“It’s a fraternity,” Ernie McLean said of NHL coaching, back in 1982. “But it’s a closed shop for a lot of people.” Two-time Memorial Cup champion coach of New Westminster Bruins never got his shot. Still, he’s remembered as one of game’s most colourful people. Happy 90th, Punch. pic.twitter.com/Arr3Lm6WQj
David Aldridge of The Athletic wrote a superb column on the latest imbroglio involving Kyrie Irving and the New York Nets. Here is just one paragraph:
“We have lost the impact of shame in our society. The notion that certain things shouldn’t be done, and certain things shouldn’t be said, because they would bring shame to us and embarrassment to our families. You didn’t steal candy from the store not just because you feared getting caught and arrested; you didn’t steal because it was wrong, and because if you got caught, you would be ashamed of what you did. So this isn’t just about Kyrie Irving. It’s about a team that, in the pursuit of a championship, seems incapable of self-reflection, of someone saying ‘Whoa. Maybe we shouldn’t do this.’ ”
And then along came the Boston Bruins on Friday to announce the signing of F Mitchell Miller, a player who was a fourth-round selection by the Arizona Coyotes in the NHL’s 2020 draft.
The Coyotes later did some due diligence and discovered an extremely unsavoury situation in Miller’s past, so they renounced his rights. As Sportsnet reported: “Miller . . . had assaulted, bullied and abused a Black classmate with a learning disability.” The victim has said that this went on for years.
No matter. The Bruins, without speaking with the victim’s family, signed Miller to a three-year entry-level deal. He will report to the AHL’s Providence Bruins.
NEW: The mother of the boy bullied and abused by new Boston Bruins player Mitchell Miller tells @PaulaEbben that Mitchell has NEVER directly apologized to the family or her son….. until last week…. on Instagram.
Diana Svatos: "I want people to know that Marek was a good person who loved his family and made decisions because of CTE, not because he was a bad person. I don’t know how many times I heard him say ‘the lights went out’ after he had had a concussion…” https://t.co/xqvFzQPtHzpic.twitter.com/J6DhA0RoKN
“Marek Svatos, who played parts of eight NHL seasons and skated for Slovakia in the 2006 Olympics in Torino, had the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) at the time of his death in 2016,” writes Rick Westhead of TSN. “Svatos’ wife, Diana, confirmed his posthumous diagnosis in a series of recent interviews with TSN. Diana – who said the date of her husband’s death has been misreported on the Internet – wanted to speak publicly about Svatos’ life and death because she says it was more complicated than media reports have portrayed.
“Svatos died Nov. 4, 2016, at the age of 34 in his home in Lone Tree, Colo. A coroner reported Svatos had codeine, morphine and anti-anxiety medication in his system when he died, The Denver Post reported at the time. His official cause of death was an accidental overdose, Diana said.”
Svatos played two seasons (2000-02) with the WHL’s Kootenay Ice.
Westhead’s complete story — it’s a tough but important read — is right here.
“An upstart Okanagan hockey program is coming under fire by a parent who claims allegations of hazing and cyber bullying within the program are being dismissed,” Wayne Moore of castanet.net wrote earlier this week. “James Kellett levelled those accusations against Okanagan HC which operates three teams (U18, U15 and U14) within the new Junior Prospect Hockey League. The accusations are at this point unproven, but have triggered a public statement and investigation from the league.
“Accusations include hazing, what Kellett termed sexual misconduct involving cyber bullying and other off ice infractions involving the organization. Many came about during a road trip from Sept. 20 to 25 in Edmonton.”
On Friday, Carli Berry of infotel.ca reported that the RCMP is investigating the situation after “receiving information about misconduct” within the Okanagan HC.
Berry wrote: “RCMP initiated the investigation after receiving information Nov. 3 about misconduct and it is being handled by the Kelowna Vulnerable Persons Section as it involves people under the age of 18, according to a RCMP media release.”
It’s official! ✂️ The Brad Hornung Accommodations Test Centre, named in honour of the late alumnus, will create a more accessible campus by ensuring equal access to educational opportunities. pic.twitter.com/lpvUau07ET
If you aren’t already following Geoffrey Brandow (@GeoffreyBrandow) on Twitter for WHL stats and info, you should be.
The Red Deer Rebels ran their season-opening record to 14-0-0 with a 4-1 victory over the host Swift Current Broncos. . . . The 1967-68 Estevan Bruins hold the WHL record for longest season-opening winning streak, at 22 games. . . . The Rebels tied a franchise record with 14 straight victories; the 2001-02 team also won 14 in a row. . . . The Broncos had won their previous four games. . . . F Kai Uchacz scored twice, giving him 13, and added an assist. . . . Uchacz now is tied for the WHL goal-scoring lead, along with F Connor Bedard of the Regina Pats, F Austin Roest of the Everett Silvertips and F Reid Schaefer of the Seattle Thunderbirds. . . . The Rebels had a 41-20 edge in shots, including 20-8 in the third period. . . . Next up for the Rebels? Their nine-game road trip continues tonight with stop No. 3, a visit to the Moose Jaw Warriors. . . .
The Tri-City Americans overcame a 3-1 third-period deficit and beat the host Brandon Wheat Kings 4-3 on a goal by D Lukas Dragicevic at 3:11 of OT. . . . Dragicevic, 17, has three goals and nine assists in a nine-game point streak. On the season, he has five goals and 14 assists in 15 games. . . . Tri-City snapped a three-game losing skid; Brandon has lost five straight. . . . The Americans are 2-3-0 in a six-game swing into the East Division that will end with a game tonight against the Winnipeg Ice. . . . The Americans trailed 3-1 early in the third period, then tied it on goals from F Jake Sloan, at 7:47, on a PP, and F Ethan Ernst, at 15:16. . . . F Nate Danielson scored one of Brandon’s goals while it was two-men short. . . . F Cash Koch, the 24th overall selection in the 2022 WHL draft, made his Tri-City debut. Koch, 15, is from Calgary. . . .
F Rhett Melnyk’s fourth goal of the season, at 3:57 of OT, gave the host Edmonton Oil Kings a 4-3 victory over the Victoria Royals. . . . F Carson Golder, a former Victoria player, gave Edmonton a 3-1 lead at 17:52 of the second period. . . . The Royals tied it on goals from F Alex Edwards, at 19:30, and F Anthony Wilson, at 3:56 of the third. . . . Victoria went 1-4-1 on its Central Division trip and now is 3-12-3. . . . The Oil Kings, who had lost nine in a row, are 2-12-1. . . .
The Calgary Hitmen ran their winning streak to five with a 5-1 victory over the visiting Medicine Hat Tigers. . . . The game was played at the 2,000-seat Seven Chiefs Sportsplex on the Tsuut’ina First Nation. Announced attendance was 1,096. . . . F Riley Fiddler-Schultz had a goal and two assists for the Hitmen. . . . The Tigers have lost four straight (0-2-2). . . .
F Samuel Honzek and F Jaden Lipinski scored shootout goals to give the visiting Vancouver Giants a 4-3 victory over the Lethbridge Hurricanes. . . . Honzek and Lipinski also had regulation-time goals for the Giants, who completed their Central Division trip with a 3-2-1 record. . . . F Ty Thorpe had a goal and two assists for the Giants. . . . F Cole Shepherd scored once and drew two assists for Lethbridge, which acquired Shepherd, 20, from the Giants prior the start of the season for a third-round pick in the WHL’s 2023 draft. . . .
F Robbie Fromm-Delorme set up three goals, two of them on the PP, to lead the Portland Winterhawks to a 5-1 victory over the visiting Seattle Thunderbirds. . . . Portland scored the game’s first four goals. . . . Seattle F Kyle Crnkovic had his point streak end at 11 games. Acquired from the Saskatoon Blades as the season was getting started, he had at least one point in each of Seattle’s first 11 games. He has seven goals and 10 assists in 12 games. . . . F Jared Davidson, Seattle’s leading scorer, was scratched with an undisclosed injury, while F Mekai Sanders played his first game this season. Sanders last played a game on March 18; he missed all of Seattle’s run to the 2022 WHL final thanks to a knee injury. . . . These two teams will meet 12 times this season, with a second meeting tonight, this time in Kent, Wash. . . .
The Moose Jaw Warriors scored the game’s final two goals to beat the host Prince Albert Raiders, 3-2. . . . F Riley Ginnell tied it at 4:19 and F Jagger Firkus snapped the deadlock with a shorthanded goal at 5:25. . . . The Warriors are without head coach Mark O’Leary, who is one of the Canadian coaches at the U-17 World Hockey Challenge ongoing in Langley, B.C. . . .
D Ty Gibson scored twice to help the Everett Silvertips to a 5-3 victory over the Blades in Saskatoon. . . . Gibson, a 19-year-old from Victoria, went into the night with three goals in 98 career regular-season games. This season, he has three goals and an assist in 15 games. . . . F Austin Roest scored his 13th goal of the season and added an assist for Everett. This was his fourth straight game with a goal and an assist. . . . The Silvertips are 3-2-0 on a six-game East Division trip that concludes tonight against the Prince Albert Raiders. . . .
The Prince George Cougars got two goals from F Chase Wheatcroft in a 7-2 victory over the Chiefs in Spokane. . . . The Chiefs have lost six in a row. . . . The Cougars got three assists from Slovakian D Viliam Kmec. It was the sophomore’s first three-point game; he had four two-pointers last season, the final one on Dec. 10. . . . He has six points, all assists, in 15 games this season.
F Ben Thornton doesn’t have a timeline for returning to play with the Brandon Wheat Kings, but has been cleared to fly so will be rejoining his teammates on Monday. He has been doing what his father, Erin, told Taking Note is “very light exercise this week” and is waiting to see how he responds to that. . . . Thornton was injured on Oct. 14 during a game against the Vancouver Giants in Langley, B.C. He absorbed a nasty hit, was taken off the ice on a stretcher and then went via ambulance to Royal Columbia Hospital in New Westminster. He spent on night in hospital and since then has been at the family home in Chilliwack while dealing with concussion-related issues. . . .
The BCHL’s Penticton Vees are 15-0-0 after beating the visiting Prince George Spruce Kings, 4-0, on Friday night. . . . The Vees are scheduled to entertain the Wenatchee Wild tonight. . . . The Wild improved to 3-9-1 with a 5-4 OT victory over the visiting Merritt Centennials last night. . . .
The Prince George Cougars acquired F Cole Dubinsky, who is to turn 20 on Dec. 4, from the Regina Pats on Friday, giving up F Zackary Shantz, 17, and third-round selection in the 2023 WHL draft in the exchange. . . . The Cougars now have the maximum three 2002-born players on their roster, the others being F Noah Boyko and F Chase Wheatcroft. . . . Dubinsky, from Ardrossan, Alta., was a fourth-round pick by Regina in the 2017 WHL draft. He put up 38 goals and 65 assists in 203 regular-season games with Regina. This season, he had two goals and five assists in 11 games. . . . Shantz, from Sucker Creek, Alta., was a third-round pick by the Cougars in the 2020 WHL draft. A WHL freshman, he is pointless in four games this season. . . . Regina now is carrying three 20-year-olds — F Jakob Brook, D Luke Bateman and D Tanner Brown. . . .
The Kam River Fighting Walleye of the Superior International Junior Hockey League fired head coach Matt Valley on Friday. The Walleye, which plays out of the municipality of Oliver Paipoonge, Ont., was 49-12-2-1 in Valley’s two and a half seasons behind the bench, and he was the SIJHL’s coach of the year for 2021-22. . . . “It was a tough decision for our organization,” general manager Kevin McCallum said, “but we believed we had to make a decision on bringing in a full-time coach.” . . . McCallum and Vern Ray, the hockey operations advisor, will handle the coaching duties while a search for a replacement continues.
