WHL backs up proposed start to Dec. 4 . . . Aiming to play 68 games in 147 days . . . Still lots of questions without answers

Under what once was considered normal circumstances, the 22-team WHL would start a regular season in late September. Each team would play 68 regular-season games, with whlplayoffs — four rounds of best-of-seven series — beginning in late March.

In other words, teams would take six months to play those 68 games. In 2018-19, the teams played the regular season in 178 days, then took 53 days to complete the playoffs.

Then, like the big, bad wolf, along came the coronavirus and the resulting disruption of all things normal.

A few weeks ago, the WHL announced that it hoped to open its 68-game regular season on Oct. 2.

On Thursday, the goal posts moved again; now the WHL is targeting Dec. 4 as opening day, and continues to say it plans on having each team play 68 games.

While the WHL didn’t reveal a closing date, the OHL on Wednesday said that it hopes to play a 64-game season from Dec. 1 through April 29, with the Memorial Cup scheduled for June 17-27.

Presumably the WHL will be following a similar blueprint, meaning it will have to play its regular season in five months. Should it get to open on Dec. 4 and play through April 29, each of its teams would play 68 games in 147 days — 31 fewer days than it took to play the same number of games in 2018-19.

That means teams would be playing as many as four games a week. There likely would be an increase in the dreaded three-in-three weekends. You may recall that decreasing the number of tripleheader weekends was one of the reasons given when the league shortened its schedule from 72 games.

A Dec. 4 start surely would mean a shorter Christmas break — the league stopped for 10 days in 2018-19 and nine days in 2019-20.

But let’s be honest. There aren’t any guarantees there will be a season.

As the WHL’s news release read, all of this “remains contingent on receiving the necessary approvals from the government and health authorities in each of the six provincial/state jurisdictions in WHL territory.”

The WHL’s announcement didn’t mention the situation involving the U.S.-Canada border being closed to non-essential travel, something that doesn’t seem likely to change in 2020, at least not at B.C. crossings. That would lead to teams playing inside their own divisions for the early part of a schedule.

The news release also didn’t mention players and school. The OHL said Wednesday that it will have its players stay home and start school there, so it likely is safe to assume that the WHL do the same as everyone awaits further developments.

The most important thing to remember is that everything — and I do mean everything — is fluid.

What follows are some thoughts from a few WHL officials, all speaking after Thursday’s announcement . . .

Gord Broda, the president of the Prince Albert Raiders, who are the WHL’s defending Raiders50champions, told Trevor Redden of panow.com: “As frustrating as this (process) has been, I just can’t emphasize enough that as a league, safety is at the forefront. Safety for our players, safety for the people in our buildings when we get going, safety for our fans. We’re at a time where patience is necessary.”

Broda also said: “I’ll speak for the Prince Albert Raiders only, even at 50 per cent capacity, we’re going to have financial shortfalls. I think it’s a realistic goal as a starting point to maybe work with our medical authorities and hopefully they find that an acceptable capacity level. And at the same time at least it’s a reasonable start from a financial perspective. It’s going to be financially very challenging to have reduced capacity in all the buildings. We all know we’re a ticket-driven venue and we’ve got to have fans in the seats.” . . .

Don Moores, the president of the Kamloops Blazers, told Marty Hastings of Kamloops This Week: “Being fluid is really important. If the border remains closed, we’ll have to deal with it. If it opens and there are restrictions we have to adhere to, we’ll see if that’s workable and make those decisions as we go.” . . .

Brent Sutter, owner, president, general manager, and head coach of the Red Deer Rebels, Red Deertold Byron Hackett of the Red Deer Advocate: “We gotta have people in the building, no question. We have to have some kind of attendance and that’s our goal right now. And yet we’ll just have to see where it goes because it continues to move. It’s a moving target that’s changing all the time. It changes from week to week. You look at the other leagues — junior A leagues, American Hockey League, National Hockey League — no one is going to be playing in November.”

Ron Robison, WHL commissioner, told Greg Harder of the Regina Leader-Post: “It’s all part of the outcome on where we arrive at with respect to capacity. We’re having ongoing discussions with the provincial/state governments on trying to obtain the capacity that we need. If that is not successful, we will be considering some form of financial support to help us get started. But right now we’re focused on trying to get to a capacity that will work for our teams.”

