I lost my best friend yesterday without ever being able to tell him how much he means to me. More importantly Carla lost her husband, Thomas, Blake and Kody lost their dad. This world sure doesn’t make sense sometimes. If you can, please help them. ❤️ https://t.co/9IHvfQWQMb
Matt Swaby, who spent four seasons playing in the WHL, was killed in what family members say was a farming accident on Friday. . . . Swaby, 34, was a native of Prince Albert. . . . A defenceman, he spent three seasons (2004-07) with the Tri-City Americans and one (2007-08) with the Edmonton Oil Kings. . . . The Oil Kings were an expansion team that season and management chose to acquire Swaby to serve as their captain in what was his 20-year-old season. . . . AJ Jakubec, who was the Oil Kings’ play-by-play voice back then, tweeted: “Heartbreaking. The perfect captain for an expansion team. Humble, hard-working guy with a great sense of humour. Loved this guy.” . . . Swaby went on to play three seasons with the U of Saskatchewan Huskies. . . . He is survived by his wife Carla and their three boys — Thomas, 6; Blake, 4 and Kody, 2.
We are deeply saddened by the loss of former Americans player Matthew Swaby.
Shaun Clouston moved into the Top 10 on Saturday night. Clouston, the general manager and head coach of the Kamloops Blazers, posted his 467th regular-season coaching victory and that moved him into 10th place on the WHL’s all-time list. He did in style, too, as the Blazers (17-2-0) won, 3-2, in Everett, handing the Silvertips (16-1-2) their first regulation-time loss of the season. Kamloops G Dylan Garand (14-2-2, 1.76, .935) came up with 41 stops. . . . Everett actually has lost two in a row now, having dropped a 4-3 OT decision to the host Victoria Royals on Friday. . . . Clouston’s 467th victory moved him past Peter Anholt and Jack Shupe and into sole possession of 10th spot on the all-time list that is led by Don Day (750). . . . Clouston has 76 victories with the Blazers after putting up 375 with the Medicine Hat Tigers and 16 with the Tri-City Americans. He won’t be moving up the ladder again anytime soon because the next man on the list, Pat Ginnell, is at 518. . . . BTW, the Blazers went 4-0-0 on a swing into the U.S. Division, winning twice in Kent, Wash., and beating the Winterhawks, 4-3, in Portland on Friday night. . . .
Marc Habscheid, the winningest active head coach in the WHL these days, put up No. 561 on Saturday night, his Prince Albert Raiders beating the Wheat Kings, 2-1, in Brandon. It would seem that he didn’t get fined — at least, there isn’t anything noted on the WHL’s discipline page — after getting tossed for whispering Christmas greetings to the on-ice officials prior to the start of the third period of a 4-1 loss to the visiting Moose Jaw Warriors on Wednesday. . . . BTW, after D Kaiden Guhle scored twice in the Raiders’ 2-1 victory over the host Brandon Wheat Kings on Saturday night, Habscheid told Jason Kerr of the Prince Albert Daily Herald that Guhle “might be, for his age, the best player in the world. He’s just a special player.” Guhle, 19, was selected by the Montreal Canadiens with the 16th pick of the NHL’s 2020 draft. He has signed his first NHL contract.
Scott Ostler, in the San Francisco Chronicle: “A pro golfer can still make a decent buck, if he’s willing to travel. While Phil Mickelson pocketed $2.16 million for winning the PGA Championship and Jon Rahm $2.25 mil for winning the U.S. Open, Collin Morikawa just cashed a check for $2.97 million for winning some tourney in Dubai. Now you know why gas prices are so high.”
Headline at The Onion (@TheOnion): World Chess Championship Forced To Use Salt Shaker After Losing Bishop
Ken Campbell, at Hockey Unfiltered (and he is correct): “Love the New Jersey Devils third sweater. Love it. And even though it has ‘Jersey’ emblazoned across the front, it’s a sweater, not a jersey. Always has been, always will be.”
With eight players on the COVID-19 protocol list, the NHL finally stepped in and halted the New York Islanders’ season, at least for now. The Isles were to have played the New York Rangers today and then visited the Flyers in Philadelphia on Tuesday. Those games have been postponed. The Islanders next are scheduled to play on Thursday against the visiting San Jose Sharks. . . . The final straw for the NHL came Saturday when F Casey Cizikas went on the list. He became player No. 8, joining F Josh Bailey, F Kieffer Bellows, D Zdeno Chara, D Andy Greene, F Ross Johnston, F Anders Lee and D Adam Pelech. . . . Earlier, the Ottawa Senators had three games postponed as they went through a stretch in which 10 players and a coach were impacted. The Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins also have been down this road, but their schedules were left intact.
