The four players off the Moose Jaw Warriors’ roster who were suspended by the WHL last month will be eligible to return for this season’s playoffs.
The WHL announced on Friday that the four — G Connor Ungar, 21, D Max Wanner, 19, D Marek Howell, 16, and F Lynden Lakovic, 16 — “have been suspended for the balance” of the regular season.
As well, Jason Ripplinger, the Warriors’ general manager, and head coach Mark O’Leary each has been suspended for five games, and the Warriors have been fined $25,000.
In a news release, the WHL said the discipline follows “the completion of an independent investigation into violations of team rules and WHL Standard of Conduct policies.”
The WHL didn’t offer any specifics of the “independent investigation,” such as who conducted it or any of its parameters.
The WHL did allow that the players were suspended following an off-ice incident that occurred in Edmonton where the Warriors beat the Oil Kings, 4-1, on Feb. 3. The four players were in the lineup again on Feb. 5 when the Warriors beat the Hitmen, 2-1, in Calgary. But all four were scratched from a Feb. 8 game against Edmonton in Moose Jaw.
On Feb. 11, the WHL announced that all four had been suspended “indefinitely pending an investigation . . .”
Somehow — and no one has said how it came about — the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) became involved. Earlier this week, an EPS spokesperson indicated it had determined that criminality wasn’t involved in the incident and said it wouldn’t comment further.
From the WHL’s Friday news release: “Though the conduct of the players was not found to be criminal in nature, the conduct was determined to be a violation of team and league rules including the WHL Standard of Conduct policies, as outlined in the WHL Personal Conduct Policy.”
The WHL’s Standard of Conduct covers such things as racial/derogatory comments; abuse, bullying, harassment and hazing; social media and networking; personal conduct; and diversity and inclusivity.
By the time the Warriors play their final regular-season game on March 25, the four players will have each missed 17 games.
The WHL said that before being reinstated, the players “will be required to complete further personal conduct and respect training.” Presumably that will happen before month’s end in order for them to be reinstated when the playoffs begin.
The WHL said that Ripplinger and O’Leary were disciplined because they failed “to provide the proper oversight and supervision required to ensure a safe and positive environment for players, in particular, while travelling.”
The news release didn’t state specifically why the Warriors organization had been fined $25,000.
That is believed to be the largest fine handed down by the WHL since Nov. 27, 2012, when the Portland Winterhawks were fined $200,000, stripped of a number of draft picks, and lost GM/head coach Mike Johnston to a suspension that covered the remainder of the regular season plus the playoffs for what the league called “multiple player benefit violations.”
The Warriors issued a news release on Friday, stating that the organization takes “full responsibility for the violations of team and league rules, and co-operated fully with the WHL investigation into this matter.
“With the support of the WHL, the Warriors are fully committed to learning from this incident and will take the necessary steps to improve security moving forward. Our organization will continue to support all of our players throughout this process.”
Contacted by Randy Palmer of moosejawtoday.com, Ripplinger said: “All comments or anything like that has to be directed to the Western Hockey League; we can’t comment on anything.”
The Warriors’ statement ended with: “Out of respect for the privacy of all of the parties involved, the Warriors cannot provide further details or comment on the matter.
The WHL, meanwhile, ended its news release with: “Out of respect for the privacy of all of the parties involved, the WHL cannot provide further details on the matter.”
So . . . you’re thinking that 17-game suspensions are rather lengthy. But you’re also wondering if there have been longer ones issued by the WHL.
Well, the longest suspension to a player that I can recall went to F Bryan Wells, then of the Regina Pats. On Jan. 27, 1985, Wells and D Mark Tinordi of the host Lethbridge Broncos became involved in a nasty stick-swinging incident. A few days later, Wells, a repeat offender, was suspended for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs, which turned out to be 31 games — 23 in the regular season and eight in the playoffs.
Tinordi, who came out of the duel with a broken finger, was a first-time offender and, as such, was suspended for nine games.
In 1970-71, F Blaine Stoughton of the Flin Flon Bombers was involved in a high-sticking incident in a game with the Medicine Hat Tigers. He later was suspended for 29 games.