If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:
While taking time away from here to do some recharging, reflecting and, well, just re-everything, it hit me that we the people are doing a horrific job . . . just absolutely horrific.
I had always believed that one of the things foremost in our minds as we strolled through life had to be the importance of leaving the world a better place than we found it for our children and grandchildren. Did our parents not leave us with a world that was better than it was when they came into it?
That being the case, there seems no chance of us being able to do that, what with COVID-19 continuing to run rampant; climate change occurring with frightening speed while our leaders, in business, industry and politics, refuse to act with anything close to matching urgency; the political arena having turned into a battle of us vs. them with those of different political stripes seemingly incapable of working together — but, oh my, are they good at pointing fingers! — and we won’t even get into the opioid epidemic, homelessness, mental health, the price of groceries and gasoline, and on and on . . .
Over the past few days, while pondering a lot of what is going on in our world, I got to wondering where we went wrong. If the pandemic that soon will be into its fourth year — yes, fourth! — has shown us anything it is what a horribly selfish people we have become. I don’t know where it all started but the lack of caring and respect we now hold for our neighbours is disgusting. Somehow we have decided that we won’t wear masks indoors, not even when we know that they work to protect family, friends and others. Not only that, we have decided that the elderly, the disabled, the thousands of immunocompromised who walk among us . . . all of them are expendable. Come and take them, Dr. Death. Y’er welcome!
Ed Yong, a writer with The Atlantic who has won a Pulitzer Prize for his writing on the pandemic, writes:
“Recently, after a week in which 2,789 Americans died of COVID-19, President Joe Biden proclaimed that ‘the pandemic is over.’ Anthony Fauci described the controversy around the proclamation as a matter of ‘semantics,’ but the facts we are living with can speak for themselves. COVID still kills roughly as many Americans every week as died on 9/11. It is on track to kill at least 100,000 a year — triple the typical toll of the flu. Despite gross undercounting, more than 50,000 infections are being recorded every day. The CDC estimates that 19 million adults have long COVID. Things have undoubtedly improved since the peak of the crisis, but calling the pandemic ‘over’ is like calling a fight ‘finished’ because your opponent is punching you in the ribs instead of the face.”
As of Monday afternoon, the death toll from Hurricane Ian, which hit Florida on Wednesday, was at 101, a figure that is all over the news. Meanwhile, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University, there were 277 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Florida over the past week, bringing the state’s total to 81,416 since the virus arrived on our doorstep. Hey, just saying . . .
Here’s more from Yong:
“In the spring of 2020, I wrote that the pandemic would last for years, and that the U.S. would need long-term strategies to control it. But America’s leaders consistently acted as if they were fighting a skirmish rather than a siege, lifting protective measures too early, and then reenacting them too slowly. They have skirted the responsibility of articulating what it would actually look like for the pandemic to be over, which has meant that whenever citizens managed to flatten the curve, the time they bought was wasted. Endemicity was equated with inaction rather than active management. This attitude removed any incentive or will to make the sort of long-term changes that would curtail the current disaster and prevent future ones. And so America has little chance of effectively countering the inevitable pandemics of the future; it cannot even focus on the one that’s ongoing.”
Read that last sentence again. Please.
Yong’s complete piece is right here, and it’s well worth your time.
ICYMI, Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band were to have opened a five-city Western Canadian tour in Winnipeg tonight (Tuesday). That won’t happen, though, because the former Beatles drummer has tested positive for COVID-19. Starr, 82, also had to call off shows scheduled for Saskatoon, Lethbridge, Abbotsford and Penticton.
A message from Harold Phillipoff, who played two seasons (1974-76) with the New Westminster Bruins:
“It is with heavy heart than I pass along this sad news . . . after 69 years of marriage, Fran McLean has passed away. She was always there for Ernie and ‘his boys.’
“This leaves Ernie tragically in a financial mess as the pandemic has shut down his mining business, leaving him with just his old-age benefits to pay all the bills.
“Ernie’s sons have set up a PayPal account and E-transfer account for the ‘Help Ernie McLean’ fund. The username for both accounts is PunchMclean@gmail.com.
“I would consider it a personal favour if you could share this post to your friends on Facebook and any other social media. Ernie entertained many for decades and made a huge positive impact on many lives. Let’s show him we enjoyed it and still remember him!”
“Are you ready for some . . . pickleball?” wonders Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times. “America’s fast-growing pastime is growing up — as in Major League Pickleball — with the MLP finals slated for Oct. 14-16 in Columbus, Ohio, competing for a $319,000 prize pool. The 12-team league plans to expand to 16 next year, with the likes of LeBron James and Drew Brees buying in. Now it’s just a TV contract and a steroids scandal away from official major-league status.”
Perry, again: “Nets guard Kyrie Irving says he turned down a four-year, $100 million-plus extension a year ago because he wanted to remain unvaccinated. Apparently it was a one-shot deal.”
The Ponoka Stampeders are a first-year junior B team trying to find their way in Alberta’s Heritage Junior Hockey League. So far they have lost by scores of 25-1, 20-0, 23-1, 30-0 and 27-1. Yes, they continue to look for players, so if you’re of junior age and looking for ice time, you may want to check them out. . . . NOTE: A late night advisory from the Twitter account Inside the HJHL (@latesthjhl) informs that the Stampeders have folded.
If this headline — COVID, cancer can’t conquer Pats’ Paddock — can’t entice you to read a story, I can’t imagine what might do the trick. Rob Vanstone of the Regina Leader-Post recently visited with John Paddock, 68. He is coming off a season in which he stepped in as the Pats’ head coach and beat back COVID-19, something he couldn’t avoid after treatment for lymphoma left him immunocompromised. “I got sick,” Paddock told Vanstone, “and then got really sick.” Of course, what COVID-19 and lymphoma didn’t take into account is that Paddock has coaching in his blood. So the Pats’ vice-president of hockey operations and general manager also is back as the team’s head coach. . . . Vanstone’s story is right here.
Announced attendance at the Hitmen/Pats game yesterday: 3,279. I was there and it looked even emptier. Pretty sad showing for a chance to see Connor Bedard.
It’s early in the WHL’s regular season and the weather has been anything but hockey-like. However, you are free to wonder whether the WHL has some cracks showing when it comes to attendance.
Unfortunately, the WHL continues to have teams play afternoon games after having played the previous night, which is what happened to the Regina Pats — and F Connor Bedard — on Sunday. They dropped a 4-2 decision to the Rebels before an announced crowd of 4,806 in Red Deer on Saturday night, then were beaten, 7-3, by the Hitmen on Sunday afternoon.
Meanwhile, the Prince George Cougars have played four home games — two each against the Tri-City Americans and Kelowna Rockets — and have had announced crowds of 2,497, 2,018, 2,008 and 1,937, in that order.
Regan Bartel, the radio voice of the Kelowna Rockets, couldn’t take it anymore so he chewed a bit on the legs of the Prince George citizenry the other day. If you haven’t seen it, it’s right here.
BTW, if you haven’t seen the ceremonial faceoff prior to the game between Regina and Calgary on Sunday, it’s worth a head-shaking look . . .
Stewart Kemp, the president of the Portland Winterhawks Booster Club, reports that it’s full-speed ahead for the trek east early in January. The deadline to register passed with 28 people having signed on for the 10-day jaunt that will include games in Brandon, Winnipeg, Prince Albert, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw and Regina. The contingent is to include two ladies who are 96 (Ardyce) and 94 (Neree), and who have been making these trips since Kemp took over as president in 2010. “They,” Kemp reports, “are the most enthusiastic to go. They wouldn’t miss this for the world.” . . . Then, he adds, “Oh, this is going to be fun, but really cold!” . . . Manitoba and Saskatchewan cold during the first two weeks of January? Nah. . . .
Jeff Dubois, the commissioner of the junior B Kootenay International Junior Hockey League, signed a five-year contract extension the other day. It will take him through the 2027-28 season. Dubois has been the commissioner since March 2020. . . .
Bruce Luebke, who had been the radio voice of the Brandon Wheat Kings for more than 20 years, has been acclaimed for a second term as a member of Brandon City Council. Luebke called his first Wheat Kings game in 1993-94. He and radio station CKLQ parted company in July 2016. . . . Civic elections in Manitoba are scheduled for Oct. 26. . . .
THINKING OUT LOUD — As the host Green Bay Packers were locked in a battle with the New England Patriots on Sunday, the U of Wisconsin fired its head football coach, Paul Chryst. Now that’s a smooth PR move. . . . Took a drive to Vernon and back on Monday afternoon. I am here to report that the price of gas kissing $2 a litre in B.C.’s southern interior isn’t keeping people off the road. . . . The Los Angeles Dodgers went into Monday’s games with a run-differential of plus-333. They also have some pitchers. Let’s just give them the World Series title and get on with life.
If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:
F Blake Astorino of the BCHL’s Merritt Centennials was among the residents of that B.C. community who were forced out by horrific flooding on Nov. 15. In Merritt, Astorino, a 20-year-old from Prince George, was billeting with Jenny and Jesse Pierce, whose home is a snapshot away from the Coldwater River.
Here’s a bit of what Ted Clarke of the Prince George Citizen wrote in a story about Astorino’s experiences . . .
It was just past 5 a.m. and the flood waters hadn’t reached the end of the driveway but within 15 minutes nature’s fury was lapping at their feet and waves rippled as a torrent of rising water enveloped their yard. As a third-generation Merritt resident, Jenny knew the house her grandparents built was prone to flooding occasionally, because it was only a short walk from the river, and Jesse told Blake they would likely be back later that day when the water level dropped. But it didn’t.
“I didn’t really pack as much stuff as I probably should have, and when I looked outside the water was starting to get a little worse, but it wasn’t serious,” Astorino said. “So I went back to my room for a bit and I heard (Jenny) yelling, ‘OK, we’ve got to go, we’ve got to go,’ and it happened within five minutes. It was like nothing to water almost in the house in 20 minutes. It was coming so fast and the water was strong.”
By the time Astorino got into his car, the rushing water was already lapping at the doors and as soon as he backed out of the driveway and started down the road his car was half-submerged.
“It was pretty scary for me because my car is so low to the ground and the water was coming up to my windshield and going over the roof,” Astorino said. “If I had left any later I would have been stuck. Luckily, it didn’t stall and I got out.”
Clarke’s complete story — and it’s an excellent one — is right here.
It now is really doubtful that the Portland Winterhawks will have F Seth Jarvis in their lineup this season. Jarvis, 19, played in his 10th regular-season game with the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night, meaning the first-year of his three-year entry-level contract has started. . . . The Hurricanes lost, 2-1 in OT, to the host San Jose Sharks. . . . Carolina selected Jarvis with the 13th pick of the NHL’s 2020 draft. . . . He has four goals and one assist in 10 games with the Hurricanes this season. . . . Interestingly, it was an injury to F Nino Niederreiter that opened a spot in the lineup for Jarvis on Oct. 31. Niederreiter also is a product of the Winterhawks. . . . Jarvis put up 73 goals and 93 assists in 154 regular-season WHL games, all with Portland. . . . Yes, Jarvis still could be assigned to the Winterhawks, but that isn’t likely to happen because the first year of his contract would be burned in any case.
