The Eastern Conference final opened in Winnipeg last night with the Ice skating to a 3-0 victory over the Saskatoon Blades. They’ll play Game 2 today in Winnipeg, then head for Saskatoon and games on Tuesday and Wednesday. . . . Saskatoon has had eight home games in these playoffs and drawn seven of the top 10 crowds. The other three were for games that featured the Blades against the host Regina Pats. . . . The announced attendance last night in Winnipeg was 1,613, which was lower than the Ice’s average of 1,650 for 34 regular-season games. . . .
And the Western Conference final gets started tonight with the No. 2 Kamloops Blazers visiting the No. 1 Seattle Thunderbirds in Kent, Wash. . . . This will be the second straight season in which the conference final has featured these two franchises; Seattle won in seven games a year ago.
You are free to wonder how whether rust — or perhaps nerves — will be a factor in Game 1 tonight. Each of these teams is 8-0 this spring, but Seattle hasn’t played since April 19, while the Blazers have been off since April 20. The Thunderbirds swept aside the No. 8 Kelowna Rockets and No. 4 Prince George Cougars. The Blazers took care of the No. 7 Vancouver Giants and the No. 3 Portland Winterhawks.
Seattle and Kamloops met twice in the last week of the regular season — the Thunderbirds won, 6-3, in Kent on March 21; the Blazers won, 6-5, in Kamloops the next night. Kamloops also won, 3-2, in a shootout in Kent on March 7. . . . Earlier, Seattle won, 2-1 in OT, in Kamloops on Nov. 9.
If you want a whole lot more on this series, there is an in-depth preview available on the WHL website.
They’ll play Game 2 in Kent on Sunday, and then head to Kamloops for games on Tuesday and Thursday. Interestingly, should this series go seven games, they’ll play Games 6 and 7 on back-to-back nights — May 8 in Kamloops and May 9 in Kent.
The 2023 Kamloops Kidney Walk is scheduled for June 4, and Dorothy is taking part once again. She will celebrate 10 years as a kidney-transplant recipient in September, so the annual Kidney Walk is a big deal for her. In fact, she is participating for a 10th straight year. Yes, that means she is fund-raising, with all donations going to the Kidney Foundation. . . . Things are rolling right along, too, as she now has surpassed $3,400 thanks to help from people like the former WHL coach who checked in on Friday. . . . If you are interested in helping, you are able to do so on her home page, which is right here.
FRIDAY IN THE WHL PLAYOFFS:
#WHLPlayoffs#WPGvsSAS: @WHLWpgICE start a series via shutout for first time in franchise history. Defenders Ben Zloty & Carson Lambos both corral first goals of this postseason while Zack Ostapchuk scores on a shorthanded penalty shot. Surpasses last year's total of seven.
Saskatoon (2) at Winnipeg (1) —The Winnipeg Ice scored two first-period goals 1:26 apart en route to a 3-0 victory over the Saskatoon Blades in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final. . . . They’ll play Game 2 today in Winnipeg, starting at 4 p.m. . . . D Ben Zloty (1) opened the scoring at 14:39 of the first period. He went into the game with no goals and a WHL-leading 15 assists. . . . The Ice went ahead 2-0 at 16:05 when F Zach Ostapchuk (8) scored a shorthanded penalty-shot goal, putting the puck off a post and in. He has goals in eight of the 10 games in which he has played in these playoffs. . . . D Carson Lambos (1) upped the lead to 3-0 at 7:45 of the second period. . . . Saskatoon was 0-for-4 on the PP; Winnipeg was 0-for-1. . . . G Daniel Hauser recorded the shutout with 16 saves. He is 9-1, 2.56, .907 in the playoffs, after going 37-4-1, 2.28, .917 in the regular season. . . . The Blades got 25 stops from G Ethan Chadwick. . . . Were the Blades, coming off two seven-game series, showing signs of fatigue in the latter part of the game? The Ice outshot them 8-4 in the second period and 10-4 in the third. . . . Saskatoon F Justin Lies was back in action after having served a three-game suspension. . . . The Blades continue to be without D Blake Gustafson, who was injured in the previous series. . . . With D Ben Saunderson also injured, Saskatoon had D Morgan Tastad make his playoff debut. The 6-foot-4 Tastad, a 17-year-old from Loreburn, Sask., played in one regular-season game. He was a ninth-round pick by the Blades in the WHL’s 2021 draft.
The WHL will be well-represented on the officiating front at the IIHF World men’s hockey championship in Tampere, Finland, and Riga, Latvia. Referees Adam Bloski and Mike Langin, along with linesmen Brett Mackey and Tarrington Wyonzek, will be working games in what is the biggest tournament of the season in some countries. Each of the foursome will be working his first world championship. . . . The tournament is scheduled to open on May 12 and run through May 28. . . .
The BCHL’s Penticton Vees ran their playoff winning streak to 25 on Friday night with a 5-1 victory over the visiting Salmon Arm Silverbacks. This was Game 1 of the Interior Conference final. The Vees lost their first playoff game a year ago, then won 16 in a row as they skated to the championship. This spring, they now are 9-0. . . . In the Coastal Conference, the host Alberni Valley Bulldogs opened with a 9-5 victory over the Chilliwack Chiefs. . . . Game 2 in both series will be played tonight in the same venues. . . .
In the AJHL, the Brooks Bandits beat the visiting Spruce Grove Saints, 3-2 in OT, on Friday night to win the championship in five games. F Brendan Poshak’s third goal of the playoffs won it at 5:10 of extra time to give the Bandits their seventh AJHL title. . . . Brooks will represent the AJHL in the Centennial Cup tournament in Portage la Prairie, Man., and the Bandits go in as the two-time defending champions. The tournament runs from May 11 through May 21.
THE COACHING GAME:
Brien Gemmell is the new head coach of the junior B White Rock Whalers of the Pacific Junior Hockey League. Gemmell has been coaching for more than 30 years, most recently in the Cloverdale, B.C., minor hockey ranks. This season, his U18 Tier 1 team won bronze at the provincial championship. . . . Gemmell takes over from Jason Rogers, who, according to the team, “is stepping down from his role as head coach.” Rogers is to remain with the organization as senior advisor. He had been the team’s head coach since its first season (2018-19).
THINKING OUT LOUD: The first round of the NFL draft on Thursday had 11.29 million TV viewers in the U.S. Yes, the NFL is No. 1 and it isn’t even close. As Joe Pompliano (@JoePompliano) pointed out, “That’s more than the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500, Stanley Cup final, World Series Games 2 & 3, Wimbledon, French Open, Australian Open, U.S. Open, PGA Championship and British Open.” . . . In case you missed it, this was Rick Bowness, the head coach of the Winnipeg Jets after a season-ending 4-1 loss to the host Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday: “I’m so disappointed and disgusted right now. There has to be pride. You have to be able to push back when things aren’t going your way. We had no pushback. Their better players were so much better than ours tonight. They deserved to win.” So who goes before a new season arrives . . . the head coach or some players? . . . F Matthew Phillips, who was a thrill to watch when he played with the WHL’s Victoria Royals, scored 36 goals for the AHL’s Calgary Wranglers this season and 15 of them were game-winners. On Friday night, he scored in OT to give the Wranglers a 4-3 victory over the Abbotsford Canucks. The Wranglers lead the best-of-five series, 2-0. The NHL’s Calgary Flames lost 30 one-goal games this season and missed the playoffs, but somehow Phillips wasn’t able to play for them.
Lindsey and Pat Backmeyer have watched their six-year-old daughter Ferris suffer with kidney disease for five years. While there have been happy times and moments of hope, Ferris’ situation is only getting worse and the need for a transplant more dire. https://t.co/2oOvNgVTdP
Dmitriy (Dyma) Markovskiy, a former WHL player, is 47 years of age and in need of a heart transplant. From Kyiv, Ukraine, he played with the Portland Winterhawks (1993-94) and split the next season between the Regina Pats, Lethbridge Hurricanes and Saskatoon Blades. . . . Mike Williamson, who played and coached with the Winterhawks, roomed with Markovskiy in 1993-94 and has started a GoFundMe page. . . . Williamson writes: “Dyma is doing better but has a long road ahead of him. Doctors have now told him that he will need a heart transplant, and he will always be limited in what he can do physically. Between the war and his heart, he has been unable to work and provide for his family. Julia is working and the family is doing what they can. Still, medical bills, medication, rehabilitation, and future costs are and will be substantial.” . . . That GoFundMe page is right here.
After a quiet day, the WHL was back in action with three games on Tuesday night, and there is a full slate of four scheduled for tonight.
In the Eastern Conference, the No. 2 Saskatoon Blades are staring elimination in the face as they meet the No. 3 Rebels in Red Deer. A 3-1 victory there last night gave the Rebels a 3-0 series lead.
In the Western Conference, the No. 2 Kamloops Blazers and No. 3 Portland Winterhawks will play Game 3 tonight. The Blazers, who are 6-0 in these playoffs, hold a 2-0 edge after dominating at home.
In Prince George, the No. 1 Seattle Thunderbirds, who are 7-0, will try to complete a sweep of the No. 4 Cougars tonight. Seattle posted an 8-1 victory in Prince George last night.
In the Eastern Conference, the No. 1 Winnipeg Ice is in Moose Jaw for Game 4 with the Warriors, who hold a 2-1 series lead after posting an 8-4 victory last night. They’ll go back to Winnipeg for Game 5 on Saturday night.
TUESDAY IN THE WHL PLAYOFFS:
Winnipeg (1) at Moose Jaw (4) — The Moose Jaw Warriors broke a 3-3 tie with the only two goals of the second period and went on to score an 8-4 victory over the Winnipeg Ice. . . . The Warriors lead the series, 2-1, and will play host to Game 4 tonight. The series will return to Winnipeg for Game 5 on Saturday night. . . . The Ice led this one 2-0 early in the first period after goals from F Zack Ostapchuk (5) and F Briley Wood (2) at 7:07 and 7:18. . . . The Warriors got back in it on PP goals from F Ryder Korczak (3) and F Jagger Firkus (6) at 8:45 and 11:33. . . . F Lynden Lakovic (2) put Moose Jaw ahead at 14:52, only to have F Vladislav Shilo (1) get Winnipeg into a 3-3 tie at 17:06. . . . The Warriors counted the next four goals to take control. F Eric Alarie (1), back after a four-game absence, Lakovic (3), D Cosmo Wilson (1) and F Martin Rysavy (4) got the Warriors into a 7-3 lead. . . . F Josh Medernach (1) got Winnipeg’s last goal, and Firkus (7) ended Moose Jaw’s offensive onslaught. . . . The Ice hadn’t surrendered eight goals in a game since Feb. 25, 2020 when they dropped a 10-1 decision to the Oil Kings in Edmonton. . . . F Brayden Yager had four assists for Moose Jaw, while Korczak added two assists to his goal and Firkus had one assist for a three-point game. . . . The Warriors were 2-for-2 on the PP; the Ice was 0-for-2. . . . The Ice was without F Evan Friesen, who sat out the first of a two-game suspension for a headshot on Moose Jaw D Matthew Gallant in Game 2. Gallant didn’t return after the hit and he didn’t play in Game 3. . . .
