WHL has hit pause button on five teams . . . NHL to Saskatoon? . . . VIJHL, Panthers in mourning

Omicron

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According to statistics kept by Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Centre, the U.S. reported a single-day record 1,082,549 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, along with 1,688 deaths. . . . According to the Canadian government’s site that updates daily at 9 a.m., Canada had 35,618 new cases and 30 deaths on Monday.


The WHL doesn’t have any action scheduled until Friday, but with five teams WHLhaving paused activities because of COVID-19, three of the 10 games scheduled for that night have been postponed. So far . . .

Three of Saturday’s scheduled 10 games also have been postponed, as has one of three games scheduled for Sunday. One of the Friday postponements and one on Saturday is due to restrictions imposed on indoor gatherings by the Manitoba government.

On Tuesday, the league announced that the Edmonton Oil Kings, Moose Jaw Warriors and Red Deer Rebels had paused all activities “as a result of multiple players and staff” having been added the COVID-19 protocol list “due to exhibiting symptoms or having tested positive.”

The league didn’t provide any further information, although the Rebels said they had eight players and/or staffers test positive as of Monday.

The WHL’s Tuesday news release stated that the three teams “have paused all team activities, including on-ice practices and off-ice training, pending further test results. Additional test results are pending and the WHL provide further information when it is available.”

Shutting down those three teams resulted in the postponement of five weekend games.

Earlier, the WHL had put the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Swift Current Broncos on hold.

On Tuesday, Peter Anholt, the Hurricanes’ general manager, said in a statement that “our players and staff are okay. They are resting and recovering. We saw a wide range of symptoms, from a combination of headaches, runny noses sore throats, coughs and congestion, to no symptoms at all. Those who showed any symptoms were mild.”

Here’s a chronology of the WHL’s relationship with COVID-19 since Christmas:

Jan. 1 — The WHL announced that it had shut down the Lethbridge Hurricanes “as a result of 14 players being” on the protocol list “due to exhibiting symptoms or having tested positive.”

Dec. 30 — The WHL announced that it had shut down the Swift Current Broncos “as a result of four players” being on the protocol list “due to exhibiting symptoms or having tested positive. . . . It is believed the exposure . . . occurred outside the team environment.”

Dec. 29 — The WHL announced the postponement of a game scheduled for that night that was to have had the Portland Winterhawks meet the host Tri-City Americans. The move was made “due to goaltenders on both clubs entering COVID-19 protocols and/or sustaining injuries.”

Dec. 27 — The WHL announced that “a total of 36 players or hockey operations staff” were added to the protocol list “as a result of displaying symptoms for COVID-19 or returning a positive test result.” The league reported that Spokane and Victoria each had four people in protocol, with Portland, Saskatoon, Vancouver and Winnipeg each at three; Brandon, Everett, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Regina each at two; and Kelowna, Moose Jaw, Red Deer, Seattle, Swift Current and Tri-City each at one. Calgary, Edmonton and Prince Albert didn’t have anyone in protocols, while Kamloops and Prince George had yet to report.

The league has yet to update the Kamloops and Prince George results.

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If you’re wondering about the QMJHL, it last played games on Dec. 18 and won’t be back on the ice for at least another two weeks. The plan right now is to bring back the players around Jan. 14 with the next games scheduled for Jan. 19.

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In the BCHL, the Trail Smoke Eaters went into a holding pattern on Tuesday, pausing all team activities, according to the league, “for the next five days per BCHL COVID-19 protocol and provincial health regulations.” Trail’s games that were to have been played tonight (Wednesday), Friday and Saturday have been postponed.

On Monday, the BCHL shut down the Cowichan Valley Capitals, Langley Rivermen and Penticton Vees. The league said all team activities have been paused for five days, and six games involving those teams through Jan. 9 have been postponed.

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The junior B Kootenay International Junior Hockey League hasn’t escaped the wrath of COVID-19, either. A game that was to have been played Tuesday night between the North Okanagan Knights and host Kelowna Chiefs was postponed. According to the league, the postponement is “as the result of a number of positive test results by members of the Chiefs organization over the past 48 hours.” . . . The league added that those involved are “experiencing mild symptoms and self-isolating.”

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And if you search the Internet you will find that COVID-19 is impacting NCAA hockey and basketball play. In hockey, for example, Dartmouth has postponed weekend games with Union and RPI, while Wisconsin, with protocols within its program, has done the same with Friday and Saturday games against Ohio State. Omaha, with issues in its program, has moved a weekend series with Denver to Feb. 4-5.