QUESTIONS: Did the late Nat King Cole release only one Christmas song, that one being The Christmas Song? You know the one: Chestnuts roasting . . . Considering the battering that TE Rob Gronkowski of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has taken — and continues to take — how is it that he is still able to walk, never mind run? . . . Have you seen enough of that Connor McDavid commercial yet? Or do you agree that Sportsnet could/should squeeze it in a few more times each evening?
Mitch Love suffered the first regulation-time defeat of his AHL head-coaching career on Monday night when the Stockton Heat dropped a 5-3 decision to the host Ontario Reign. . . . Love, a former WHL player and coach, spent the previous three seasons as the head coach of the Saskatoon Blades. That followed seven seasons as an assistant with the Everett Silvertips. . . . In last night’s loss, the Heat goals came from F Matthew Phillips, F Glenn Gawdin and and F Luke Philp, all three former WHLers. . . . The Heat now is 10-1-2.
Jon Keen, the radio voice of the Kamloops Blazers, reminds us via Twitter (@JonKeenNLSports) that Shaun Clouston, the team’s general manager and head coach, is moving up the WHL’s all-time victories ladder. “He sits at 464,” Keen tweeted. “One more win ties him with Dean Clark and Kelly McCrimmon for 12th all-time. Peter Anholt and Jack Shupe are next at 466.” . . .
Officially, the top five on that list won’t change, with Don Hay (750) on top, followed by Ken Hodge (742), Don Nachbaur (692), Lorne Molleken (626) and Mike Williamson (572). Of course, Hay, now the associate coach with the Portland Winterhawks, could add to his total should he have an opportunity to run the bench if head coach Mike Johnston is absent. That happened earlier this season but the Winterhawks dropped a 5-2 decision to the visiting Everett Silvertips with Johnston away on a scouting trip. . . .
Marc Habscheid of the Prince Albert Raiders is the winningest active coach. He’s in sixth spot, at 560, ahead of Ernie (Punch) McLean (548), Brent Sutter (526) and Pat Ginnell (518). . . .
Shupe and Anholt are tied for 10th, at 466, with McCrimmon and Clark next, at 465. . . . Clouston, whose club next is scheduled to play Wednesday in Kent, Wash., against the Seattle Thunderbirds, is 14th and has a chance to join the 500 Club before this season ends. . . . The Blazers (14-2-0) are on pace to win 60 games, but it isn’t likely they can play to an .875 winning percentage for 68 games. Still, a 50-victory season would have Clouston at an even 500 victories, making him the 10th head coach in WHL history to reach that milestone. . . .
Also in the 400 Club: Bob Lowes (453), Mike Johnston (420), Doug Sauter (417) and Marcel Comeau (411). . . . Johnston moved past Sauter this season. . . . Next into the 400 Club will be Willie Desjardins with the Medicine Hat Tigers. He is at 392, good for 19th on the all-time list.
NOTE: The WHL hasn’t updated its Media Guide and Record Book since before the 2019-20 season, so the totals for active coaches are unofficial.
Shaun Clouston and his Blazers are one game into something of a bizarre road trip. They beat the Seattle Thunderbirds, 5-1, in Kent, Wash., on Saturday night and are scheduled to play their again on Wednesday. But rather than stay in Kent or return home, the Blazers moved into Vancouver for a couple of days. . . . “Some guys went and rode bikes on the seawall and a bunch of our players went to the Canucks game (Sunday) night,” Clouston told Radio NL. “It was a nice break.” . . . The Blazers skated with players from St. George’s School at UBC on Monday. Tom Gaglardi, the Blazers’ majority owner, has served on the board at St. George’s and has had sons play hockey there. . . . After playing in Kent, the Blazers are scheduled to meet the Winterhawks in Portland on Friday and the Silvertips (15-0-1) in Everett on Saturday.
It doesn’t appear that the situation involving the USHL’s Omaha Lancers has reached any sort of resolution just yet. Chris Peters of faceoff.com has been following the goings-on and his latest report is right here.
A tip of the fedora to F Carter Streek of the Spokane Chiefs, who just happens to be from Kamloops. Due to injuries and a couple of positive tests, the Chiefs were short of forwards earlier this month, which is one of the reasons they gave up a seventh-round selection in the WHL’s 2022 draft to acquire Streek, 17, from the Saskatoon Blades on Nov. 11. . . . In 21 games with the Blades, six of them this season, Streek had yet to score. So guess what happened in his first game with the Chiefs? Yes, he scored his first WHL goal — it was Spokane’s first goal, tying the score 1-1 at 3:54 of the second period, in what would be a 5-3 loss to the visiting Seattle Thunderbirds.
COVID-19 NOTES: Boston College has postponed a pair of weekend men’s hockey games “due to COVID-19 protocols and out of an abundance of caution.” The Eagles were to have met host Notre Dame on Friday and then entertained Harvard on Nov. 30. . . . D Ethan Bear of the Carolina Hurricanes didn’t play Monday night against the Sharks in San Jose after testing positive. . . . You do realize that more people died from COVID-19 in 2021 than in 2020. USA TODAY reported on Monday: “The disease was reported as the underlying cause of death or a contributing cause of death for an estimated 377,883 people in 2020, accounting for 11.3% of deaths, according to the CDC. As of Monday, more than 770,000 people have died from the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University data. That means over 15,000 more people have died in 2021 than last year from COVID-19 — and there’s still more than a month left.” . . . On Monday, The New York Times reported that “as Americans travel this week to meet far-flung relatives for Thanksgiving dinner, new virus cases are rising once more, especially in the Upper Midwest and Northeast.”
First hand experience. Some owners in this league have been approached to sell their teams by prospective expansion groups, and told said expansion group they wanted what their team was worth (in their eyes) + the expansion fee.
A group in Quesnel, B.C., that is headed up by Cory Broadhead is preparing to make a proposal to the junior B Kootenay International Junior Hockey League in the hopes of landing a franchise that would be known as the Thunder and begin play in 2022-23. . . . Broadhead told George Henderson of mycariboonow.com: “We’ve received letters of support from some of the businesses in the community and a letter of support from the North Cariboo Advisory Committee to rent us the ice at the West Fraser Centre. I haven’t heard anything negative in town. It’s all been really positive and it sounds like this town would really support a team and go to the games.” . . . Broadhead said a proposal would be into the league “by the end of the week.” He added that according to its bylaws the KIJHL has “about 30 days to have a meeting.” A decision apparently would be announced three or four days after that meeting. . . . Henderson’s complete story is right here.
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Ron Robison, the commissioner of the WHL, says the league has established a diversity and inclusion committee that has been tasked with reviewing policies. Robison told Sammy Hudes of Postmedia that the committee was struck recently, presumably before the hockey world was rocked on Thursday by the news that the Seattle Thunderbirds had dropped two players — one 17, the other 18 — from their roster because of racist incidents involving a teammate. Hudes wrote that Robison “said the WHL is working to build ‘additional programming in this area,’ but didn’t specify what that might look like.” Robison also didn’t indicate who is on the committee. . . . Robison told Hudes: “We’re dealing with players who are of young age. They need further education, more training. They need to understand the sensitivities to all this and how it resonates with not only their teammates, but their opponents.” . . . One of the key issues involving incidents like these is that a victim often doesn’t have anywhere to turn outside of his team or the league. Hudes spoke with Courtney Szto, who is assistant professor at Queen’s University’s School of Kinesiology and Health Studies. She co-authored a 2020 policy paper, Hudes wrote, “advocating for anti-racism policies in hockey. Among its calls to action, the paper identified ways for governing bodies like Hockey Canada to proactively work to eliminate racism in the sport. . . . The policy paper also called on the federal government to create an external oversight body to receive and investigate incidents of discrimination. Szto said victims have nowhere to report such incidents, other than through their own teams and leagues.” . . . Hudes’ complete story is right here.
Marc Habscheid, the head coach of the Prince Albert Raiders, moved into a tie for sixth spot on the WHL’s list of all-time winningest regular-season coaches with a 5-2 victory over the Moose Jaw Warriors in Regina on Saturday. . . . Habscheid now has 548 victories, tying him with Ernie (Punch) McLean. . . . The Raiders (3-3-2) broke a 2-2 tie with the game’s last three goals, starting with one from F Eric Pearce, who is from Regina, at 1:53 of the third period. . . . F Justin Nachbaur, playing his 200th regular-season game with the Raiders, gave his guys a 2-1 lead with a shorthanded goal at 12:46 of the first period. . . . D Logan Linklater picked up his first two points, both assists, for the Raiders in his seventh game. . . .Prince Albert scored its last two goals, from F Ozzy Wiesblatt and F Reece Vitelli, into empty nets. . . . The Warriors now are 4-4-0. . . . The game took 2 hours 8 minutes to play, the quickest game in the WHL this season. . . . Moose Jaw lost D Daemon Hunt to an elbowing major at 13:20 of the third period for a hit on Vitelli, who later scored an empty-netter. . . . The Raiders were without F Spencer Moe with an undisclosed injury, while D Kaiden Guhle missed his sixth straight game. . . . The Raiders dressed just one goaltender — Carter Serhyenko — with starter Max Paddock sidelined with an undisclosed injury. Serhyenko stopped 16 shots. . . .
The Edmonton Oil Kings won again on Saturday afternoon, running their record to 9-0-0 with a 5-2 victory over the Hitmen in Calgary. . . . Edmonton got two goals and an assist from F Jake Neighbours and a goal and two assists from F Dylan Guenther. He’s got nine goals and nine assists in eight games. . . . Neighbours has 16 points, 12 of them assists, in a nine-game point streak. . . . G Sebastian Cossa, who is eligible for the NHL’s 2021 draft, stopped 29 shots. He’s 8-0-0, 1.50, .945 this season. . . . The Hitmen slipped to 4-5-1. . . . Edmonton D Matthew Robertson didn’t play in Friday’s 4-3 victory over visiting Calgary, but was back on the ice Saturday. . . . The Hitmen were without D Tyson Galloway, who suffered an undisclosed injury on Friday, then lost D Luke Prokop in the second period on Saturday. . . .
The Seattle Thunderbirds erased a 2-1 deficit with two goals in the last two minutes of the second period as they defeated the visiting Portland Winterhawks, 3-2. . . . F Simon Knak gave Portland (2-1-2) a 2-1 lead with his third goal in as many games at 11:34 of the second. . . . F Payton Mount pulled Seattle (3-1-) even at 18:18 and F Jordan Gustafson snapped the tie at 19:07 with his first WHL goal. . . . The first period featured one goal, by Portland F Seth Jarvis, and 31 shots on goal, 16 by Seattle. . . . G Jackson Berry stopped 28 shots to record his first WHL victory in his first appearance with Seattle. He got into five games with the Moose Jaw Warriors last season, going 0-2-0 before being released. . . .
G Talyn Boyko put up his first WHL shutout as the host Tri-City Americans beat the Spokane Chiefs, 3-0. . . . The 6-foot-8 Boyko stopped 26 shots as the Americans improved to 2-2-0. . . . The Chiefs fell to 0-4-1; they have been blanked three times including twice in two nights. They lost 5-0 to the visiting Seattle Thunderbirds on Friday night. . . . Boyko’s first career clean sheet came in his 38th appearance over three seasons. . . . F Samuel Huo scored twice, but it was F Connor Bouchard’s goal, at 6:47 of the second period, that stood up as the winner. . . .
