F Aaron Gagnon (Seattle, 2001-07) has signed a one-year contract extension with Langnau (Switzerland, NL). This season, he had 14 goals and 14 assists in 39 games.
It seems that a lot of folks who follow the WHL are wondering about the coaching situation with the Kamloops Blazers. Specifically, they want to know if Serge Lajoie will be back for a second season as the head coach.
You will be aware that the Blazers went 28-32-8 this season, then beat the Kelowna Rockets in a tiebreaker to get into the playoffs, where they were beaten in six games by the Victoria Royals in a spirited first-round series.
Let’s break down the Blazers’ season a little bit.
Darryl Sydor, one of the franchise’s five owners, was named a full-time assistant coach on Feb. 12. A former Blazers defenceman who went on to play and coach in the NHL, Sydor is a two-time Stanley Cup winner and also won a Memorial Cup.
When the Blazers made that announcement, they were 20-27-5. With Sydor officially on board, they finished the regular-season 8-5-3, won that tiebreaker, then went 2-4 in the playoffs.
So, all told, they were 11-9-3 after the Sydor announcement.
Which brings us to an interview that Marty Hastings of Kamloops This Week did with Tom Gaglardi, the Blazers’ majority owner. Here are three questions and answers:
Hastings: Will Serge be the head coach to start next season?
Gaglardi: I suspect so. He’s got a long-term contract and we haven’t had any conversation about anything other than that. We’re very happy with where we are. We had a great finish to the year and we’re excited about next season, but this week is just a week to lick our wounds. This is a series (vs. Victoria) we truly thought we could win.
Hastings: What do you think assistant coach Darryl Sydor brought to the team?
Gaglardi: Darryl really understands what it takes to win and what a successful bench feels like. He’s been a long-time player and had success at the junior level, had success at the NHL level, won a couple of Stanley Cups. He knows what benches need. I think he was really instrumental in figuring out what his role could be to help. Sometimes you’ve got a coach that’s a hard coach and the kids need to be brought up and built back, and Darryl really understands the ying and yang, the methods, and figured out a role that he could help in. He really worked hard to make sure the kids believed they could actually get the job done. He perhaps brought something to the staff that was missing. Darryl is a tremendous guy and I was thrilled when he agreed to join full-time and come on board and he made a difference.
Hastings: Does Darryl have what it takes to be a head coach here or somewhere else?
Gaglardi: I’ve got to think so, if that’s what he wants to do. He’s come home and I think he’d like to be involved in some way. We’ve had lots of talks around this for a long time. What this blossoms into, I’m not sure. He’s a tremendous guy and we’d love to have him involved. He’s got kids playing competitive hockey. I’m not sure where he’s going to be, in terms of level of commitment next year, whether he’s ready to step in and take on some sort of full-time role again with the club. I’m not sure. He did make a big difference to us down the stretch.
That complete interview is right here.
I don’t have any idea what the future holds here. I do know that in the 12 seasons under the ownership of Gaglardi, Sydor, Shane Doan, Jarome Iginla and Mark Recchi, the Blazers have gotten out of the first round twice, been a first-round casualty six times, and have missed the playoffs on four occasions.
Lajoie is the 10th head coach or interim head coach, including Guy Charron on two occasions, this franchise has employed over those 12 seasons.
It’s ‘Game On’ in the Eastern Conference seminal between the Prince Albert Raiders and Saskatoon Blades.
The series resumes tonight in Saskatoon, with the Raiders holding a 2-0 lead. Game 3 will be televised by Sportsnet.
Other than the quotes in the above tweets, Ryan Flaherty of Global TV in Saskatoon also tweeted this quote from Blades head coach Mitch Love:
“There was four head-whipping incidents (Sunday) night, three of which led to penalties on our side, by their players. So is that embellishment? I don’t know. Is it? I hope they’re getting their necks fixed over there today.”
You’ll recall that prior to the series Marc Habscheid, the Raiders’ head coach, offered up these thoughts to Darren Zary of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix:
“They embellish. That’s what they do. They led the league in drawing minors. It’s known around (the league) that they do that. Hopefully, that stops because it’s not a good thing. You look at a guy like Kirby Dach. He’s a good player. I met the young man at the Prospects game. A great kid, awesome kid and really great player. He doesn’t need to embellish. He’s better than that. He’s a good enough player. He doesn’t need to that.”
As Zary reports in a story posted on Monday evening, Love went so far as to suggest that the WHL office needs to be paying more attention to player safety.
“I really chose not to say too much about it up until this point,” Zary quotes Love as having said, “but after watching two games in which I felt there were several incidents — especially (Sunday night’s) hockey game where there was a lot of contact towards players’ heads — I know our league stresses player safety, so I think the real story here is how people have turned a blind eye to that kind of thing, based on comments that were made previously, prior to the start of the series.”
Zary’s story is right here.
And, in case you missed it, here’s some video of Habscheid off the Sportsnet telecast early in Game 2 on Saturday night. . . .
The Winnipeg Ice revealed via Twitter on Monday that the organization and assistant coach Gord Burnett “have agreed to part ways.” Burnett, a native of Regina, just completed his fourth season on the Ice’s coaching staff. . . . According to the Ice’s website, its coaching staff now comprises head coach James Patrick and associate coach Jon Klemm. . . . Patrick, from Winnipeg, and Klemm, who is from Cranbrook, have been with the Ice through two seasons.
F Kyle Olson of the Tri-City Americans has joined the San Diego Gulls, the AHL affiliate of the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks, on an ATO. From Calgary, Olson was selected by the Ducks in the fourth round of the NHL’s 2017 draft. He hasn’t signed an NHL contract. . . . This season, Olson, who turned 20 on March 22, had 21 goals and 49 assists in 62 games with the Americans.