JUST NOTES: If you’ve been watching NHL games of late, I think you will agree that the crackdown on cross-checking has come to an end. . . . We shouldn’t expect anything different from a league in which one player (F Artemi Panarin of the New York Rangers) gets fined $5,000 for throwing a glove at another player (super-pest Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins). As Larry Brooks of the New York Post points out that’s the same amount that “Tom Wilson was (fined) for punching Pavel Buchnevich in the head while he was laying face down on the ice.” . . .
The Thursday afternoon NFL game between the Las Vegas Raiders and the host Dallas Cowboys drew 38.531 million viewers to CBS (TV and streaming), the highest total for a regular-season game since 1990. Just in case you were wondering why neither the NBA nor the NHL played any games on what was American Thanksgiving. . . .
You may have heard that the City of St. Louis will get US$790 million from the NFL and Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke to settle a lawsuit stemming from the team’s departurein 2016. If you were wondering about how much the lawyers get, well, according to the aforementioned Scott Ostler, it seems the firm that represented St. Louis gets a cool 35 per cent, or $276 million.
The two Canadian sports networks — TSN and Rogers Sportsnet — are so large that I have 14 of their channels available in my home. On Saturday afternoon, TSN’s six channels featured Canadian Olympic curling trials (2), Spanish Primera Division soccer (2), U.S. college football (Penn State at Michigan State) and an AHL game between the Cleveland Monsters and Toronto Marlies. Meanwhile, Sportsnet was showing Bundesliga on five channels, poker on two and rasslin’ on another. . . . You know what they weren’t showing? Canadian university football. . . . Look, they can be excused for not showing the eastern semifinal because USports has a problem that it chooses not to address. The AUS entry gets an automatic semifinal berth and often gets routed, which is what happened to the St. Francis Xavier X-Men on Saturday when they went to London, Ont., and got whipped, 61-6, by the host Mustangs in the Mitchell Bowl. It was 51-3 at the half. . . . Later, in the game that should have been televised nationally, the Saskatchewan Huskies took the lead for the first time with five seconds left in the fourth quarter and beat the host Montreal Carabins, 14-10, to claim the Uteck Bowl. . . . The Huskies will face Western in the Vanier Cup in Quebec City on Dec. 4. . . . The Vanier Cup will be televised . . . by CBC.
Does Wilt Chamberlain get the credit he’s due for being a great, great NBA player? Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors enjoyed his 220th career 30-point game on Friday night, in a 118-103 victory over the visiting Portland Trail Blazers. That is third on the Warriors’ all-time list. Next up is Rick Barry at 223. Chamberlain is No. 1, at 369. Yes, as prolific a scorer as Curry is, he still is 149 behind Chamberlain.
Hey, Luke, well done! Have to admit I had a lump in my throat and it wasn’t a sugar cube.
JUNIOR JOTTINGS: The AJHL’s Sherwood Park Crusaders announced Thursday that Adam Manah, their general manager and head coach, had “departed his position . . . effective immediately.” Adam Sergerie has taken over as the GM, with Jeff Woywitka now the head coach. Manah had been with the Crusaders since signing on as associate coach in 2015. He took over as head coach in 2016. The Crusaders were 9-15-1 — they had lost four in a row — at the time of the announcement, good for seventh place in the eight-team Viterra AJHL North.
Mike Lupica, in the New York Daily News: “Amari Cooper is just the latest chowderhead in sports to help cost his team a game by being unvaccinated. While being paid $21 million a year by Jerry Jones. What a guy. Cooper, that is.”
Lupica, again: “You know who’s going to end up with settlement money from the NFL one of these days? Jon Gruden. They’re either going to have to pay him, or they’re going to have to release all of the emails relating to the Washington Football Team.”
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.
If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:
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 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.
F Roman Pšurný (Medicine Hat, 2004-06) has signed a two-year contract extension with Přerov (Czech Republic, 1. Liga). This season, he had 14 goals and 30 assists in 53 games. He led the team in assists and points. . . .
F Mick Köhler (Medicine Hat, 2017-18) has signed a two-year contract extension with Cologne (Germany, DEL). He had two goals and two assists in 25 games there this season. On loan to Löwen Frankfurt (Germany, DEL2), he had three goals and 10 assists in 27 games. . . .