The Medicine Hat Tigers broke open a 2-2 game with three second-period goals en route to a 6-3 victory over the host Lethbridge Hurricanes. . . . F Corson Hopwo snapped the tie with his sixth goal at 4:40, with F Lukas Svejkovsky scoring his sixth at 14:16, and F Brett Kemp getting No. 4 at 19:17. . . . Kemp’s drew an assist on Hopwo’s goal, giving him 200 career regular-season points. He now has 201 points, 88 of them goals, in 241 career games. . . . While the Tigers improved to 6-3-0, the Hurricanes now are 3-6-1. . . . Lethbridge scored all three of its goals on the PP. . . . G Beckett Langkow stopped 38 shots for the Tigers to record his second WHL victory in his second start. . . . Langkow’s father, Scott, played three seasons (1992-95) with the Portland Winterhawks before going on to a pro career that included 20 NHL games and 11 seasons in Europe. . . .
F Logan Stankoven’s second goal of the game, at 10:09 of the third period, broke a 4-4 tie and gave the Kamloops Blazers a 5-4 victory over the Prince George Cougars. . . . The Blazers were designated as the visitors even with the game being played in Kamloops. . . . The Cougars, the last of the WHL’s 22 teams to get into game action in this truncated developmental season, struck for three first-period goals to take a 3-1 lead into the second. . . . The Blazers (2-0-0) tied it on second-period goals by F Caedan Banker and F Josh PIllar. . . . F Koehn Ziemmer put the Cougars back out front at 15:03. . . . Kamloops F Connor Zary tied it shorthanded at 5:25 of the third. . . . F Peyton McKenzie had two assists in his second game with Kamloops. He went into the game with two assists in 24 games with the Moose Jaw Warriors. . . . One of the referees was Matthew Hicketts of Kamloops, whose brother, Joe, spent five seasons playing defence for the Victoria Royals. . . . Earl Seitz of CFJC-TV tweeted that there were “over 20 scouts” in attendance. . . .
March 27, 1981: end of season tie-breaker held in Trail, BC.
Spokane Flyers advance to the #WHL playoffs by defeating the New Westminster Bruins 10-9 in overtime. Bruins goaltender @MikeZanier faces 79 shots.
F Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins was added to the COVID-19 protocol list on Saturday and sat out the team’s 3-2 victory over the visiting Buffalo Sabres. Marchand, 32, has 34 points, including 12 goals, in 29 games this season. . . . The Bruins, who had two games postponed last week due to protocols, are scheduled to play host to the New Jersey Devils today (Sunday) and Tuesday night. . . . The Sabres now have lost 17 straight games.
In the Swiss National League, EHC Biel-Bienne is in quarantine after two positive tests so a Saturday game with Lausanne HC was cancelled. With the playoffs approaching, the final standing are to be decided by points percentage, a decision that had been made at a Jan. 4 meeting.
Luke Mylymok had played in 10 game so far this season. Had not dressed for a game in a month. His second career NCAA goal ends the longest game in tournament history.
F Luke Mylymok’s goal at 2:33 of the fifth OT period gave the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs a 3-2 victory over the North Dakota Fighting Hawks in the NCAA men’s hockey Midwest Region final in Fargo, N.D., on Saturday night. . . . Mylymok, 19, is from Wilcox, Sask. This is his first season with the Bulldogs; he split last season between the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers and the BCHL’s Salmon Arm Silverbacks. The Victoria Royals selected him in the fourth round of the WHL’s 2016 bantam draft. . . . The goal sent the Bulldogs, the two-time defending national champions, back to the Frozen Four. There wasn’t a champion in 2020 due to the pandemic. . . . At 142:33, it was the longest game in the history of the NCAA men’s or women’s hockey tournaments, surpassing a women’s game between Wisconsin and Harvard in 2007. . . . The men’s tournament is in its 74th year. . . . Zach Stejskal, the Bulldogs’ starting goaltender, left at 4:37 of the fourth OT when he began cramping up. He had stopped 57 shots when he was relieved by Ryan Fanti. . . . Leah Hextall — yes, of the hockey Hextalls — handled the play-by-play for ESPN.
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1972-73 Victoria Cougars season in review: 🏒 Mid-season coaching change 💰 Local owners purchase the team 🥅 Player revolts ⭐️ All-Star season for Dale Cook 🏒 & many, many losses#WHL#hockeyhistoryhttps://t.co/mXr3V5zkRL
A new post appeared at cougarshockeyproject.ca on Thursday, this one a recap of the Victoria Cougars’ 1972-73 season. . . . A few paragraphs into the post, I came across a piece of WHL history — it was the WCHL in those days — about which I don’t ever recall hearing:
“One of the seasons’ strangest events occurred on Dec. 14. Victoria came away with the victory in a game it actually lost. New Westminster defeated Victoria, 5-4, but the Bruins refused to wear their helmets. After the game, the WCHL awarded Victoria the points, ruling that New Westminster must forfeit the victory because they blatantly violated the league’s helmet mandate.”
So . . . I scurried to newspapers.com and took a look at the Victoria Times Colonist of Dec. 15, 1972. Here’s what I found on the Dec. 14 game that was played in New Westminster:
“Victoria Cougars lost the battle but won the war here Thursday night.
“New Westminster Bruins, erupting for four goals in the second period, edged the Cougars 5-4 but lost two Western Canada Hockey League points because they refused to wear helmets.
“Executive-secretary Tom Fisher of New Westminster announced the forfeiture after officially receiving the game report from referee Al Paradise.
“In addition to losing the points that would have provided the Bruins with undisputed possession of first place in the Western Division, the New Westminster club was fined $320.
“ ‘Our league is bound by Canadian Amateur Hockey Association rules,’ said Fisher, ‘and these rules make it mandatory for players to wear helmets.’
“Fisher fined 16 New Westminster players $20 each. The only ones to avoid fines were New Westminster’s two goaltenders and Denis Anderson, the only Bruin who wore a helmet.
“The Cougars did not lodge a protest. Fisher, who attended the game, took the default action on his own initiative.”
One day later, I found more on this story, with Ernie McLean, the Bruins’ owner-coach, saying that he would appeal Fisher’s ruling.
According to McLean, Fisher “doesn’t have the authority” to take away the points and the Bruins would be taking their case before the league’s governors.
On Dec. 17, the Bruins all wore their helmets as they beat the visiting Centennials, 3-2.
The Bruins also wore their helmets on Dec. 19 as they beat the host Cougars, 6-1.
On Dec. 21, Del Wilson of Regina, the league’s president, said there was “little chance” of the Bruins getting back the two points.
“I’ve talked it over with Fisher,” Wilson said, “and there can be no appeal. New Westminster broke the rules, and the points will remain with Victoria.”
And that was the end of that story, although there doesn’t seem to be any record of whether those Bruins players paid their fines.
In the end, the two points didn’t figure in the final standings as the Bruins (31-22-15) finished fourth in the Western Division, four points behind the Centennials (35-22-11).
Kelly McClintock, the Saskatchewan Hockey Association’s general manager, told CBC News on Thursday that “it’s pretty safe to say that we’re not going to be having any hockey games.” . . . That was in reaction to the province extending public health restrictions until at least March 19. Under those restrictions, hockey games aren’t permitted, while players 18 and younger are allowed to practise in groups of eight while physically distancing and wearing masks. . . . According to CBC News, “McClintock said the association is now focusing on becoming as prepared as possible to start in September, if all goes well.” . . . McClintock said: “I’m hoping by September . . . there’s a lot more people vaccinated, there’s a lot less fear. I think and hope that we’re at levels where we can start our September season.” . . . The CBC story is right here.
Hearing the AJHL has received approval from AHS for a return to play. Teams will be playing in cohorts of three (three teams play each other) and a total of 24 games. Games starting in early March. #AJHL
The NHL’s Dallas Stars, who had their first four games of this season postponed after having a number of players test positive, now have had four more games scrubbed, all because of the weather conditions and power outages in Texas. . . . The Stars were to have played the Nashville Predators on Monday and Tuesday, and the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday and Saturday. The latter two games would have been a rematch of last season’s bubbled Stanley Cup final, which the Lightning won in six games. . . . Two of the four early-season games that were postponed also were to have featured the Lightning and Stars. . . . Dallas is scheduled to play five games in eight days starting on Monday, with two of those games in Tampa.
The ECHL’s Brampton, Ont., Beast announced on Thursday that the franchise has folded. In an open letter, Cary Kaplan, the Beast’s president and general manager, said the franchise had “become the latest of many victims of COVID-19.” . . . The Beast played seven seasons in the ECHL. . . . Spiros Anastas, a former U of Lethbridge Pronghorns head coach, was the Beast’s head coach.
THE COVID-19 CHRONICLES . . .
Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, Wednesday, 10:01 p.m. PT — Canada: 21,439 have died from coronavirus; 839,155 have tested positive.
Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, Thursday, 9:48 p.m. PT — Canada: 21,509 have died from coronavirus; 842,590 have tested positive.
Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, Wednesday, 10:01 p.m. PT — United States: 490,447 have died from coronavirus . . . 27,825,043 have tested positive.
Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, Thursday, 9:48 p.m. PT — United States: 493,082 people have died. . . . 27,896,042 have tested positive.
CBC News — COVID-19 vaccine deliveries back on track following weeks of delay, says Public Health Agency.
CBC News — In the past week in Canada, there were 20,334 cases, a decrease of 13 per cent. . . . The number of active cases declined 14 per cent. . . . There were 410 deaths, or 1.1 per 100,000 people, a decrease of 29 per cent. . . . Hospitalizations declined five per cent and ICU beds filled declined seven per cent.
CBC News — B.C. records 617 new cases of COVID-19 and 4 more deaths, the highest number of new cases since Jan. 7. There are 224 people in hospital with the disease, 60 of whom are in intensive care.
CBC News — Number of new COVID-19 cases in Ontario rises to 1,038, the 1st time in 5 days the number has exceeded 1,000. Of those, 376 are in Toronto, 142 are in Peel Region and 122 are in York Region. There have also been 44 additional deaths. . . . York Region’s top doctor calls for return to red level as Toronto, Peel seek lockdown extension. A decision on these 3 Ontario areas and North Bay, which also remain under a stay-home order, is expected Friday.
CTV News — Two passengers fined a combined $17,000 for allegedly faking negative COVID-19 tests.
The New York Times — Arkansas has lifted its curfew for bars and restaurants and loosened restrictions on large outdoor venues.
CBC News — Alberta reports 415 new COVID-19 cases, 7 more deaths. There are now more than 2,300 contact tracers in the province and 239 variants of concern have been identified to date.
CBC News — Saskatchewan reports 146 new COVID-19 cases. That’s the most in 5 days but still below the province’s 7-day average of 163.
CBC News — Manitoba announces 139 new cases of COVID-19, the 1st time the number has been over 100 since February 5 and well above the 7-day average of 91. There have also been 2 additional deaths.
I have a feeling that Ken Campbell of The Hockey News was watching the waning moments of the Minnesota Wild’s 3-1 victory over the host Anaheim Ducks on Thursday night when he posted this tweet . . .
Not sure why the NHL tolerates its coaches removing their masks when in close quarters talking with players during time outs. Doesn't that essentially defeat the purpose of having them wear the masks?
The NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list was down to 13 players on Thursday, the lowest its been since Jan. 17 when it contained 12 players. . . . There were 59 players on the list on Feb. 12. . . . Unfortunately for Philadelphia, the Flyers have six players on the list, none of whom are expected to play in Sunday’s outdoor game at Lake Tahoe against the Boston Bruins. . . . The Flyers played Thursday night, their first game in 11 days, and lost, 3-2 in a shootout, to the visiting New York Rangers. . . . D Justin Braun, F Claude Giroux, F Travis Konecny, F Scott Laughton, F Oskar Lindblom and F Jake Voracek are the Philly players who didn’t play last night and aren’t likely to play Sunday.