Love


It was almost 40 years ago when (Wild) Bill Hunter nearly had the NHL’s St. Louis Blues moving to Saskatoon. Yes, he did! Now with some Canadian provincial governments restricting attendances in some facilities, might the NHL look at having a Canadian team or two play some games in Saskatoon? Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet had this in his latest 32 Thoughts, which is right here:

“Interesting question posed by one executive: would any Canadian teams consider temporarily playing home games at the 15,000-seat SaskTel Centre, home of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades? Saskatchewan is still allowing full capacity at this time. Obviously, the NHL, the NHLPA and the province would have to approve.”


The Everett Silvertips and Seattle Thunderbirds will play their Feb. 26 game at SeattleClimate Pledge Arena, home of the NHL’s Seattle Kraken. The game originally was scheduled as a Thunderbirds’ home game to be played in the accesso ShoWare Centre in Kent, Wash. . . . Before being gutted and rebuilt as the home of the Kraken, what now is Climate Pledge Arena was KeyArena and was home to the Thunderbirds. They played their final game there on Dec. 30, 2008, beating the Chilliwack Bruins (hey, remember them?), 2-0. . . . The Feb. 26 game will be the ninth meeting of the season between the teams; the Silvertips hold a 5-1-0 edge at the moment.

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Still with the Thunderbirds, the WHL’s Dept. of Discipline apparently has yet to drop the hammer — ch-ch-ching! — on head coach Matt O’Dette for his comments after a 2-0 New Year’s Eve loss to host Portland. According to Joshua Critzer of @pnwhockeytalk.com, O’Dette offered up: “I saw the worst officiated game in my nine years in the WHL, plain and simple. It is not an even standard out there. I feel for our guys. Our guys had a tough week with many different things happening . . . and we don’t get a fair shake (Friday). I feel for our guys. They put their hearts into this and work hard and we didn’t get a fair deal. Portland started to take over the game, but I thought we deserved a better fate as far as the officiating. Our goalie gets obliterated and we get the penalty. That is about as outrageous as it can get.” . . . The Thunderbirds next are up on Friday when they visit the Tri-City Americans. Gotta wonder if O’Dette is asked to cut a cheque before then. Also gotta wonder if the WHL sends referees Mark Heier and Ian Jendro, who did the game in Portland, into Kennewick on Friday.


Knife


Dwight Perry, in the Seattle Times: “Another reason it’s a shame actor John Candy died so young:  His outsized persona  would have been perfect for  ‘Boom! The John Madden Story.’ ”

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Here’s Perry, with some notes “from the John Madden quotebook” . . . “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.” . . . “If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch.” . . . “Winning is a great deodorant.” . . . “Don’t worry about the horse being blind, just load the wagon.”


Terry Frei (@TFrei) pointed this out on Twitter on Tuesday night: “Both of acting (Denver) Nuggets head coach Popeye Jones’ sons, Seth and Caleb, play for the (Chicago) Blackhawks, the Avalanche’s opponent tonight. Popeye consulted Joe Sakic years ago when Seth expressed interest in playing hockey.” . . . The Jones boys both ended up playing with the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. . . . Sakic, the former Swift Current Broncos star, is the Avalanche’s general manager. His guys posted a 4-3 OT victory over the host Blackhawks last night. You may want to check out the video of D Cale Makar’s game-winner.


Grant Gilbertson, an 18-year-old forward with the Peninsula Panthers of the junior B Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League, died in a two-vehicle collision on Monday. Pete Zubersky, the Panthers’ owner and general manager, told Wolf Depner of the Peninsula News Review that Gilbertson was on his way to practice when the accident occurred at about 6 p.m. . . . This season, Gilbertson had put up 16 goals and 25 assists in 38 games.


JUNIOR JOTTINGS:

Just a reminder that the WHL trade deadline, which under normal circumstances would fall on Jan. 10, will arrive on Jan. 17 this time around. You have to wonder how much of an influence the presence of COVID-19 will have on what will or won’t happen. . . .

The MJHL’s newest entry, a team that will call Niverville home starting next season, has signed Kelvin Cech as its first general manager and head coach. He is coaching this season at the West Vancouver Hockey Academy and will finish up there before starting in Niverville on April 1. . . . Cech was an assistant coach for three seasons with the UBC Thunderbirds, then spent 2019-20 as the head coach of the MJHL’s Winkler Flyers, and was honoured as the league’s coach of the year. . . . The Niverville franchise is excepted to announce its nickname at some point this month. . . .

The junior A Ontario Junior Hockey League said Tuesday that it is pausing its schedule from Jan. 5 through Jan. 26 due to the Ontario government’s decision to implement “a time-limited modified Phase 2 Reopening.” A number of Ontario arenas have had to close due to restrictions put in place by the provincial government. . . . Tom Annelin of the Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal tweeted that “including the SIJHL, which is also based in the province, that’s 50 Jr. A teams, plus 3 U.S. clubs, not being allowed play. This despite an excellent record of negative tests, since the start of the season under very strict guidelines.”


