won $36.5 million. An estimated 70 percent of that handle ($349 million ) was wagered on last year’s NCAA Tournament. . . .
For perspective, Nevada sportsbooks took a combined $154.7 million on last month’s Super Bowl — one of the biggest gambling events of the year — and won $18.8 million. . . .
Sportsbooks will have to refund any futures bets made since the conclusion of last year’s championship game when 2020 futures were posted. . . .
85 percent of the NCAA’s annual operating budget comes via revenue from the NCAA Tournament.
“The good news for you and me, though,” Blackburn points out, “is that we’ll probably have a few extra bucks in our pockets this March without the opportunity to lose bets or brackets. That just means more toilet paper we can afford to stock up on, I guess.”
The BCHL’s Merritt Centennials have signed Derek Sweet-Coulter, their general manager and head coach, through the 2020-21 season. Sweet-Coulter took over from Barry Wolff after the team opened this season by going 2-9.
The WHL, like so many other sporting organizations, put its season on hold Thursday afternoon as the world works to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Each of the WHL’s 22 teams plays 68 regular-season games. As of now, there are a total of 54 games remaining on the schedule, which was to have ended on Sunday, March 22. The first round of the playoffs, which would have started with 16 teams,was to have started on Friday, March 27.
Now . . . who knows?
“Our goal,” a statement from the WHL read, “is to return to play when it is safe and reasonable to do so.”
Teams that were on the road were instructed to return to their home cities. All players were to return to their billets and remain there while awaiting word on what comes next.
The CHL, which encompasses the WHL, OHL and QMJHL, announced the shutting down of all three leagues on Thursday afternoon. That announcement came after the NHL announced that it was suspending play.
Later in the day, former NHL executive Brian Burke, now an analyst with Sportsnet, said that he would be surprised if the NHL was able to hand out the Stanley Cup this season.
Because of the way COVID-19 has spread and continues to do so, I am inclined to agree with Burke.
With the WHL, of course, it’s all about the Ed Chynoweth Cup, which goes to the playoff champion, and the Memorial Cup, which is to be played in Kelowna, from May 22 through May 31.
It is far too early to know what will happen next. Will those 54 regular-season games be played? What about the playoffs? Is there a Plan B . . . Plan C . . . Plan D?
What about the Memorial Cup, which is only a bit more than two months away? If you’re wondering what could happen between now and then, think about where we were two months ago — in mid-January — compared to now.
Regardless, Bruce Hamilton, the Rockets’ president and general manager, says it’s full speed ahead in Kelowna.
“We are still marching straight ahead,” Hamilton told Global News in Kelowna. “That’s been the marching orders from the CHL. That is still 10 weeks out. It’s a long ways away.”
If you are looking for a time element to all of this, Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner whose league suspended operation on Wednesday night, told Sports Illustrated on Thursday:
“This hiatus will most likely be at least 30 days. . . . Is there a protocol, with or without fans, in which we could resume play? It’s too early to tell.”
Anyway . . . could it be that the Victoria Royals’ 3-2 victory over the host Rockets on Wednesday night will have been the WHL’s last game of the 2019-20 season? If, indeed, that is the case, F Brayden Tracey of the Royals will have scored the season’s final goal, breaking a 2-2 tie at 11:22 of the third period.
And if you’re wondering, the Portland Winterhawks are atop the WHL’s overall standings at this point, which, I suppose, gives their fans bragging rights, at least for now.
Early Thursday evening, Hockey Canada announced that its board of directors had made the decision “to cancel all Hockey Canada-sanctioned activities, including our national championships, until further notice, effective Friday, March 13.”
I’m not sure if “cancel . . . until further notice” means postponed or cancelled. Either way, Canada’s arenas will be mostly dark for the foreseeable future.
BC Hockey issued a statement indicating that it supports “the leadership shown by Hockey Canada to suspend all hockey operations . . . and will be following the direction to suspend all BC Hockey games and events until further notice.”
In a later tweet, Hockey Alberta pointed out that Hockey Canada’s edict includes league games, playoffs, practices, camps and provincial, regional and national championships . . . at the minor, female, junior, senior and sledge levels.”
Hockey Canada’s decision brought an end to the U Cup, Canada’s university men’s and women’s championship, both of which had started in Halifax and Charlottetown, respectively, and were to have ended on Sunday.
Ken King, a longtime president and governor of the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen, died on Wednesday after a battle with cancer. He was 68. He was the vice-chair and chief executive officer of Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation, which owns the NHL’s Flames, CFL’s Stampeders, NLL’s Roughnecks and the Hitmen. . . . There is more right here.
If you are a baseball fan, you need to be aware of the website Alberta Dugout Stories. You are able to find it at albertadugoutstories.com. As a sampler, check out the story at this link right here, where Ian Wilson writes about a wily right-hander named Leroy (Satchel) Paige and others who toured the Prairies at one time or another. . . . This is really, really good stuff.
Jack Finarelli, aka The Sports Curmudgeon, has been giving up some of his time to watch XFL games. A couple of pertinent observations: “I do not like the fact that the XFL has doubled the number of sideline reporters doing the games; sideline reporters are as useful as a trombone player in a duck blind. . . . A big plus for XFL 2.0 is the absence of any cheerleaders. They add about as much to a telecast as do the sideline reporters.”