If you included general managers and coaches, Portland’s Mike Johnston ended up sitting out 71 games in 2012-13 — 47 regular-season, 21 playoff and three Memorial Cup. The Winterhawks, with Travis Green running things in Johnston’s absence, won the WHL championship and got to the Memorial Cup final, where they lost 6-4 to the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads in Saskatoon.
On Oct. 14, 1981, Pat Ginnell, then the GM/head coach of the Medicine Hat Tigers, became involved with linesman Gary Patzer during a game in Lethbridge with the Broncos. Ginnell ended up serving a 36-game suspension. (The Canadian Press actually reported that the two “exchanged blows.”)
Ernie (Punch) McLean, the head coach of the New Westminster Bruins, sat out 25 games after that infamous 1977-78 brawl with visiting Portland.
I’m sure there have been other suspensions of some length, but those are the ones that came immediately to mind.
THE BEDARD REPORT:
Make it 61 goals in 50 games. . . . F Connor Bedard of the Regina Pats scored the game’s first goal, on a PP, at 3:50 of the the first period on Friday night, but his side ended up dropping a 5-5 OT decision to the Hurricanes in Lethbridge. . . . That goal was it for Bedard on this night as the Hurricanes and G Bryan Thomson kept him off the scoreboard for the remainder of the game. . . . The announced attendance was 5,378, for the Hurricanes’ second sellout this season. The other? On Feb. 3, when the Pats scored a 3-2 victory. . . . Bedard leads the WHL in goals (61), assists (64) and points (125). . . . The Pats will play in Medicine Hat tonight. . . .
Earlier Friday, Bedard, who is from North Vancouver, was honoured by BC Sport as its junior male athlete of the year for 2022. . . .
Meanwhile, the Medicine Hat Tigers have added F Gavin McKenna, who turned 15 on Dec. 20, to their roster and he is expected to play tonight against Bedard and the Pats. . . . McKenna, who plays at the Southern Alberta Hockey Academy, is fresh off the Canada Winter Games, where he played for Yukon and set a tournament scoring record with 29 points in six games. . . . In 26 games with SAHA’s U18 prep team, he has 37 goals and 38 assists. . . . The first overall selection in the WHL’s 2022 draft, McKenna already has played 11 games with the Tigers. He has eight assists, four of them coming in his first game.
If the WHL playoffs started today:
Winnipeg (1) vs. Swift Current/Calgary (8)
Red Deer (2) vs. Medicine Hat (7)
Saskatoon (3) vs. Regina (6)
Moose Jaw (4) vs. Lethbridge (5)
Seattle (1) vs. Kelowna (8)
Kamloops (2) vs. Vancouver (7)
Portland (3) vs. Tri-City (6)
Prince George (4) vs. Everett (5)
FRIDAY’S WHL HIGHLIGHTS:
D Olen Zellweger scored twice to help the host Kamloops Blazers to a 6-3 victory over the Everett Silvertips. . . . Kamloops had beaten the Silvertips, 7-1, in Everett on Wednesday night. . . . Zellweger, who was acquired from Everett in January, leads all WHL defencemen with 27 goals. . . . F Matthew Seminoff had a goal (27) and two assists for Kamloops. His goal broke a 3-3 tie at 11:41 of the third period. . . . F Fraser Minten (29) had two goals and an assist for Kamloops, while F Jackson Berezowski (42) scored twice for Everett. . . . G Tyler Palmer made 47 saves for Everett, which was outshot 53-25. . . . Kamloops F Logan Stankoven missed his second straight game with an undisclosed injury, while F Daylan Kuefler remains sidelined. . . . Kamloops (43-11-6) has won four in a row and 16 of 17. . . . Everett (30-28-3) has lost four straight. It is tied with Tri-City for fifth in the Western Conference. . . .
