A lot of junior hockey teams have signed assistant coaches during my 50-plus years around the game. But I can’t recall an announcement like the one the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades made on Monday.
The Blades welcomed back Wacey Rabbit, this time as an assistant coach, but they also brought his wife, Ashley Callingbull, into their organization as an ambassador.
From a Blades’ news release: “Ashley is a Cree First Nations woman from the Enoch Cree Nation on Treaty Six territory in Alberta. Ashley has many passions that include dance, and she is professionally trained in jazz, ballet, pointe and tap. She also has developed a career in acting, starring in many commercials and television shows.”
These days, she also can be found in Edmonton where she is the in-game host at Commonwealth Stadium for games involving the CFL’s Elks.
But she is making her biggest mark working with First Nations people and in these days of reconciliation the Sask Entertainment Group, which owns the Blades and lacrosse’s Saskatchewan Rush, has done well be bringing her aboard.
“I work with a lot of women and children around the communities and within Saskatoon so I am here quite often and now it will be easier for me to be more accessible to these communities,” she said in that news release.
Her position with the Blades and Rush will allow her a large platform to continue her work in the Saskatoon area and in Saskatchewan.
“I’m hoping to create more programs for not only the youth but indigenous peoples,” she said. “I can’t wait so I will be at every game.”
Sorry, Wacey, but I think your wife’s inclusion in this deal has overshadowed your return.
With the Blades, Wacey Rabbit, 35, fills the vacancy created when associate coach Ryan Marsh left after four seasons to join the DEL’s Schwenninger Wild Wings in Germany as an assistant coach. . . . Rabbit, who is from the Kainai First Nation in Alberta, played four seasons (2002-06) with the Blades and 30 games with the Vancouver Giants in 2006-07. He ended his pro career by playing three seasons (2018-21) with the ECHL’s Jacksonville Icemen, while also playing in Czechi and Romania. . . . In 2021-22, he was an assistant coach with the BCHL’s Alberni Valley Bulldogs. . . . From a Blades’ news release: Rabbit “will join head coach Brennan Sonne, assistant coach Dan DaSilva, goaltending coach Jeff Harvey, video coach Karter Parisloff and assistant Jerome Engele on the staff.”
Steve Simmons, in the Toronto Sun: “Has the reputation of one organization taken a beating in recent days and weeks as much as Hockey Canada’s has? (It) should never get another cent of government money, which won’t begin to undo anything close to all that’s gone wrong here.”
He’s not wrong.
The good folks of Imperial, Sask., got it right. Well done, folks!
THINKING OUT LOUD: I learned a few days ago that Johnny Rivers isn’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That’s just wrong, wrong, wrong. . . . It’s also wrong, wrong, wrong that Leo Cahill isn’t in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. . . . And while we’re on the subject, it’s embarrassing that Paul Henderson isn’t in the Hockey Hall of Fame. . . . Is there a better race track in B.C. than the highway between Vernon and Kelowna? If you haven’t been on it, it’s one of those tracks where the speed limit seems to be whatever you want it to be. . . . Look, 3-on-3 overtime is fine for a hockey league’s regular-season games. But in the Memorial Cup? How embarrassing to see the CHL decide meaningful games in this fashion. . . . There was news the other day of thieves breaking into the Atlanta home of former NBA star Vince Carter and making off with about $100,000 in cash. So I asked my wife: “How much cash do we have in our home?” We stopped counting at $70. . . . Hope you feel at home here despite the absence of gambling ads.
Have to wonder if any junior hockey teams might try this in an attempt to attract fans and keep them coming back?
With all that is going on in our world these days, you may have missed this story, from The Associated Press:
“ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Happy the elephant may be intelligent and deserving of compassion, but she cannot be considered a person being illegally confined to the Bronx Zoo, New York’s top court ruled Tuesday.
“The 5-2 decision by the state Court of Appeals comes in a closely watched case that tested the boundaries of applying human rights to animals.”
The complete story is right here.
As Jack Finarelli, aka The Sports Curmudgeon, put it: “I guess I should be happy in these days of hyper-political correctness that the NY State Court of Appeals ruled that an elephant is not a person and that an elephant in the Bronx Zoo cannot be released under habeus corpus. . . . However, before I get too carried away in my euphoria, let me point out that the vote of the judges was only 5-2. Two judges wanted the elephant released via habeus corpus.”
The junior B Kootenay International Junior Hockey League held its annual general meeting recently, the details of which are included in the link in the above tweet. I’m disappointed that the news release didn’t include anything about the part of the gathering in which the commissioner was kind enough to give me some free publicity. . . . BTW, the Canadian government has extended pandemic-related border restrictions at least through Sept. 19. I’m told, Mr. Commissioner, that this means the Spokane Braves will be sitting out another KIJHL season. They last played in 2019-20.
THE COACHING GAME:
I’ve been coasting for the last couple of weeks, recharging the batteries, making certain that the mask supply is up to date, and watching to see if the quicksand completely envelops Hockey Canada before the Hlinka Gretzky Cup opens in Red Deer on July 31. So a lot of what follows is a bit dated . . .