Saskatoon (2) at Red Deer (3) — The Red Deer Rebels scored the game’s last three goals as they beat the Saskatoon Blades, 3-1. . . . The Rebels hold a 3-0 series lead with Game 4 in Red Deer tonight. . . . F Trevor Wong gave the Blades their first lead of the series when he opened the scoring at 5:04 of the second period. . . . F Frantisek Formanek (3) got Red Deer even at 9:46. . . . F Dwayne Jean Jr. (1) snapped the tie at 16:25. . . . F Kalan Lind (2) got the empty-netter at 19:14 of the third period. . . . Red Deer was 0-for-3 on the PP; Saskatoon was 0-for-2. . . . G Kyle Kelsey earned the victory with 22 saves. He is 7-1, 1.67, .938 in the playoffs. . . . D Aiden De La Gorgendiere, the Blades’ captain, returned to the lineup after having left Game 2 with an illness. . . . The Blades also had D Blake Gustafson in the lineup for the first time in the series.
Seattle (1) at Prince George (4) — The Seattle Thunderbirds scored four times before the game was 13 minutes old — two of them coming via the PP — en route to an 8-1 victory over the Prince George Cougars. . . . The Thunderbirds hold a 3-0 series lead and get their first chance to wrap it up tonight. . . . The Thunderbirds have outscored the Cougars, 17-3, through three games. . . . F Brad Lambert led Seattle with a goal and five assists. The WHL record for most assists in a playoff game (7) is held by F Dale Derkatch of the Regina Pats. He did it in a 13-6 victory over the visiting Brandon Wheat Kings on March 26, 1982. . . . Lambert now has 15 points, 13 of them assists, in five games in these playoffs. At three points per game, he is slightly ahead of F Connor Bedard of the Regina Pats, who finished at 2.86 for seven games. . . . Including his 26 regular-season games, Lambert has put up 53 points, including 34 assists, since joining the Thunderbirds from the AHL’s Manitoba Moose. . . . The Cougars lost F Jaxsen Wiebe at 10:30 of the first period when he was hit with a match penalty for butt-ending. Seattle scored twice on the ensuing PP to take a 4-0 lead. . . . Seattle finished 4-for-4 on the PP; Prince George was 0-for-4. . . . The Thunderbirds had a 40-20 edge in shots, including 20-4 in the first period. . . . F Dylan Guenther scored his ninth and 10th goals of these playoffs; he is tied with Bedard for the playoff lead. . . . D Kevin Korchinski had three assists. . . . The Cougars were without F Riley Heidt, a 97-point scorer in the regular season, as he served a one-game suspension for a headshot major and game misconduct in Game 2.
Headline at The Beaverton — World’s sick, injured travel to see NHL team doctors after they miraculously heal entire rosters in time for playoffs.
LOVE IT! ❤️
Mitch Love has been awarded the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award for @TheAHL's Most Outstanding Coach in 2022-2023.
Mitch Love, a former WHL coach and player, has been named the AHL’s outstanding coach for a second straight season. Love, the head coach of the Calgary Wranglers, also was awarded the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award last season when the NHL’s Calgary Flames had their AHL affiliate in Stockton, Calif. . . . The award is voted on by coaches and members of the media in the AHL’s 32 cities. . . . Love is the third coach to win the award in back-to-back seasons, after Bill Dineen (1985, 1986) and Robbie Ftorek (1995, 1996). . . . Love is the first head coach to win it in each of his first two AHL seasons. . . . The Wranglers finished 51-17-4, the AHL’s best regular-season record. . . . He is 96-33-11 in his two AHL seasons. . . . Love, 38, is from Quesnel, B.C. He played in the WHL with the Moose Jaw Warriors, Swift Current Broncos and Everett Silvertips (2000-05). He spent six seasons (2012-18) as an assistant coach with Everett and as the head coach of the Saskatoon Blades for three seasons (2018-21). . . .
Jason Becker, a former WHL player and coach, has been named head coach of BC Hockey’s U16 male team for the 2023 Program of Excellence season. . . . Becker, the manager of hockey operations and head coach of the U17 Prep team at the Pacific Coast Hockey Academy, has been BC Hockey’s lead evaluator for its male U16 program for the past three seasons. . . . He played four seasons in the WHL (Saskatoon Blades, Red Deer Rebels, Kamloops Blazers, Swift Current Broncos, 1991-95) and was an assistant coach with the Prince George Cougars (2010-14). He also played five seasons with the U of Saskatchewan Huskies. . . . Becker’s assistant coaches also are former WHLers— Craig Bedard and Riley Emmerson. Bedard will be with Team BC for a third time, while Emmerson is a first-timer. Bedard, a head coach with the Okanagan Hockey Academy since 2012, was an assistant coach with the Prince Albert Raiders (2007-12). . . . Emmerson, the head coach of the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds U15 AAA side, played two seasons (2004-06) with the Tri-City Americans. . . . BC Hockey’s U16 team will emerge from the BC Cup (Salmon Arm, April 20-23) and a provincial camp (Chilliwack, July 24-27) to play in the WHL Cup in Red Deer. . . .
The WHL has lost a legend with the news on Monday that Craig West has left the Tri-City Americans. The WHL team made that announcement, stating that West “has left . . . to pursue other opportunities.” . . . West, who had been vice-president of sponsorship sales and broadcasting, was the radio voice of the Americans since 1998. Before joining the Americans, he spent eight seasons (1990-98) with the Spokane Chiefs. . . . Last season, he called his 2,500th WHL game. . . .
On Tuesday, the Tri-City Americans announced that Midge Peterson, their athletic therapist, wouldn’t be returning. She had been with the organization since March 2021. . . .
The SJHL’s Melville Millionaires announced on Monday that Mike Rooney, their general manager and head coach, is leaving “to pursue other opportunities.” He had been with the Millionaires since May 2020. Melville went 25-68-16 with him as head coach, and wasn’t able to make the playoffs. . . . This season, the Millionaires finished 14-36-6. . . . The Millionaires also are looking for an assistant coach because Daven Smith left in March. . . .
The junior B Port Alberni Bombers of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League are in the market for a general manager and head coach following the departure of Gaelan Patterson. According to a news release, Patterson told the Bombers that he is moving on “to a new endeavour with a U14 program being established in Duncan.” . . . Patterson was with the Bombers for their first two seasons in the VIJHL and got them into the playoffs both times. . . . Patterson, 32, is a former WHL player, who spent four seasons (2006-10) with the Saskatoon Blades.
Headline at The Onion — Absent-Minded Billionaire Almost Forgets to Pay $0 in Taxes.
THINKING OUT LOUD — If you are watching the first round of the NHL playoffs on TV, how many games is it going to take before you are sick of all the gambling-related commercials? . . . What’s that? . . . You’re there already? Yeah, so am I. . . . Remember when the analysts on hockey telecasts didn’t tread all over the play-by-play person’s time? Sheesh, when the puck is in play the analyst needs to zip it. . . . I’m thinking the NHL’s Calgary Flames have quite a decision to make. Do they stick with Darryl Sutter as their head coach, or do they promote Mitch Love? And if they don’t make a move with Love, might the Anaheim Ducks be interested?
If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:
Our dear friend @AndyEide has passed away. There are no words to explain what Andy’s presence and work has meant to the great Seattle hockey community. He was a dear friend of mine and his support to bring the NHL to Seattle will never be forgotten. 💔RIP Andy. pic.twitter.com/5C3idRafRP
I never had the privilege of meeting Andy Eide, but we certainly communicated on occasion via email and Twitter. I can tell you that no one loved hockey — and hockey in the Pacific Northwest, in particular — more than did Andy. He absolutely loved covering the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds and it was more of his dream come true when he came to be involved in coverage of the NHL’s Seattle Kraken. . . . If you aren’t aware, Andy had a stroke on March 18, just prior to a Kraken game against the visiting Edmonton Oilers. He died on Friday. . . . The tributes that flowedon social media like so many tears revealed what kind of impact he had.
It’s with heavy hearts that we send our condolences to the family & friends of Andy Eide.
Andy, who passed away after suffering a stroke at a Kraken game, was an important member of our hockey community who spread his love of the game throughout the PNW. He will be truly missed. pic.twitter.com/ZajyVyBCgU
The second round of the WHL playoffs opened with four series — conference semifinals — on Friday night.
In Winnipeg, the Eastern Conference’s top seed, the Winnipeg Ice, will take a 1-0 series lead into tonight’s Game 2 against the No. 4 Moose Jaw Warriors.
In Saskatoon, the No. 3 Rebels have a 1-0 lead against the No. 2 Blades. They won’t play a second game until Sunday, because lacrosse’s Saskatchewan Rush has a game in the SaskTel Centre tonight. If you’re confused as to how the Rebels were the second seed and the Blades No. 3 in the first round but now those seeds are reversed, here’s the deal: The Rebels were the No. 2 seed because they finished atop the Central Division in the regular season. The Blades had more points than did the Rebels, but finished second in the East Division. In the first round, a division title gets you the first or second seed. The WHL reseeds for the second round, so the Blades became the No. 2 seed, ahead of the Rebels.
Meanwhile, in the Western Conference, the No. 1 Seattle Thunderbirds have a 1-0 lead over the Prince George Cougars going into tonight’s second game.
And, in Kamloops, the No. 2 Blazers hold a 1-0 lead over the Portland Winterhawks as they prepared for a second game tonight.
