NHL revamps playoff format for Covid Cup playoffs . . . But will there be games? . . . Royals hope Price is right

The unfortunate thing about Gary Bettman, the commissioner of all things NHL, telling us a whole lot of non-specific things on Tuesday afternoon is that we now are faced with another couple of months of this stuff.

Why?

Because nobody knows a whole lot about anything right now.

This pandemic-causing virus is brand new, which is why it’s the novel coronavirus. NHLScientists and the medical community are learning about it as we move along.

So, on Tuesday, Bettman told us that the NHL’s 2019-20 regular season is over and that there is to be some kind of convoluted Stanley Cup playoff featuring 24 teams, up from the 16 that would have made it in a ‘normal’ season, with all games played without fans in the stands. (I’m wondering if the players from the seven teams that didn’t make it are breathing sighs of relief.)

Bettman talked about the draft lottery and the draft, and that these playoffs may not get started until sometime in August, which would mean a Stanley Cup presentation two months after that, which would mean the 2020-21 regular season wouldn’t start until January.

(Whoever comes out of this as the Stanley Cup champion gets a gigantic asterisk. Right? And if that happens to be the Toronto Maple Leafs, it doesn’t officially bring an end to that championship drought that has been ongoing since their last title in 1967. Right?)

Bettman also said that this push to decide a Stanley Cup winner isn’t about the money, and if you believe that you just haven’t been paying attention. Because that’s all that it’s about; it always is.

Bettman also said that the playoffs will go ahead in two hub cities, with half the teams in one and the other half in the other. As Bettman spoke, there apparently were 10 cities under consideration.

But it became evident later that the NHL will have to drop Vancouver from that list because the province of B.C. doesn’t seem likely to drop its demand that incoming international travellers self-quarantine for two weeks upon arrival.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s chief medical officer, said later Tuesday afternoon that, although she hasn’t seen an NHL plan yet, “We’re not bending the rules in any way that would put what we have achieved here in B.C. at risk.”

Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, offered: “If in fact we are not able to really find an interpretation of the quarantine consistent with our players’ ability to travel in, and not be able to do a strict quarantine in a hotel room, we won’t be in a position to use any of the Canadian cities as a hub city.”

If it comes down to Dr. Henry vs. the NHL, my money is on B.C.’s top doc. If you aren’t aware, she’s a star out here. A shoe company put out a line of shoes in her honour and they sold out in minutes, at a suggested retail of $339 a pair, crashing the website in the process. T-shirts with her likeness on them have raised more than 10 grand for charity.

Oh, and did I mention that, despite all of the positive spin we heard yesterday, all of this might not happen at all.

So for the next few weeks we are going to see a barrage of stories and reports on all of this, including playoff previews, speculation on what team rosters will look like and on and on.

Meanwhile, as of Tuesday evening, the virus-related death toll in the United States was at 94,702, according to statistics kept by John Hopkins University. The number of deaths in Canada was at 6,639. That figure worldwide is somewhere around 350,000.

No one was talking about any of that on Tuesday in all the chatter about the NHL’s possible return to play.

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The most sensible comments I have seen to date on the NHL’s plan to return to play have come from Minnesota Wild G Devan Dubnyk. He is the Wild’s representative on the NHLPA’s executive board.

The executive board voted 29-2 last week to accept the 24-team format as presented by the NHL. However, that doesn’t mean the NHL is anywhere close to returning to the ice.

In speaking with Michael Russo of The Athletic on Monday, Dubnyk said: “We voted strictly on the format. In other words, ‘If we are to come back, this is how it’s going to be played.’ But we have not even touched on logistics or cities or travel or testing or how the economics will work or what this quarantine bubble (the players are) supposed to live in will be like or any of that stuff yet. Nothing else has been voted on … yet.”

Dubnyk also said:

“I think it’s really important to start having these conversations with as many players as we can about, ‘Guys, what scenarios are we OK with?’ From what it sounds like, it’s going to be some sort of hub city scenario, so we’ve got to talk about that. How long are guys OK with being away for? When we are in this city, are we locked in our hotel room? Going from the hotel room to the rink and back only, are guys OK with just doing that? Can our families come with us, or if there’s a family emergency and we leave the bubble (to go back into society), can we return to the bubble or are we done? What’s the food situation? Like, can we only eat in our hotel rooms? How often are we tested? Who pays for that? What’s the damage economically to the sport?

