The WHL, Part 5: There was tragedy, lots of movement and marshmallow punches . . .

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. . . .

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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.

DougSauter

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.”

BryanMaxwell

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.

bob cornell brandon wheat kings mvc
BOB CORNELL (Photo: Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame)

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.

Broncos
When the Swift Current Broncos’ bus crashed on Dec. 30, 1986, the hockey world lost Chris Mantyka (left), Trent Kresse, Scott Kruger and Brent Ruff. (Photo: Swift Current Broncos)

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.

EdChynoweth3
ED CHYNOWETH

“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.

BradHornung
BRAD HORNUNG (Photo: University of Regina)

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.

EdStaniowski

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.

GerryJames

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.

JoeCelentano
JOE CELENTANO

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.

TimSpeltz
TIM SPELTZ

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.”

TimTisdale

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.

Kelly-McCrimmon
KELLY McCRIMMON (Photo: Brandon Wheat Kings)

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.”

JackShupe

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.”

DennisBeyak
DENNIS BEYAK

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.

GerryJohansson
GERRY JOHANSSON

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.

LorneFrey
LORNE FREY

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.

—30—

The WHL, Part 3: Bruins’ dynasty ends, franchises on the move and more mayhem . . .

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.

ErnieMcLean
The legendary Ernie McLean. (Photo: The Coaches Site)

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.

LorneDavis

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.

BobStrumm
The often-emotional Bob Strumm. (Photo: Regina Leader-Post)

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.

Stay tuned.

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.

BillDerlago
BILL DERLAGO

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.

EdChynoweth2

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.

GreggPilling
GREGG PILLING

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.”

WheatKings7879

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.

NelsonSkalbania
NELSON SKALBANIA

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.

RozandaSkalbania
ROZANDA SKALBANIA (Photo: archives.newwestcity.ca)

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.

DarylLubiniecki

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.”

NEXT: Part 4 of 5.

The WHL, Part 2: Changes of scenery, battles on and off the ice and, uhh, a toupee . . .

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.

VcrNats

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.

TomLysiak

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.

BobTurner

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.

EdChynoweth1
ED CHYNOWETH

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.

RonChipperfield
RON CHIPPERFIELD

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.

DennisSobchuk

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.

PatGinnell
PAT GINNELL

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.

BruceHamilton
BRUCE HAMILTON

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.

GerryBrisson
GERRY BRISSON

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.

NEXT: Part 3 of 5.

Habscheid eighth WHL coach to 500 wins . . . Celebrates with chocolate sundae . . . Sutter should be next to milestone

MacBeth

F Justin Maylan (Moose Jaw, Prince George, Prince Albert, 2007-12) has  signed a contract for the rest of this season with Villach (Austria, Erste Bank Liga). Last season, he had eight goals and 31 assists in 44 games with Heilbronn (Germany, DEL2).


ThisThat

Marc Habscheid, the head coach of the Prince Albert Raiders, became the eighth coach in WHL history with 500 regular-season victories as his club beat the Hurricanes, 6-5, in Lethbridge PrinceAlberton Saturday night.

Habscheid, a 55-year-old native of Swift Current, went into this season with 456 victories. The Raiders, who have the WHL’s best record, now are 45-7-2. Habscheid missed a Jan. 22 game — the Raiders beat the Royals, 4-1, in Victoria — while at the Top Prospects Game in Red Deer.

How did Habscheid celebrate last night? The Hurricanes stopped at a Dairy Queen. “I had a large chocolate sundae,” Habscheid told Taking Note. “The boys got whatever they wanted. Best $180 I ever spent.”

As for the picture in the above tweet, Habscheid said: “The picture with my boys will be with me forever.” If you look at the photo, that’s Habscheid wearing the top hat that is awarded to the team’s player of the game.

Habscheid coached in the WHL with the Kamloops Blazers, Kelowna Rockets, Chilliwack Bruins and Victoria Royals before signing on with the Raiders as a midseason replacement for Cory Clouston in 2014-15.

On Saturday, Habscheid coached in his 995th regular-season game. He is en route to becoming the eighth head coach in WHL history to reach the 1,000-game mark.