F Carter Proft (Brandon, Spokane, 2010-14) has signed a one-year contract extension with Löwen Frankfurt (Germany, DEL2). This season, in 52 games, he had 15 goals and 22 assists. He was second in the league in face-off winning percentage at .617.
Jack Shupe, one of the winningest coaches in WHL history, has died. Shupe passed away Wednesday night in Medicine Hat. He was 89. . . . Shupe, who was from Weyburn, Sask., was a WHL head coach for 11 seasons — six with the Medicine Hat Tigers and five with the Victoria Cougars. . . . He totalled 466 regular-season victories, which now has him tied for 10th on the WHL’s all-time list. . . . The Tigers, with Shupe behind the bench, won the 1972-73 WHL title, getting him to the Memorial Cup for the first time. It was a three-team round-robin at the time and all three teams — the Tigers, Toronto Marlboros and Quebec Remparts — finished 1-1. The Marlboros and Remparts advanced on the tiebreaker, and Toronto won the final, 9-1. . . . Shupe guided the Cougars to the WHL final in 1979-80, where they lost to the Regina Pats in five games, then won the WHL title in 1980-81 with a single-season record 60 victories, a mark that still stands. The Cougars finished third in the Memorial Cup. . . . A funeral service is scheduled for May 4, 11 a.m., at the Saamis Memorial Funeral Chapel in Medicine Hat. . . . There is an obituary right here.
Gary Cooper, the first president of the Kamloops WHL franchise that now is the Blazers, died Tuesday at the age of 80. . . . The New Westminster Bruins moved to Kamloops for the 1981-82 season and started out as the Junior Oilers. Peter Pocklington, the owner of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers, bought the Bruins from Nelson Skalbania and was looking to relocate them. Cooper was part of a Kamloops group that raised the funds necessary ($110,000) to purchase 33 per cent. The move was made official by the WHL on July 2, 1981. . . . Prior to the 1984-85 season, Cooper was part of the group that spearheaded the purchase of the franchise from the Oilers, and he was the Blazers’ first president. Cooper later was a regular on the board of directors. . . . According to a Facebook post by Rick Wile, a former sports director at Radio NL in Kamloops, Cooper “was diagnosed with a brain tumour six weeks ago and passed away in hospice.”
The Swift Current Broncos announced Thursday that they are taking their play-by-play game broadcasts off conventional radio and moving them to the Internet. . . . The Broncos’ games had been heard on The Eagle 94.1 since the mid-1980s. It’s believed that the Broncos and Golden West Radio, which owns The Eagle 94.1, weren’t able to agree on the monetary terms of their contract. . . . The Portland Winterhawks went this route a few seasons ago and, according to Rich Franklin, the Winterhawks’ vice-president for corporate partnerships, the Broncos aren’t the only WHL team thinking about it these days. . . . “I was contacted by two other WHL teams this season (not Swift Current),” Franklin said in a tweet, “asking for details/input about our streaming-only approach, so it’s definitely being looked at by multiple teams.” . . . As for why the Winterhawks went the way they did, Franklin tweeted: “Airtime cost, ability to expand content, no measurable radio audience, overall growth of streaming and unlimited data options for users, and ease of access to stream via our app. It wasn’t an easy decision but we’re happy with results.” . . . However, the Winterhawks are in the U.S., and the Broncos play in Canada. As long-time WHL fan Alan Caldwell noted in a tweet: “One thing I would add here, though, is there is a huge disparity in mobile data costs” between the two countries. “Unlimited data plans (with 20GB or more before throttling) are common and cheap in the States. In Western Canada, to get 20 GB a month, you’ll need to not eat.”
If I'm in a Canadian WHL market and thinking about doing the switch to all-streaming I'd be lining up a telecom partner and make the game streams free/no data charges for the partner's customers like what Verizon did with NFL. BIG win for team/partner/fans.
The midget AAA hockey team in Moose Jaw is being rebranded as the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors take on a much larger role with it. In fact, the Moose Jaw Minor Hockey Association is calling it a “renewed partnership and sponsorship.” . . . The teams plays in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League and has been known as the Generals. It now will be the Warriors. . . . According to a news release, “Along with the rebranding of the AAA Warriors, the Moose Jaw Warriors will work with minor hockey in a mentorship and advisory role with the AAA Warriors, effective immediately.” . . . Trevor Weisgerber is the AAA Warriors’ head coach. Jeremy Ebbett was introduced Friday as the general manager, along with assistant coaches Carter Davis, Evan Schwabe and Carter Smith. . . . The full news release is right here.