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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 4 of 5, and it’s a long one (but not as long as Part 5). I hope you enjoy it. . . .
When the WHL headed into the 1981-82 season, which was the beginning of its fourth five-year segment, stability was not exactly a strong suit.
For example, of the 13 teams that came out of the gate in the fall of 1981, only two — the Portland Winter Hawks and Saskatoon Blades — wouldn’t undergo a change in ownership or location over the next 10 years.
But had you predicted the WHL would be as healthy and as stable as any league in existence just 10 years later, well, not many people wouldn’t have scoffed.
Hockey in the early 1980s was fighting to leave its fightin’ image behind.
The WHL was no different. The days of the Broad Street Bullies were coming to an end. Unfortunately for the WHL, it took some people longer than others to realize that.
For starters, the Regina Pats hired Bill LaForge as their head coach on May 20, 1981. At the time, he was under an OHL-imposed suspension that was to last until Jan. 1, 1982. LaForge, while with the Oshawa Generals, had become physically involved with Peterborough coach Dave Dryden and then with Petes player Doug Evans in a pregame brawl.
Neither the suspension nor LaForge’s reputation scared off Regina general manager Bob Strumm, who gave LaForge a two-year contract.
Of his OHL suspension, LaForge said: “I’ve never been suspended in 12 years of coaching and I have no intention of it ever happening again.”
Before the 1981-82 season ended, LaForge would be suspended three times. And he would also be in a Lethbridge courtroom, facing an assault charge.
At the same time, there were other changes that would mean a lot to this league as its history continued. For starters, Russ Farwell moved into
Calgary as the Wranglers assistant coach and assistant GM. He would later prove to be as astute as any hockey man who has ever sat behind a WHL desk.
An NHL team also became involved in the WHL at the ownership level. Peter Pocklington, the owner of the Edmonton Oilers, purchased the New Westminster franchise and moved it to Kamloops as the Junior Oilers.
Pocklington owned 70 per cent, with 35 shareholders holding the rest.
“They seem to be an enthusiastic group,” WHL president Ed Chynoweth said. “And a new building there in the future would be a plus for us. I know the franchise moved out of Kamloops in the past. But I think that was a case of people looking for greener pastures after seeing the success that was achieved in Portland.”
On Aug. 19, the WHL began shaping its office for the future when Richard Doerksen, the league statistician for three seasons who was named referee-in-chief midway in the 1980-81 season, was given the title of executive assistant.
There was an ugly incident in Medicine Hat on Oct. 14 when, during a bench-clearing brawl against the Lethbridge Broncos, Tigers general manager/coach Pat Ginnell got into it with linesman Gary Patzer. According to The Canadian Press, Ginnell “exchanged blows” with Patzer.
The next day, Medicine Hat RCMP laid an assault charge against Ginnell. One day later, Ginnell and Patzer were suspended indefinitely. Ginnell would later charge Patzer with assault, and both would plead not guilty. Ginnell eventually pleaded guilty and was fined $350, while the charge against Patzer was withdrawn by the Crown. Ginnell ended up serving a 36-game suspension.
There were serious problems in Spokane. And on Dec. 2, the WHL suspended the franchise. A proposed sale fell through and the 3-23-1 Flyers were done for the season.
One of the WHL’s great success stories began on Jan. 19, 1982, when, during meetings at the all-star game in Winnipeg, an expansion application from Prince Albert was accepted.
It was a sad night, March 23 was, in Regina. It was Fan Appreciation Night and by the time the ice chips cleared, the Pats and Calgary had done it up right. When the WHL office got through, the teams were hit with $1,250 in fines and 36 games in suspensions. Regina got 27 games and $1,000.
On April 8, it was revealed that Bill Zeitlin of Chicago, a minority owner with baseball’s White Sox, had bought the Billings Bighorns from Joe Sample for $300,000. Zeitlin promptly moved the team to Nanaimo.
Regina brawled its way into the WHL final, but not before LaForge landed in a Lethbridge courtroom.
LaForge became physically involved with Alfred Gurr, a fan, while players brawled on the ice during the first period of Game 1 of the East final.
LaForge was charged with assault causing bodily harm. Ultimately, LaForge was acquitted as the judge ruled it was hard to convict a person of assault for hitting “an obnoxious person trying to get into the coach’s area.”
Charges against the fan were dropped on June 22 when LaForge, the chief witness, didn’t appear in Lethbridge Provincial Court.
On April 29, Farwell was named GM of the Tigers and, just like that, the foundation was laid for back-to-back Memorial Cups.
Portland defeated visiting Regina 9-2, at home on May 2, to take the WHL final, 4-1. Regina was without Brent Pascal, Al Tuer and Dale Derkatch, who were suspended after a Game 4 brawl, the third time in the playoffs that the Pats were involved in a donnybrook.
Four days later, LaForge resigned. He later signed as GM/head coach in Kamloops.
Kelowna got into the league when Kelowna Sports Enterprises Ltd., headed up by Chris Parker, was sold an expansion franchise. Parker had operated the BCJHL’s Penticton Knights. The Wings named Marc Pezzin coach and Joe Arling GM. The Wings were bad — really bad. They were 1-26-2 at the Christmas break.
On June 22, the WHL approved the sale of the Wranglers to Wilf Richard and Jim Kerr from Pat Shimbashi and the Calgary Flames.
Regina landed defenceman Rick Herbert, 15, one of the most-wanted players in WHL history on Sept. 20, 1982, but it cost the Pats seven players. It happened during a draft that was held as teams cut their lists from 60 to 50 players. Regina traded Byron Lomow, Tim Brown and Kevin Pylypow to Kamloops for the draft’s third pick. Darryl Watts, Scott Wilson, Peter Hayden and Scott Gerla were given to Kelowna and the Wings agreed to pass on Herbert with the first pick. Due to draft rules, Prince Albert, with the second pick, couldn’t take Herbert. The Pats held pick No. 4.
Seattle picked up a 12-year-old from Thompson, Man., in that draft. His name? Glen Goodall.
On Oct. 18, the WHL admitted it had on file franchise applications from Moose Jaw, Edmonton, Red Deer and New Westminster. The Moose Jaw group included Lorne Humphreys, Bill Kelly, Jim Little, Barry Webster and Emmett Reidy. Other groups were headed by: Bill Burton and Ron Dixon, New Westminster; Vic Mah, Edmonton; and, Alf Cadman, Red Deer.
On Jan. 19, 1983, newspaper headlines everywhere read: Player swapped for bus.
Here’s what happened: The Seattle Breakers dealt the rights to left-winger Tom Martin to the Victoria Cougars for a used bus. “Actually, just the down payment,” said Breakers’ owner John Hamilton. “It might have been the best deal I ever made.”
At the time, Martin was playing at Denver University but said he wanted to play in his home town. The bus in question was purchased by the defunct Spokane Flyers from Trailways in 1981 for $60,000. The Flyers spent $15,000 on inside renovations. When that franchise folded, the Cougars bought the bus but it was sitting in the U.S., because Victoria was not prepared to pay customs, excise and sales taxes. Hamilton said he got the bus for Martin and $35,000.
Brandon owner Jack Brockest pulled the plug in March, selling the Wheat Kings to a group of local businessmen. “I simply, as an individual, could not have survived much longer,” said Brockest, who sold just four years after buying the franchise. Average attendance had fallen below the 1,500-mark.
Calgary lost out to Lethbridge in the East final, and Wranglers coach Doug Sauter resigned. He later signed with the AHL’s Springfield Indians.
Lethbridge went on to beat Portland in the WHL final. Both teams advanced to the Memorial Cup, the Winter Hawks getting in as host team. And, lo and behold, the Winter Hawks became the first host team to win the tournament.
On June 14, Bill Burton and Ron Dixon announced they had bought the Nanaimo franchise. They moved it to New Westminster. Yes, major junior hockey was back in Queen’s Park Arena.
On Aug. 28, Brandon traded centre Blaine Chrest to Portland for five players — centre Ray Ferraro, defenceman Brad Duggan, right-winger Derek Laxdal, and left-wingers Dave Thomlinson and Tony Horacek. Ferraro would set a WHL record with 108 goals and, in the process, may have saved the Brandon franchise.
As the 1983-84 season opened, it was revealed that a familiar face had returned to New Westminster. Bill Shinske was back as vice-president of operations.
Early in the season, Kamloops coach Bill LaForge, after beating Kelowna 7-5, said he was tired of facing little opposition: “It’s no fun taking two points off a team that gives you no resistance. They have no breakout, no forechecking, no system, nothing. The only adjustment you have to make is to duck.”
Meanwhile, out east, Ferraro was having a glorious season. He scored his 50th goal in his 32nd game, the second fastest 50 goals in WHL history. Bill Derlago had 50 in 27 games with Brandon in 1977-78. “The trade was the best thing that could have happened to me,” Ferraro said. “I wasn’t going to play that much in Portland. At the start of the season, we wrote down our goals and I wanted to have 35 goals by Christmas.”
It was a Merry Christmas in Moose Jaw as it was announced that Moose Jaw Tier One Inc. had purchased the Winnipeg Warriors Hockey Club Inc., and that the franchise would move for the 1984-85 season. Winnipeg would go on to finish with a 9-63-0 record, losing its last game 14-1 to visiting Regina on March 21.
Brawls were few and far between, but there was one with a difference in Regina on March 7. Brandon GM Les Jackson was fined $1,000 and suspended indefinitely for leaving the press box and attacking Strumm, Regina’s GM/coach, at the Pats’ bench, all this while players were fighting on the ice.
“I just wanted to let him know that if the kids are going to fight, I’m going to stick up for the guys, too,” Jackson said.
On March 12, Ferraro became the first player in WHL history to score 100 goals in a season when he scored twice in an 11-9 victory over visiting Winnipeg.
Swift Current was hot on the heels of another franchise, this time offering $360,000 to the Edmonton Oilers for Kamloops. Local businessmen rode to the rescue and kept junior hockey in Kamloops.
The story in the playoffs had to do with the failure of the Pats. It’s doubtful any team has ever been so close to the Memorial Cup and then not made it. Regina was 12 seconds away from eliminating Kamloops in the sixth game of the final. But Dean Evason tied the game 3-3 at 19:48 of the third period in Kamloops and Ryan Stewart won it at 13:03 of overtime. One night later, the Oilers won 4-2 and were off to the Memorial Cup.
Brian Ekstrom, president of Oakwood Petroleum, headed a group that purchased the Wranglers from Jim Kerr for $300,000. Kerr bought the team from Shimbashi in 1982 but still owed $200,000 to the former owner. Ekstrom didn’t renew Marcel Comeau’s contract as coach (Comeau went to Saskatoon), and named Hank Bassen as GM and Sandy Hucul as coach.
Another franchise changed hands in late May when Dennis Kjeldgaard and Al Foder bought Lethbridge from Ross McKibbon of Taber.
And in mid-June, Sauter returned to the WHL, this time as head coach in Medicine Hat.
In Regina, Herb Pinder Jr. assumed controlling interest of the Pats.
Before the 1984-85 season started, LaForge left Kamloops for the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks. Kamloops dipped into the midget coaching ranks in Sherwood Park, Alta., and signed Ken Hitchcock.
Goodall, just 14, played his first game with the Seattle Breakers on Oct. 10, 1984. It was a 12-3 loss in Regina. “My parents were here tonight,” Goodall said, “and they’ll follow us around on the rest of our eastern swing, and they might take a trip out to Seattle and I’ll see them at Christmas, so it won’t be too bad.”
