Raiders put Giants behind 8-ball. . . . P.A. scores seven in first period. . . . Winds of change blowing in Brandon

MacBeth

F Yegor Babenko (Lethbridge, 2015-17) has been traded by Severstal Cherepovets to Traktor Chelyabinsk (both Russia, KHL) for monetary compensation. This season, with Rubin Tyumen (Russia, Vysshaya Liga), he had seven goals and 11 assists in 25 games. He also was pointless in three games with Dynamo Moscow (Russia, KHL), and had two goals three assists in 15 games with Severstal Cherepovets. . . .

F Liam Stewart (Spokane, 2011-15) has signed a one-season contract with the Southern Stampede Queenstown (New Zealand, NZIHL). Last season,  with the Guildford Flames (England, UK Elite), he had 12 goals and 11 assists in 35 games. He didn’t play this season after suffering a concussion. . . . Stewart holds dual UK/New Zealand citizenship and is considered a local player in New Zealand. However, in the UK, he is considered an import because he played his minor hockey in the U.S.


ThisThat

The Brandon Wheat Kings revealed on Tuesday that they won’t be renewing the contract BrandonWKregularof Grant Armstrong, who had been their general manager through three seasons. . . . Kelly McCrimmon, the Wheat Kings’ owner, said in a news release that Armstrong “was responsible for many of the moves that will serve us well in the future. At the same time, I also felt a change was necessary as we look to return to a higher level as an organization.” . . . McCrimmon is the assistant GM with the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights. He will be taking over as the Golden Knights’ GM on Sept 1. . . . Armstrong signed as Brandon’s general manager to take over from McCrimmon when he signed with Vegas. . . . The Wheat Kings were 102-87-23 with Armstrong as the general manager. This season, they finished 31-29-8, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2013. . . . Before joining Brandon, Armstrong was with the Victoria Royals for four seasons as director of player personnel and assistant GM. Prior to that, he worked with the Portland Winterhawks for five seasons, the last four as head scout. . . . The Wheat Kings’ news release is right here. . . .

With a new general manager to be hired at some point, you are free to wonder about the future of head coach David Anning and assistant coach Don MacGillivray. After three seasons, their contracts are up, too. . . . The news release on Armstrong’s departure doesn’t mention the coaching staff.


The Tri-City Americans announced Tuesday that they have renewed the contracts of goaltending coaches Eli Wilson and Liam McOnie “through the 2021 season.” . . . Wilson and McOnie have worked with the Americans since the 2017-18 season. They also run goaltending camps through Eli Wilson Goaltending.


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The BCHL’s Vernon Vipers have hired Jason McKee as general manager and head coach, Vernonreplacing Mark Ferner, who got the team into the BCHL final this season, his fifth season in his second stint with the organization. . . . Ferner, 53, was the Vipers’ head coach for four seasons (2007-11), getting them into three national finals and winning two of them, before spending time on the coaching staffs of the Everett Silvertips and Kamloops Blazers. This time, he had been the Vipers’ director of hockey operations and head coach since early in the 2014-15 season. . . . This season, the Vipers went 26-21-11 to finish fourth in the seven-team Interior Division. They reach the championship final where they were swept by the Prince George Spruce Kings. . . . McKee, 40, was the head coach of the Vancouver Giants for two seasons (2016-18). Prior to that, he was with the AJHL’s Spruce Grove Saints for 10 seasons, the last six as general manager and head coach. . . . Brothers John and Tom Glen purchased the Vipers in September from Libby Wray, whose husband, Dr. Duncan Wray, had owned the franchise from 1992 through his death on Jan. 11, 2018. . . . John Glen was quite involved with the Saints, although not at the ownership level. He also is a former scout with the Giants.