The Edmonton Oil Kings have signed D Matt Smith to a WHL contract. An Edmonton native, Smith was a third-round selection in the WHL’s 2018 bantam draft. . . . He played this season with the midget AAA Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., Rangers, recording two goals and 10 assists in 41 regular-season and playoff games.
Rick Westhead of TSN filed another story regarding the minimum-wage lawsuit on Monday, and this one really involves the WHL.
“A fight is unfolding in the Western Hockey League minimum-wage class-action lawsuit over the privacy of current and former players who pursue a claim against the league for minimum wage, back pay and overtime,” Westhead writes.
“A year and a half after an Alberta judge certified a minimum-wage lawsuit against the WHL, lawyers for the plaintiffs and the league are now battling over how to notify those players about their right to proceed with a case or, if they choose, withdraw from the litigation.
“The two sides will appear at a hearing in Calgary on Monday to make arguments about the notice the players will be given regarding the lawsuit.”
The complete story is right here.
Westhead also mentioned that “the CHL and its three leagues have been battling minimum-wage lawsuits for the past five years.”
It is hard to fathom that it already has been that long. Wouldn’t you like to know how much money the WHL has spent on legal fees over that time?
F Joachim Blichfeld of the Portland Winterhawks will play for Denmark’s national men’s team in a pair of exhibition games against visiting Finland this week. The games are scheduled for Thursday in Aalborg and Saturday in Vojens. . . . The Danish team, under head coach Heinz Ehlers, dropped eight players from its training camp after weekend workouts. . . . Blichfeld, who won the WHL scoring championship with 114 points in 68 games this season, is hoping to earn a spot on the national men’s A team that will play in the IIHF World Championship in the Slovakian cities of Bratislava and Košice, from May 10 through May 26.
Kevin Kaminski is the new general manager and head coach of the SJHL’s La Ronge Ice Wolves. Kaminski, who is from Churchbridge, Sask., signed a three-year contract. . . . Kaminski, 50, spent three seasons (1986-89) with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades before going on to a pro career that included 139 games in the NHL. . . . For the past three seasons, he has been the head coach of the Western States Hockey League’s Fresno Monsters. . . . The Ice Wolves also announced that Gaelan Patterson, another former Blades skater, will be turning, but as associate GM and associate coach. Patterson finished the season as the team’s interim head coach after the firing of Evan Vossen. . . . The team also said that Travis Hegland will be returning as athletic therapist and trainer.
NOTES: D Jake Kustra of the Victoria Royals has been suspended for two games after taking a cross-checking major and game misconduct for a hit on F Jared Dmytriw of the Vancouver Giants at 2:54 of the second period on Saturday. That was in Game 2 of the series. The Giants won, 2-1 in OT, and hold a 2-0 leading going into Game 3 tonight in Victoria. . . .
Meanwhile, the Giants have been fined $750 for, according to the WHL website, “actions of player at end of game” on Saturday night. There was a bit of a brouhaha after Vancouver F Tristen Nielsen scored the game-winner at 3:29 of OT. G Griffen Outhouse of Victoria came out of it with a roughing minor, while Giants D Alex Kannok Leipert was hit with a roughing minor and a game misconduct. I would think it’s safe to assume that he is the “player” in question. . . .
In these playoffs, the WHL’s Dept. of Discipline now has issued 13 suspensions totalling 30 games, and handed out six fines worth a total of $4,250. . . . In all of last season’s playoffs, there were six players suspended for a total of 12 games, and two fines meted out worth $1,250. . . .
After a quiet Monday night, there are three second-round games on the schedule tonight. . . .
As mentioned, the Vancouver Giants hold a 2-0 lead as they play Game 3 against the Royals in Victoria. The Royals obviously will be without D Jake Kustra, while F Kody McDonald serves the fifth of a six-game suspension. . . . Victoria D Ralph Jarratt left late in Game 3 with an apparent injury to his left shoulder or arm and didn’t return. . . . The Giants are expected to again be without F Aidan Barfoot, who was injured in the first round. . . .
In Calgary, the Edmonton Oil Kings, with a 2-0 lead, will meet the Hitmen as the Battle of Alberta resumes. . . . Here’s a note from Derek Van Diest of the Edmonton Sun involving the first two games:
“Two games and two won face-offs have ended up the back of the Hitmen net so far in the series.
“The Oil Kings won 3-2 in overtime Saturday after (Mark) Kastelic won a clean draw in his own zone and pulled it back through the legs of an unsuspecting (goaltender Jack) McNaughton and off the goal post. Jake Neighbours was then first to the rebound and knocked it into the net for the game-winner.
“On Sunday, Carson Focht pulled one back from the same face-off circle past McNaughton and into the net to give the Oil Kings a 2-1 lead in the second period.”
As Calgary head coach Steve Hamilton told Van Diest: “It’s not everyday you win two faceoffs and shoot two pucks into your own net in two games. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that. That was a bid odd, but it was probably par for the course, too.”
The Prince Albert Raiders, with a 2-0 lead, venture into Saskatoon to meet the Blades in a game that will be televised by Sportsnet, which also showed the first two games of the series. . . . With the two head coaches firmly involved in a war of the words, it will be interesting to see the attendance in the SaskTel Centre tonight.
The other second-round series, between the Everett Silvertips and Spokane Chiefs, is to resume on Wednesday. The Chiefs went into Everett and won twice, so they take a 2-0 lead on to home ice. The next three games, if necessary, are scheduled for Spokane because the Cirque du Soleil is in the Angels of the Wind Arena in Everett through Sunday.