The AJHL’s Grande Prairie Storm has signed head coach Matt Keillor to a two-year contract extension. Keillor has been the club’s head coach since the middle of the 2016-17 season.
NOTES: The Everett Silvertips staved off elimination on Friday night with a 4-1 victory over the Chiefs in Spokane. If the Silvertips are to keep playing, they will have to win again tonight in Spokane. . . . That will be tonight’s only WHL playoff game. . . . The winner of this series is to face the Vancouver Giants in the Western Conference final. . . .
Meanwhile, in Prince Albert, the Raiders dumped the Saskatoon Blades, 6-1, to take a 3-2 lead in that series. They’ll play Game 6 in Saskatoon on Sunday. . . . F Kirby Dach of the Blades didn’t finish Friday’s game, while Saskatoon D Dawson Davidson appeared to be injured late in the third period. . . . The winner of this series will meet the Edmonton Oil Kings in the Eastern Conference final. . . .
D Ralph Jarratt of the Victoria Royals set a franchise record for career playoff games played on Thursday in a 6-1 loss to the visiting Vancouver Giants. Jarratt finished his WHL career having played in 46 playoff games, one more than F Tyler Soy (2012-18). . . . The Royals, who were swept by the Giants, played in 10 playoff games this season and the team that scored first won all 10 of them.
F Noah Gregor and F Dante Hannoun each scored twice and added an assist to help the Prince Albert Raiders to a 6-1 victory over the visiting Saskatoon Blades. . . . The Raiders lead the series, 3-2, with Game 6 set for Saskatoon on Sunday. . . . Hannoun (5) got the game’s first goal, on a PP, at 2:51 of the second period. . . . Gregor (3) made it 2-0, shorthanded, at 6:01. . . . D Emil Malysjev (1) got the Blades to within a goal at 9:07. . . . Gregor (4) got that one back at 10:23. . . . Prince Albert put it away with three third-period goals, from F Aliaksei Protas (3), at 1:01; Hannoun (6), at 12:31; and F Sean Montgomery (6), at 13:54. . . . Gregor, a 43-goal man in the regular season, hadn’t scored in his previous five games. . . . Raiders F Brett Leason picked up three assists. . . . Prince Albert was 1-2 on the PP; Saskatoon was 0-3. . . . G Ian Scott stopped 26 shots to earn the victory. . . . Saskatoon starter Nolan Maier was beaten six times on 25 shots in 53:54. Koen MacInnes played the final 6:06, but didn’t face a shot. . . . Saskatoon G Dorrin Luding was scratched after backing up Maier for a couple of games, so MacInnes was back on the bench for this one. . . . The Blades lost F Kirby Dach in the second period after he came together with Leason. Dach didn’t return. . . . The Raiders lost F Justin Nachbaur to an interference major and game misconduct at 14:52 of the third period for a hit on Saskatoon D Dawson Davidson, who needed help getting back to the bench. . . . The Raiders scratched F Cole Fonstad with an undisclosed injury, so D Loeden Schaufler got into the lineup.
I asked Blades head coach Mitch Love about the medical statuses of Dach and Davidson, who both missed time in the game to injury. His response… "I'm not sure. How was the fan experience tonight? Was it Good? Did the Saskatoon fans have a good time?"
F Connor Dewar scored two goals and added an assist to lead the Everett Silvertips to a 4-1 victory over the Chiefs in Spokane. . . . The Chiefs lead the series, 3-1, with Game 4 in Spokane tonight. . . . Last night, Everett grabbed a 2-0 lead on first-period goals from F Robbie Holmes (3), at 6:21, and F Zack Andrusiak (6), on a PP, at 9:47. . . . F Adam Beckman (5) scored for Spokane, on a PP, at 18:53. . . . Dewar (4), the Everett captain, made it 3-1 at 6:41 of the second period, and he iced it with his fifth goal, an empty-netter, at 18:46 of the third period. . . . The Chiefs actually believed they had cut their deficit to 3-2 on a goal by Woods with 3:06 left in the third period. However, the goal was waved off due to what was ruled as incidental contact with the goaltender by F Luc Smith. . . . That ruling may have had something to do with Spokane head coach Dan Lambert taking a bench minor at 19:09 and D Filip Kral being hit with a game misconduct at 19:28. . . . Spokane was 1-3 on the PP; Everett was 1-5. . . . G Dustin Wolf stopped 27 shots for Everett, four more than Spokane’s Bailey Brkin.