FRIDAY IN THE WHL PLAYOFFS:
Moose Jaw (4) at Winnipeg (1) — F Matt Savoie had a goal and two assists to help the Winnipeg Ice to a 5-3 victory over the Moose Jaw Warriors. . . . The Ice is 5-0 in these playoffs; the Warriors are 4-1. . . . The Ice jumped out to a 3-0 first-period lead on goals from F Owen Pederson (2), on a PP, at 1:04, F Zach Benson (1), at 7:57, and Savoie (7), at 16:42. . . . However, the Warriors scored the next three goals to pull even. F Brayden Yager (3) got it started at 19:38 of the first period, with D Max Wanner (2) scoring at 4:09 of the second and F Jagger Firkus (5) tying it at 13:21, on a PP. . . . F Connor McClennon (4) snapped the tie at 2:59 of the third period, with D Graham Sward (1) adding insurance at 6:04. . . . Benson, who had 36 goals and 62 assists in the regular season, played in his first game March 10. . . . Winnipeg G Daniel Hauser stopped 26 shots, six fewer than Moose Jaw’s Connor Ungar. . . . Each team was 1-for-2 on the PP. . . . The Ice remains without F Carson Latimer, a trade-deadline acquisition from the Prince Albert Raiders, who last played on Feb. 26. . . . Moose Jaw F Robert Baco sat out as he is serving a three-game suspension after taking a goalie interference major and game misconduct in Game 4 against the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Baco will be eligible to return for Game 4 against the Ice. . . .
Red Deer (3) at Saskatoon (2) — D Christoffer Sedoff had a goal and an assist as the Red Deer Rebels beat the Saskatoon Blades, 3-1. . . . F Jhett Larson (2) gave the Rebels a 1-0 lead at 4:28 of the second period, and they nursed that until 14:19 of the third when F Jace Isley (1) scored the eventual game-winner. . . . F Jake Chiasson (3) got Saskatoon on the board at 18:08 with G Austin Elliott on the bench for the extra attacker. . . . Sedoff put it away with the empty-netter, his third goal of these playoffs. . . . Each team was 0-for-3 on the PP. . . . G Kyle Kelsey earned the victory with 23 saves, six more than Elliott.
Prince George (4) at Seattle (1) — F Dylan Guenther’s two first-period goals got the Seattle Thunderbirds started to a 4-1 victory over the Prince George Cougars in Kent, Wash. . . . Guenther, who has seven goals in five games, scored at 1:50 and 15:23, the second one coming on a PP. . . . F Koehn Ziemmer (3) got the Cougars’ goal, on a PP, at 18:14. . . . F Lucas Ciona (4) added insurance for Seattle at 2:48 of the third period, and F Nico Myatovic (1) got the empty-netter at 19:36. . . . F Brad Lambert finished with three assists. . . . Prince George was 1-for-5 on the PP; Seattle was 1-for-3. . . . G Thomas Milic celebrated his 20th birthday by stopping 23 shots for Seattle, which is 5-0 in these playoffs. . . . The Cougars got 40 saves from G Ty Young. . . .
Portland (3) at Kamloops (2) — F Jakub Demek scored his first two goals of these playoffs as the Kamloops Blazers skated to a 6-4 victory over the Portland Winterhawks. . . . Demek went into the game with six assists and 26 shots on goal through four games, but nothing in the way of goals. Off-season shoulder surgery limited him to 15 regular-season games this season, and he finished with four goals and seven assists. . . . F Emmitt Finnie (4) ran his point streak to 15 games as he gave the Blazers a 1-0 lead at 8:30 of the first period. . . . F James Stefan’s first of three goals tied it at 9:50. . . . Demek put Kamloops back in front at 13:45 of the second period and F Fraser Minten, in his first game of these playoffs, upped the lead to 3-1 at 15:22. Minten hadn’t played since March 22. . . . Those two goals, coming 1:37 apart, were scored with Portland D Luca Cagnoni in the dressing room getting checked out. . . . Stefan got Portland back to within a goal at 17:04; this was his third multi-goal effort of these playoffs. . . . Demek scored his second goal at 19:36. . . . The Blazers put it away with third-period goals from F Matthew Seminoff (1) and F Logan Stankoven (5), the latter via the PP. . . . F Marcus Nguyen (5), on a PP, at 16:48 and Stefan (7), on another PP, at 19:58 completed the scoring. . . . Portland was 2-for-5 on the PP; Kamloops was 1-for-2. . . . G Dylan Ernst earned the victory with 28 stops, four fewer than Jan Spunar of Portland. . . . The Blazers are 5-0 in the playoffs; the Winterhawks are 4-2.
In announcing player moves for next season, Adler Mannheim (Germany, DEL) states that Nigel Dawes (Kootenay, 2001-2005) "will end his active career". Dawes this season, 36 GP, 13+11, 16:27 average TOI. Tied for third on team in goals.
When the conversation turns to the best player in the history of the Kootenay/Winnipeg Ice, F Nigel Dawes has to get an early mention. A 38-year-old native of Winnipeg, Dawes apparently has decided to retire after a pro career that began in 2005-06 and which included 12 seasons in Europe. . . . He was with the Kootenay Ice for four seasons (2001-05) and finished with 272 points, 159 of them goals, in 245 regular-season games. He also had 45 points, including 19 goals, in 49 playoff games. . . . He got into 212 NHL games over five seasons, scoring 39 goals and adding 45 assists; in the AHL, he had 233 points, 117 of them goals, in 232 games. . . . He went on to play 10 seasons in the KHL, totalling 267 goals and 238 assists in 543 games. . . . Dawes played the past two seasons with Adler Mannheim of the DEL, totalling 32 goals and 34 assists in 90 games. . . . At 5-foot-8 and 200 pounds, he wasn’t the tallest player on the ice, but he was as gritty as they came, and he was a whole lot of fun to watch.
#CBJ Stanislav Svozil beyond thrilled to make his #NHL debut tonight vs. Pittsburgh. Asked if he’s joked with former @WHLPats teammate Connor Bedard about playing together again next season, Svozil said: “I didn’t joke about it. I was serious.”
D Stanislav Svozil of the Regina Pats made his NHL debut with the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night, earning one assist in a 3-2 OT victory over the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins. He played 19 minutes 13 seconds. . . . Last night was a bit of a different story, as he was minus-3 in 21:01 during a 5-2 loss to the visiting Buffalo Sabres. . . . Svozil, who turned 20 on Jan. 17, is from Prerov, Czechia. The Blue Jackets selected him in the third round of the NHL’s 2021 draft.
The final odds for the Connor Bedard sweepstakes are set:
F Parker Bell of the Tri-City Americans has joined the AHL’s Calgary Wranglers for their playoff run. Bell, 19, was a fifth-round selection by the parent Calgary Flames in the NHL’s 2022 draft. . . . This season, he had 25 goals and 39 assists in 55 regular-season games with the Americans. . . .
F Carson Golder of the Kelowna Rockets has signed an ATO with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose. Golder, who played out his junior eligibility this season, was acquired by the Rockets from the Edmonton Oil Kings. This season, he put up 31 goals and 24 assists in 64 games. . . . He had been a defenceman until Edmonton’s championship playoff run last season, when he moved to the forward ranks.
Detroit Red Wings GM Jack Adams celebrates with goalie Terry Sawchuk. Sawchuck blanked the Habs in Games 3 & 4 to complete the sweep and give Detroit the 1952 Stanley Cup. It looks like Sawchuk may have just been refused the raised he had asked for though.😁 pic.twitter.com/HF0PWvAM77
The U of Alaska-Fairbanks has signed head coach Erik Largen to a five-year contract worth US$200,000 per season. . . . Brad Elliott Schlossman of the Grand Forks, N.D., Herald reports: “Largen’s deal spells out several investments into the hockey program — increased salaries for support staff like the strength and conditioning coaches, equipment manager and operations director, an increased recruiting budget, game guarantees for opponents traveling to Fairbanks and, perhaps most notably, salaries for three assistant coaches. . . . Largen’s contract calls for his associate coach to make $120,000 per year. The other two assistants will make $90,000 and $40,000.”
With the 10th anniversary of her kidney transplant within in sight, Dorothy is taking part in her 10th straight Kamloops Kidney Walk. So, yes, she is fund-raising. . . . The 2023 Walk is scheduled for June 4. . . . If you would like to donate to her cause, you are able to do so right here.
If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:
The WHL’s latest available Guide and Record Book, one that was made available last season, shows Dean Chynoweth, now an assistant coach with the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, with 272 regular-season head-coaching victories from stints with the Seattle Thunderbirds and Swift Current Broncos.
What the WHL’s record book doesn’t show is that his late father, Ed, the godfather of major junior hockey, is 271 victories behind his son.
That’s because, for some reason, the record book doesn’t list Ed in its coaching statistics.
But he should be there. With one victory.
There was a time when Ed, the WHL’s long-time president, left the WHL’s Calgary office for a spot with the Calgary Wranglers as minority owner and general manager.
That brings us to Dec. 5, 1979, with the Wranglers in Medicine Hat to play the Tigers.
The score was 1-1 in the third period when F Brad Kempthorne scored for the Tigers. The Wranglers, however, were of the opinion that referee Ken Wheler shouldn’t have allowed the goal to stand.
Calgary goaltender Warren Skorodenski claimed that Kempthorne knocked the puck into the net with an arm. Doug Sauter, the Calgary head coach, agreed with his goaltender.
By the time the debate was over, Skorodenski had been given a minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, Calgary had been hit with a bench minor and Sauter had been ejected.
“Warren said the puck went in off the guy’s arms and it did,” Sauter said. “There were two guys in the crease as well.”
With Sauter gone, Chynoweth moved from the press box to the Calgary bench for what would be the only coaching appearance of his many years in the WHL.
With Chynoweth calling the shots, the Wranglers killed both minor penalties and then got a PP goal from D Jim Crosson at 9:50 for a 2-2 tie. It should be noted that the Wranglers were skating with a two-man advantage when Crosson scored.
And the Wranglers won it in OT on a PP goal from F Dan Bourbonnais, who beat G Kelly Hrudey at 5:37, after the Tigers had been called for too many men.
It may not mean anything, but the Tigers were given the only four minor penalties handed out after Chynoweth moved behind the bench.
The announced attendance was 1,948 and they watched the Wranglers win their sixth in a row and run their record to 20-5, the best in the league at the time.
The WHL book shows Sauter with 417 regular-season victories. Perhaps that figure should be 416, with Chynoweth being given credit for one.
THE BEDARD REPORT: F Connor Bedard ran his point streak to 32 games with a pair of goals as his Regina Pats dumped the visiting Swift Current Broncos, 5-2,
on Saturday night. . . . The announced attendance was 6,499, the Pats’ first sellout in the Brandt Centre this season, as Bedard Fever seems finally to have taken over Regina and area. . . . The Pats now have played 21 home games; their past four games have drawn their four largest crowds of the season. . . . Bedard was kept off the scoresheet in his first game this season — a 5-4 loss to the visiting Moose Jaw Warriors on Sept. 23 — but since has been on a tear. . . . He leads the WHL in goals (39), assists (42) and points (81), all in 33 games. . . . In five games since returning from the World Junior Championship, he has 12 goals and five assists. . . . Bedard also has scored in eight straight games, seven off the franchise record set by Dale Derkatch to open the 1982-83 season. Rob Vanstone of the Regina Leader-Post also reminds us that the Pats’ record for longest point streak is 47 games and is shared by Jock Callander and Wally Schreiber from 1981-82. . . . The Pats wore SpongeBob SquarePants-themed sweaters for this one, and they were made available via auction. Bedard’s went for $13,025. (Proceeds from the auction are going to Children’s Miracle Network.) . . . The Pats now are off for a week. They next are scheduled to play on Jan. 29 against the visiting Medicine Hat Tigers. . . . Vanstone’s story from Saturday’s game is right here.
