Konowalchuk returns to coaching game . . . President Piper leaving Winterhawks . . . QMJHL rocked by sexual assault investigation

The WHL’s only head-coaching vacancy was filled on Tuesday when the Red RedDeerDeer Rebels announced they had hired Steve Konowalchuk to replace Brent Sutter, who remains the franchise’s owner, president and general manager. . . . Sutter stepped aside on April 11. At the time, assistant coaches Alex Colville and Brad Flynn, along with assistant GM Shaun Sutter, took over the coaching duties. After the season, the Rebels chose not to renew the contracts of Flynn and goaltender coach Kraymer Barnstable. . . . Konowalchuk, 48, spent six seasons as the head coach the Seattle Thunderbirds and guided them to the WHL championship in 2016-17. He followed that with one season as an assistant coach with the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks. He has spent the past three seasons scouting for the New York Rangers. . . .

“I enjoyed that, but there was always a part of me that wondered which path to follow — to stay on the management side or the coaching side,” Konowalchuk told Greg Meachem of reddeerrebels.com. “I guess there are pros and cons to both.”

Konowalchuk added: “I saw a while back that Red Deer was looking for a coach and that got me thinking. With the reputation the organization has and with all Brent’s done in the game, it was intriguing for me because I want to be in a place where I can grow as a coach.

“You always want to go to a place where you can learn, just like when I was with the Rangers I was learning about scouting and management. I know when I was coaching in Seattle that Red Deer was always considered to be one of the teams that had a chance to win all the time.”

Meachem’s complete story is right here.

Doug Piper, the president of the Portland Winterhawks, has left PortlandAlternatethe organization after being an integral part of it since 2008. The Winterhawks, who have been under new ownership since Jan. 1, announced his resignation on Tuesday morning. . . . Bill Gallacher purchased the Winterhawks early in the 2008-09 season, with the team coming off 17- and 11-victory seasons. Piper provided a steady hand atop the organization as it rebuilt. From a news release: “During Doug’s tenure, the team consistently sat atop the WHL in wins, attendance, sponsorship sales and overall revenues. In the decade from 2010 to 2020 the Winterhawks had more wins than any other team in the Canadian Hockey League. In addition, during the past 13 years, the team won the WHL Championship in 2013, two Scotty Munro Memorial Trophies, and four Western Conference titles.” . . . Of late, Piper has been leading the Winterhawks’ side of the conversation that is likely to lead to the official dumping of the franchise’s longtime Indian head logo. . . . Joshua Critzer (@jjcritzer) of pnwhockeytalk.com added via Twitter that “Kelly Robinett is no longer with the organization full time.” Robinett, who has been with the Winterhawks for more than 20 years, has been the senior vice-president of operations and marketing. . . . The Winterhawks now are owned by Winterhawks Sports Group, which is controlled by investment banker Michael Kramer and Kerry Preete, a retired Monsanto executive.

Two players from the Victoriaville Tigres were arrested on Tuesday as part of a qmjhlnewsexual assault investigation involving a party on Saturday following the team’s victory in the final game of the QMJHL’s championship final. . . . Felix Seguin of Le Journal de Montreal reported that the party was held “at the Entourage sur-le-Lac hotel located in Lac-Beauport. This is where the team that had just won its first QMJHL title in 19 years was housed.” . . . As of Tuesday evening, formal charges hadn’t been filed. . . . Gilles Courteau, the QMJHL’s longtime commissioner, said the league will hold its own internal investigation into the situation.

The 12-team SJHL announced on Tuesday that it plans on opening its 2021-22 regular season on Sept. 24. . . . The SJHL’s 2020-21 season was limited to 29 games because of the pandemic. Five teams played six games each, with one getting in only two. . . . Its 2021-22 regular season is scheduled to conclude on March 4, with the playoffs getting started on March 11. . . . There is a complete news release right here.