Zoran Rajcic, the chief operating officer of the Everett Silvertips, told Nick Patterson of the Everett Herald: “The anticipation was that we would be further ahead with (the pandemic) within not only Washington and Oregon, but the four western provinces. The more we looked at things and the way (Washington) is in a holding pattern with Phase 2 (of the state’s reopening plan), it was probably the only decision we can look at. They’re talking about us in Washington not looking at hosting events until Phase 4, so this makes the most sense now. It gives us time to work through things.”



COVID-19 CHRONICLES . . .

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The Canadian Junior Football League announced Thursday that it has cancelled its 2020 season and has turned its attention to getting a 2021 season off the ground. . . . The CJFL is the governing body for 18 teams in six provinces that play in three conferences. . . .

The U of Alberta’s men’s and women’s hockey teams have been reinstated by Canada West, so will be eligible to play should the conference start up again in January. The reinstatement comes after the programs received a financial infusion from almuni. . . . The athletic department announced on June 17 that it was suspending all Canada West competition for 2020-21 for financial reasons. . . .

The Hawaii High School Athletic Association has cancelled football’s 2020 season, while pushing girls volleyball, cross-country and cheerleading to January. . . . The only sports left on Hawaii’s fall high school sports calendar are air riflery and bowling. . . . Delaware also has cancelled its high school football season. There are 12 states who have done that, while at least 28 others have postponed the start of the football season. . . .

The U of Louisville booted three players off its men’s soccer team and suspended three others for their roles in a Saturday off-campus party that resulted in 29 positive tests within the school’s athletic department. The three who were kicked off the team apparently organized the party. Players from both soccer teams, as well as the field hockey and volleyball teams, tested positive. . . .

The NFL’s Green Bay Packers said Thursday that they will play their first two home games without fans. That will be re-evaluated after the two games. . . . The Las Vegas Raiders had announced earlier that they will play the entire season without fans in their brand new 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium. . . . The NFL’s regular season is scheduled to open on Sept. 10. . . . Since July 21, when rookies reported to training camps, the NFL has had at least 56 positive tests. . . . The NFL had 66 players opt out of the season by Thursday’s deadline. A complete list is right here.


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Tinfoil

Things are messy in Portland . . . BCHL aiming for Dec. 1 start after long training camps . . . Stampede Corral soon to fall


We are halfway through July and the Portland Winterhawks haven’t yet changed hands.

Paul Danzer of the Portland Tribune reported on June 18 that the WHL “is optimistic that the Winterhawks will have a new owner by the end of July.”

In that story, Danzer quoted Ron Robison, the WHL commissioner, as having told whlreporters: “We’re hopeful that we will be in a position later this month and into July to select a candidate to become the new owner of the Portland Winterhawks. It’s important to have that resolved as quickly as possible. Our target is to have that resolved by sometime in July.”

If you aren’t aware, the Portland franchise has been in receivership since May 7 after owner Bill Gallacher ran into some financial difficulties. The Winterhawks had been used as part of the collateral for a Cdn $20-million loan for which a repayment deadline was missed.

However, things have changed in Portland.

Of course, there is the pandemic. Also, the city has been through seven weeks of protests and demonstrations against the treatment of Black Americans by police. There’s a lot more right here on what transpired in Portland on Thursday night.

On Friday, Oregon Public Broadcasting, in a piece that is right here, reported:

“Federal law enforcement officers have been using unmarked vehicles to drive around downtown Portland and detain protesters since at least July 14. Personal accounts and multiple videos posted online show the officers driving up to people, detaining individuals with no explanation of why they are being arrested, and driving off.”

A WHL fan who lives in Portland emailed me . . .

“The Oregon Health Authority reported a record-high 437 new coronavirus cases and two deaths on Thursday. It’s the third consecutive week that state officials reported a record-breaking daily total, according to Oregon Live. . . .

“A headline from oregonlive.com: Federal officers respond to Portland protests with gas, munitions Thursday amid growing attention from Trump administration . . .”

Then he added: “Gregg, it is an absolute mess and disaster in Portland . . . and in Oregon. . . . Oregon — record number of COVID cases . . . hospitalizations are on their way up — it’s very sad.

“I have just gotten numb to the protests . . . downtown businesses are being crippled. No sane person wants to go down to the city after about 5 p.m.

“NOBODY would want to go near the Rose Quarter for a game these days.”

The Winterhawks play out of Veterans Memorial Coliseum and the Moda Center, both of which are in the Rose Quarter.

Perhaps there might be better times to try to sell a WHL franchise in the Rose City.