Fir


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Divorce

Oilers waiting for McCrimmon? . . . Terriers win another MJHL crown. . . . WHL conference finals resume tonight

ThisThat

The way Robin Brownlee of oilersnation.com sees it, “Edmonton Oilers’ CEO Bob OilersNicholson will certainly have a rooting interest in the San Jose Sharks when they host the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 7 of their opening-round series Tuesday.” . . . Nicholson is heading up the Oilers’ search for a general manager to replaced the fired Peter Chiarelli. With this in mind, Brownlee and a host of other observers feel that Kelly McCrimmon, the Golden Knights’ assistant general manager, is at or near the top of Nicholson’s list of potential general managers. Should the Golden Knights lost Game 7, one could assume that GM George McPhee would give permission to other organizations, like Edmonton and the expansion Seattle club (Totems?), to chat with McCrimmon. . . . Brownlee’s piece is right here.

From a WHL perspective, one wonders what would happen if McCrimmon were to end up signing on with the Oilers as their general manager. That would, in theory, make him responsible for two WHL teams. He owns the Brandon Wheat Kings; the Oilers own the Edmonton Oil Kings.

Remember the hue and cry a couple of seasons ago when the Prince Albert Raiders traded F Leon Draisaitl, whose NHL rights belonged to the Oilers, to the Kelowna Rockets, whose majority owner, Bruce Hamilton, is the chairman of the WHL’s board of governors and widely seen as the most powerful person in the league? Can you imagine the hullabaloo were McCrimmon to be in Edmonton and a prominent player moved from there to Brandon or vice versa?

That, of course, is a long way from happening, but . . .


Latvia beat Slovakia 2-0 on Monday in a Group B game at the IIHF U-18 World Championship in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden. That improved Latvia’s record to 1-2 and lifted it into the quarter-final round. Prior to this year, Latvia had never placed higher than ninth at this tournament. . . . Slovakia, meanwhile, slipped to 0-4 and will face the loser of today’s game between Finland and Switzerland in the best-of-three relegation round. . . . . In Group A on Monday in Umea, Switzerland gave up a 3-0 lead then came from behind to beat Belarus, 5-4 in OT. Switzerland (1-2) will finish the round-robin today against Finland, while Belarus (2-1-1) is on to the quarter-final round. . . . In other games today, Canada (3-0) will meet Czech Republic (2-1), Russia (2-1) is to play Sweden (2-1), and Team USA (3-0) is to meet Latvia. . . . The tournament concludes on Sunday.


F Reece Henry scored at 5:26 of OT to give the Portage Terriers a 3-2 victory over the Terriersvisiting Swan Valley Stampeders in Game 7 of the MJHL’s championship series. . . . The Terriers, under GM/head coach Blake Spiller, won the title, and the Turnbull Cup, for the fourth time in five seasons. They have won MJHL championships in 15 seasons. . . . This was the first MJHL final to go seven games since 1996 when the St. James Canadians beat out the Neepawa Natives. . . . Last night, the Stampeders forced extra time when F Matthew Osadick scored his second goal of the game with 7.3 seconds left in the third period. . . . D Sam Huston and F Chase Brakel also scored for the Terriers. . . . They will meet the SJHL-champion Battlefords North Stars for the ANAVET Cup with Games 1 and 2 in Portage la Prairie on Friday and Saturday nights.


Kelvin Cech is the new head coach of the MJHL’s Winkler Flyers. Cech, 36, spent the past three seasons as an assistant coach with the U of British Columbia Thunderbirds. . . . Cech replaces Steve Mullin, whose contract wasn’t renewed when the Flyers’ season ended. . . . In Winkler, Cech, who is from Edmonton, will work alongside general manager Jeff Jeanson.


EdChynowethCup

NOTES: The WHL’s conference finals both resume tonight. . . . In the Eastern Conference final, the Oil Kings will entertain the Prince Albert Raiders. The teams split in Prince Albert, the Raiders opening with a 1-0 victory on Friday, and the Oil Kings coming back with a 4-3 OT victory on Saturday. . . . In the Western Conference, the Vancouver Giants hold a 2-0 lead over the Chiefs as they gather for two games in Spokane. The Giants won 4-1 on Friday and 4-2 on Saturday in Langley, B.C. There has been one key injury in the series as Spokane F Luc Smith, 20, left Game 1 in the opening minutes of the first period with an apparent ankle injury. He didn’t return to that game and wasn’t dressed for Game 2. Will he play tonight?


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