Monument located on Foul Bay Road in #VictoriaBC to commemorate where Patrick Arena once stood.
The Regina Pats (aka the Travelling Bedards) are scheduled to play in Calgary on Feb. 1. Alan Caldwell (@smallatlarge) advises that “the Hitmen have opened the upper bowl. . . . The lower bowl is sold out and looks like about the first 15 rows of the upper bowl as well. Looking at 14,000-15,000 fans at this point I think. Could be a sellout by game time???” . . .
With the Travelling Bedards scheduled to meet the Tigers in Medicine Hat on Feb. 5, James Tubb (@ReporterTubb) of the Medicine Hat News advises: “. . . if you haven’t gotten a ticket . . . you should act fast.” . . . According to WHL figures, the Tigers average announced attendance is 2,211 through 21 games. Co-op Place has a listed capacity of 7,100.
SATURDAY’S WHL HIGHLIGHTS:
RAIDERS WIN!!!! 3-1 is the final tonight!
P.S. Don’t let the banana peels trip ya on the way out Saskatoon😉
The host Prince Albert Raiders scored the game’s last three goals, all in the third period, as they beat the Saskatoon Blades, 3-1. . . . On Friday night in Saskatoon, the Blades, playing as the Saskatoon Bananas as part of an annual promotion, had beaten the Raiders, 6-1. . . . Last night, the Raiders were 2-for-2 on the PP with D Landon Kosior drawing the primary assist on each of them. . . .
F Alexander Suzdalev had a goal and two assists to help the host Regina Pats to a 5-2 victory over the Swift Current Broncos. . . . The Pats also got three assists from D Stanislav Svozil. . . . Suzdalev, a Russian freshman, has 24 goals and 33 assists in 42 games. . . . Svozil, a sophomore from Czechia, has five goals and 41 assists in 32 games. Last season, he finished with 41 points in 59 games. . . .
F Chase Wheatcroft scored in OT as the visiting Prince George Cougars got past the Edmonton Oil Kings, 4-3. . . . Wheatcroft won it with his 28th goal just 46 seconds into extra time. . . . F Koehn Ziemmer scored twice for the Cougars, giving him 26 goals on the season, including six in his past three games. . . . F Jaxsen Wiebe, who was acquired from Edmonton, drew the primary assist on the winner. . . . F Noah Boyko, who was dealt to Edmonton in the same deal, had a goal (11) and an assist. . . . The Cougars went 2-3-1 in their swing into the Central Division. . . .
F Kalan Lind’s OT goal gave the host Red Deer Rebels a 2-1 victory over the Brandon Wheat Kings. . . . Lind won it with his 14th goal at 0:39 of OT. . . . He has a goal in five straight games. . . . F Jayden Grubbe (12) pulled Red Deer into a 1-1 tie with a PP goal at 17:51 of the third period. . . .
The Medicine Hat Tigers got two goals from F Shane Smith as they ran their winning streak to three games with a 7-1 victory over the visiting Calgary Hitmen. . . . Smith, who turned 18 on Jan. 14, has 16 goals in his freshman season. . . . The Tigers had two players — D Kurtis Smith and D Josh Van Mulligen — score their first goals of the season in the final minute of the third period. . . .
The Kamloops Blazers erased a late 5-3 deficit and beat the visiting Tri-City Americans, 6-5, in OT. . . . F Logan Stankoven scored three times for Kamloops, including the winner at 2:47 of OT. Stankoven, who has 23 goals, forced OT with a goal at 16:47 of the third period. . . . Stankoven also had two assists, for the second five-point game in his past five games. He has four such outings in his career. . . . He also is riding a 27-game point streak. He has at least a point in every game he has played this season, totalling 23 goals and 38 assists. He and F Connor Bedard of the Regina Pats are the only two players averaging more than two points per game; Bedard is at 2.45 with Stankoven at 2.26. . . . D Olen Zellweger scored his 14th goal and added four assists for Kamloops. It was the second five-point game of his WHL career; he had one last season while with the Everett Silvertips. . . . F Ethan Ernst’s second goal of the game and 23rd of the season had given the Americans a 5-3 lead at 14:05 of the third period. . . . The Americans had won, 8-2, in Kamloops on Friday night. . . .
The Seattle Thunderbirds scored the game’s first six goals, the first three in the first period, en route to a 6-2 victory over the Everett Silvertips in Kent, Wash. . . . D Jeremy Hanzel had three assists for the winners, with F Kyle Crnkovic scoring twice (22). . . . The Thunderbirds held a 48-15 edge in shots. . . . Seattle F Brad Lambert missed his second straight home game as he works to get a visa situation straightened out. . . . Seattle is 6-0-0 against Everett this season, with a 31-10 edge in goals. . . .
F Matt Savoie scored the only goal of a shootout as the host Winnipeg Ice beat the Moose Jaw Warriors, 3-2. . . . They’ll play again today in Winnipeg. . . . F Zach Benson (25) had one of Winnipeg’s goals as he ran his point streak to 13 games. He has 11 goals and 17 assists over that stretch. . . . Moose Jaw F Atley Calvert went into this season with 18 goals in 102 career regular-season games; he scored his 26th of this season last night. . . . Ice G Daniel Hauser recorded the victory. He is 23-2-1 this season and 64-5-3 in his career. . . .
F Robbie Fromm-Delorme had two goals and an assist to help the Winterhawks to a 5-2 victory over the Lethbridge Hurricanes in Portland. . . . Fromm-Delorme, 20, had 15 goals and 19 assists in 38 games last season; this season, he’s got 25 goals and 29 assists in 40 outings. . . . F Gabe Klassen helped out with his 25th goal and an assist. . . . F Chaz Lucius, playing his second game with Portland, scored his first goal and added an assist. He’s got a goal and three assists in those two games. . . . The Hurricanes went 0-1-2 on a quick trip into the U.S. Division. . . .
The Spokane Chiefs scored three third-period goals and beat the visiting Victoria Royals, 6-3. . . . D Mac Gross (6) broke a 3-3 tie at 1:41 of the third period and F Cade Hayes added insurance with his eighth and ninth goals at 9:36 and 16:18. . . . F Jake Poole had a goal (24) and an assist for Victoria. He has put together a run of six straight multi-point games — one three-pointer and five deuces. . . . The Royals went 0-2-1 in a U.S. Division trip. . . .
The Vancouver Giants erased a 1-0 deficit with three goals and hung on to beat the Rockets, 4-3, in Kelowna. . . . G Brett Mirwald stopped 25 shots for the Giants, who scored two PP goals. . . . F Adam Kidd (13) scored twice for the Rockets, the second one getting them to within one at 13:20 of the third period.
Honestly trying to let this go but…I've never seen anything like this, ever. Mid-season.. half a season to go…yet everyone knows the coach is done…the players the media the fans …cats and dogs… it's the strangest coach firing I have ever seen. Ever. The Canucks are nuts
“You never know if it’s the end,” Bruce Boudreau begins, tearfully. “Youve been it for 50 years, and if it’s the end? So I had to stay out there and look at the crowd and say to myself ‘remember this moment’” #Canucks
The U of Windsor Lancers men’s hockey team is going to spend some time in Merritt, B.C., in August. They will be involved in a hockey academy while there, and they also will play a couple of exhibition games. The big news — really big news — is that they are going to spend time working with First Nations communities who continue on the road to recovery from wildfires and floods that hit them hard in 2021. . . . The Lancers will be helping to erect five emergency homes, a project that should take five days if all goes according to plan. . . . “We’re always looking for opportunities for our student athletes to learn and grow at the rink and away from the rink,” head coach Kevin Hamlin said, “and this just seemed to be a great fit given all the craziness that’s happened and come to light out west.” . . . There’s more on this story from AM800 News right here.
The New Westminster Bruins raised single-game ticket prices prior to the 1985-86 season . . .
The Seattle Thunderbirds have acquired F Kyle Crnkovic, 20, the WHL’s fifth-leading scorer last season, from the Saskatoon Blades for F Conner Roulette, 19, and a third-round pick in the WHL’s 2026 draft. . . . Crnkovic, a first-round pick by the Blades in the WHL’s 2017 draft, had 94 points, including 39 goals, in 68 games last season. In 210 games over four-plus seasons with Saskatoon, he put up 81 goals and 140 assists. He is from Chestermere, Alta. . . . Seattle now has two 20-year-olds on its roster, the other being F Jared Davidson, who finished last season with 42 goals and 47 assists in 64 games. . . . Seattle selected Roulette, who is from Winnipeg, in the second round of the WHL’s 2018 draft. In 131 games with the Thunderbirds, he had 117 points, including 49 goals. Last season, he put up 24 goals and 42 assists in 65 games. He added 18 points, five of them goals, in 25 playoff games as Seattle reached the WHL final. . . . The Dallas Stars picked Roulette in the fourth round of the NHL’s 2021 draft. . . . The Blades, who open training camp on Thursday, have yet to post a training camp roster on their website. But I believe they now have two 20-year-olds with them — F Josh Pillar and D Aidan De La Gorgendiere. Moving Crnkovic, then, would perhaps indicate that another deal/acquisition is imminent.
Class of 2022-Gary Brotzel/Bernie Eiswirth-Baseball;Budram & Richard Singh-Cricket,Chelsea Stone-Taekwon do;Dick Wiest-Hockey/Football;Brad Hornung-Hockey;Jim Hopson-Football. Join us Oct 6 Queensbury Ctr for Induction Night. Tickets https://t.co/Ql7EwW8D3Spic.twitter.com/PXxXfohQVL
G Chase Coward won’t be on the Red Deer Rebels’ roster when the new season gets rolling. Coward, 19, got into 35 games last season, but medical issues now have him on the sideline. . . . “Chase underwent testing this summer and discovered a congenital defect to his lower body,” Brent Sutter, the Rebels’ owner, president and general manager, said in a news release. “At this time, Chase has decided he will not attend training camp or be a part of the Rebels’ roster to start the season, and we support him as he navigates through the process.” . . . In 41 regular-season games, 35 of them last season, the Swift Current native was 24-11-3, 2.62, .904. . . . Last season, Coward was 22-10-2, 2.51, .906. . . . As WHL observer Alan Caldwell tweeted: “This leaves the Rebels with no experienced goaltenders since they traded Coward’s 21-22 batterymate Connor Ungar to Moose Jaw in the spring.” . . . Perhaps the Rebels would be interested in one of two veteran OHL goaltenders, both of them 20 years of age, who have been waived. Tucker Tynan was dropped by the Soo Grehyounds, while the Peterborough Petes have dropped Tye Austin. . . . G Kyle Kelsey, 18, who was acquired from the Warriors in the Ungar deal, may get a look. However, the Rebels, who open camp on Thursday, have yet to post a training camp roster.