The Spokane Chiefs have removed the ‘interim’ from Ryan Smith’s title and signed him to “a multi-year contract” as head coach. The precise length of the deal wasn’t revealed. . . . Smith was in his second season as the WHL team’s associate coach when head coach Adam Maglio was fired on Feb. 10. Smith was named interim head coach and guided the Chiefs into the playoffs, where they lost in the first round to the Kamloops Blazers. . . . Before joining the Chiefs, Smith spent two seasons on the Medicine Hat Tigers’ coaching staff and was with the Swift Current Broncos for three seasons. . . . The Chiefs also signed Dustin Donaghy as an assistant coach for 2022-23. A part-time assistant when last season began, he assumed a full-time role when Maglio was fired. As a player, Donaghy, now 33, helped the Chiefs to the 2008 Memorial Cup title. . . . Of course, the Chiefs’ decision to stay with Smith throws a wet blanket on the speculation that the job would be going to Kyle Gustafson, who spent 18 years with the Portland Winterhawks but now is a free agent after being released by the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks. . . .
The MJHL’s Portage Terriers have signed Blake Spiller, their general manager and head coach, to another contract. The Terriers, who do things right, revealed that it is a three-year deal. . . . Spiller has been with the Terriers since 2001 and has been head coach since 2006. . . . The Terriers will be the host team for the 2023 Centennial Cup tournament. . . . From a news release: “Spiller won the CJHL coach-of-the-year award in 2015, 2016 and 2019. He holds the MJHL record for league championships (8) and ANAVET Cups (2). He also won the RBC Cup in 2015. Spiller holds all Terriers coaching records, and has 604 career wins. He is 67 regular-season victories away from breaking Doug Stokes’ all-time MJHL record.” . . .
Scott Burt, a former WHL player and coach, now is the general manager and head coach of the ECHL’s Rapid City Rush. He signed on as the Rush’s head coach and director of hockey operations in July 2021, then got the club into the second round of the playoffs. Burt was an assistant coach with the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs for six seasons (2013-19). As a player, he split four seasons (1994-98) between the Seattle Thunderbirds, Swift Current Broncos, Edmonton Ice and Red Deer Rebels. . . .
The BCHL has announced the sale of the Nanaimo Clippers to Northern Lights Hockey Canada, “an investment group headed by Brad Kwong, a Western Canadian-born investment professional with a long history in the sport of hockey as a player, executive and team owner,” according to a news release. . . . That news release is right here. Interestingly, it doesn’t mention from whom Kwong and Co. purchased the franchise. . . .
Darren Naylor is the new general manager and head coach of the MJHL’s OCN Blizzard. . . . You may recall that Naylor, then the general manager and head coach of the Nanaimo Clippers, was placed on administrative leave by the BCHL in February due to what the league said was “allegations of code of conduct breaches.” At the time, the BCHL said that Naylor would remain on administrative leave until at least May 31. At the time, Naylor was under contract to the Clippers through the 2022-23 season. . . . The BCHL said at the time that it had appointed an independent investigator to look into the allegations, but it has never updated Naylor’s status. . . . Colin Birkas, the Clippers’ associate coach at the time, also was placed on administrative leave when Naylor was, but shortly after was reinstated. On May 24, Birkas was named the Clippers’ general manager and head coach. . . . With the Blizzard, Naylor replaces Billy Keane, whose contract wasn’t renewed after the 2021-22 season. . . .
Barret Kropf has chosen to leave the Trinity Western Spartans of the BCIHL. He had been the head coach since 2013, but is moving on to the Moose Jaw-based Prairie Hockey Academy as general manager and U15 prep head coach. Kropf is from Estevan. A three-time coach of the year, he led the Spartans to BCIHL titles in 2018 and 2019, then led them into Canada West in 2020. . . .
Eric Thurston has signed on as head coach of the AJHL’s Grande Prairie Storm. He spent the past four seasons as general manager and head coach of the AJHL’s Drayton Valley Thunder. There had been speculation a few weeks ago that Bill Peters, a former NHL, KHL and WHL coach, was going to sign with the Storm.
JUNIOR JOTTINGS: F Petr Moravec, 19, has left the Tri-City Americans to sign a junior contract with his hometown team, Hradec Králove of the Czechia, Extraliga, as reported by the MacBeth Report (@MacBethReport). Moravec put up 16 goals and 19 assists 68 games in 2021-22, his only WHL season. Bob Tory, the Americans’ general manager, told me that he wasn’t surprised that Moravec wouldn’t be back. “He’s a good kid,” Tory said. “This is a good opportunity for him.” Tory was pleased to have a decision before the CHL’s 2022 import draft that is scheduled for Friday. . . . The Americans expect to make one pick, what with Czech G Tomas Suchanek, 19, back for a second season. As a freshman, he was 12-24-4, 3.87, .901 in 42 games for a non-playoff team. . . . Don’t forget that the CHL won’t permit the selection of Russian or Belarusian players in this year’s import draft. . . .
The Everett Silvertips have promoted Mike Fraser to assistant general manager — he had been director of player personnel — and signed him to a multi-year contract extension. The exact length of the extension wasn’t revealed. Fraser has been with Everett through four seasons — three as head scout and one as director of player personnel. He is a veteran WHL scout, having also worked with the Swift Current Broncos and Brandon Wheat Kings. . . . The Silvertips also have added veteran scout Brian Leavold to their staff as a senior scout. He has worked for the Broncos (1999-2018) and Saskatoon Blades (2018-22). . . .
Dan O’Connor announced via Twitter recently that he is moving on from the Vancouver Giants. O’Connor will be joining the U of British Columbia as a sports information co-ordinator. O’Connor spent the past 11 seasons doing WHL play-by-play — six with the Prince George Cougars and five with the Giants.
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St. Paul’s Hospital
6A Providence Building
1081 Burrard Street
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Toll free: 1-877-922-9822
Vancouver General Hospital Living Donor Program – Kidney
Gordon and Leslie Diamond Health Care Centre
Level 5, 2775 Laurel Street
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604-875-5182 or 1-855-875-5182
Or, for more information, visit right here.