The Raiders next are to play on Wednesday when they visit the Swift Current Broncos.

Don Hay, now an assistant coach with the Portland Winterhawks, is No. 1 in victories (750), while former Portland head coach Ken Hodge is tops in games coached (1,364).

This season, on his way to No. 500, Habscheid has passed Dean Clark, Kelly McCrimmon, Jack Shupe and Peter Anholt, all former coaches, as well as Brent Sutter of the Red Deer Rebels.

Sutter, the owner, general manager and head coach of the Rebels, will be the next to 500. With the Rebels at 28-19-4, Sutter now has 495 regular-season victories.

——

THE WHL’S 500 CLUB

1. Don Hay (Kamloops, Tri-City, Vancouver) 750

2. Ken Hodge (Edmonton, Portland), 742

3. Don Nachbaur (Seattle, Tri-City, Spokane) 692

4. Lorne Molleken (Moose Jaw, Saskatoon, Regina, Vancouver) 626

5. Mike Williamson (Portland, Calgary, Tri-City) 572

6. Ernie McLean (Estevan, New Westminster) 548

7. Pat Ginnell (Flin Flon, Victoria, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, New Westminster) 518

8. Marc Habscheid (Kamloops, Kelowna, Chilliwack, Victoria, Prince Albert) 500


With G Jack McNaughton having been injured on Friday night, the Calgary Hitmen have Calgaryagain added G Brayden Peters to their roster. . . . McNaughton was hurt when he ventured out to the hashmarks after a loose puck and was involved in a first-period collision with F Brett Leason of the visiting Prince Albert Raiders. Both players left the game, which the Raiders won, 8-2, and didn’t return. . . . Peters plays for the midget AAA Lethbridge Hurricanes and had been up with the Hitmen previously to backup McNaughton with Carl Stankowski injured. . . . Stankowski is back now and will carry the load with McNaughton out, starting today against the visiting Moose Jaw Warriors.

——

Meanwhile, F Brett Leason of the Prince Albert Raiders, who was involved in that collision with Calgary Hitmen G Jack McNaughton, sat out Saturday night’s game in Lethbridge against the Hurricanes.

Marc Habscheid, the Raiders’ head coach, told play-by-play man Trevor Redden that Leason is “nicked up . . . but it’s nothing earth-shattering and we’ll provide him with a bit of rest.”

The Raiders also scratched G Ian Scott, giving him a night off, and had Brett Balas up from the AJHL’s Calgary Canucks to back up Boston Bilous. . . . Balas, who turned 18 on Jan. 31, was a third-round pick in the WHL’s 2016 bantam draft. He got into two games with the Raiders earlier in the season, going 2-0-0, 2.56, .871.

This may have been the first time in WHL history that a team had a B.B. in goal and a B.B. on the bench.


F Conner Bruggen-Cate was welcomed with open mouths, as opposed to open arms, on Saturday night when his Kelowna Rockets met the Blazers in Kamloops.

These two teams played in Kelowna on Feb. 2 and, yes, something happened. Whatever it was it resulted in two-game suspensions to Bruggen-Cate and Kamloops D Montana Onyebuchi.

Bruggen-Cate was suspended for what the WHL said were his “actions.” Those “actions” appeared to set off Oyebuchi, who tried to get at Bruggen-Cate, who chose not to engage. Onyebuchi was suspended for a one-man fight.

Had the WHL suspended each player for three games, neither would have been eligible to play on Saturday night.

As it was, Onyebuchi completed his sentence, while Bruggen-Cate was in the Rockets’ lineup.

The announced crowd of 3,365 didn’t seem too aware of Bruggen-Cate’s presence until early in the second period when he was booed while on an early power play. The boos turned to cheers less than two minutes later when he was penalized for interference.

From that point on, he was booed most times he touched the puck, but he turned the boos to cheers, again with another interference penalty late in the period.

The 19-year-old from Abbotsford, B.C., got the last laugh, however, as the Rockets won the game, 4-1.