If you’re a junior hockey fan you should be following Victor Findlay (@Finder_24) on Twitter. He always has up-to-date information on players moving from the WHL to the Canadian university scene, including F Kody McDonald, who played out his eligibility with the Victoria Royals this season and will be playing for the Carleton Ravens of Ottawa next season. Findlay also reports that Josh Curtis, who was a 20-year-old with the Prince George Cougars, will be joining the Queen’s U Gaels, who play out of Kingston, Ont. Findlay also has F Ryan Jevne (Medicine Hat Tigers) going to the U of Alberta Golden Bears in Edmonton, F Nolan Yaremko (Tri-City Americans) off to the Calgary-based Mount Royal Cougars, and F Ryan Vandervlis (Lethbridge Hurricanes), F Mike MacLean (Prince George) and F Jeff de Wit (Red Deer Rebels) all joining the Montreal-based Concordia Stingers.


The Halifax Mooseheads broke a 1-1 tie with two second-period goals and then added two more in the third, en route to a 5-1 victory over the visiting Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the QMJHL’s championship final on Tuesday night. . . . The series now is tied, 2-2, with Game 5 in Rouyn-Noranda on Thursday night, and Game 6 back in Halifax on Saturday afternoon. A seventh game would be played in Rouyn-Noranda on Monday. . . . Both teams already know they will play in the Memorial Cup because Halifax is the host team. . . .

In the OHL, the Ottawa 67’s will meet the Storm in Guelph in Game 4 tonight (Wednesday). The 67’s hold a 2-1 lead after dropping a 7-2 decision to the host Storm on Monday night. That was the first loss of these playoffs for the 67’s, who now are 14-1.


Rich Pilon, who was named the head coach of the SJHL’s Weyburn Red Wings on April 29, now is the team’s general manager, as well. The Red Wings announced Tuesday that Pilon will add the GM’s duties, taking over from Tanner McCall, who had been the GM and head scout. . . . McCall, who also scouts for the Moose Jaw Warriors, had been with the Red Wings for five seasons, the last three as general manager and head scout.


EdChynowethCup

NOTES: Well, who saw that one coming? The Prince Albert Raiders went into Langley, B.C., and humbled the Vancouver Giants, handing them an 8-2 loss in Game 3 of the WHL final for the Ed Chynoweth Cup. . . . The Raiders lead the series, 2-1, with Game 4 in Langley tonight. Game 5 is set for Friday night in Langley. . . . Last night’s decision means that if the Giants are to win the series, they will have to do it in Prince Albert. Games 6 and 7, if one or both are needed, would be played there on Sunday and Monday. . . .

In Game 3, the Raiders took control with seven goals in the first period. . . . The WHL record for most goals in one period of a playoff game is nine and belongs to the Saskatoon Blades (March 30, 1986, second period of a 12-5 victory over the visiting Moose Jaw Warriors). . . .

Oh the games people play now/Every night and every day now. . . . According to the lineup sheet circulated prior to the game, Raiders D Max Martin would play, with D Loeden Schaufler and F Jakob Brook listed with question marks beside their names. That would seem to have indicated that one of those two would play and the other would sit. . . . Martin didn’t finish Game 2 after suffering an apparent shoulder injury when he went awkwardly into the boards in the second period. Last night, he took the pregame warmup and then was scratched. Schaufler and Brook both were dressed and on the Prince Albert bench. . . .

F Dante Hannoun of the Raiders had a goal and two assists in Game 3. He leads the WHL playoffs with 12 goals. His 23 points have him tied with Vancouver D Bowen Byram for the scoring lead. Byram had one assist in Game 3. . . .

According to tweets from Steve Ewen, there were a number of NHL luminaries in the crowd, among them Scotty Bowman (Chicago Blackhawks), and Rob Blake and Todd McLellan (Los Angeles Kings).