As for his first game, he said: “I thought I played OK in the third period. When you’re down by a lot of goals, it’s hard to keep it up.”
He would play 399 regular season games by the time his career ended.
A rivalry was born on Nov. 13, 1984, when Moose Jaw scored its first victory over Regina, winning 6-4 in Moose Jaw. But referee Darren Loraas was forced to call the game with 26 seconds left.
“I was surprised and disappointed,” Moose Jaw head coach Graham James said. “I thought the league was past that. It’s not necessary to play like that. The whole thing was disgusting. If Bob (Strumm) really wants to do battle like that, let the generals do the fighting and let’s leave the troops on the bench. We’re trying to sell the game here and I don’t think this helps it.”
The Pats were fined $1,500 and hit with 21 games in suspension; Moose Jaw got $200 and four games.
The under-age draft was playing havoc in Portland, where the Winter Hawks were missing a few players. Here’s Portland co-owner/GM Brian Shaw: “We should have had 11 returning players this year from the team that won the Memorial Cup. We have one — John Kordic — and that’s through no fault of our own.” Ken Yaremchuk, Richard Kromm, Alfie Turcotte and Cam Neely were in the NHL, while five other players walked away from the game.
The Winter Hawks gained some publicity, too, when their policy on drug and alcohol use was revealed. Here’s Shaw, again: “Everybody says there’s drugs in sport and nobody does anything about it. We are trying to do something about it. We take urine tests approximately every two weeks, and we also take spot tests, to assure ourselves that there’s no alcohol or drug involvement.”
Shaw said parents were fully aware of all of this: “We sent them a letter saying: “For the benefit of your boy and our organization each boy takes a urine test.” If he wants to refuse to take the test, he can do it. Nobody refuses . . . why would they want to refuse?” And, according to Shaw, no parents objected.
On Dec. 3, Prince Albert, in its third season, moved into first place in the East for the first time. The Raiders got into the WHL for $100,000 and then paid $75,000 for what was left of Spokane’s player list. You see, when the dispersal draft of the Flyers was held on Dec. 3, 1981, WHL teams were allowed to select only players on the active roster. The Raiders, then, bought the list and got three future stars — centre Dan Hodgson, right-winger Dave Pasin and defenceman Manny Viveiros.
On Dec. 12, New Westminster’s Cliff Ronning set a WHL record with a goal in his 16th consecutive game, a 3-2 home-ice victory over Medicine Hat.
It was revealed in January that Seattle owner John Hamilton was having financial problems and — surprise, surprise — Swift Current made him an offer.
“When I got into the hockey business, I was $60,000 short of being a millionaire,” Hamilton said. “Now I’d take the $60,000.” He said he had lost $500,000 since getting involved in 1979.
Swift Current struck out, again, on Jan. 14 when the WHL board of governors, not wanting to lose a West Division team, voted against the sale of the Breakers.
Hallelujah! On Jan. 22, 1985, the WHL did away with round-robin series in the playoffs, choosing to go strictly with best-of-five/seven series in the East, and best-of-nines in the West.
Rumours involving Swift Current surfaced in late March when the Bank of Nova Scotia asked the Wheat Kings for a written financial plan. Swift Current would strike out again when three Brandon businessmen bought the team.
The Raiders, 16-55-1 and last in their first season, were 41-29-2 and fifth the next season. In their third season, though, they went 58-11-3 and went on to win the WHL championship, sweeping Kamloops in the final.
“Winning the world championship was a thrill, but winning the WHL title is more satisfying,” said Terry Simpson, the Prince Albert GM/head coach who had led Canada to a world junior gold medal earlier in the year. The Raiders then won the Memorial Cup, cruising past the Shawinigan Cataractes 6-1 in the final game.
New Westminster beat Victoria 5-4 on March 22 and Ronning had four assists, giving him 197 points, one more than the WHL record set by Brandon’s Brian Propp in 1978-79.
In April, the WHL announced 12-year-olds were no longer eligible for its player lists. The league also decided to allow its teams to use three 20-year-olds, rather than two, in the 1985-86 season.
On April 2, the WHL took over the Seattle franchise, later selling it to Calgary businessman Earl Hale.
The end of Pinder’s association with the Pats began on May 1 with a story in the Regina Leader-Post. The May 1 story began: “Regina Pats fans are going to have to dip into their pockets for an extra dollar to cover parking charges announced by the Pats’ landlord, the Regina Exhibition Association.”
Pinder said he was “very disappointed and very concerned” by the decision. “We’re disappointed because they made a policy and then came and told us after it was in place.”
On May 6, Strumm resigned as GM/head coach in Regina, ending a six-year association with the Pats. He later accepted an offer to join the Sudbury Wolves but changed his mind before leaving for the Ontario city.
And there was trouble brewing in Moose Jaw where James was offered a position as co-coach and assistant GM by general manager Barry Trapp. Here’s James: “The bottom line is they took away my head-coaching position and that is a breach of contract. I can’t work with Barry Trapp anymore.”
James resigned shortly thereafter, saying: “I didn’t quit as head coach. They took that away from me.” He later sued the Warriors for breach of contract, a suit that was settled before it got to court.
For the first time since the fall of 1975, the WHL was ready to open a season with the same teams that finished the previous season.
But before 1985-86 could begin Vic Fitzgerald, now the majority owner in Kelowna, moved to Spokane.
Pat Ginnell was back in the WHL, this time as head coach in New Westminster. On Sept. 11, in their first exhibition game, the Bruins brawled with Seattle in Chilliwack. Ginnell was suspended for five games and fined $500. He was also told that another bench-clearing incident would cost him 25 games and $2,500.
On Oct. 10, the WHL made half-visors mandatory for all players.
As the season began there were ominous signs in Regina. In 1984-85, there were only four (of 36) regular-season crowds under 2,000. In October of 1985, there had already been five crowds under that figure.
Regina businessman Bill Hicke, a former NHL and WHA player, admitted he almost bought the Pats in June for $450,000. But he said he wouldn’t pay that for the team in November with its apparent problems.
Hicke said the Pats were faring poorly at the gate because of poor marketing strategy and low season-ticket sales.
“I think the Pats have to get more aggressive in marketing,” he explained. “They don’t have enough people to do the marketing now. You have to go knocking on doors. I know, for a fact, that they’ve sold only 600 season tickets. I have three partners who would sell 500 season tickets apiece.”
On Nov. 21, John Chapman was fired as head coach in Lethbridge. He was in his sixth season with the Broncos. Earl Jessiman replaced him.
In New Westminster, there was a changing of the dinosaurs — Ginnell was out, replaced by Ernie McLean who said hockey has “gone too much European . . . and I don’t agree with it. I still believe in the Boston style of hockey.”
Things really started to happen in Regina in mid-December. First, GM/head coach Bill Moores confirmed that the Pats had informed their landlord, in writing, that they intended to vacate the Agridome by Jan. 6. By this stage, the team and the Regina Exhibition Association were embroiled in a messy lease negotiation, not the least of which concerned paid parking.
It was evident that Pinder intended to sell the franchise to Swift Current. Moores scheduled practice ice at various Regina arenas and made plans to move to Swift Current in mid-January.
On Dec. 30, Pinder ordered the postponement of the Pats’ first home game of 1986. Chynoweth agreed with the decision: “We thought it would be in the best interests of everyone to cancel the game until the situation is settled.”
But on Jan. 13 the WHL’s board of governors rejected Pinder’s sale of the Pats to Swift Current, choosing instead to purchase the franchise itself.
Hicke, still interested in buying the Pats, said he felt sorry for the people of Swift Current: “I believe down the line that Swift Current deserves a team, but they don’t deserve the oldest team in the league.”
By now, the Swift Current people had at one time or another tried to buy Winnipeg, Brandon, Kamloops, Kelowna, Seattle and Regina.
Ironically, on Jan. 14, about 12 hours after Pinder announced the sale of the Pats to the WHL, the exhibition association said it was dropping its controversial $1 parking fee for Pats games. Mike Kelly, REA general manager, explained: “We feel this is a positive step. While the Pats are in this transition period, we’d like to help out.”
To which Pinder responded: “I think the paid parking has ruined our business and I’ve had to relinquish our business.”
In late February, the WHL sold the Pats to four Regina businessmen — Hicke, Morley Gusway, Ted Knight and Jack Nicolle.
Meanwhile, it was business as usual around the league. In Queen’s Park Arena, for example, Kamloops head coach Ken Hitchcock was seen, according to The Canadian Press, “holding a hand over his eye to mock New Westminster’s one-eyed mentor, Ernie McLean, while McLean brandished a sign depicting the heavy-set Hitchcock as a pig eating hotdogs.” They were later fined $250 each.
And still the Swift Current people weren’t done because on Feb. 23, 1986, Dennis Kjeldgaard revealed the Broncos were for sale.
Guess what! Yes, the WHL brought back the round-robin format, this time deciding that the East’s top six teams would play in a home-and-home round-robin with the top four teams moving on. This would prove to be a disaster, and last just one season.
On March 25, Chynoweth suffered a mild heart attack and was in intensive care in a Calgary hospital. He would return to work, on a part-time basis, early in May.
Finally, Swift Current was in. On April 11, the WHL returned to Swift Current when a group headed by Rittinger purchased the Broncos from Kjeldgaard and Foder.
And Strumm was back in the WHL, this time as the GM in Spokane. Chapman was back, too, as GM in Calgary.
But Lethbridge wasn’t done. By May 1, city officials had contacted Chynoweth, stating their desire for another franchise.
Swift Current moved quickly to get its organization moving. Rittinger announced on May 1 that James would be the club’s GM/head coach.
The WHL final featured Kamloops and Medicine Hat, the latter making the first of what would be three straight trips to the final. This time, Kamloops lost the opener and then won four straight, taking the last one 7-2 on May 5.
There wouldn’t be a WHL team in the Memorial Cup final — the OHL’s Guelph Platers beat the QMJHL’s Hull Olympiques, 6-2 — but Medicine Hat would solve that problem next season. And the season after that.
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.”
At some point in the late 1990s, while I was the sports editor at the Regina Leader-Post, I put together a brief history of the Western Hockey League. I had pretty much forgotten about it until recently when I was asked if I might post it again. So I am in the process of doing just that. . . . As you read each piece, please remember that I wrote them more than 20 years ago and they cover only the league’s first 25 years. It isn’t an all-encompassing history, but hits on some of the highlights and a few lowlights. . . . The stories that are posted here are pretty much as originally written. . . . Here is Part 2. . . .
When the 1970-71 season ended, the Western Canada Hockey League was still very much a prairie circuit, what with 10 teams spread over Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
But that wasn’t the case when the 1971-72 season rolled around.
By then, there were three teams in British Columbia — Ernie McLean and Bill Shinske had packed up their Estevan Bruins, moved west and taken up residence in New Westminster, and two expansion franchises, the Vancouver Nats and Victoria Cougars, had set up shop. (Interestingly, the Nats’ logo used an apostrophe — Nat’s — but in print the nickname always seemed to be Nats.)
The WCHL had, indeed, become a western league.
And there would be just two franchise shifts (Vancouver to Kamloops, Swift Current to Lethbridge) by the time the league completed its 10th season in the spring of 1976.
But it was an announcement out of New York that made the biggest news in the summer of ’71. Bill Hunter, one of the WCHL’s founding fathers, was involved, as was Ben Hatskin (Winnipeg). It would change the face of hockey forever.
“We announced we’d start the World Hockey Association with 12 franchises and we would have parity,” Hunter said.