The MacBeth Report (@MacBethReport) reports that two former WHLers — Brandon Davidson and Tyler Wong — signed contracts with Kunlun Red Star Beijing of the KHL this week. Davidson, who played last season with the AHL’s Rochester Americans, signed a two-year deal, while Wong signed a four-year extension after putting up 14 goals and 14 assists in 48 games last season. He has played the past three seasons with Kunlun Red Star. . . . Davidson, 31, played three seasons (2009-12) with the Regina Pats. Wong, 26, spent five seasons (2012-17) with the Lethbridge Hurricanes. . . . The interesting thing about these signings is that Kunlun Red Star will be playing out of Mytishchi, Russia, for a second straight season because of COVID-19 restrictions for foreigners entering China. According to The MacBeth Report, “Mytishchi is an outer northern suburb of Moscow.” . . . Am I the only one who finds it interesting that Canadian players are signing contracts to play in Russia while that country is making war on Ukraine?
THE COACHING GAME:
The AJHL’s Drayton Valley Thunder announced late Monday that Jeff Shantz, its general manager and head coach, was leaving to join the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes as a development coach. . . . From a news release: “Sean Brown has assumed all head coach and general manager duties for the Thunder, and has begun our search for Jeff’s replacement.” . . . Brown was named associate GM and associate coach on July 18. . . . Shantz was introduced as the GM/head coach on July 13 after a five-year run as a coach at the Edge School in Calgary. Shantz, 48, played three seasons (1990-93) with the Regina Pats before going on to play 642 regular-season NHL games. He finished his pro career by playing eight seasons in Europe. . . .
The BCHL’s Trail Smoke Eaters have signed Tim Fragle, their general manager and head coach, to a contract extension that runs through the 2024-25 season. . . . Fragile is preparing for his third season with the Smoke Eaters with whom he spent two seasons (1997-99) as a player. . . .
The AHL’s Calgary Wranglers have added former WHL players Mackenzie Skapski and Daniel Johnston to head coach Mitch Love’s staff. . . . Skapski, a former goaltender, will serve as development goaltending coach; Johnston will be the video coach and also work in team services. . . . They will work alongside assistant coaches Don Nachbaur and Joe Cirella. . . . Skapski, 28, played three seasons (2011-14) with the WHL’s Kootenay Ice. In a five-season pro career, he got into two NHL games with the New York Rangers, going 2-0-0, 0.50, .978 with one shutout. . . . Johnston, 29, played four full seasons (2009-13) and parts of two others in the WHL, starting with the Portland Winterhawks and finishing with the Lethbridge Hurricanes. He spent the past two seasons on the Brandon Wheat Kings’ coaching staff. . . .
Former NHL D Ladislav Smid will be a guest coach when the Edmonton Oil Kings, the WHL’s defending champions, open training camp this week. Smid, from Frydiant, Czech Republic, has retired after a 17-season pro career, the last five with Bili Tygri Liberec of the Czech Extraliga. He spent 11 seasons in the NHL, playing with the Edmonton Oilers, who own the Oil Kings, and the Calgary Flames. . . . The Oil Kings also revealed that Kirt Hill, who is preparing for his fifth season as president of hockey operations and general manager, has signed a multi-year contract extension, but the exact length wasn’t provided. . . . The Oil Kings also revealed that Luke Pierce, who moved from assistant coach to head coach after Brad Lauer left for the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets, also has signed a multi-year extension. Again, the exact length wasn’t provided. . . . There is more on the Oil Kings’ hockey operations staff right here.
Does anyone need a junior hockey writer? I'm based in Victoria, BC. Old school, but also have little tolerance for politics/bullshit. Fast breaks, big hits and timely goals get my interest. Bitches about ice-time, team politics or mandates can suck eggs. Let me know
THINKING OUT LOUD — A reminder to those folks who cover junior hockey: There isn’t any such thing as an overage player; he is a 20-year-old player. Were he overage, he wouldn’t be eligible to play. . . . And while we’re at it, there aren’t any assistant captains; there are alternate captains. . . . If you are a fan of the Oakland A’s or Washington Nationals, I feel for you. Consider that after Tuesday’s games, they had combined for 92 victories. The Los Angeles Dodgers, meanwhile, had won 90 games. . . . Hey, WHL, you’ve got teams opening training camps this week and there still are rosters that aren’t available. Believe it or not, there really are fans and other observers who are interested in these things. . . . Hey, WHL, perhaps you could create a full-time, high-salaried position for Alan Caldwell. You know, Minister of Statistics, Rosters, Draft Picks and Information, or something like that. If you’re interested, Caldwell is posting rosters right here as he is able to locate them. He also will be updating them as camps progress. I checked the spreadsheets there Tuesday night and got a message telling me that “some tools might be unavailable due to heavy traffic.” Yes, WHL, people really are interested in this stuff.
If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:
After calling the home run by Kirk Gibson, Vin Scully was silent for 75 seconds as he allowed the game to breathe and the viewing audience to take it all in. . . . Yes, there is a lesson there somewhere.
The Kamloops Blazers made it official on Tuesday morning — Don Hay is back in the organization as associate coach. Hay, 68, is the winningest head coach in WHL history. He spent the past four seasons with the Portland Winterhawks, three as an assistant coach and last season as assistant coach. . . . Of course, if you’re a regular here, you weren’t surprised by the announcement. Because here’s what you read in this space on July 26:
“The Kamloops Blazers . . . have an opening after associate coach Mark Holick left the club on June 10, citing personal reasons. Now there are rumblings that Don Hay, the winningest head coach in WHL history, is returning to the Blazers to work alongside Shaun Clouston, the general manager and head coach.”
What is interesting about Hay’s return is that he didn’t leave Kamloops on the best of terms with majority owner Tom Gaglardi. It was on May 10, 2018, when Gaglardi, at a news conference that didn’t include Hay, announced: “Don Hay is a legend and it is only fitting that he is able to retire with his hometown Kamloops Blazers as the winningest coach in WHL history.” . . . Except that Hay wasn’t retiring. As mentioned, he moved on to work with general manager/head coach Mike Johnston in Portland. . . . And, in fact, Hay told Marty Hastings of Kamloops This Week that he had agreed to return to Portland for another season. But that was before Clouston asked Johnston for the OK to talk with Hay about a return to Kamloops. . . .
Hay also told Hastings that he and Gaglardi patched things up before making this latest deal. “I talked to Tom through the process,” Hay told Hastings. “That was a concern for me, definitely, and we talked it over. We both talked our way through it and I understood the way he was thinking and he understood my side of it, as well. We both have the ability to move past it. That was a big step in making the decision. It’s funny how situations change.” . . .
When the new season gets here, Hay will be back behind the Blazers bench for a 14th season. A Kamloops native, he was an assistant coach for six seasons (1986-92) and head coach for seven (1992-95, 2014-18). He was a big part of the Blazers’ three Memorial Cup championships — 1992, 1994 and 1995. The Blazers, of course, will be the host team for the 2023 Memorial Cup tournament. . . . According to the WHL, Hay has 750 regular-season and 108 playoff victories to his credit, and is the all-time leader in both categories. . . . Clouston, with 498 regular-season victories, is the leader among head coaches still active in the WHL. He is on track to become the 10th head coach in league history to reach 500 regular-season victories. . . .
Also on Tuesday, the Blazers revealed that they and Clouston, 54, have agreed to a contract extension. No, they didn’t reveal the length of the extension. Clouston is preparing for his fourth season as the Blazers’ head coach; he has been the GM for a year. . . . Hastings also reported that former Blazers D Aaron Keller is expected back as an assistant coach, while long-time goaltending coach Dan DePalma also is expected to return. Also from Hastings: “Clouston . . . said the team is still working to hire Chris Murray as full-time assistant. Murray had shoulder replacement surgery last week.”
As I also wrote in this space on July 26, Don Hay’s departure from Portland likely will allow Kyle Gustafson to return to the Winterhawks. Gustafson, who is from Portland, spent 18 seasons with them before signing on as an assistant coach with the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks prior to the 2021-22 season. At the time, Travis Green, also a product of the Winterhawks, was in his fifth season as the Canucks’ head coach. Unfortunately, Green didn’t finish the season, and Gustafson lost his job in a post-season shakeup. . . . Gustafson, 41, started with the Winterhawks as an assistant coach; when he left, he was assistant general manager and associate coach. . . . His return as associate coach also would allow the Winterhawks to put into place a plan of succession that could have Gustafson take over the head-coaching reins from Mike Johnston in a season or two. Johnston, 65, also is the vice-president and general manager.
Keaton Ellerby, a former WHL defenceman, is getting into the coaching game. The 33-year-old native of Strathmore, Alta., has signed on with the Prince Albert Raiders as an assistant coach. He fills the spot that opened up when Jeff Truitt was promoted to head coach following the departure of Marc Habscheid. . . . Ellerby played four seasons (2004-08) in the WHL, three-plus with the Kamloops Blazers and finishing up by playing 53 games with the Moose Jaw Warriors. . . . His pro career included 212 NHL games over six seasons, split among the Florida Panthers, Los Angeles Kings and Winnipeg Jets. He spent the past seven seasons in Europe, finishing up his playing career with the EIHL’s Sheffield Steelers in 2021-22.
The Calgary Wranglers are back, just not in the WHL. The NHL’s Calgary Flames announced on Tuesday that their AHL affiliate that will play out of the Saddledome will carry the nickname Wranglers. . . . That AHL franchise had been in Stockton, Calif., where it was the Heat, for seven seasons. . . . The junior Wranglers played in the WHL for 10 seasons, beginning in 1977. . . . The AHL Wranglers, under head coach Mitch Love, will be housed in the Saddledome, along with the Flames,the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen, and the NLL’s Calgary Roughnecks. . . . I don’t know . . . can you have the Wranglers in Calgary without Doug Sauter being involved? Maybe he’ll drop the puck on opening night.