As for what happened on the ice on Feb. 2, well, no one’s talking. It’s almost as though the WHL implemented a gag rule.

On Friday night, Jo Hendricks, a frequent anthem singer at Blazers games, performed while wearing an Onyebuchi sweater. Without the rugged defenceman, the Blazers dropped a 3-1 decision to the Vancouver Giants.


The visiting WHL teams at the ShoWare Center in Kent, Wash., the home of the Seattle Thunderbirds, will notice a new look in their dressing room next season. The KeyArena in Seattle will be undergoing huge renovations in anticipation of the arrival of an NHL expansion team, so the Seattle University Redhawks men’s basketball team is expected to play a handful of games in Kent. University officials have asked that the visitors’ dressing room be painted in the team colours, and the arena operators have agreed. . . . Meanwhile, the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, which also plays in KeyArena, will play five home games in Everett’s Angel of the Winds Arena, the home of the Silvertips. But the Storm season doesn’t begin until May, so the Silvertips shouldn’t be affected. . . . Steve Hunter of the Kent Reporter has those tidbits and more in a story detailing the ShoWare Center’s 2018 finances, and it’s all right here.


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Hay back in coaching game? Is he filling vacancy with Winterhawks? . . . Source has him going to Portland

Don Hay, with more regular-season and playoff victories than any coach in WHL history, may be joining the Portland Winterhawks as an assistant coach.

A source familiar with the situation informed Taking Note late Friday night that Hay is being added to the Portland coaching staff.

The Winterhawks have an opening after announcing on Friday that Danny Flynn is leaving after one year as an assistant coach to work as an amateur scout in Eastern Canada for the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets. In the news release announcing Flynn’s departure, the Winterhawks said they would fill the position “within the coming days.”

DonHay
A source has told Taking Note that Don Hay will be joining the Portland Winterhawks as an assistant coach. (Photo: Gregg Drinnan)

Hay spent the past four seasons as the head coach of the Kamloops Blazers. Tom Gaglardi, the Blazers’ majority owner, announced Hay’s retirement at a news conference on May 10. Hay, who wasn’t present at the news conference, was reassigned as a hockey operations consultant in the team’s front office.

The next day, Hay, 64, met with the media outside the Blazers’ dressing room and it was most apparent that he wanted to continue coaching.

Later, on May 22, Hay told Don Taylor and Bob Marjanovich of TSN-Vancouver 1040 that he was prepared to look at “all different possibilities.”

“I do want to coach,” Hay said. “I still have the passion to coach . . . the passion is still there.

“I enjoy getting up every day and having the challenge of coaching and going to the rink. Coaching is more than just teaching hockey. It’s life skills and social skills for the young guys who are leaving home at an early age. It’s something that I’ve done for a long time that I feel I can still do a good job of.”

Hay finished the 2017-18 season with 750 regular-season victories, having broken the mark of 742 that had been held by Ken Hodge, who coached the original Edmonton Oil Kings (1973-76) and the Winterhawks, before retiring after the 1992-93 season.

Hay also is No. 1 in WHL playoff victories, with 108, seven more than Hodge.

Mike Johnston, the Winterhawks’ vice-president, general manager and head coach, became the 23rd head coach in WHL history to get to 300 victories. He finished the season at 315.

Hay was part of three Memorial Cup-winning teams in Kamloops. He was an assistant coach with the Blazers when the won in 1992, and was the head coach in 1994 and 1995.

Hay last worked as an assistant coach with the NHL’s Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 1997-98. He later spent three seasons (2001-04) as the head coach of the AHL’s Utah Grizzlies, before working as head coach of the Vancouver Giants for 10 seasons. He left the Giants to join the Blazers for the 2014-15 season.

This summer, Hay was the head coach of the Canadian team that played at the U-18 IIHF World Championship in Russia. Canada lost 2-1 to Czech Republic in a quarterfinal game.

Johnston and Hay have been close friends since they worked together on the Canadian national junior team’s coaching staff as it won the 1995 World Junior Championship in Red Deer.

“He was a big help on that coaching staff,” Hay told me last season, “and we’ve been friends ever since.”