As much as we would like to think the worst of the pandemic is behind us, there always are little reminders that it’s still hanging around. . . . On Tuesday, the Falkland, B.C., Stampede announced that it was cancelling the 2021 rodeo. It had already lost the 2020 Stampede to the pandemic, and had postponed the 2021 rodeo to Aug. 27-29. But the Falkland Community Association, which runs the popular event, has decided to cancel it. . . . The Stampede, which was first held in 1919, usually is held on the Victoria Day long weekend. . . .

Also on Tuesday, Lacrosse Canada announced the cancellation of the 2021 Minto Cup, the junior A national championship. “This decision,” reads a news release, “follows Lacrosse Canada’s announcement last month of the cancellation of 10 national championships.” . . . Lacrosse Canada pointed out that “this is not a cancellation of the lacrosse season in Canada.” The B.C. junior A league, the Rocky Mountain league and the Ontario junior A league all are “planning modified seasons in accordance with their provincial health and safety regulations.”


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JUST NOTES: Castan Sommer, who left his job as an assistant coach with the Seattle Thunderbirds last week, has joined the College of the Holy Cross Crusaders in Worcester, Mass., as an assistant coach. He had been with Seattle through four seasons. Sommer attended Holy Cross and played there while his father, Roy Sommer, was the head coach of the AHL’s Worcester Sharks. . . . The 2021 U-18 Hlinka Gretzky Cup is scheduled for Breclav, Czech Republic, and Piestany, Slovakia, Aug. 2-7, but it’ll be played without a Canadian entry. Instead, Bernd Freimueller (@bfreimueller) reports that Germany will get into the tournament. The 2020 tournament was to have been played in Edmonton and Red Deer, but was cancelled by the pandemic. . . . Randy Hansch, a former WHL player, executive and scout, has joined the amateur scouting staff of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes. He scouted for the Buffalo Sabres from 2018-20. Hansch was a WHL goaltender (Victoria Cougars, Kamloops Blazers, 1982-86). He later spent 10 seasons as the Blazers’ director of player personnel. He also spent 11 seasons (2007-18) with the Edmonton Oil Kings, the last five as general manager.


Winterhawks in receivership . . . Regular-season champions for sale . . . Owner has filed for bankruptcy

The Portland Winterhawks, who won the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy as the WHL’s regular-season champions for 2019-20, are in receivership and, according to a news release from the league, a FOR SALE sign is blowing in the wind.

The Oregonian, a Portland newspaper, has reported that the company that owns the Portlandfranchise, Portland Winterhawks Inc., filed for bankruptcy on Thursday.

According to Jeff Manning of The Oregonian: “Winterhawks owner William Gallacher allegedly failed to repay money his companies had borrowed in 2018. The lender, Bridging Financing, went to court in Toronto earlier this month and claims it took control of several of Gallacher’s companies, including the hockey team.”

Manning reported that “several” companies owned by Gallacher filed in Portland on Thursday.

According to Manning, the WHL “can terminate” a franchise if it “enters bankruptcy or is in receivership for more than 10 days.” As well, Rip City Management LLC, which operates the two arenas in which the Winterhawks play, could rip up their lease.

It’s unlikely any of that will happen, though.

From court documents: “At present, the Receiver has no indication that PWH is in financial distress apart from its involvement in the Bridging Loan. Accordingly, the Receiver views it as important to maintain the operations of PWH and the Winterhawks’ franchise to preserve their value for the benefit of all creditors of the Debtors in the Canadian Proceeding.”

Gallacher is a Calgary-based oil man, and you may be aware that the oil-and-gas sector is having a tough time of it these days. Gallacher purchased the Winterhawks in 2008. Under his ownership, along with the leadership provided by Doug Piper, the team’s president, and Mike Johnston, the vice-president, general manager and head coach, things turned around and what once was the WHL’s most-pathetic franchise played in four straight championship finals (2011-14), winning in 2013.

Manning’s complete story is right here.