THINKING OUT LOUD: It could be worse . . . you could be a fan of the Washington Nationals, who won the 2019 World Series but now haven’t anything left. Over the last while, the Nationals have gotten rid of starter Max Scherzer, SS Trea Turner, OF Bryce Harper, 3B Anthony Rendon and now OF Juan Soto. . . . The Nationals went 26-34 in the 2020 pandemic season, then 65-97 in 2021. Now they are the worst team in baseball and they just traded away the game’s brightest young star. Oh, and the franchise is for sale. . . . Here’s Joe Posnaski: “(Soto) dominates the strike zone in ways that boggle the mind; it’s no coincidence that people constantly compare him to Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived.” . . . Posnaski, who writes at Joe Blogs, also wrote: “I guess for me, it comes down to this: Yesterday I could go to a Nationals game and watch one of the best hitters who ever lived. And today I can’t. And, to be honest, today I can’t think of a single other reason to watch the Nationals play.”
Wayne Kartusch, who spent 25 years as the president of the SJHL, died a week ago in Red Deer. He was 82. . . . A complete obituary is right here.
If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:
Hello, friend. Yes, you . . . from the white one-ton truck that was pulled in off Wittner Road east of Kamloops on Saturday morning. You know, on the south side of the South Thompson River, just across from the Lafarge plant.
I was wondering if you lost your camper?
When I walked past your truck with the white camper on the back I didn’t see anyone, so I assumed you were fishing off the shore. I even wondered if you might be camping there for the weekend.
Then when I went for my Sunday morning stroll, I noticed your truck was gone but the camper was still there, albeit on its roof.
I can only assume that it slid off the back of your truck as you drove away and that you didn’t notice it. I mean, you wouldn’t be ignorant enough just to dump the old camper right there now, would you? Perhaps you were too busy trying to figure out how to use your turn signals to notice that the camper was gone. Hey, it happens to all of us.
Anyway . . . by now you likely have noticed that it’s missing and now you know where it is, so I’m sure you’ll drop by one day this week and pick it up.
In 1991, Andre Dawson was called out looking by Cowboy Joe West and then ejected for arguing the call. He was fined $500 by the National League and paid it via check with the memo line filled out “Donation for the blind.” True story. I love Andre Dawson. pic.twitter.com/xZj2av8we7
Dwight Perry, in the Seattle Times: “Jon Berti of the Miami Marlins leads all of baseball in steals, with 25, at the season’s halfway point. Unless you count the former treasurer of the Oakville, Ont., Minor Baseball Association, who is accused of embezzling $468,000 from the league.”
Perry, again: “Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has a new tattoo on his left arm — intricate astrological designs by Hungarian artist Balazs Bercsenyi. What were you expecting, a bull’s-eye with the words ‘insert vaccination here?’ ”
THINKING OUT LOUD: If you were on Twitter the afternoon of July 4, I think you’ll admit it was kind of surreal with tweets about the mass shooting in Highland Park, Ill., and a hot dog-eating contest in Coney Island, N.Y., seemingly alternating in that particular social media universe. . . . During the NHL’s 2022-23 regular season, the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames will meet three times — none once in the season’s second half. Seriously! In the CFL this season, the Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Eskimos meet on four occasions. . . . Battle of Alberta? Not in the NHL, I guess. . . . In the WHL, the Edmonton Oil Kings and Calgary Hitmen will clash on eight occasions. . . . Still with the NHL’s 2022-23 schedule, the New York Rangers and New York Islanders will see each other only three times, all before Christmas. . . .
Hey, Blue Jays fans, how did you survive Friday night with your favourites and the host Seattle Mariners available only on Apple TV+? In its attempts to find new fans, MLB does that every once in a while just to remind some of us that at the end of the day it really does take those of us who are regular viewers for granted. . . . Don’t look now but here come the Baltimore Orioles. . . .
Yes, the Saskatchewan Roughriders should release DT Garrett Marino after that embarrassing performance on Friday night. Will they? Marino, in his second season with the Roughriders, has proven he can be a productive player, so I would be shocked if he is cut loose. . . . Until Sunday night, I haven’t been eagerly awaiting the arrival of robo umps in Major League Baseball. But after watching Giancarlo Stanton of the New York Yankees take six pitches, all of which were balls, and be called out on strikes, well, I guess it’s time.
There are now 26 contracts in North American sports leagues with average annual salaries of at least $40 million. 8 of the top 10 largest annual contract values belong to NBA players and the other 2 are for NFL players (Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson). https://t.co/iYJEOimouJpic.twitter.com/LQApzEr9Ht
After I posted a story here the other day about the Kelowna Rockets switching radio stations — they left AM 1150 after more than 20 years and now are with 104.7 The Lizard — one reply to the tweet about the piece had me chuckling. . . .
Called the Rockets but have a logo that's a lake monster…but looks more like a dragon…and a mascot that's a racoon…with radio on the Lizard? It's like a kindergarten class mad-lib.
BTW, some WHL fans really are waiting anxiously to find out if Regan Bartel, the long-time radio voice of the Rockets, will ever pitter-patter and get at ‘er again. . . . Hey, TSN, do you still need a play-by-play voice for your Winnipeg Jets telecasts?
JUNIOR JOTTINGS: The Brandon Wheat Kings have promoted Chris Moulton to director of hockey operations. He had been the director of player personnel since joining the organization on July 2, 2021. Before signing on with Brandon, Moulton spent 13 seasons with the Spokane Chiefs as director of scouting and director of player personnel. . . . Moulton’s promotion follows the May 6 announcement that general manager Doug Gasper had resigned for personal reasons. He had been with the Wheat Kings for three seasons, the first two as assistant general manager and the last one as GM. . . .
The OHL’s board of governors has approved the sale of the Niagara IceDogs to a group headed by majority owner Darren DeDobbelaer and including minority owner Wayne Gretzky. . . . DeDobbelaer and Gretzky both are from Brantford, Ont. . . . They purchased the IceDogs from Denise and Bill Burke, who had bought the franchise from the late Eugene Melnyk. . . . Ken Campbell of Hockey Unfiltered has reported that the price the DeDobbelaer group paid is “believed to be $18 million, which is actually 10 percent less than the $20 million owners Bill and Denise Burke were seeking for the franchise.” . . . The IceDogs play out of St. Catharines, Ont. . . . This isn’t Gretzky’s first time being involved in the ownership of a major junior franchise. He was involved in the ownership of the OHL’s Belleville Bulls (1982-84) and owned a piece of the QMJHL’s Hull Olympiques (1985-92).
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 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 are pretty much as originally written. . . . Here is Part 3. . . .
The mid-1970s belonged to the Ernie McLean-coached New Westminster Bruins. They were the Western Canada Hockey League’s most-dominant team.
If you didn’t believe that, well, they would convince you of it. And they’d do that any way they felt like it.
The Bruins ran their string of WCHL titles to four, and won the Memorial Cup the last two seasons, in 1976-77 and 1977-78. But by the time the 1980-81 season ended, the bloom was off the rose in New Westminster. Little did anyone know that it never would return.
Prior to the start of the 1976-77 season, the WCHL instituted a rule calling for an automatic game misconduct to any player who initiated a fight. Ironically, the first player stung was Brandon Wheat Kings starry centre Bill Derlago. He got the heave-ho after starting a scrap with Brian Schnitzler of the Saskatoon Blades in a season-opening 3-0 Brandon victory.
Two coaches felt WCHL president Ed Chynoweth’s wrath on Nov. 2. Ivan Prediger of the Kamloops Chiefs was suspended for 20 games, while Ken Hodge of the Portland Winter Hawks got 10 games. Prediger apparently struck Hodge during an altercation between the benches on Oct. 24.
There was joy in Regina on Jan. 27 when the Pats scored a 3-2 victory over visiting Portland. It ended a 36- game Regina winless streak that covered 96 days. “I hope the players don’t become satisfied with the win,” said Lorne Davis, who had taken over as GM/head coach from Del Wilson and Bob Turner with the Pats at 2-32-5.
A nine-hour meeting in Calgary resulted in a new playoff format. Under the original format, the Flin Flon Bombers, third in the East, were 20 points ahead of Regina and all but had a playoff spot locked up. Suddenly, there was a new format and the Bombers were fighting for a spot. Oh yes, they were also on a 15-game West Coast road trip.
“In this league, you need two pieces of equipment,” said Flin Flon boss Mickey Keating. “You need a face-guard when you play some of the teams on the ice and a back protector for the committee room. I had inklings that there may be changes in the playoffs but I had confidence there were intelligent hockey men in this league. I was shown different.”
In Portland, the Winter Hawks were beginning to carve out a niche, which resulted in this March 1 comment from GM Brian Shaw: “We’re selling the all-American boy image. Our players are all properly dressed in public. They all have respectable hair lengths. We feel image is important. Our players have become our outstanding selling point, and they have actually played much better because of the great acceptance which now is blossoming in Portland.”
In mid-April, Kamloops majority owner Ephram Steinke admitted the franchise would likely move to Spokane over the summer. The reasons? Steinke blamed almost $500,000 in losses over four years, and the city’s refusal to construct a new arena.
On May 12, the Calgary Centennials signed Bob Strumm as general manager. One of Strumm’s first moves was to confirm that a move to Billings was being contemplated.
Strumm, who had been Chynoweth’s executive assistant, was, at 29, the WCHL’s youngest GM. He would be one of the league’s most-prominent figures through the mid-1980s.
The Calgary move became official on May 19. Eleven days later, Kamloops moved to Seattle and became the Breakers under new owner John Hamilton.
On July 19, at the annual meeting in Calgary, the transfer of the Winnipeg Monarchs to Calgary was approved. Del Wilson, president and governor of the Pats, was named chairman of the board, replacing Bill Burton.
When Winnipeg moved to Calgary and became the Wranglers, owner Gerry Brisson named Doug Barkley as GM. The coach? It was Brisson. Would the GM be able to fire the owner/coach.
The 1977-78 regular season hadn’t even started when McLean was in trouble. It stemmed from an exhibition game against the host Victoria Cougars when midway in the second period he ventured into the stands to tangle with a fan who was taunting him. For his troubles, McLean got a gash on his forehead and, later, a $250 fine. This would serve as an omen.
A fierce rivalry was building between Regina and the Brandon Wheat Kings. After one early-season game, Davis had this to say: “If (Dave) Semenko would have been close enough to the box I would have swung at him . . . he came over by our bench trying to intimidate us.” To which Brandon coach Dunc McCallum responded: “How can a 220-pound man be held back by a stick boy?”
A few days later, Semenko joined the WHA’s Edmonton Oilers. A couple of years later, Davis joined the Oilers as a scout.