In an interview in 1988, Hunter maintained he wanted nothing to do with drafting under-age juniors.
“Ben (Hatskin) and I made an agreement with the CAHA (Canadian Amateur Hockey Association) that we would not sign under-age juniors,” Hunter recalled. “The NHL made the same agreement. We had two separate meetings. The very next day: Baby Bulls.”
The WHA’s Birmingham Bulls signed half-a-dozen under-age juniors, including Rob Ramage and Ken Linesman.
“We couldn’t control the owners within our league,” Hunter said.
Prior to the birth of the WHA, the WCHL was the only game in town everywhere but Vancouver. In the next few years, pro hockey would come to Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg and junior hockey would lose out in the process.
Everyone was fighting with someone in those days, on and off the ice. The juniors in the west, in Ontario and in Quebec were fighting with the NHL, with the WHA, with the CAHA, with themselves.
The WHA continued to romance under-age juniors. Dennis Sobchuk, a flashy centre with the Regina Pats, was courted by the Los Angeles Sharks after his second WCHL season.
The House of Commons in Ottawa threatened to get involved. WCHL president Ed Chynoweth said his league was thinking about obtaining an injunction against players who sign pro contracts while still holding junior eligibility.
The action off the ice was hot and heavy. It’s a wonder they could find time to play the games.
The Edmonton Oil Kings had won the 1971-72 championship, their second straight and the last junior title that city would win. But it was the Medicine Hat Tigers, in only their second season, who had everyone talking.
The Tigers, with Tom Lysiak winning the scoring title and Stan Weir and Lanny McDonald finishing second and eighth respectively, were fourth in the West Division, five games over .500.
That was a harbinger because the Tigers, coached by Jack Shupe, won it all the next season, in only their third season of operation. Lysiak won his second straight scoring title, with McDonald finishing third.
It was at meetings in Medicine Hat in February of 1973 that the WCHL took a giant step forward, announcing plans to establish an office, with a full-time administrative staff, in Saskatoon. Chynoweth would replace Thomas K. Fisher of New Westminster as executive secretary.
And there was more talk of shifting franchises. Lethbridge was on the verge of getting a $2-million sports centre for the 1975 Canada Winter Games.
The first mention of Lethbridge actually getting a franchise came on Feb. 15, 1973, when Chynoweth, in discussing possible franchise moves, said: “Swift Current is another possibility, even though (owner) Bill Burton would like to keep the club in that city. Economically, it might not be possible.”
Meanwhile, Regina Pats owner Del Wilson said he was tired of “scrimping and saving, trying to operate in a building like (Exhibition) Stadium. It’s like beating your head against a brick wall.”
Regina met the Flin Flon Bombers in the first round of playoffs in ’73. The series opened in Flin Flon with the Bombers winning, 3-1 and 5-3. There was no Agridome in Regina then and Exhibition Stadium was booked by the annual Regina Horse Show. So, the Pats played their home games in Moose Jaw, and lost, 5-1 and 4-3.
A glorious season awaited the Pats, though, as they would win the Memorial Cup in the spring of 1974. Under coach Bob Turner, the former Montreal Canadiens defenceman and five-time Stanley Cup champion, the Pats became the first WCHL team to win the Canadian championship.
Edmonton had won it in 1966, the year before the major junior league was formed. Between ’66 and ’74 the WCHL wasn’t always eligible for the Memorial Cup, what with the CAHA outlawing it at various times.
By the time that 1973-74 season arrived, the Vancouver Nats were gone, purchased by Kamloops interests and reborn as the Chiefs.
There was concern, too, over the Winnipeg Junior Jets, who were struggling because of the presence of the WHA. Ben Hatskin soothed the troubled waters, saying he didn’t “plan to sell the franchise, or move it out of Winnipeg.” Shortly after, Hatskin sold it and the team was renamed the Clubs.
At the 1973 annual meeting in Saskatoon, Chynoweth, who had joined the league in December of 1972 as assistant executive secretary and was named executive secretary in February of 1973, was named president.
On July 16, it was revealed that the WCHL, Ontario Hockey Association Junior A Series and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League had united under the umbrella of the Canadian Major Junior Hockey League.
It was during the 1973-74 season where things started to get out hand on the ice.
On Oct. 12, 1973, a brawl between Swift Current and Regina spread to the stands. Three days later, the WCHL had a board meeting in Regina and put the onus for increased security on its teams and arena operators.
Unfortunately, people in Regina were slow to react to this directive and the Broncos were in the stands during a playoff game on April 20. Three days later, two Broncos — Dave Williams and Terry Ruskowski — were charged by police.
On Aug. 23, Ruskowski and Williams were fined a total of $450, both pleading guilty to charges of common assault.
The two “disgraced themselves,” said Judge Howard Boyce. “Hockey is considered tops with many among body contact sports. It contains controlled violence. When control and direction are lost, it deteriorates into a criminal spectacle and that’s what happened.”
It would happen again and again through the 1970s.
On March 27, 1974, Chynoweth took what was then believed to be a drastic step. He announced that an undercover agent (an official from a neutral team) would attend each playoff game. It is a policy the league follows to this day.
There were good things happening on the ice, too. After centre Ron Chipperfield scored three goals in a 3- 1 victory in Regina, Brandon Wheat Kings GM/head coach Rudy Pilous said: “Ron Chipperfield is the greatest box-office attraction this league has ever had or ever will have.” Chipperfield would score 261 goals in 252 games, a career record that stood until 1989-90 when Glen Goodall (Seattle Thunderbirds) finished with 262 goals (in 399 games).
By late in the 1973-74 season, the Pats were talking about moving. “We certainly don’t want to leave Regina but we may be forced to,” Wilson said, admitting that he had talked with operators of the Spokane Coliseum. “Like I said before, we don’t want to leave Regina. But unless there is a firm commitment on a new building forthcoming, we have no other choice but to look elsewhere.”
And by now Burton was admitting that he was thinking of moving: “I will be in Lethbridge to discuss the move with a committee they have formed to study the possibility of joining the league.”
The Broncos changed cities on May 6.
On April 30, 1974, things heated up as Sobchuk signed a 10-year, $1.7-million contract with the WHA’s Cincinnati Stingers. Charles Hillinger of The Los Angeles Times wrote: “The kid earns only $300 a month. Come fall his paycheque soars to $472 a day, $14,166 a month, $170,000 a year.”
Sobchuk was thrilled: “I’ve been skating since I learned to walk, but I sure never expected anything like this. It all happened so sudden. My name on a piece of paper and I’ve gone from farmhouse to penthouse.”
Two weeks later, Chynoweth revealed the three major junior leagues were looking at using a limited number of 20-year-old players to compensate for losing under-age players to the pros.
The 1974-75 season signalled the beginning of the New Westminster dynasty. Shinske, McLean and the Bruins would win four straight league titles.
But before that happened, there were some interesting developments.
On Oct. 17, 1974, Chynoweth, Wilson and Scotty Munro were given the OK by the board to visit Spokane.
“Regina has the right of first refusal on the Spokane question,” Chynoweth said, “but we are just testing the waters.”
They were also to visit Portland, the first time the Oregon city had been mentioned publicly as a possible franchise site.
On Jan. 14, 1975, the stuff hit the fan as the WCHL announced it had decided to withdraw from the CAHA. The WCHL said it would increase its age limit from 19 to 20 and would seek separate agreements with NHL and WHA.
“We now will control our own destiny and we’re through dealing through a third party (CAHA) comprised of people who have no direct investment in the sport,” Chynoweth said. “We operate a $1-million business and some guy who doesn’t own one puck comes along and tells us what to do. It’s time we started looking after ourselves.”
At the time, the WCHL claimed the NHL and WHA owed it $640,000 for players drafted in 1974.
“Eight NHL clubs and six from the WHA have yet to pay for players they’ve been using since October,” said Chynoweth. “We have an obligation to support minor hockey leagues, our source of supply, and we’ll live up to any agreements we make. All we ask is that the pro leagues do the same.”
Chynoweth was quickly becoming one of the most popular hockey people in the country. Accessible and blessed with a dry wit, the media was going to him with more and more frequency.
In the press box at the Calgary Corral one night, Chynoweth was clowning with the press. Chatting about some of the owners who were losing money, he said: “You know something. When it comes to it, we’ve got some guys in this league who wouldn’t get to first base in a women’s prison with a handful of pardons.”
Chynoweth continued to have his hands full with the likes of Pat Ginnell, who by now was in Victoria as head coach of the Cougars, and McLean. At one point, Chynoweth fined and suspended Ginnell, who in turn threatened to hit Chynoweth with an injunction.
Then, on March 11, 1975, McLean became physically involved with Regina sportscaster Mal Isaac and police were called. McLean was hit with a five-game suspension and had to post a $1,000 bond.
The Pats announced on April 30 that they would stay in Regina and that a new building should be completed by Christmas of 1976.
The Bruins, down 3-2 in the best-of-seven final to Saskatoon, won 4-1 and 7-2 to claim the title. They became only the second B.C. team, after the Trail Smoke Eaters in 1944, to advance to the Memorial Cup final.
“We moved the franchise here from Estevan four years ago,” McLean said, “and it’s taken us that long to get the farm system where we want it. We’ve got a solid system now with plenty of good, young talent on the way and we’re going to be OK for a long time.”
He was right.
But before the Bruins could continue to build their dynasty, the WCHL turned down expansion bids from Portland and Vancouver. Brian Shaw, coach of the WHA’s Edmonton Oilers, Nat Bailey and Oil Kings coach Ken Hodge wanted to move the Oil Kings to Vancouver. Of course, Shaw and Hodge would later move the team to Portland.
The 1975-76 season would be perhaps the ugliest in WCHL history.
It began with Victoria mayor Peter Pollen leaving his seat to have a heated discussion with Ginnell in the middle of a game against Calgary. Pollen, angry after a 20-minute second-period brawl, left his seat behind the penalty bench, circled the rink, climbed on the Cougars’ bench and gave Ginnell a tongue-lashing.
“I asked him if he was going to get his animals under control,” Pollen explained. “Is this the example we set for our young people? This is a complete disgrace. If I have my way, they won’t play here anymore. This isn’t sport — it’s barbarism.”
On Nov. 4, Ginnell said he had proposed two rule changes that were designed to reduce fighting and that both would soon come into effect. One forced players not involved in a fight to go immediately to the player benches or be given game misconducts. The other called for a match penalty and a suspension for anyone charging a goaltender in his crease.
Twelve days later, Ginnell was hit with a game misconduct after he jumped on the ice to protest a game misconduct that had been given to one of his players.
It was on Feb. 20 when the situation bottomed out.
In Saskatoon, Blades defenceman Bryan Baron was struck in one eye by a high stick belonging to Victoria’s Tim Williams. That touched off a brawl involving all players, and it took 50 minutes before play was resumed.
Moments before the brawl, Saskatoon’s Bruce Hamilton, who would go on to own the Tacoma/Kelowna Rockets, was taken to hospital with a concussion. He later was joined by Glen Leggott, who got a concussion in the brawl. And teammate Fred Williams needed 14 stitches to close a cut.
Before this one blew over, politicians at the city and provincial levels were involved, as were police. On Feb. 22, Saskatoon council, fearing another outbreak of violence, voted unanimously to shut down the Arena for the evening, forcing postponement of the rematch.
On Feb. 24, Ginnell resigned as coach of the Cougars during a 4-1/2 hour governors’ meeting in Saskatoon. He returned for the playoffs and apparently never was fined or suspended for the brawl. Ginnell said he wasn’t pressured into resigning, but “if I am responsible for violence in hockey, I don’t want to be in it.”