In Game 4 of Spokane-Everett, a late goal by Spokane's Riley Woods that made the game 3-2 was waived on for goalie interference by Luc Smith pic.twitter.com/IEb1ivMh2J
D Rasmus Rissanen (Everett, 2009-11) signed a two-year contract with Örebro (Sweden, SHL). This season, he had three assists in 31 games with Jokerit Helsinki (Finland, KHL).
The WHL’s deadline for teams to declare an official interest in bidding to be the host team for the 2020 Memorial Cup tournament was May 31.
The Kamloops Blazers, Kelowna Rockets and Victoria Royals had made no secret of the fact that they were all-in. The Blazers and Rockets made their intentions known at news conferences; Victoria didn’t hold a news conference but general manager Cam Hope said on numerous occasions that his organization would bid.
However, May 31 came and went and there was nary a word from the WHL. June 1 . . . June 2 . . . June 3 . . . nothing.
On the morning of Monday, June 4, Bruce Hamilton broke the silence. Hamilton is the president and general manager of the Rockets; he also is the chairman of the WHL’s board of governors.
Hamilton told Kelowna radio station AM 1150 that four teams had filed letters of intent with the WHL office and that those four teams were Kamloops, Kelowna Victoria . . . and the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
Hamilton even went out of his way to point out that the Hurricanes “will have a good opportunity. They will have a real good hockey team.”
Until that moment, there hadn’t been even the smallest of hints that would have indicated the Hurricanes had an interest in bidding on the event.
On Monday, a WHL spokesperson told me that the league “will be issuing a release on this matter at the appropriate time.”
As of Tuesday evening, there hasn’t been anything official from the Hurricanes or from the WHL office.
In fact, the only thing that I have seen from Lethbridge came in the form of a Tuesday tweet from Kaella Carr of CTV-Lethbridge.
So we are left to wonder if Hamilton spoke out of turn, or is there more to this than meets the eye?
One supposes that we will find out whenever it is deemed to be the appropriate time.
One team that apparently didn’t express official interest in bidding on the 2020 Memorial Cup was the Everett Silvertips.
It’s really too bad that American teams seem to be on the outside looking in when it comes to bidding on the Memorial Cup, because it would be interesting to see how fans in the Everett area would respond.
According to figures compiled by the WHL, the Silvertips averaged 5,686 fans through 12 home playoff games this spring, trailing only the Regina Pats (6,484 for three games) and Victoria Royals (5,726 for six games).
In the regular-season, Everett’s announced average attendance was 5,129, good for seventh in the 22-team league. That was up from 4,865 in 2016-17.
This season, the Silvertips finished atop the 10-team Western Conference, then reached the WHL championship final where they lost in six games to the Swift Current Broncos.
On Tuesday, Zoran Rajcic, the COO of Consolidated Sports Holdings, which owns the Silvertips, released a statement that read, in part:
“This last Saturday, we experienced a response and demand in Silvertips hockey from our community like we’ve almost never seen before.
“Our commitment to providing a first-class service to our season-ticket holders resulted in a projected boost of 500 new season tickets, adding to a 92 percent retention from this last season. It’s proof that our region’s thirst for the game has developed into a full passion.”
The Silvertips play in the Angel of the Winds Arena, which, according to the WHL Guide, has a capacity of 8,149.
Apologies to members of the 1980-81 Victoria Cougars, who won the WHL championship. In a piece I posted here Monday night, I made mention of the fact that Victoria had never played in a Memorial Cup tournament. That was in error. . . . The Cougars won a thrilling seven-game championship series from the Calgary Wranglers that spring. . . . Here’s what I wrote as part of an essay on the 1981 Memorial Cup that was played in Windsor:
Jack Shupe, a veteran of the western Canadian coaching wars, was running the Cougars. Shupe had last been to the Memorial Cup tournament in 1973 with the Medicine Hat Tigers.
The Cougars actually trailed the Calgary Wranglers 3-1 in the WHL’s best-of-seven final before rallying. They didn’t win the WHL title until Terry Sydoryk broke a 2-2 tie at 18:07 of the third period of Game 7. An empty-netter by Grant Rezansoff made the final score 4-2.