“All of these things, and there’s so many variables, need to be talked about and we’ve got to start getting a grasp on it now so that it doesn’t just hit us in the face all of a sudden. This stuff hasn’t been discussed with the players. Everything’s just been so hypothetical.”

Dubnyk also admitted to Russo that he wonders “if this is going to truly happen unless things relax enough where that bubble doesn’t necessarily need to exist as tightly as we think it does right now. Even with the players, it’s like, if your wife’s having a baby or something and you have to leave, do I have to miss an entire series now or suddenly quarantine for two weeks?

“That’s why I just feel like it doesn’t seem feasible to make this happen unless those rules relax by the time we’re going to play later this summer. There’s just so much stuff that hasn’t been figured out yet that we’ve got to start figuring out what are we OK with or not OK with, and then once that’s discussed, have another vote.”

Russo’s complete story is right here.


Here’s Jack Finarelli, aka The Sports Curmudgeon, with his Thought for the Day, this one from H.L. Mencken: “A man may be a fool and not know it, but not if he is married.”


With our annual Kidney Walk having been cancelled, my wife, Dorothy, is raising funds in support of a ‘virtual’ walk that is scheduled for June 7. All money raised goes to help folks who are dealing with kidney disease. . . . You are able to join Dorothy’s team and put a smile on her face by making a donation right here. . . . Thank you.



Rory McIlroy has told the BBC that he doesn’t believe the 2020 Ryder Cup will be played. It is scheduled for Sept. 25-27 at Whistling Straits near Sheboygan, Wisc. . . . McIlroy would like to see the event moved to 2021. . . .

Japan’s Nippon Professonal Baseball season is set to start on June 19, but without fans in attendance. The league, which was to have started play on March 20, has yet to release its schedule, but is hoping to have each of its 12 teams play about 120 games, down from 143. . . .

The Alpine skiing world championships are scheduled for Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, from Feb. 7-21. However, the Italian Winter Sports Federation already is talking about postponing them until March 2022, which would be one month following the end of the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games that are scheduled for Feb. 4-20. . . .

The EuroLeague, Europe’s top men’s basketball league, has cancelled its season, which had been on pause since March 12. The league comprises 18 teams from 10 countries. . . .

The 2021 Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships have been cancelled. They had been scheduled for Vail, Colo., from March 1-6. . . .

The AJHL’s Drumheller Dragons have had adjustments made to their rent by the town council. According to a news release from the town, Dragons owner Blair Christianson had made a presentation to council on May 11 that explained the team is likely to lose about $330,000 because of the pandemic and that without some aid the team wouldn’t be viable. On Monday, Mayor Heather Colberg said the “adjustments to the fee structure will have a financial impact of $66,291.50 over four years.” . . .

The 11-team Western States Hockey League announced Tuesday that it won’t play in 2020-21 because of uncertainties brought on by the pandemic. The WSHL includes four teams in Alberta — the Barrhead Bombers, Cold Lake Hornets, Edson Aeros and Hinton Timberwolves — and two in Washington state — the Bellingham Blazers and Seattle Totems. . . . The WSHL, a pay-to-play league, bills itself as junior A but to say it has had trouble gaining traction would be something of an understatement. . . .



Dan Price, who joined the Victoria Royals as an assistant coach during the 2016-17 VictoriaRoyalsseason, now is the WHL team’s general manager and head coach. He has completed three seasons as the team’s head coach. He takes over as GM from Cam Hope, who was fired on April 29 after eight seasons in the office. The Royals made the playoffs in each of those eight seasons, but never were able to get out of the second round. . . . The Royals are 105-81-18 in Price’s three seasons as head coach. . . . Price, 45, holds a law degree from the U of Saskatchewan. . . . His only experience as a general manager is from three seasons (2009-12) as the GM/head coach of the AJHL’s Drumheller Dragons. . . . There now are six WHL teams with one man holding the titles of general manager and head coach. The others are Dean Brockman, Swift Current Broncos; Willie Desjardins, Medicine Hat Tigers; Mike Johnston, Portland Winterhawks; Mark Lamb, Prince George Cougars; and Brent Sutter, Red Deer Rebels.