In Kelowna, the Rockets erased a 3-1 third-period deficit and beat the Vancouver Giants, 4-3, in a shootout. . . . F Max Graham (10) got the Rockets to within 3-2 at 4:40 of the third period and F Andrew Cristall (35) tied it at 18:31 with G Jari Kykkanen on the bench for the extra attacker. . . . F Ty Thorpe (33) had put the visitors ahead 3-1 at 4:38 of the second period. . . . F Gabriel Szturc, the Rockets’ captain, was the first shooter in the circus and he scored the lone goal. . . . Kelowna F Carson Golder took a headshot major and game misconduct at 8:10 of the second period for a hit on F Samuel Honzek, who went straight to the dressing room and didn’t return. . . . Kelowna (24-34-3) had lost its previous three games. . . . Vancouver (24-28-8) had won its past three games. . . . The Rockets are eighth in the Western Conference, five points behind Vancouver. . . . Earlier Friday, the Rockets announced that F Logan Peskett had undergone season-ending shoulder surgery. Peskett, a 16-year-old freshman from North Vancouver, had three goals and two assists in 40 games. He was a sixth-round selection in the WHL’s 2021 draft. . . .
In Lethbridge, the Hurricanes forced OT with a late third-period goal and then got a goal from D Logan McCutcheon at 3:39 of extra time to beat the Regina Pats, 5-4. . . . McCutcheon’s winner was his third goal of the season. . . . D Joe Arntsen (7) forced OT with a goal at 17:38 of the third period. . . . G Bryan Thomson, who finished with 22 saves, stoned F Connor Bedard, who had scored his 61st goal to open the game, from in tight moments before McCutcheon won it. . . . Lethbridge (33-23-6) had lost its previous two games. It remains fifth in the Eastern Conference, six points ahead of Regna (31-26-4), which has lost three in a row (0-2-1). . . .
F Conner Roulette scored three times to lead the Saskatoon Blades to a 6-2 victory over the Raiders in Prince Albert. . . . Roulette, who has 24 goals, opened the scoring at 1:32 of the first period, pulled the Blades into a 2-2 tie at 15:35 and stretched their lead to 5-2 at 16:31 of the second. . . . F Jake Chiasson added a goal, his 20th, and two assists. . . . Saskatoon F Misha Volotovskii (4) scored in his return from a 13-game absence. . . . Roulette, now with 59 points in 54 games, has two hat tricks this season. His other career hat trick came on Oct. 5, 2019, in a 5-3 victory over Victoria in Kent, Wash. . . . Last season, Roulette had 24 goals in 65 games with Seattle; this season he has 24 in 54 games. Interestingly, he was credited with 199 shots on goal last season; this season, he has 127. . . . G Austin Elliott earned the victory with 24 saves. He is 8-0-1 in his last nine appearances, and 23-5-3, 2.07, .916 on the season. . . . Saskatoon (44-13-5) has points in 12 straight (11-0-1) and will be the third seed when the Eastern Conference playoffs begin. . . . Prince Albert (24-33-3) has lost four straight and is seven points from a playoff spot with seven games remaining. . . . These teams will meet again Sunday afternoon in Saskatoon. . . . Darren Steinke, the travellin’ blogger, was in Prince Albert last night. His piece is right here. . . .
The Calgary Hitmen forced OT with less than a second remaining in the third period and then got the winner from F Riley Fiddler-Schultz to beat the Rebels, 4-3, in Red Deer. . . . Calgary F Carter Yakemchuk forced OT when he scored his 16th goal, on a PP, with 0.6 seconds left in the third period. . . . The game’s first five goals all came in the first period. . . . F Sean Tschigerl (23) scored twice and added an assist for Calgary. . . . Fiddler-Schultz added two assists to his 28th goal. . . . F Kai Uchacz notched No. 48 for the Rebels. . . . Calgary (26-26-8) has points in three straight (2-0-1) and is tied with Swift Current for the Eastern Conference’s last playoff spot. . . . Red Deer (40-17-6) has points in four straight (2-0-2). It has clinched first place in the Central Division and will be the No. 2 seed when the first round begins. . . . The same two teams will meet up again this afternoon, this time in Calgary. . . .