Derlago, perhaps the best pure offensive talent this league has seen, had a 40-game point streak end on Nov. 9 when he left a game with a thigh injury during his first shift. One month later, he blew out a knee in an exhibition game against the Moscow Selects. Had Derlago not been hurt, who knows what kind of numbers he would have put up? When he was injured, he had 48 goals and 80 points in 26 games. He was on pace for 133 goals, three more than the then-CMJHL record of 130 held by Guy Lafleur.
On Feb. 3, Jack McLeod resigned as coach of the Saskatoon Blades. He stayed on as GM, but put Garry Peters behind the bench. In Calgary, Barkley, the GM, took over as coach from Brisson, the owner.
More bad ink, and lots of it, in early February when McLean was slapped with a 25-game suspension for allegedly hitting an official. He returned for the playoffs.
“Our league has long been accused of protecting either our coaches or, more particularly, owner/coaches, but there is no way one coach or one franchise is bigger than the league,” Chynoweth said. “I can live with the so-called violence on ice, as projected by the media, but when it comes to our officials, qualified or unqualified, I look at things much differently.”
More bad ink in the first round of the playoffs. Yes, it emerged from a round-robin series. This one featured Brandon, Flin Flon and Regina in a double home-and-home series. When it got to the final game, Flin Flon at Regina, the Pats had to beat the Bombers by at least six goals to eliminate Brandon and set up a Regina-Flin Flon division final. Regina won 10-4 and the high-powered Wheat Kings, led by the likes of Derlago, Brian Propp, Laurie Boschman and Ray Allison, were done like so much burnt toast.
“For us to say anything is stupid. You saw what happened,” Flin Flon defenceman Ray Markham said after the game.
Ultimately, Flin Flon, New Westminster and Billings advanced to the WCHL’s round-robin semi-final to eliminate one team and put the other two in the championship final. Out went Flin Flon. New Westminster then swept Billings in the final. It was the Bruins’ fourth straight WCHL title and they would win their second consecutive Memorial Cup.
The Bruins, a power for oh, so long, would rarely be heard from in a positive light again.
On May 22, Flin Flon governor Gord Mitchell revealed that the community-owned team would cease operations. “I hate to see it go,” Mitchell said. “It’s certainly not the fault of the league. The league’s not kicking us out. But there comes a time when something like this seems to be the most reasonable thing to do. We’re a small centre and it got to the point where the league had outgrown us.”
A week later, Chynoweth, who had threatened to resign, announced he would remain as president, thanks to a promise from the governors that an executive assistant would be provided to help with such things as discipline. Wilson, the part-owner of the Pats, filled the bill as vice-president and referee-in-chief. Shaw replaced Wilson as chairman of the board.
On June 1, Gregg Pilling was named GM/coach in Regina, replacing Davis who, in a surprise move, was fired. Davis professed sadness, saying he had worked awfully hard and that all of that work would bear fruit in two years. Which is exactly what happened — two years later the Pats were in the Memorial Cup. But Pilling was gone by that point.
It was during the summer of 1978 when Chynoweth began talking of an education program. On July 4, he announced a program whereby teams would provide a year’s tuition and books at a recognized post-secondary institution for every season a player was in the league.
On Aug. 16, Chynoweth announced an Edmonton group headed by Bill Hunter had purchased the Flin Flon franchise from the league. Hunter would be president and governor, Vic Mah would be first vice-president.
The 1978-79 season began with news of a name change and ended with a new champion for the first time since the spring of ’74.
With three of 12 teams situated in the U.S., the WCHL was no more. Now it was the Western Hockey League.
The goofiness started on Oct. 22 when Pilling went into the penalty box at the start of the third period of a game in Calgary. He said he would serve a bench minor handed him for delay of game at the end of the second period in what would be an 8-1 loss. Pilling also alternated goaltenders Jeff Lastiwka and Gregg Dumba every shift change after a brawl at 2:52 of the second. Changing goalies ended 30 seconds into the third period when, with the faceoff outside Regina’s blueline, Dumba lined up behind his net. He was given a gross misconduct.
Chynoweth, who fined Pilling $1,000, said: “I thought it was a circus. I wouldn’t blame anybody if they didn’t go back.”
This was to be the season of McCallum’s Wheat Kings. That much was evident when Brandon ran its two-season unbeaten streak to a WHL-record 49 games and its single-season streak to 29 games. Brandon finally lost, going down 9-4 in Edmonton on Dec. 13 with the Oil Kings scoring all nine goals with the man advantage.
There was more news from Brandon on Jan. 11 when GM Jack Brockest, one of the WHL’s most likeable people, bought the team.
If any team could match Brandon it was Portland. The Winter Hawks had a 19-game unbeaten streak ended when visiting Brandon won 7-4 to go to 42-3-7.
In mid-March, rumours had the Edmonton franchise, which was averaging about 500 fans a game, moving to Great Falls, Montana, or Red Deer.
Things got ugly on March 22 in New Westminster when an incident involving the Bruins and Portland resulted in McLean’s being suspended indefinitely and seven of his players being charged by police. A game-ending brawl broke out, but this one was different because, while the Bruins left their bench, Hodge managed to keep his players under control.
On March 27, Wilson said McLean would not be allowed to coach during the playoffs, nor would he be allowed to communicate with the bench from the press box as he had done during previous suspensions.
McLean apologized for the brawl at a Vancouver press conference: “I have to take the full load, the full responsibility for what happened . . . when I look at it, maybe the game has gone by me. Maybe my coaching style isn’t what’s needed anymore. I’m an old horse that’s been at it for 25 years and it’s tough to change your thinking. The game is changing — maybe I haven’t changed with it.”
On April 4, GM Bill Shinske and McLean announced the Bruins were for sale, for $350,000.
The Winter Hawks got a small measure of revenge, beating the visiting Bruins 5-3 on April 8 to eliminate them from post-season play.
But this sad episode would drag on through the summer.
Meanwhile, Brandon was finishing with a 58-5-9 record, setting or tying 19 records.
The Oil Kings were sold on April 10, with ownership handed over to a Portland group headed by Bob Cooper and Tom Gauthier, who said they would move the franchise to Great Falls. “I guess sports is not my bowl of rice,” said Mah, an Edmonton restauranteur. It was Mah’s second go-round as an owner in Edmonton, and he wouldn’t give up. He would try and try again and again to get another franchise for the Alberta capital.
On April 20, charges of common assault were filed against seven Bruins — J.P. Kelly, Terry Kirkham, Bruce Howes, Rick Amann, Boris Fistric, Rob Roflik and Bill Hobbins. In August, the seven pleaded guilty. Judge James Shaw — no relation to the Portland general manager — granted conditional discharges to all seven, then banned them from league games at any level until Dec. 1. McLean said Shaw was “trying to be the judge who is going to clean up hockey. I’m worried about the affect on the game because the judge’s ruling makes a hip-check a criminal offence.”
Portland and Brandon ended up in the final, with Brandon winning in six games.
And, on May 28, Chynoweth resigned, effective June 30. This time he would leave, becoming part-owner of the Wranglers. “It’s more than 25 per cent and less than 50,” said majority-owner Jim Morley.
In late May, Pat Ginnell, who had been with the Lethbridge Broncos, moved north to take over the Medicine Hat Tigers. Mike Sauter would replace him in Lethbridge. Dave King left as coach in Billings to become head coach at the University of Saskatchewan.
The Pats were sold on June 8, with Wilson, Bill Patton, Gord Wicijowski, D.K. MacPherson, Wilf Degelman and Bob Babchuk selling to the Pinders — father Dick and sons Herb, Gerry and Tom. The price was believed to be near $300,000. Strumm was named GM, governor and part-owner.
Strumm later signed Bryan Murray as head coach and one of the great turnarounds in WHL history was under way.
But before that got started, Dave Descent was chosen to run the WHL. In his third season with the Canadian Amateur Wrestling Association at the time, Descent had lots of hockey experience at various levels in the OHA. “This job is an opportunity to get back into hockey, which is my chosen sport, and advance my sporting career,” he said.
Regina, which finished 18-47-7 (last in the East, second-worst in the league) in 1978-79, would go 47-24-1 in 1979-80 to win the division.
It was obvious early that the Bruins were going to pay a steep price for the brawl against Portland. They got their first point, after 13 losses, with a 5-5 tie in Great Falls on Oct. 31.
And on Nov. 16 McLean was at it again. And again it involved Portland.
McLean got tangled up with a fan at a game in Portland and was charged with fourth-degree assault. In one of the most ironical situations in WHL history, McLean was in jail until Brian Shaw posted his bail of $525. Charges were later reduced to harassment and it was all cleared up when a civil compromise was signed, ending the criminal case.
In mid-December, Descent’s title was changed from executive director to president. And concern was being shown about Great Falls, which was 2-22-1 and hurtin’ at the gate. The Americans folded on Dec. 13.
On March 2, McLean threw a 30-gallon garbage can onto the ice to protest the work of referee Ken Wheler during a game against visiting Portland.
The next day, Descent announced his resignation. Said Descent: “Speaking honestly, I’ve enjoyed my stay and feel it was a positive experience. But for personal reasons I’ve decided to take a different career path which is something I’m not at liberty to discuss now.”
Shaw said a five-man board would run the league, and that McLean would be suspended for three games for throwing the can. Oh yes, McLean was later named acting chairman of the management committee.
On March 24, McLean said he was leaving the Bruins. “I’ve made up my mind,” he said. “I’ve worn out my welcome. I will not be in New Westminster next year. We built a dynasty here but it’s time to move on.” All this after the Bruins set a WHL record with 61 losses. It was the first time in 18 seasons that McLean had missed playoffs.
On April 17, Vancouver businessman Nelson Skalbania bought out McLean and Shinske for slightly more than $300,000.
A week later, the WHL announced that Winnipeg would have an expansion team for 1980-81 and that the owners were former Pats star Fran Huck, his law partner Gerald Gunn and Winnipeg businessmen Harry Buekert, Arnold DeFehr and Marsdon Fenwick. Buekert would be GM, with Huck as coach.
On April 27, Regina beat visiting Victoria, 5-4, to win the WHL final, 4-1. The 1980 Memorial Cup, which would be won by the Cornwall Royals, opened in Brandon and closed in Regina.
During the Memorial Cup it became apparent the major juniors were terribly concerned with NHL’s practice of drafting 18-year-olds.
Chynoweth said: “I understand the legal problems the NHL has, although I don’t sympathize with it . . . at this rate, the pros will be scouting midgets soon.”
McLeod remembered the 1979 draft: “Back in June one NHL general manager said there was nothing to worry about, that only seven or eight under-ages would be taken. When they took 58, we were a little disturbed. Once they got into it, they just kept going.”