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It seems that John Pateman is more convinced than ever that his Prince George Cougars PrinceGeorgeare on the right track. He just doesn’t know when the WHL team is going to get started on that track. . . . “To me, the million-dollar question is when are we going to be playing games,” Pateman, a co-owner and the franchise’s president, told Ted Clarke of the Prince George Citizen. “Certainly in our league, our main sources of revenue are certainly the fans and corporate sponsorships for rink boards and all that, but you have to have fans. What everybody is attempting to do is prepare for every option that’s out there so when we know what’s going to happen we’re fully prepared.” . . . Pateman and the ownership group there purchased the Cougars after the 2013-14 season, so they are waiting for their seventh season as owners to begin. The Cougars wouldn’t have been in the playoffs last season, had the pandemic not wiped out everything, and Pateman has said they were 1,500 fans per game from breaking even. Still, he told Clarke, “In the last two seasons, I feel we’ve really started to head in the right direction.” . . . The complete story is right here.



The SJHL’s La Ronge Ice Wolves have signed associate coach Gaelan Patterson to a one-year extension. Patterson, who is from La Ronge, is preparing for this third season with the Ice Wolves. . . . Patterson, 29, played four seasons (2006-10) with the WHL’s Saskatoon seasons (2015-18) in Europe.


Will Rasmussen be back in WHL? . . . Giants, Royals prepping for tripleheader weekend. . . . Wheat Kings close on playoff spot


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F T.J. Mulock (Vancouver, Regina, 2001-03, Kamloops, 2005-06) has signed a one-year contract extension with the Straubing Tigers (Germany DEL). This season, he has one goal and 15 assists in 43 games. Mulock, who is a dual German-Canadian citizen, is completing his 10th season in the DEL, his 13th overall in Germany. . . .

F Grant Toulmin (Swift Current, 2005-07, 2008-09) has signed a one-season contract extension with the Sydney IceDogs (Australia, AIHL). Last season, he had 15 goals and 33 assists in 21 games. He was second in team scoring and was named the team’s MVP. This will be Toulmin’s fourth season in Australia. The AIHL regular season begins on April 20.


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There is speculation that the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings may return F Michael Rasmussen, 19, to the WHL’s Tri-City Americans.

The 6-foot-6 Rasmussen was selected by the Red Wings with the ninth overall pick of the tri-city2017 NHL draft.

The Red Wings kept him on their roster this season, and he has seven goals and eight assists in 48 games. A short time ago, they sent him to their AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, on a conditioning stint, and he had two goals in three games.

However, Rasmussen isn’t eligible to play in the AHL because of his age. If the Red Wings want him to be playoff eligible with Grand Rapids, Rasmussen would have to be returned to Tri-City, and he could be assigned to the Griffins whenever the Americans’ season might end.

Ansar Khan of mlive.com reported on Wednesday that the Red Wings “are contemplating” returning Rasmussen to Tri-City.

Last night, Rasmussen was pointless, and minus-1, in nine minutes 36 seconds of playing time as the Red Wings dropped a 5-4 OT decision to the visiting Chicago Blackhawks.

That was the fourth time in six games that he has played fewer than 10 minutes.

The Americans have 12 games left in their regular season. They are third in the U.S. Division, 11 points behind the Portland Winterhawks and one point ahead of the Spokane Chiefs.

Rasmussen had injury problems in each of the past two seasons, but still put up 63 goals and 51 assists in 97 games with Tri-City. Last season, he was tremendous in the playoffs, scoring 16 goals and adding 17 assists in 14 games.


The cities of Vancouver and Victoria are separated by about 115 kilometres, including the Georgia Strait.

So you wouldn’t think it would be that tough for the cities’ WHL teams to complete a 10-game season series over the course of six months without having to play a tripleheader. You know, catch a ferry and play a doubleheader, or even just pop across the strait for a singleton.

The Vancouver Giants and Victoria Royals have three games remaining in the season series. At this point, Vancouver is 4-2-1 in the season series; Victoria is 3-3-1.