Clone


The BCHL began its 2019-20 season on Sept. 6. On Friday, it announced that it “is BCHLplanning to start the 2020-21 regular season on Dec. 1, pending approval from the Provincial Health Office (PHO).” . . . Here’s Chris Hebb, the BCHL commissioner, from a news release: “We’ve been having discussions with the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture since March around a safe return to play. The PHO has indicated to us that waiting until December gives us the best chance at ensuring we have an uninterrupted season, while also maximizing the amount of regular-season games we’ll be able to play.” . . . Teams will be allowed to open on-ice sessions on Sept. 8 — yes, almost three months before they hope to open the season. . . . The BCHL news release is right here. . . . The Nanaimo Clippers announced that “all players will be reporting” as of Sept. 8 and that teams in the Island Division will hold a tournament in October. . . .

Brian Wiebe, who covers the BCHL like fog atop the Coquihalla, posted a Q&A with Hebb.

Asked if he is “convinced that B.C. and Canada will be healthy enough for the BCHL to return to play in December,” Hebb told Wiebe: “We’re going to give the health authorities a chance to ascertain that. The problem that all of us have is that we’re not medical doctors. One of the things we’ve done a good job with at the BCHL is listening. Starting December 1 gives you a much better chance of not getting shut down because if the health authorities allow you to play in December, it’s probably a pretty good sign that they think things are under control.”

Hebb also explains how the BCHL arrived at the Dec. 1 date, how many games each team may play in the regular season, if the season could start earlier than Dec. 1, how many fans might be allowed in arenas, what teams might do with training camps that could run to three months, the possibility of the Wenatchee Wild operating out of Canada, and a whole lot more.

It’s all-encompassing and it’s right here.


The MJHL’s Swan Valley Stampeders reported a loss of $80,906 at their annual general meeting on Thursday night. “The Stampeders reported a substantial loss this year, mainly due to a decrease in ticket sales, the inability to hold a spring camp, loss of playoff revenue, and fundraising falling short thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to a news release on the team’s website. . . . There is more right here. . . . Earlier this month, Danielle Gordon-Broome of the Swan Valley Star and Times reported that the Stampeders “went into last season carrying nearly $200,000 in debt.”



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COVID-19 CHRONICLES . . .

The NFL Players Association revealed on Thursday that 72 players had tested positive as of July 10. . . . Some teams will be having rookies report to training camp this weekend. . . . Nate Davis wrote in Thursday’s USA TODAY: “The league and players union still have widespread issues to resolve, including opt-out scenarios for players and numerous workplace protocols as well as COVID-19 testing procedures and even the actual number of preseason games, before football resumes in any form or fashion.” . . .

Dan Graziano of ESPN tweeted a number of the NFL’s travel rules that will be in place for this season, including no use of public or private transportation to or in other cities; no leaving hotel to go to restaurants open to public; no room visits by anyone outside the traveling party; no use of shared hotel facilities (pool, gym, etc.); masks required while traveling; buses at no more than 50 percent capacity; and at least one open seat between passengers on the plane. . . .

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NCAA president Mark Emmert had this to say on Thursday: “Today, sadly, the data point in the wrong direction. If there is to be college sports in the fall, we need to get a much better handle on the pandemic.” . . .

Here’s Pat Forde of si.com:

“There will be no college football crowds of the usual size. There might not be college football, period. Pessimism percolates as the time for solutions dwindles. We are speeding in the wrong direction as a nation in terms of combating the coronavirus pandemic, and one of the cultural casualties of American casualness is an endeavor millions of us want and every college athletic department needs.

“If the season dies, we know who had the biggest hand in killing any chance of it happening: Donald Trump.” . . . The complete column is right here. . . .

The Great Northwest Athletic Conference has suspended all intercollegiate athletics through Nov. 30, a move that affects 17 sports. A decision on the status of competition after Nov. 30 is expected to be made by Oct. 15. Simon Fraser U of Burnaby, B.C., is a member of the GNAC. . . .

The U of New Hampshire has cancelled all fall sports for its athletics teams in football, men’s and women’s cross-country, men’s and women’s soccer, field hockey and women’s volleyball. . . . A decision on winter sports, including hockey and basketball, is to be made at some point “in early fall,” according to the school. . . .

The West Coast Conference has shut down most of its sports until at least Sept. 24. Sports impacted are men’s and women’s cross-country, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball. Not impacted, at least not yet, are men’s and women’s basketball and football. . . .