According to figures compiled by the WHL, the Winterhawks’ average announced attendance for 32 homes games in the truncated 2019-20 season was 5,540, the fifth-highest average in the 22-team league. That was a decrease of 376 from 2018-19, when the Winterhawks had the fourth-highest average announced attendance.

The WHL suspended its regular season on March 12 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It later cancelled its season, including playoffs.

The Winterhawks finished with the WHL’s best record (45-11-7), their 97 points leaving them one ahead of the Everett Silvertips (46-13-4). Thus, Portland was awarded the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy as regular-season champion.


The WHL released a statement on Sunday afternoon, saying that it is “working closely” with all involved “to ensure the smooth transition to new ownership in short order.”

According to the WHL, Doug Piper, the Winterhawks’ president, and Mike Johnston, the vice-president, general manager and head coach, “will remain with the team and are committed to conducting business as usual . . .”

The WHL statement also included this: “. . . we expect that there will be a great deal of interest in obtaining ownership” of the Winterhawks.

So . . . while the first paragraph would seem to indicate there is a sale on the horizon, it would seem that process of locating buyers is just getting started.

You are free to wonder how easy/difficult it will be to sell one of the WHL’s premier franchises in these pandemic-dominated times? After all, I would suggest that there is no guarantee as to when, or even if, the 2020-21 season will start.


OK. I have to admit that I burst out laughing when I read one sentence in the WHL’s news release.

Here it is: “There will be no further comment from the WHL or Portland Winterhawks at this time.”

I take you back to Nov. 28, 2012, when, you may recall, the WHL dropped a sledge hammer on the Winterhawks for what it called “a series of violations of the WHL regulations.”

The last line of that news release, which didn’t spell out what the Winterhawks had done to warrant such punishment, read: “The Western Hockey League will not make any further public comments on this matter.”

The Winterhawks followed up by issuing their own news release, spelling out the regulations they had violated. It wasn’t long before Ron Robison, the WHL commissioner, was busy doing damage control with lots of public comments.

For old time’s sake . . .

The WHL news release on the sanctions is right here.

The Winterhawks’ news release explaining those violations is right here.



The 22-team WHL has four community-owned teams — the Lethbridge Hurricanes, Moose Jaw Warriors, Prince Albert Raiders and Swift Current Broncos — whose fates are controlled by local shareholders. As such, each of them holds an annual meeting at which financial statements are presented to shareholders.

The other 18 all are privately owned, so their financials aren’t available.

While the Winterhawks may be in better shape than some of Bill Gallacher’s other business interests, you can bet that all of the WHL teams are feeling the squeeze brought on by the pandemic. The WHL had 54 regular-season games remaining in its season when the plug was pulled, so teams lost out on that revenue. And then the playoff qualifiers took big hits with the cancellation of those games.

And now, with so many questions and so few answers floating in the ether, you have to wonder how preparations for a new season — the selling of sponsorships and season tickets — are progressing.

Granted, it’s still early to some, but if you’re an owner or a general manager training camps should be opening in slightly more than three months. The U.S.-Canada border remains closed. What of bringing over import players? And what about the billet situation — how is that going to play out with a highly infectious virus lurking who knows where?

The Winterhawks were the first WHL team to issue furloughs and layoff notices and to impose paycuts late in March. The Kamloops Blazers, another privately owned club, were close behind. Their majority owner, Tom Gaglardi, also owns the NHL’s Dallas Stars. He is the president of Northland Properties, which is almost completely reliant on the hospitality industry, meaning there is little in the way of revenue these days.

It’s safe to assume that other WHL teams, too, have done what they can to trim expenses as they are mired in a situation where they aren’t able to generate revenue.

Whether any of them end up going the way of the Winterhawks remains to be seen.

But you have to think some things are going to look a whole lot different by the time we come out the other end of his situation.

In the meantime, if you’ve been wanting to own a WHL franchise, you could do a whole lot worse than the Winterhawks, the defending regular-season champions.