The Giants have 12 games remaining, with the Royals having 11 left on their schedule, meaning time is running out.

So, hey, why not do it up in fewer than 48 hours this weekend?

That’s right. The Giants and Royals are going to face each other three times this weekend — Friday at the Langley Events Centre, and Saturday night and Sunday afternoon in Victoria.

The Giants (39-14-3) are atop the B.C. Division, 18 points ahead of the Royals (30-24-3), who appear headed to a second-place finish. The Giants, though, are hoping to finish atop the Western Conference — they are four points behind the Everett Silvertips with two games in hand — so still have something for which to play.


The OHL’s Saginaw Spirit has extended the contracts of general manager Dave Drinkill Saginawand head coach Chris Lazary through the 2020-21 season. . . . Drinkill is in his fourth season as Saginaw’s GM, after working with the Barrie Colts for nine seasons in various roles. . . . Lazary, 36, signed on with the Spirit as the associate coach prior to 2016-17. He took over as head coach on Nov. 18 after Troy Smith was fired. Since then, the Spirit is 25-6-3. . . . Overall, the Spirit is 36-15-5, good for third place in the 10-team Western Conference.


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Evan Vossen is out as the general manager and head coach of the SJHL’s La Ronge Ice larongeWolves. He had been with the Ice Wolves since taking over from the fired Shawn Martin early in the 2016-17 season. . . . Vossen, 32, played for the Ice Wolves in 2006-07 before going on to play five seasons with the McGill U Redmen. In fact, he was the team captain when the Redmen won the 2012 national championship with him scoring the title-winning goal in OT. . . . This season, the Ice Wolves are 10-42-2 and in fourth spot in the four-team Sherwood Division. . . . Gaelan Patterson, who played four seasons with the Saskatoon Blades (2006-10) will be the Ice Wolves’ GM and head coach for the remainder of this season. Patterson, 28, joined the Ice Wolves as an assistant coach prior to this season, after playing last season with the Coventry Blaze of the Elite Ice Hockey League.


WEDNESDAY HIGHLIGHTS:

F Stelio Mattheos and F Cole Reinhardt each had four points as the Brandon Wheat Kings BrandonWKregulardumped the visiting Calgary Hitmen, 5-1. . . . Brandon (28-22-7) has won five in a row. With this victory, Brandon moved into a tie with the Red Deer Rebels for the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot, two points behind Calgary. . . . Calgary (30-22-5) had won its previous two games. The Hitmen are fourth in the Central Division, two points behind the Medicine Hat Tigers. . . . Mattheos and Reinhardt had two goals and two assists each, as they figured in each of Brandon’s last four goals. . . . The Wheat Kings took a 3-0 lead before this game was six minutes old, thanks to goals from F Ridly Greig (12), at 0:30; Mattheos, at 4:29; and Reinhardt, on a PP, at 5:32. . . . Calgary D Vladislav Yeryomenko (4) scored at 15:10. . . . Reinhardt got his 21st goal at 19:43 of the second period, and Mattheos got No. 39 at 1:25 of the third. . . . Mattheos, who came awfully close to landing with the Everett Silvertips at the Jan. 10 trade deadline, now has 39 goals and a career-high 49 assists in 54 games. Since Jan. 10, Mattheos has 13 goals and 24 assists in 19 games. . . . Reinhardt, who turned 19 on Feb. 1, has 21 goals and 18 assists in 56 games. He has career highs in all three major offensive categories. . . . G Jiri Patera stopped 27 shots for Brandon.