——

TUESDAY HIGHLIGHTS:

The Prince Albert Raiders scored 41 seconds into the first period and made it 2-0 at 2:27 PrinceAlbertas they went on to an 8-2 victory over the Vancouver Giants in Langley, B.C. . . . The Raiders lead the WHL final for the Ed Chynoweth Cup, 2-1, with Game 4 in Langley tonight. . . . Prince Albert had won Game 2, 4-0, so has outscored Vancouver, 12-2, over the last two games. . . . The visitors led 4-0 at 6:33 of the first period, 6-0 at 16:30 and 7-0 going into the second period. . . . The Giants took the game’s first four minor penalties, all of them in the opening 6:33. The Raiders responded with three PP goals. . . . F Parker Kelly (5,6) and F Brett Leason (8,9) each scored twice and added an assist for the victors, with F Dante Hannoun (12) scoring once and adding two assists. . . . F Ozzy Wiesblatt (5), F Cole Fonstad (2) and F Noah Gregor (10) added a goal each. . . . D Sergei Sapego, F Aliaksei Protas and F Sean Montgomery added two assists each for the Raiders. . . . F Brayden Watts (6) and F Yannik Valenti (3) scored PP goals for the Giants after they had fallen behind 8-0. . . . Prince Albert was 4-8 on the PP; Vancouver was 2-8. . . . G Ian Scott blocked 27 shots for the Raiders. . . . Vancouver starter David Tendeck gave up three goals on 13 shots. He allowed two goals on four shots in 2:27, then was relieved by Trent Miner for the remainder of the first period. Miner allowed five goals on 14 shots. Tendeck returned for the final two periods and stopped eight of nine shots. . . . The referees were Mike Campbell and Chris Crich, with Ron Dietterle and Michael Roberts the linesmen.


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The Brandon-Everett trade that wasn’t . . . Bader leaves Raiders, cites personal reasons . . . Blichfeld hits 200 in victory

MacBeth

F Tomáš Netík (Medicine Hat, 2000-01) has signed a contract for the rest of this season with Innsbruck (Austria, Erste Bank Liga) after obtaining his release from Košice (Slovakia, Extraliga). He had six goals and 18 assists in 30 games. . . .

G Juraj Hollý (Calgary 2010-11) has been traded by Liptovský Mikuláš to Dukla Trenčín (both Slovakia, Extraliga) for Marek Šimko. In 17 games, Hollý was 3-12-0, 3.47, .901 with one shutout.


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The Brandon Wheat Kings traded F Stelio Mattheos, their leading scorer, to the Everett Silvertips on Jan. 10, which was the WHL’s trade deadline.

Except that they didn’t.

Josh Horton of the Everett Herald reported Wednesday that “the Silvertips agreed to a Everettdeal to acquire top-flight Brandon forward Stelio Mattheos . . . but the trade fell apart at the last minute.”

According to Horton, “A Silvertips player and draft picks were headed to Brandon in return for the 19-year-old Mattheos, sources said.”

Horton, citing sources, added that “both of the players involved had been informed of the trade and were getting ready to leave for their new teams when the deal collapsed.”

No one is saying how many WHL bantam draft picks were involved in the swap. However, Taking Note has been told that the teams had been working on the deal for a couple of months and that the Everett player who was told he was on his way to Brandon was F Reece Vitelli, whom the Silvertips selected in the fourth round of the 2016 bantam draft.

Garry Davidson, the Silvertips’ general manager, told Horton that a deal was in the works but that “it didn’t work out.” However, that is all Davidson, who is said to have been most upset, would say.

Taking Note also has been told that the deal didn’t really collapse, that it was more a case BrandonWKregularof it not having been filed in its entirety with the WHL office in time to beat the deadline of 3 p.m. MT.

Neither the WHL office nor Brandon GM Grant Armstrong would comment to Horton.

Interestingly, Davidson and Armstrong worked together with the Portland Winterhawks. Davidson, who is in his seventh season as Everett’s GM, was Portland’s director of player personnel for four seasons (2008-12); Armstrong, now in his third season as Brandon’s GM, was Portland’s head scout during that time.

This season, Vitelli, a 17-year-old sophomore from Winnipeg, has five goals and 11 assists in 45 games. He has one goal in five games since the trade deadline.