Junior teams were to be paid $50,000 to $65,000 for under-age players who stuck in the NHL.
Some NHL people said they weren’t in favour of the 18-year-old draft, either.
“The general managers unanimously fought to the 11th hour to avoid drafting under-ages,” said Washington GM Max McNab. “We were going to get caught in a lawsuit. But the NHL is like the government in the eyes of the public here. We’re going to get shot at in any decision.”
On May 15, the WHL announced that the dormant Great Falls franchise would relocate to Spokane with Cooper remaining as majority owner.
On June 26, Skalbania, already the owner of New Westminster and the NHL’s Calgary Flames, bought 50 per cent of the Wranglers. Skalbania explained: “It’s a sympathetic thing. I said when we bought the Flames that we’d support junior hockey in Calgary and I can’t think of a way we’d be supporting it any more than owning the team. I just hope we don’t lose that much money with them.”
Pat Shimbashi, a minority owner in Lethbridge, bought the other 50 per cent of the Wranglers from Jim Morley and Chynoweth, which meant that the latter would return as WHL president.
On June 27, Skalbania completed his purchase of the Bruins, buying 100 per cent for $325,000. McLean stayed as GM, while Skalbania’s 20-year-old daughter, Rozanda, was named president.
McLean resigned a couple of weeks later and Tracy Pratt was named GM. “I’d like to forget about the big bad Bruins of the past,” Pratt said, “and I’d like to think of them as the scrappy Bruins in the future. My concern is putting families back in the building. There was a shade too much violence in past years and many people became very bitter about what happened at Queen’s Park Arena.”
The league lost its referee-in-chief on Aug. 8 when Wilson announced he would scout for the Montreal Canadiens, a team with which he had long been associated.
The 1980-81 season opened quietly enough, but the silence was shattered on Dec. 1 with a shakeup in Saskatoon. McLeod and coach Lorne Frey ended their association with the Blades. Majority owner Nate Brodsky bought McLeod’s share (20 per cent) and named Daryl Lubiniecki GM and coach.
Lubiniecki began shaking things up when, on Jan. 15, he traded one player — centre Rocky Trottier — to Billings for six players — Pat Rabbitt, Dave Brown, Brad Duggan, Dave Chartier, Lyndon Byers and Al Acton.
Fighting was still a concern and on Dec. 17 Chynoweth announced that teams would be fined $2,500 if their players fought before games or between periods. Players who started the fights or were main combatants would get a minimum of five games.
A black cloud continued to follow the Bruins. A labour dispute forced them to play their last 29 games on the road. Their last 13 home games were played in such places as Bellingham, Wash., Kamloops, Trail, Duncan, B.C., and Coleman, Alta. The Bruins set a WHL record by losing 25 in a row and had to give season-ticket holders a refund for the 13 home games that were moved.
There were rumblings out of Swift Current that the locals were interested in a WHL franchise. John Rittinger, president of the SJHL team there, was trying to raise money for the venture. “I can’t give you a figure at this time,” he said on April 1, “but, personally, I feel there has been insufficient support.”
The juniors were beginning to realize they were going to have to live with the 18-year-old draft. Said Chynoweth: “The under-age situation is a problem but also a fact of life. The law of the land says at 18 you can fight for your country, drink and get married. Consequently, they’re also eligible to be drafted and play for NHL teams.”
The WHL had a new referee-in-chief — Richard Doerksen — and he was in the news in the playoffs after Strumm grabbed him in the press box during a game. Strumm was slapped with a two-game suspension and a $1,000 fine.
Victoria, under coach Jack Shupe, would win the WHL championship in 1980-81. Trailing Calgary 3-1, the Cougars bounced back and wrapped it up on May 1, beating the visiting Wranglers, 4-2, in Game 7.
Singing a song that would become popular in NHL circles in years to come, Calgary coach Doug Sauter explained: “(Goaltender Grant) Fuhr was the difference.”
John Hudak, who was the spokesperson for the Green Bay Committee that attempted to help keep the Kootenay Ice in Cranbrook, won a seat on Cranbrook’s City Council in a by-election that was completed on Saturday. . . . Final preliminary results, as released by the City of Cranbrook, had Hudak with 1,115 votes (45.9 per cent of the vote), well ahead of Ron Miles, who was second at 518, and three other candidates. . . . The by-election was the result of Danielle Eaton having resigned in January. . . . A retired RCMP officer, Hudak was part of the Green Bay Committee, a group comprising mostly local businessmen who offered to sell sponsorships and season tickets in an attempt to benefit the Ice. However, the committee, which said it quickly sold $50,000 worth of sponsorships and tickets, disbanded when it realized that it wasn’t going to get any co-operation from the WHL team’s owners. . . . The Ice relocated to Winnipeg when its season ended.
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The Rouyn-Noranda Huskies won the QMJHL championship with a 4-0 victory over the host Halifax Mooseheads on Saturday. The Huskies won the series, 4-2. . . . Huskies G Samuel Harvey stopped 28 shots to earn the shutout. Harvey, who is in his fifth season with the Huskies, has 20 career shutouts — 15 in the regular season and five in the playoffs. He put up four of those playoff shutouts in these playoffs. . . . Both teams will appear in the Memorial Cup as the Mooseheads are the host team. . . . This is the 11th straight season in which the host team for the Memorial Cup hasn’t been able to win its league championship.
NOTES: The Prince Albert Raiders and Vancouver Giants arrived back in Prince Albert on Saturday afternoon and will resume the WHL final for the Ed Chynoweth Cup with Game 6 tonight (Sunday) at the Art Hauser Centre. . . . The Raiders lead the series, 3-2, and can win the second championship in franchise history — the first came in 1985 — with a victory tonight. . . . Should the Giants win tonight — and they won Game 5, 4-3, on Friday in Langley, B.C. — Game 7 would be played on Monday night in Prince Albert. . . .
Following the conclusion of Game 5 in Langley on Friday, fans in Prince Albert began lining up at the Art Hauser Centre at 11 p.m., with tickets for Games 6 and 7 going on sale Saturday morning. . . . Late Friday night, the Raiders advised fans via Twitter: “Tickets for Game 7 are non-refundable. If a Game 7 isn’t necessary, the tickets can be used as a voucher for any regular-season game in the 2019-20 season.” . . . Now I don’t know how much a ticket to Game 7 was selling for, but I have to think one of those tickets would be worth a whole lot more than one regular-season game. Wouldn’t it? . . .
If the Giants are to win the Ed Chynoweth Cup, they are going to have to do something that has been accomplished only once before in WHL history. . . . There have been 11 championship finals go to Game 7; the first 10 were won by the home team. The last final to need Game 7 was in 2014 when the Edmonton Oil Kings became the first team in WHL history to win Game 7 on the road. They beat the Portland Winterhawks, 4-2. . . .
Here is a look at the previous WHL championship series that have been decided in Game 7 . . .
1975 — The Saskatoon Blades actually won the first two games of what was an eight-point final — in other words, no OT — beating the New Westminster Bruins twice in legendary Queen’s Park Arena. The Bruins then won twice in Saskatoon, before the Blades won Game 5 at home. Back in New Westminster, the Bruins won, 4-1 and 7-2, to take the series, 8-6.
1976 — This also was an eight-point series featuring the Saskatoon Blades and New Westminster Bruins. The teams played to a 3-3 tie in Game 6 in New Westminster and the Bruins won Game 7, 3-1, the next night, winning the series, 9-5.
1981 — The Calgary Wranglers led the Victoria Cougars, 3-1, before the bottom fell out. The Cougars came back with 7-4 and 4-2 victories in Calgary, then won Game 7 at home, 4-2. This is the series that featured goaltenders Grant Fuhr (Victoria) and Mike Vernon (Calgary).
1984 — The Regina Pats won the middle three games at home to go ahead of the Kamloops Blazers, 3-2. The scene shifted to Kamloops where the Blazers won, 4-3 in OT and 4-2. In Game 6, the Pats were 12 seconds from winning the championship when Kamloops F Dean Evason tied the game. F Ryan Stewart later won it at 13;13 of OT.
1987 —The Medicine Hat Tigers and Portland Winterhawks played a 3-3-1 format and were all even going back to Alberta for Game 7 after the Tigers won Game 6, 4-3. Back home, the Tigers won Game 7, 6-2.
1992 — The Kamloops Blazers took a 3-1 lead over the Saskatoon Blades in a final that used a 3-3-1 format. The Blades won Games 5 and 6 (5-1 and 4-3) at home. The Blazers won it all by taking Game 7, 8-0, at home.
1993 — The Portland Winterhawks led the series, 3-2, over the Swift Current Broncos after a 3-1 victory in Game 5 in Oregon. The Broncos won Game 6, 7-5, in Portland, then went home and posted a 6-0 victory in Game 7.
1994 — For the third straight season, the WHL final went seven games, and for the second time in three seasons it featured the Kamloops Blazers and Saskatoon Blades. Using a 2-3-2 format, Kamloops won twice at home and then took Game 4 in Saskatoon for a 3-1 lead. The Blades tied it by winning 3-2 at home and 2-1 in Kamloops, but the Blazers took Game 7, 8-1, at home.
2007 — For the first time in 13 years, the WHL final went seven games. This time, it featured the Vancouver Giants and Medicine Hat Tigers. The Giants took a 3-2 series lead on the strength of three shutouts — 1-0, 4-0 and 3-0 — from G Tyson Sexsmith. But the Tigers went home for the last two games and won them both — 4-3 and 3-2 in double OT, the latter on a goal by F Brennan Bosch.
2012 — The Edmonton Oil Kings won Game 5, 4-3, at home to take a 3-2 lead over the Portland Winterhawks, who went home and won Game 6, 3-2, two nights later. The series shifted to Edmonton for Game 7 and the Oil Kings won, 4-1.
2014 — It was the Edmonton Oil Kings and Portland Winterhawks one more time. Portland won twice at home, then Edmonton did the same. The Oil Kings won Game 5, 3-2, in Portland, only to have the Winterhawks go into Edmonton and win Game 6, 6-5 in OT. The Oil Kings won the final with a 4-2 road victory in Game 7. The WHL’s first season was 1966-67. The Oil Kings are the only team in the league’s history to have won Game 7 of a championship series on the road.
(NOTE: Thanks to Dean (Scooter) Vrooman, the legendary former play-by-play voice of the Winterhawks, for laying the groundwork for all of this.)
Can someone explain to me why @HockeyCanada did not re-brand the National Jr Championship as the Centennial Cup Instead going with @HC_NJAC ? Tons of history and tradition with Centennial Cup and seems now would have been perfect time since @RBC pulled the pin on sponsorship.