The Regina Pats erased a 4-0 deficit and beat the visiting Kootenay Ice, 5-4, in a shootout. . Pats. . Regina (17-38-3) is 10th in the Eastern Conference, six points ahead of the Ice. . . . Kootenay (11-37-9) has lost six in a row (5-0-1). . . . The Ice got first-period goals from F Jakin Smallwood (11) and F Jaeger White (24), then went ahead 4-0 on second-period scores from F Connor McClennon (9) and F Brad Ginnell (13). . . . D Brady Pouteau (3) started Regina’s comeback at 15:30 of the second period. . . . The Pats tied it on third-period goals by F Brett Clayton, at 8:29; F Carter Massier (3), at 10:20; and F Logan Nijhoff (6), shorthanded, at 16:59. . . . The Ice had the only four shots of OT but wasn’t able to beat G Dean McNabb, who had replaced starter Max Paddock in the second period. McNabb stopped all 13 shots he faced through OT. . . . Regina won it in the shootout when F Garrett Wright, the first shooter in the fifth round, scored. . . . Regina F Ty Kolle and Kootenay F Peyton Krebs and scored in the second round. . . . Earlier in the day, the Ice added D Anson McMaster to its roster from the midget AAA Okotoks Oilers, and he played in this one. He now has played five games with the Ice this season. McMaster, 16, is from Siksika, Alta. He was a second-round selection in the 2017 bantam draft.


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Blazers closing in on new head coach? . . . Vandervlis in medically induced coma, critical condition . . . Blades add associate coach


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F Lauris Dārziņš (Kelowna, 2004-06) signed a one-year contract extension with Dinamo Riga (Latvia, KHL). In 24 games, he had five goals and 13 assists, while averaging 18:42 TOI per game. He missed the first 31 games of the season due to an injury.


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The Kamloops Blazers may be closing in on a new head coach. Serge Lajoie, the head coach of the U of Alberta Golden Bears for the past three seasons, was in Kamloops on Monday for a face-to-face session with general manager Matt Bardsley.

The Blazers are looking for a replacement for Don Hay, the winningest regular-season Kamloops1and playoff coach in WHL history, who now is in an advisory role.

Bardsley was named the general manager on June 1, replacing Stu MacGregor, who now is on the scouting staff of the NHL’s Dallas Stars. Tom Gaglardi, the majority owner of the Blazers, owns the Stars. Bardsley had been with the Portland Winterhawks since 1999, the past five seasons as assistant general manager.

Gaglardi is believed to have met with Lajoie before hiring Bardsley as general manager.

Lajoie, now 49, is from Bonnyville, Alta. He played for five seasons with the Golden Bears, then spent four seasons playing in Germany. He returned to the U of Alberta and was an assistant coach for five seasons (2005-10). Lajoie was the head coach at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) for five seasons before stepping in as the Golden Bears’ head coach for the 2015-16 season.

Lajoie took over the Golden Bears after Ian Herbers, who had been the head coach, joined the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers as an assistant coach. Herbers, who was on a three-year sabbatical, returned to the Golden Bears after last season.

Lajoie has a tie to the Blazers through Don Moores, the WHL franchise’s president and COO. Moores’ brother, Billy, was on the U of Alberta coaching staff for 17 seasons (1976-85, 1986-94) before going on to work with the NHL’s New York Rangers and the Oilers.

Billy Moores was the head coach of the Golden Bears in 1992 when they won the Canadian university championship. Herbers and Lajoie were defencemen on that team.

Last season, the Golden Bears won another Canadian university title, this one with Lajoie as the head coach.

Lajoie also is a former Blazers player. He had two assists in seven games with Kamloops in 1986-87. Ken Hitchcock was the head coach of that team, with Hay and Don Moores on staff as assistant coaches.


The family of F Ryan Vandervlis of the Lethbridge Hurricanes confirmed on Monday that he is in critical condition in a medically induced coma following an accident involving a bonfire in Bearspaw, which is located just northwest of Calgary.

“Our son and brother, Ryan Vandervlis, was injured at a bonfire this past weekend,” the Lethbridgestatement reads. “We want to be clear that alcohol was not a factor in this accident.

“Ryan is in a medically induced coma as he suffered severe burns to his body. He is receiving exceptional medical care in an intensive-care unit in Calgary where he remains in critical condition.”

The statement was signed by Barb, Rene, Cara, Sean and Rachel Vandervlis.

Vandervlis, 20, teammate Jordy Bellerive, 19, and former Hurricanes forward Matt Alfaro were injured late Friday night after something, according to RCMP, was placed on the bonfire which was at a home in Bearspaw.

A news release from the Hurricanes on Monday indicated that Alfaro and Bellerive “are currently in stable condition.”