With the Bruins in Saskatoon on Feb. 24, Blades coach Jack McLeod and McLean signed an agreement in which they pledged to do everything in their power to see that the game was played within all rules and regulations for proper conduct. New Westminster took five of eight minors and won the game, 5-2.
On March 16, three players — Victoria’s Greg Tebbutt and Williams and Saskatoon’s Peter Goertz — were charged with assault causing bodily harm. The charges later were dismissed.
Amidst everything, Chynoweth offered his resignation. “It isn’t a play for more money; it is simply that there is too much hassle,” he reasoned. “It is starting to bother me that all my friends in Saskatoon are going to the airport to take flights out for winter holidays. I go to the airport and fly to Flin Flon.”
Some of the hassle was relieved when it was announced the league office would move from Saskatoon to Calgary at season’s end.
Meanwhile, Shaw and Hodge put together a group that bought the Oil Kings from World Hockey Enterprises, owners of the WHA’s Oilers, for more than $150,000.
And Chynoweth revealed in January that the WCHL was increasing its playoff teams from eight to 10. “We added the two teams simply for financial reasons,” Chynoweth said.
Still, the goofiness wouldn’t go away.
Lethbridge coach Mike Sauter and defenceman Darcy Regier, who wasn’t dressed for the game, spent almost two hours in a Medicine Hat jail after a bench-clearing incident.
Winnipeg owner/GM/coach Gerry Brisson pulled his team from the ice in New Westminster. The game, won by the Bruins 17-0, was delayed 30 minutes after Winnipeg’s best player, defenceman Kevin McCarthy, had his nose broken in the first minute of play. “I think (McLean) recruits his players in a lumber camp,” Brisson said. “Playing in New Westminster is like sending a pig to slaughter, and hoping he comes out alive.”
McLean responded: “Whatever happens in our building we get blamed for it. The other teams know they can start anything and we’ll end up getting blamed for it.”
Through it all, the Bruins rolled to title No. 2. But the march to the title was marred by an incident involving McLean and linesman Harvey Hildebrandt.
On April 30, McLean was fined for criticizing the officiating in a 10-3 loss to the host Saskatoon Blades in the championship series. That night, during a game his team would lose 9-3 in Saskatoon to even the eight-point series at 4-4, McLean reached over the boards and yanked the toupee off Hildebrandt’s head. It was in the third period and the Blades had just scored their eighth goal.
“Losing causes some coaches to grasp at straws,” wrote Lyndon Little of the Vancouver Sun. “Ernie McLean grabs toupees.”
McLean had to post a $5,000 personal performance bond before the next game.
On June 11, the WCHL headed south of the 49th as Shaw announced the Oil Kings would move to Portland.
“The attitude of the people in Portland is fantastic,” Shaw said. “I really don’t think we could have picked a much better location. The first year I was involved with the (Oil Kings) was 1971. We drew something like 150,000 fans. The following year, when the Oilers moved in, we attracted 90,000, and the next year only 68,000. There is the charisma of a professional team that we can’t compete against. We had to make the move.”
Not everyone was thrilled. Alberta NDP leader Grant Notley spoke up when the WCHL declared Edmonton a protected area for the Portland Winter Hawks.
Notley said the arrangement “makes hockey players look like pigs and swine being sold at an auction.”
Leo LeClerc, a founder of the Oil Kings, added: “It’s change enough for a youngster to move from Stettler in central Alberta to Edmonton. Imagine moving to a foreign country. I’m frankly appalled that the ruling class in hockey — the board of governors of the WCHL — would even consider moving Canadian youngsters into a foreign country. The next thing you know they’ll be sending them to East Germany.”
There was a change in Saskatoon in June when Jim Piggott, who had been involved in ownership of a junior team in Saskatoon for almost 20 years, sold to McLeod, Nathan Brodsky and Joe Reich. Brodsky became the majority shareholder.
There was major news in the world of NCAA Division 1 hockey on Friday when seven schools served notice that they are on the verge of taking their hockey programs out of the 10-team WCHA and forming a new conference in time for the 2021-22 season.
Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan, all of which are located in Michigan, along with Bemidji State, Bowling Green and Minnesota State/Mankato want out, a move that would leave Alaska-Fairbanks, Alaska-Anchorage and Alabama-Huntsville as the only three schools left in the WCHA.
A statement released by the seven schools reads, in part:
“They are like-minded in their goals and aspirations for the potential new league with a focus on improving regional alignment and the overall student-athlete experience while building natural rivalries within a more compact geographic footprint.”
The seven schools, it seems, are tired of travelling to Alabama and Alaska.
As uncomfortable as it sounds, the seven schools would continue play in the WCHA through two more seasons before leaving for a new league.
At the same time, the future of the hockey programs at both Alaska schools has been in question for a few years due to financial issues. Those schools took another hit on Friday when Mike Dunleavy, the governor of Alaska, vetoed $130 million in state support.
Why was this potential move revealed on Friday?
Dr. Morris Kurtz, a former athletic director at St. Cloud, Minn., State, the spokesperson for the seven schools, told Austin Monteith of the Grand Forks Herald that WCHA bylaws call for a 25-month advance warning in situations involving future withdrawal, and that process now has begun.
All of this brought back memories of something I wrote a while back about the birth of what now is the Western Hockey League. Here it is, in its entirety. . . .
To find the beginning you have to return to June 21, 1966, and the opening day of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s annual general meeting.
Oh, there had been a lot of back-room chatter and negotiating prior to that, but it was on June 21 when the doors opened and the sun beat back the shadows.
It happened in Wasagaming, a resort community in Riding Mountain National Park, just north of Brandon.
Prior to then, Canadian teenagers who aspired to play junior hockey didn’t have a whole lot of options. What now is considered Junior A was the top rung.
But people like Winnipeg’s Ben Hatskin, ‘Wild’ Bill Hunter of Edmonton, Estevan’s Scotty Munro, Moose Jaw’s Brian Shaw and Regina’s Del Wilson had visions of a Prairie-wide league, centred in larger communities.
A few years later, some of those same men would dream of even bigger things as they became involved in the World Hockey Association and its attempts to sour the NHL’s world.
Most of them were larger-than-life characters who were years ahead of their time in terms of marketing. They were entrepreneurs and more. Dick Chubey of the Albertan, then a Calgary-based newspaper, wrote a piece for the league’s first Yearbook — for 1973-74 — in which he referred to them as “rogues” and “pirates.”
Ernie (Punch) McLean, who later would be the head coach of the New Westminster Bruins, says there wasn’t any doubt who were the leaders.
“Bill Hunter, Scotty Munro and Ben Hatskin . . .,” McLean, who in those days was with Munro in Estevan, said in a 1990 interview. “Scotty Munro would have the idea on hockey, Bill Hunter would sell it and Ben Hatskin would financially back it. Those were in the days when we had nothing else but Household Finance to get us started the next year.
“It was so much different back then. The guys were friends. We were partners.”
Four days prior to the start of the SJHL meeting, word leaked that a new junior league — the Canadian Major Junior Hockey League — was in the works. This league would include Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg, along with Brandon, Estevan, Moose Jaw, Regina and Weyburn, the latter five having decided to leave the SJHL.
At the same time, there were issues with the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association and the National Hockey League.
“We were getting very disgusted with the CAHA,” McLean recalled. “We weren’t getting any help from them and they were taking a percentage off the gates in the playoffs. At that particular time, we weren’t getting what we felt was a fair deal from the National Hockey League.
“At that time, the CAHA was bringing in any team that they thought could come into the league. They would apply and we were supposed to look after them. Melville was in, Yorkton was coming in.
“So at Clear Lake . . . it was really funny. In those days, you had to pay your dues or you couldn’t vote, you never had a vote. As it happened, (SJHL president) Frank Boucher called the meeting to order. . . .”
When asked, Hunter and Munro said they didn’t have cheques. Boucher told both men, “You can’t vote.”
“It went around the table like that,” McLean said. “All of a sudden they said, ‘Well, I guess we have no meeting.’ And Frank says, ‘I guess we haven’t.’
“At that point, the guys got up from the table, walked across to another room in the hotel and formed a new league.”
It wasn’t quite that simple, but that, in effect, was the genesis of what now is the Western Hockey League, even if it meant places like Melville, Flin Flon and Swift Current were left scrambling.
“What the hell,” Brandon Wheat Kings coach Eddie Dorohoy said, “if Melville can’t afford the opera, they gotta go for the barn dance.”
The CMJHL finalized its lineup later that summer. Before then, Melville filed a lawsuit, asking for $250,000 in general damages and $8,800 in special damages. As well, Brandon pulled out, Saskatoon came in, Winnipeg left.
Interestingly, the Saskatoon Blades are the only franchise to have been there since Day 1. In 1966, the Blades were an affiliate of the Los Angeles Blades, a team in the professional WHL that had hoped to become an NHL expansion franchise. When that didn’t happen, Saskatoon slid into the CMJHL.
If you are looking for an ‘official’ date to mark the league’s birthday that would be July 15, 1966. That is when the teams met in Regina. Munro moved for the dissolution of the SJHL. The motion passed. A new league was formed, and it announced it would accept applications.
By now, Boucher had left the SJHL and was commissioner of the CMJHL. When the 1966-67 season began, it featured the Calgary Buffaloes, Edmonton Oil Kings, Estevan Bruins, Moose Jaw Canucks, Regina Pats, Saskatoon and the Weyburn Red Wings.
While all of this was going on, the CAHA was refusing to recognize the CMJHL, something that didn’t particularly disturb the newcomers.
“We had quite a league,” McLean said. “Of course, we were outlaws from the CAHA. We preferred to call it independent.”
After Edmonton finished atop the regular-season standings, Moose Jaw won the first playoff championship, the only such title in the city’s history. That playoff season included best-of-nine series without overtime. In one semifinal series, Moose Jaw took out Edmonton 3-2 with four ties.
Prior to 1967-68, the league changed its name to the Western Canadian Junior Hockey League. The Buffaloes became the Centennials, and the league, still unrecognized by the CAHA, welcomed Brandon, the Flin Flon Bombers, Swift Current Broncos and Winnipeg Jets.
The Bombers didn’t win the championship — Edmonton beat the Bombers, 4-0, with one tie, in the final — but the Flin Flon Flu was born.
“Paddy (Ginnell) went into Flin Flon and turned that franchise right around,” McLean said. “He made them a tough, aggressive hockey club. It was worth your life to go in there and play.”
“We always played Saturday night and Sunday afternoon in Flin Flon. Well, Saturday night, they beat the crap out of Swift Current, just pounded the hell out of them. So they called for a conference call,” McLean said of the Broncos, who were coached by Mike Shabaga.
“Mike said, ‘Things are so bad, I’ve got the Red Cross signs on the bus so we can get out of town.’
“Anyway, Mike didn’t have enough players to play the game. So it was decided that so it would be fair to both sides, however many Mike could dress, that’s all Paddy could dress. Paddy moaned and groaned and the whole thing, and then Mike won the hockey game. Paddy came out of there, he was just livid.”
By the time the 1968-69 season arrived, the league — now calling itself the Western Canada Hockey League — was down to eight teams. Moose Jaw, Regina and Weyburn left because of concerns with the outlaw status. As well, the league split into divisions — East and West — for the first time.
Flin Flon, led by Bobby Clarke, Reggie Leach and Chuck Arnason, won the decade’s last two championships, winning 89 of 120 regular-season games and twice beating Edmonton in the playoff final.
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