The Oregon-based four-team Wild West League, a wood-bat college-level baseball circuit in its infancy, is on hiatus for at least seven days after two players tested positive. The WWL made the announcement on Wednesday, just four days after beginning its first season. The Gresham Grey Wolves, Portland Gherkins, Portland Pickles ad West Linn Knights are the four teams in the league. . . .

The Canada West conference announced on Wednesday that it will hold championships in golf and swimming, but the cross-country championship won’t go ahead. . . . The golf championship tournament is scheduled for the Okanagan Golf Club in Kelowna, Oct. 2-4, with the swimming championship to be held at the U of Calgary sometime early in 2021 rather than in November. . . .

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MLB announced nine players and one staff member tested positive in the week that ended on Thursday. MLB now has had 93 positive tests — 80 players and 13 staff members since late last month. . . . OF Austin Meadows, an all-star with the Tampa Bay Rays, is one of the players to have tested positive. . . . OF Yasiel Puig, a free agent, revealed on Friday that he has tested positive. He reportedly was on the verge of signing with the Atlanta Braves, but the positive test short-circuited that deal. . . . Twenty-eight of MLB’s 30 teams have had at least one positive test in their organization. . . .

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D Caleb Jones of the Edmonton Oilers skated with the team’s first group on Friday, then told reporters that he had tested positive, which is why had missed the first few days of training camp. He doesn’t know how or where he contracted the virus, but tested positive after arriving in Edmonton from Dallas and being tested two weeks ago. . . . Jones is one of only three NHLers whose positive tests have been made public, the others being F Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs and F Jayce Hawryluk of the Ottawa Senators. . . .

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The KHL team Kunlun Red Star will play its entire 2020-21 season out of Russia. It is moving its operation to Mytishchi, about 20 km northeast of Moscow. . . . Mattias Forsblom of svenski.yle.fi reported that Kunlun and Dinamo Riga, from Latvia, were told by the KHL that they had to move to Russia because borders are closed and there aren’t any plans to open them. . . . Dinamo Minsk (Belarus), Jokerit (Finland) and Barys Nur-Sultan (Kazakhstan) also operate from outside of Russia, but there haven’t yet been announcements concerning their relocation. . . . The KHL plans on starting its regular season on Sept. 2. . . .

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The Central Okanagan Minor Baseball Association suspended play on Friday because “a player within the organization has come in close contact with a COVID-19 positive individual.” There aren’t any confirmed cases with players or coaches, but the association has suspended activities as a precaution. . . . The association, which is based in Kelowna, covers girls’ and boys’ teams from ages five to 18.


Headline at The Onion: Jerry Jones Changes Team’s Name To Redskins Now That It’s Available.


Billy Keane is the new general manager and head coach of the MJHL’s OCN Blizzard. . . . He spent three seasons as the head coach of the MJHL’s Winnipeg Blues before being replaced by Gord Burnett prior to last season. Burnett signed on as an assistant coach with the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors earlier this month. . . . Keane is a brother to former WHL/NHL F Mike Keane.


Water

Clouston in Blazers’ coaching hunt. . . . Mikhalchuk signs with KHL team. . . . Czech U-20 team into summer camp

MacBeth

F Tanner Eberle (Moose Jaw, 2010-15) has signed a one-year contract extension with the Sheffield Steelers (England, UK Elite). This season, in 57 games, he had nine goals and 17 assists. . . .

D Mitch Versteeg (Lethbridge, 2006-09) has signed a one-year contract extension with Nitra (Slovakia, Extraliga). This season, he had two goals and eight assists in 36 games. . . .

F Reid Petryk (Medicine Hat, Everett, Edmonton, 2009-14) has signed a one-year contract with Frisk Asker (Norway, GET-Ligaen). This season, with the Idaho Steelheads (ECHL), he had 19 goals and 25 assists in 52 games. On loan to the Chicago Wolves (AHL), he had one goal in seven games. . . .

D Aaron Irving (Edmonton, Everett, 2012-17) has signed a two-year contract with Örebro (Sweden, SHL). This season, in 47 games with Storhamar Hamar (Norway, GET-Ligaen), he had 12 goals and 26 assists. He led the league in goals by a defenceman. . . .

D Ben Betker (Portland, Everett, 2011-15) has signed a one-year contract with Zvolen (Slovakia, Extraliga). This season, with the Kalamazoo Wings (ECHL), he had one goal and four assists in 15 games, and he had three goals and four assists in 22 games with Detva (Slovakia, Extraliga). . . . Zvolen’s head coach is Andrej Podkonický (Portland, 1996-98). . . .