Last season, Vitelli finished with two goals and eight assists in 70 games, then added four goals and three assists in 22 playoff games.

Mattheos also is from Winnipeg. The Wheat Kings selected him with the first overall pick in the 2014 bantam draft. His NHL rights belong to the Carolina Hurricanes, who picked him in the third round of that league’s 2017 draft. Mattheos has yet to sign an NHL contract.

Mattheos is Brandon’s captain and leads the Wheat Kings in goals (30), assists (31) and points (61), all in 40 games.

Last season, Mattheos put up 43 goals and 47 assists in 90 games. In 228 career regular-season games, he has 243 points, including 113 goals.

The Silvertips and Wheat Kings aren’t scheduled to meet again this season. They played in Brandon on Oct. 19, with the home team winning, 5-2, behind three goals from Mattheos. Vitelli, playing in his home province, had one assist.


KOOTENAY KOUNTDOWN

On Dec. 19, Ron Robison, the WHL commissioner, said that there would be an 36announcement “very soon” and that it would deal with “what the future of that franchise is.”

That franchise is the Kootenay Ice, an organization that is believed to be headed to Winnipeg once this season is over.

But we now are into the 36th day since Robison appeared on TSN Radio 1260 in Edmonton with host Dean Millard.

Since then . . . crickets from the Ice and the WHL office.


F Bryce Bader has left the Prince Albert Raiders.

According to a news release from the Raiders, Bader, 17, flew to Calgary on Sunday “to PrinceAlbertwrite a final exam,” then “elected not to re-join the team for personal reasons.”

The Raiders added: “There will be no further comment from the hockey club.”

Bader’s departure leaves the Raiders’ roster at 21 players, including seven defencemen and 12 forwards.

Bader, from Sherwood Park, Alta., was selected by the Calgary Hitmen in the second round of the WHL’s 2016 bantam draft.

The Raiders acquired Bader from the Hitmen on Jan. 10 in exchange for F Quinn Olson, a 17-year-old Calgarian who has committed to the U of Minnesota-Duluth for 2020-21. In the deal, the teams also swapped conditional sixth-round selections in an undisclosed bantam draft.

This season, Bader had four goals in 10 games with the Hitmen this season, but had yet to play for the Raiders.

The Raiders, the CHL’s top-ranked team, is scheduled to conclude a B.C. Division swing tonight against the Vancouver Giants. The game will be televised on Sportsnet.


WEDNESDAY HIGHLIGHTS:

F Joachim Blichfeld, the WHL’s leading scorer, struck for two third-period goals to help Portlandthe host Portland Winterhawks to a 4-2 victory over the Tri-City Americans. . . . Portland (28-13-5) is second in the U.S. Division, seven points behind the Everett Silvertips. . . . Tri-City (24-17-3) had points in each of its previous four games (3-0-1). It remains fourth in the U.S. Division, two points behind the Spokane Chiefs. At the same time, the Americans are in control of the Western Conference’s first wild-card spot, with a 12-point lead on the Seattle Thunderbirds. . . . With two games left in the season series, Tri-City is 5-1-0; Portland is 1-1-4. That means that while Tri-City has won five of six games, Portland still has grabbed six points. . . . The Americans grabbed a 2-0 lead on first-period goals 40 seconds apart by F Krystof Hrabik (10) and F Kyle Olson (14). . . . Portland pulled even late in the period as F Jaydon Dureau (10) scored at 18:58 and F Josh Paterson (17) found the range at 19:35. . . . The teams played a scoreless second period, before Blichfeld, who now has 42 goals, hit at 9:53 and 16:18, with F Cody Glass assisting on both scores. . . . Blichfeld’s second goal gave him 200 career regular-season points. He has 94 goals and 106 assists in 165 games. . . . Blichfeld, who also had an assist, leads the WHL with 86 points, 10 more than F Tristin Langan of the Moose Jaw Warriors and F Trey Fix-Wolansky of the Edmonton Oil Kings. . . . Blichfeld’s 42 goals are five more than Langan. . . . Andy Kemper, the Winterhawks’ historian, points out that Blichfeld is the second import in franchise history to get to 200 points. F Oliver Bjorkstrand, who put up 290 points in 193 regular-season games. . . . G Joel Hofer blocked 26 shots for Portland, 16 fewer than Tri-City’s Beck Warm. . . . Portland won 41 of the 63 faceoffs, and was 0-5 on the PP. Tri-City was 0-1. . . . The Americans were without F Blake Stevenson (undisclosed injury) and F Sasha Mutala, who was in Red Deer for the Top Prospects Game. . . . D John Ludvig was among Portland’s scratches.