The Sports Curmudgeon also had this observation, one that applies to hockey as well: “There is a broadcasting difference between dead air’ (very bad) and ‘announcers’ silence to let the scene speak for itself’ (usually very good). The announcers on XFL games need to shut up every once in a very long while.”
G Liam McGarva, 20, who won a Kootenay International Junior Hockey League title with the Revelstoke Grizzlies last season, has been suspended until March 11 by the SJHL. McGarva, who turned 20 on Feb. 17, now is with the SJHL’s La Ronge Ice Wolves. He was suspended after using his water bottle to squirt a referee, then, as he was being escorted off the ice after being ejected, shoving a linesman with his blocker. . . . Brady Lang of Saskatoon radio station CKOM has all the bases covered right here.
They started out with Jacques Laporte who went 6-5 before moving to Pierre Pelletier who was 2-1 before being replaced by Michel Therrien. He guided to the club with a personal 41-16-1 record to adding 14 wins in the playoffs and eventually bowing to the Saguenéens in the Final. https://t.co/Eh16daUE8z
It used to be that Bruce Hamilton, the owner, president and general manager of the Kelowna Rockets, didn’t fire head coaches. And when one did leave, he always seemed to have an assistant coach poised to take over. . . . That changed when Dan Lambert left for the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres and Hamilton went outside his organization to hire Brad Ralph, who was gone after a 48-20-4 regular season and a trip to the Western Conference final. . . . Jason Smith, another outsider, was hired on July 6, 2016; his run ended on Oct. 22, 2018, with Hamilton saying that “we need to go in a different direction.” The Rockets were 4-10-0 at the time of the firing; Smith left with a 92-54-12 record in two-plus regular seasons. . . . At that time, Hamilton bypassed assistant coach Kris Mallette, this time hiring another outsider, former NHL defenceman Adam Foote. . . .
On Wednesday, Hamilton, whose team is to play host to the Memorial Cup in May, pulled the plug on Foote, and this time he put Mallette in charge, albeit on an interim basis. Foote leaves with a 48-49-12 record, including 24-26-4 this season. . . .
“The team has struggled since the Christmas break,” Hamilton said in a news release. “With 14 games remaining in the regular season, I felt a change was necessary at this time.” . . . He later told Regan Bartel, the team’s radio voice: “Part of success is being able to handle adversity and this group hasn’t handled adversity real well. That’s from playing scared to win, or scared not to lose probably is the better line. That’s what’s set in here a little bit. Hopefully, a new voice will change that.” . . . Except that Mallette isn’t a new voice; he is in his sixth season on the Rockets’ staff. . . .
The Rockets hold down the Western Conference’s first wild-card spot, two points ahead of the Seattle Thunderbirds. . . . Finish in the first wild-card spot and it likely will mean a first-round date with the Kamloops Blazers, who lead the B.C. Division. The second wild-card spot is likely going to get you the Portland Winterhawks in the opening round. . . .
Oh, and did I mention that F Nolan Foote, Adam’s son and the Rockets’ captain, is spending some time with the New Jersey Devils, who want their medical staff to check him over. The Devils acquired him from the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday. Due to injury, Nolan has played in only four games since Nov. 30. He played a bit in a 6-5 OT loss to the visiting Calgary Hitmen on Monday — the Rockets blew a 5-1 lead — but wasn’t able to finish. The Lightning had selected him in the first round, 27th overall, of the NHL’s 2019 draft. . . .
The 2020 Memorial Cup opens in Kelowna in 93 days.
Still with fired coaches, the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers have dumped head coach John Beilein after just 54 games; they were 14-40. He joined the Cavs prior to this season, after spending 12 seasons with the U of Michigan Wolverines. . . . Don’t cry for him, though — he had four years and more than US$16 million left on his contract when he left town.
Being also psychic, I suspect Trump will be up all night holding a seance so he can pardon Jeffrey Epstein’s ghost.
It is pretty much agreed that CF Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels is the best player in MLB. On Monday, he spoke to reporters about the cheating scandal that is eating up the Houston Astros: “It’s sad for baseball. It’s tough. They cheated. I don’t agree with the punishments, the players not getting anything. It was a player-driven thing. It sucks, too, because guys’ careers have been affected, a lot of people lost jobs. It was tough. Me going up to the plate knowing what was coming — it would be pretty fun up there.” . . . The Angels play seven of their first 10 regular-season games against the Astros, opening with four in Houston, March 26-29. . . .
BTW, word out of Vegas is that the over-under on the number of Houston hitters who will be hit by pitches this season is 83.5. . . . During the 2019 season, only 41 Astros hitters were plunked; the MLB average was 66.
There are reports that QMJHL governors, who are meeting today (Thursday) may vote to ban fighting. I have no idea what steps the governors might take, but it’s about time. . . . It’s also more than past time for the WHL to follow suit. In this day and age, there simply is something wrong about charging admission for an event in which teenagers are allowed to punch each other in the face with bare knuckles and little in the way of consequences.