Cpl. Troy Savinkoff of the Cochrane RCMP told CBC News that “there was some form of celebration at a residence in the Bearspaw subdivision. They had some issues lighting a fire. In their attempt to light this fire, there was an accident and three males were burned and were taken to hospital with various injuries and burns.”

According to David Bell of CBC News, Savinkoff also indicated that while alcohol was consumed, it wasn’t consumed in excess nor was it a contributing factor.

(Bell’s story is right here.)

Savinkoff also indicated that an investigation continues but that there isn’t any evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

The Hurricanes also issued a news release on Monday, stating, in part, that the incident didn’t occur during a bachelor party.

“It has been reported that the campfire occurred during a bachelor party. These reports are inaccurate,” the new release reads. “The campfire occurred at the family home of (former Hurricanes captain) Tyler Wong the evening prior to a planned day of golf.”

The Wong family also released a statement on Monday. It reads, in part:

“On Friday evening, nine of Tyler’s friends came to our house to stay the night as they were planning to go golfing and camping on Saturday. It was not a stag or bachelor party, as has been inaccurately reported. In starting a campfire, the accident occurred. Mr. and Mrs. Wong were present and acted quickly to transport those injured to a Calgary hospital.”

Calgary EMS responded to a call late Friday night and intercepted a vehicle near Calgary. Alfaro, who now plays for the U of Calgary Dinos, Bellerive and Vandervlis were moved to the ambulance and taken to the Foothills Medical Centre.

Peter Anholt, the Hurricanes’ general manager, is expected to hold a news conference today (Tuesday) in Lethbridge.



Ryan Marsh has signed on with the Saskatoon Blades as associate coach. Marsh, 43, joins Saskatoonhead coach Mitch Love, who is preparing for his first season with the Blades, and assistant coaches Ryan Keller and Jerome Engele, and goaltender coach Tim Cheveldae. . . . Marsh spent the past four seasons as an assistant coach with the Edmonton Oil Kings. He also has coaching experience with the U of Alberta Golden Bears and in the AJHL. . . . The Oil Kings fired Marsh on May 28, the same day that they fired head coach Steve Hamilton. . . . Marsh, a defenceman, played in the WHL with the Tri-City Americans (1992-95), then later played four seasons with the Golden Bears. . . . Marsh is from Quesnel, B.C., which also is Love’s hometown. They two men worked together as assistant coaches with Team Canada Red at the U-17 World Hockey Challenge in 2016. . . . Marsh fills the vacancy created when the Blades dismissed Bryce Thoma, who had been with them for two seasons.


The Kootenay Ice has extended the contract of Jake Heisinger, its director, scouting and Kootenaynewhockey operations, for five years. He just completed his first season with the Ice and led the scouting staff at the 2018 WHL bantam draft. According to an Ice news release, “Heisinger oversees the scouting team and the evaluation of players for the WHL bantam draft. He also works closely with the prospects in the system regarding player development.” He also is involved in player evaluations and transactions. . . . At the same time, the Ice extended Taras McEwen, its manager, scouting and hockey operations, for three years. He also joined the Ice in 2017. . . . The Ice also announced that it has added Tyler MacDonald to its scouting staff. He had been a Manitoba regional scout for the Ice from 2009-14. Interestingly, MacDonald is the only scout listed on the Ice’s website.


The Kelowna Rockets have acquired F Mark Liwiski, who is to turn 17 on Aug. 8, from the KelownaRocketsEverett Silvertips for a third-round selection in the WHL’s 2019 bantam draft. . . . Liwiski, who is from Dauphin, Man., was a third-round selection by Everett in the 2016 bantam draft. . . . He started last season with the Silvertips but was suspended and sent home in November after being “found to be in clear violation of team policy.” . . . Liwiski was pointless in 10 games with Everett. He finished the season with the MJHL’s OCN Blizzard, putting up 14 goals and 11 assists in 36 games.


Gaelan Patterson has joined the SJHL’s La Ronge Ice Wolves as an assistant coach. Patterson, 27, played four seasons (2006-10) with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades before going on to a pro career that included stops in the AHL, ECHL and in Europe. Last season, he played with the EIHL’s Coventry Blaze. . . . Patterson, who is from Saskatoon, will work under head coach Evan Vossen, replacing Darren Martens, who left after last season.


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