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Scattershooting: The Memorial Cup, a flawed playoff format and more

Scattershooting

The tears hadn’t yet dried in Regina on Monday night when the bleating began on social media, with some fans crying for a change in the format of the four-team Memorial Cup tournament.

The Pats, the host team for this year’s tournament, had just dropped a 3-2 decision to the whlhost Swift Current Broncos in Game 7 of an opening-round WHL playoff series.

Of course, that means the Pats are finished until the Memorial Cup begins, something that is more than 40 days away.

A year ago, it was the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires, the host team for the 2017 tournament, who got bounced in the first round. They came back, under head coach Rocky Thompson, a former WHL player and coach, to win the whole thing.

But, the social media gurus wanted to know, how is it fair that a team can lose in the first round and still win the national championship?

No, it isn’t right. But it’s time for people to realize that the Memorial Cup stopped being a national championship in 1983, which is when the present format that includes a host team was adopted.

If you ask around the WHL, those who have been involved in championships will tell you that the Memorial Cup doesn’t carry the cachet of a WHL championship. They also will tell you that playing in the round-robin Memorial Cup can be a letdown after taking part in a gritty, competitive best-of-seven championship series.

Now that we have that out of the way . . .

What the WHL needs to do is admit that its present playoff format is flawed, and — if it isn’t just providing lip service about wanting to minimize travel for its players — go back to having the first two rounds within each division. After the first two rounds, the division champions meet for conference titles, and the two survivors play for the Ed Chynoweth Cup.

The WHL likes to think of itself as a mini-NHL, which is why the present format — one that includes two wild-card entries in each conference — is in place. What’s good for the NHL is good for the WHL, or so the thinking goes.

This playoff format proves that isn’t always the case.

Late last month, with the first round unfolding, the WHL sent its commissioner, Ron Robison, on tour. He started in the Pacific Northwest, mostly doing damage control after that debacle in the Oregon State Legislature in Salem involving minimum-wage legislation, but he also addressed the playoff format.

“We really feel like this is the best format and it works really well for our league,” Robison told Brandon Rivers of dubnetwork.ca. “First of all, when you consider the travel demands on our players, we want to really have those games in the first round in the division, because travel is limited. At the same time, it helps with your rivalries. . . .

“If you look throughout our league in each division, we have some great rivalries. Why not get that competition level really up high in the playoffs and see how it goes from there. There’s pros and cons but, generally speaking, this format makes a lot of sense for our league.”

Later, while in Medicine Hat, Robison told Ryan McCracken of the Medicine Hat News:

“I think when you look into it, it’s more than just the seeding of teams in a playoff competition, whether it’s conference format or a divisional format. For us, in this particular case it’s about the fact that we can reduce travel from the players’ standpoint, we can take advantage of the great rivalries we have.”

We will assume that Robison said this with a straight face, even though he was in BrandonWKregularMedicine Hat, the home of the Tigers, a team that ended up playing the Brandon Wheat Kings in the first round in two straight years. That also meant travelling to Dauphin, Man., where the Wheat Kings played their first-round home games in both series because their home arena had been taken over by the annual Royal Manitoba Winter Fair.

Had the WHL used a divisional playoff format, the Tigers would have met the Calgary Hitmen in last season’s first round, and the Kootenay Ice this time around. The Ice, of course, didn’t even make the playoffs this season, thanks to the wild-card format.