The Cougars had finished on top of the West Division, their 121 points (60-11-1) leaving them eight ahead of the Portland Winter Hawks.
The Cougars’ offensive leader was centre Barry Pederson, whose 147 points left him third in the scoring race, just 13 points off the lead.
Pederson added 36 points in the playoffs, second behind the 43 points put up by Calgary’s Bill Hobbins.
Pederson was supported by Rezansoff, who totalled 27 playoff points after a 97-point regular season, Rich Chernomaz (113 regular-season points), Torrie Robertson 111), Brad Palmer, Paul Cyr, Bud McCarthy and Mark Morrison. This was a team that could score — witness its league-high 462 goals.
But it was Fuhr who dominated this team. He was the primary reason for it surrendering only 217 regular-season goals, 49 fewer than any other team.
The Cougars opened the playoffs by sweeping the Spokane Flyers in four games. They then took apart the Winter Hawks in four straight.
That sent them into the final where they fell behind the Doug Sauter-coached Wranglers, who featured goaltender Mike Vernon, 3-1 in games before roaring back to win their first WHL championship since they entered the league in 1971.
“Fuhr was the difference,” Sauter said. “There’s no doubt he’s an all-star.”
This would also mark the first Memorial Cup appearance for a team from Victoria.
The Portland Winterhawks have signed F Gabe Klassen and G Lochlan Gordon to WHL contracts. . . . Klassen, from Prince Albert, will turn 15 on June 30. He was taken in the first round, 19th overall, of the 2018 bantam draft. This season, he had 52 goals and 37 assists in 31 games with the bantam AA Prince Albert Mintos. He led the league in goals and points. . . . Gordon, from Edmonton, was a third-round selection in the 2018 bantam draft. Gordon, 15, played this season with the Northern Alberta Xtreme bantam prep team, going 12-5-0, 2.68, .891, with four shutouts in 18 games.
WHL teams that have signed 2018 first-round bantam draft selections:
1 Edmonton — F Dylan Guenther.
2. Kootenay — D Carson Lambos.
3. Prince Albert — D Nolan Allan.
4. Calgary — F Sean Tschigerl.
5. Kamloops — F Logan Stankoven.
6. Saskatoon — F Colton Dach.
8. Lethbridge — F Zack Stringer.
11. Medicine Hat — F Cole Sillinger.
12. Vancouver — F Zack Ostapchuk.
14. Tri-City — D Marc Lajoie.
15. Brandon — F Jake Chiasson.
17. Spokane — D Graham Sward.
19. Portland — F Gabe Klassen.
20. Edmonton — D Keegan Slaney.
The WHL teams that have yet to sign their 2018 first-round bantam draft selections:
7. Red Deer — F Jayden Grubbe.
9. Prince George — F Craig Armstrong.
10. Seattle — F Kai Uchacz.
13. Victoria — D Nolan Bentham.
16. Red Deer — D Kyle Masters.
18. Kelowna — F Trevor Wong.
21. Prince George — G Tyler Brennan.
22. Moose Jaw — F Eric Alarie.
The Seattle Thunderbirds have signed F Conner Roulette to a WHL contract. Roulette, a 15-year-old from Winnipeg, was a second-round selection in the 2018 bantam draft. . . . This season, he played for the bantam AAA Winnipeg Hawks, putting up 52 goals and 49 assists in 34 games. He led his league in goals, assists and points.
Inde Sumal, the president and CEO of a Vancouver-based private equity firm, is leading the charge to build a new arena on B.C.’s Lower Mainland. Sumal sees a facility with about 10,000 seats somewhere in Surrey, which has a population of more than 500,000 people. . . . Kenneth Chan of dailyhive.com has more right here.
Ben Simon is the new head coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins, the AHL affiliate of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings. He takes over from Todd Nelson, who left last week to join the NHL’s Dallas Stars as an assistant coach. . . . Simon, 39, is from Shaker Heights, Ohio. He spent the past three seasons as an assistant coach with the Griffins.
The San Antonio Rampage, the AHL affiliate of the NHL’s St. Louis Blues, have signed Drew Bannister as their head coach. He had been the head coach of the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds. Bannister spent three seasons as the Greyhounds’ head coach and is the CHL’s reigning coach of the year. The Greyhounds were 136-50-18 under Bannister, winning two division titles and, this season, the OHL’s regular-season championship. This season, they set franchise records with 55 victories and 116 points.