The Seattle Thunderbirds scored the game’s last three goals, all in the last 8:11 of the third period, to beat the Tri-City Americans, 6-3, in Kent, Wash. . . . F Reese Belton (12) pulled the visitors into a 3-3 tie at 1:59 of the third period. . . . F Lucas Ciona (27) put Seattle back out front at 11:49 and F Jared Davidson completed a hat trick with two insurance goals, at 13:41 and 18:25, the last one into an empty net. . . . Davidson, who has 38 goals, also had an assist. . . . F Brad Lambert had a goal (13) and two assists for Seattle. . . . Seattle (49-9-3) has points in 15 straight games (14-0-1). It leads the Western Conference by nine points over Kamloops, which has eight games remaining. . . . Tri-City (28-26-7) has lost two in a row. . . .
In Spokane, the Portland Winterhawks scored the game’s last four goals to beat the Chiefs, 5-2. . . . F Cade Hayes (19) gave Spokane a 2-1 lead at 10:33 of the second period. . . . F Robbie Fromm-Delorme (30) got Portland even with his first of two goals at 16:08. . . . F Josh Zakreski (9) scored the eventual winner at 12:30. . . . The Winterhawks got 30 saves from G Jan Špunar, an 18-year-old Czechia freshman who now is 15-6-2, 2.71, .904. . . . . Portland (38-17-6) has points in three straight (2-0-1). It is a comfortable third in the Western Conference. . . . Spokane (14-39-7) won’t be in the playoffs this season. . . .
The Moose Jaw Warriors erased a 3-0 first-period deficit as they beat the host Swift Current Broncos, 4-3, in a game that featured a 12-round shootout. . . . The Warriors went into the game needing one point to clinch a playoff spot. . . . The Broncos held a 3-0 lead when F Clarke Caswell (9) scored at 17:19 of the first period. . . . The Warriors tied it on F Atley Calvert’s 36th goal at 19:36 of the second period. . . . F Josh Hoekstra won it for the Warriors in the shootout. . . . The Warriors got 40 stops from G Jackson Unger. . . . Moose Jaw (37-22-3) has won two in a row. It appears headed for a fourth-place finish in the Eastern Conference. . . . Swift Current (28-29-4) has lost three straight (0-2-1). It is tied with Calgary for the conference’s last playoff spot. . . . They Broncos and Warriors are scheduled to meet again tonight, this time in Moose Jaw. . . .
The Prince George Cougars got two goals from each of three players en route to an 8-3 victory over the Royals in Victoria. . . . The weekend doubleheader will conclude tonight in Victoria. . . . F Zac Funk (20), F Cayden Glover (5) and F Ondrej Becher (16) each scored twice. Funk also had an assist. . . . Prince George erased a 1-0 first-period deficit with three goals, the first two in the span of 46 seconds, as it took control. . . . Prince George (32-24-5) has points in four straight (3-0-1). It is fourth in the Eastern Conference, six points ahead of Everett and Tri-City. . . . Victoria (15-40-7) has lost nine in a row (0-8-1) and has been eliminated from playoff contention. . . .
F Ty Nash’s 20th goal of the season, at 3:08 of OT, gave the Winnipeg Ice a 5-4 victory over the Edmonton Ice. . . . F Zack Ostapchuk (25) scored twice for the Ice, which got a goal and two assists from F Matt Savoie (35) and three assists from F Connor McClennon. . . . F Josh Medernach (4) gave the Ice a 4-2 lead 35 seconds into the third period. . . . The Oil Kings tied it on goals from F Rilen Kovacevic (15), at 3:11, and F Mason Finley (11), at 10:08. . . . The Oil Kings lost F Dawson Seitz to a boarding major and game misconduct at 7:41 of the first period. . . . Edmonton F Treycen Wuttunee returned to the lineup for the first time since Feb. 28 when he had a fight with the 20-year-old Ostapchuk. . . . Winnipeg (51-9-1) has won three in a row. It leads the WHL in victories and points (101). . . . Edmonton (9-48-4) has points in two straight (1-0-1).
A note from Jack Finarelli, aka The Sports Curmudgeon:
“Earlier this week, there was a headline on a report at CBSSports.com that read: ‘Katie Ledecky’s nine-year winning streak on US soil snapped by Summer McIntosh.’ . . .
“Katie Ledecky is a swimmer. She had a nine-year winning streak in US water but not on US soil.”
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