Using the divisional format, the Wheat Kings would have clashed with the Moose Jaw Warriors in this season’s first round. Instead, Brandon ousted Medicine Hat in six games.

(In the Western Conference, the Tri-City Americans, a wild-card entry, swept the B.C. Division-champion Kelowna Rockets. In a divisional format, Tri-City would have opened against the Everett Silvertips, with Kelowna meeting the Kamloops Blazers, who didn’t qualify under this system.)

The present wild-card format also has other flaws.

For starters, the Saskatoon Blades didn’t make the playoffs despite having more victories and more points than two Eastern Conference teams that did advance.

This format also means that every first round includes four series that feature teams that finished second and third in each division. That means that teams that were awfully good over 72 games exit early. Two more awfully good teams are going to go home after the second round, too.

The biggest flaw, however, is that there now is the perception that the wild-card system can be gamed.

I’m not saying that’s what happened this season, but you may recall that the Wheat Kings were third in the overall standings — and third in the Eastern Conference and East Division — when the trade deadline arrived on Jan. 10. A third-place finish in the division would have meant a first-round meeting with Swift Current.

The Wheat Kings chose to trade away two top-end players — defenceman Kale Clague and forward Tanner Kaspick — for a bundle of future assets.

In the end, Regina moved past Brandon into third place, and, as we saw, lost out to Swift Current in the first round. The Wheat Kings ended up in possession of the Eastern Conference’s first wild-card spot, which sent them into the playoffs against Medicine Hat, which had finished atop the Central Division, albeit with four fewer victories and five fewer points than Brandon.

The Wheat Kings now will open the second round against the host Lethbridge Hurricanes on Friday. The Wheat Kings finished the regular season with more victories (40-33) and more points (85-72) than the Hurricanes.

There can be no arguing that the Wheat Kings ended up with an easier route to the conference final than they would have had with a third-place finish in their division. Of course, the Hurricanes may have something to say about that.

There also can be no arguing about the job done by Brandon general manager Grant Armstrong, who added nine assets, including four first-round bantam draft picks, in those two transactions.

Inadvertent or not, he seems to have helped his club improve its playoff odds.

Meanwhile, in the Western Conference, Tri-City, the first wild-card entry, will meet the TriCity30Victoria Royals in the second round, meaning it avoids a potential clash with Everett or the Portland Winterhawks for another round. Everett and Portland are preparing for a second-round series after the Winterhawks beat the visiting Spokane Chiefs, 3-1, in Game 7 last night.

Who knows how all of this will play out, but it all leaves me with one question:

What will be the reaction by the WHL pooh-bahs should Brandon and Tri-City, a pair of wild-card teams, end up in the championship final?


I recently came into possession of the feature stories written this season by Perry Bergson of the Brandon Sun that focus on former Wheat Kings players. This was the second season in which Bergson has written one of these stories each week, and they are most enjoyable. If you can find them, I highly recommend them. I also wonder why more junior hockey writers — assuming that they really love to write — haven’t followed Bergson’s example by producing stories like these.


The fact that none of the numerous Hockey Insiders had the scoop on the retirements of Daniel and Henrik Sedin says a lot about the longtime Vancouver Canucks forwards. Obviously, there aren’t any leaks in the world of the future Hockey Hall of Famers. They were true to themselves right to the end.


Sooner or later, the WHL should be issuing a news release detailing the involvement by its 17 Canadian teams in the organ donor awareness program this season. You may recall that, among other things, the teams wore Don Cherry-tribute sweaters and then made them available via auction. I am guessing that the promotions raised well over $300,000 for the four western branches of the Kidney Foundation of Canada.


On Sept. 9, 1965, left-hander Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers threw a perfect game. Yes, Vin Scully called it. Right here for your reading enjoyment, courtesy salon.com, is that call. It is, as is mentioned here, “pure baseball literature.”