F Cody Fowlie (Everett, Kelowna, 2010-13) has signed a one-year contract with Corona Brașov (Romania, Erste Liga). This season, with the Jacksonville IceMen (ECHL), he had 20 goals and 22 assists in 71 games. . . .

F Vladislav Mikhalchuk (Prince George, 2017-19) has signed a one-year, two-way contract with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod (Russia, KHL). This season, with the Prince George Cougars (WHL), he had 25 goals and 25 assists in 68 games. He led the team in points.


ThisThat

If you are a follower of the Kamloops Blazers and you are wondering who will be their next head coach . . . well . . . you can move Shaun Clouston up near the top of the list, Kamloops1maybe even into the top slot.

Clouston, 51, was dumped by the Medicine Hat Tigers on May 30 after spending 16 years in the organization, the last seven as general manager and head coach. He was the head coach for two seasons before that, and also worked as associate coach and assistant coach.

One day after Clouston was moved out, the Tigers announced the hiring of Willie Desjardins as GM/head coach. Clouston actually worked under Desjardins before succeeding him as the Tigers’ head coach.

Taking Note has been told that Clouston, who is from Viking, Alta., will be in Kamloops to meet with Blazers general manager Matt Bardsley at some point over the next day or two.

The Blazers have been without a head coach since parting company with Serge Lajoie on April 16 after just one season. He now is the head coach of the midget prep team at OHA Edmonton.

Clouston is the winningest head coach in Medicine Hat history, with 375 regular-season victories. He broke Desjardins’ record (323) on Dec. 30, 2017. Clouston also spent time as the head coach of the Tri-City Americans and finished this season with a total of 391 regular-season victories, leaving him 18th on the WHL’s all-time list.

With Clouston as the head coach, the Tigers made the playoffs in eight of nine seasons. They twice reached the Eastern Conference final (2011 and 2014). The only time Clouston missed the playoffs with the Tigers was in 2016 when they lost a tiebreaker game to the Edmonton Oil Kings.

When Clouston left the Tigers, he is believed to have had some time left on his contract — perhaps as much as two seasons.


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F Vladislav Mikhalchuk, who led the Prince George Cougars in points this season, won’t PrinceGeorgebe returning to the WHL for his 20-year-old season. As you will have seen in The MacBeth Report, Mikhalchuk, who is to turn 20 on Oct. 16, has signed with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod (Russia, KHL). . . . From Minsk, Belarus, Mikhalchuk played two seasons with the Cougars. He had 14 goals and 19 assists as a freshman, then added 25 of each this season. . . . Last season, the Cougars also had Czech F Matéj Toman on their roster. Toman, 18, had nine goals and 11 assists in his freshman season.


Dusty Imoo, a former WHL goaltender, is leaving the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings to work for Kunlun Red Star Beijing (KHL). Imoo worked in goaltending development with the Kings for four seasons. . . . Imoo had replaced Kim Dillabaugh, when he left the Kings to join the Philadelphia Flyers prior to the 2015-16 season. Dillabough had worked with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets before going to the NHL. . . . Former NHLer Curt Fraser, who is a family friend of Imoo’s, is Kunlun’s head coach. . . . Imoo played for the WHL’s New Westminster Bruins, Lethbridge Hurricanes and Regina Pats (1987-91). He went on to play nine seasons with the Seibu Bears Tokyo and four wit the Oji Eagles. Imoo played for Japan in the 1998 Olympic Winter Games, and also played for Japan in three world championships.


Václav Varaďa is back for a second season as head coach of the Czech Republic’s U-20 team. Varada is a former WHL and NHL player. He skated with the Tacoma/Kelowna Rockets for two seasons (1994-96), before going on to a pro career that included 493 NHL games. He has been coaching in Czech Republic since 2013-14. . . . Former NHLer Patrik Eliáš is back as an assistant coach, also for a second season. He played 1,240 NHL games with the New Jersey Devils. . . . The Czech U-20 team gathered in Jihlava on Monday to begin a summer training camp. Included on the camp roster are D Libor Zabransky, who began this season with the Kelowna Rockets and finished with the USHL’s Fargo Force, D Simon Kubicek of the Seattle Thunderbirds, F Martin Lang of the Kamloops Blazers and F Matéj Toman of the Prince George Cougars. . . . All told, four goaltenders, 16 defencemen and 24 forwards are on the camp roster. . . . It doesn’t include F Michal Kvasnica, 19. He played with the Portland Winterhawks in 2018-19, but spent this weekend in a camp being held by the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede.


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