Now, it seems, they’ll be working together again.

The Winterhawks are scheduled to play twice in Kamloops this season, and they’ll get those games out of the way early, on Oct. 3 and 5. The Blazers are to play in Portland on Oct. 27 and 28.

Hay takes over as No. 1 as Blazers win . . . He’s tops in playoff wins, too . . . He’s third all-time in CHL

Hay743-1
Don Hay of the Kamloops Blazers acknowledges the crowd on Saturday after becoming the WHL’s winningest regular-season head coach. (Photo: Allen Dougas/Kamloops This week)

Don Hay moved to the top of the WHL’s regular-season coaching ladder on Saturday as his Kamloops Blazers beat the visiting Portland Winterhawks, 4-2.

Hay now has 743 regular-season coaching victories, split between the Blazers (275), Vancouver Giants (401) and Tri-City Americans (67).

He had tied Ken Hodge’s record on Friday when the Blazers beat the Winterhawks, 5-2.

Hodge was the head coach of the original Edmonton Oil Kings for three seasons (1973-

Hay743-2
Colin Robinson, the Kamloops Blazers’ athletic therapist, congratulates head coach Don Hay with a bear hug, while assistant coaches Mike Needham (left) and Chris Murray await their turns. (Photo: Allen Douglas/Kamloops This Week)

76). The franchise relocated to Portland after that season, and Hodge was the coach there for 17 seasons. He retired from coaching after the 1992-93 season.

A native of Kamloops, Hay, who will turn 64 on Feb. 13, is in his second go-round with the Blazers. The first time, he was the head coach for three seasons (1992-95). He later coached the Americans for two seasons (1998-2000) and the Giants for 10 (2004-14).

He is in his fourth season in this stint with the Blazers.

Hay already was No. 1 in WHL playoff victories as a head coach, with 108, seven more than Hodge and 21 more than Kelly McCrimmon, who won that many postseason games with the Brandon Wheat Kings. McCrimmon now is an assistant general manager with the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights.

Put it altogether and Hay has 851 WHL coaching victories.

He also has been part of four Memorial Cup champions, three of them with the Blazers. He was an assistant coach when the Blazers won the 1992 title, and was the head coach for championships in 1994 and 1995. He was the Giants’ head coach when they won in 2006.

With the Blazers having swept the doubleheader from the Winterhawks in Kamloops, it left Mike Johnston, Portland’s vice-president, general manager and head coach, stalled at 299 regular-season victories. He gets his next chance to become the 23rd coach in WHL history with 300 victories when the Winterhawks play host to the Blazers later today.

Meanwhile, Hay is third in Canadian Hockey League regular-season coaching history with his 743 victories. The leader is Brian Kilrea, who won 1,193 games with the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s. Second on the list is Bert Templeton, who put up 907 victories with six different OHL franchises. Kilrea and Templeton are retired.


Here’s a look at the 22 WHL head coaches who have more than 300 regular-season victories:

1. Don Hay (Kamloops, Tri-City, Vancouver) 743

2. Ken Hodge (Edmonton, Portland), 742

3. Don Nachbaur (Seattle, Tri-City, Spokane) 692

4. Lorne Molleken (Moose Jaw, Saskatoon, Regina) 626

5. Mike Williamson (Portland, Calgary, Tri-City) 558

6. Ernie McLean (Estevan, New Westminster) 548

7. Pat Ginnell (Flin Flon, Victoria, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, New Westminster) 518

8. Peter Anholt (Prince Albert, Seattle, Red Deer, Kelowna, Lethbridge) 466

    Jack Shupe (Medicine Hat, Victoria) 466

10. Dean Clark (Calgary, Brandon, Kamloops, Prince George) 465

11. Kelly McCrimmon (Brandon) 456

12. Brent Sutter (Red Deer) 453

      Bob Lowes (Seattle, Brandon, Regina) 453

14. Marc Habscheid (Kamloops, Kelowna, Chilliwack, Victoria, Prince Albert) 444

15. Doug Sauter (Calgary, Medicine Hat, Regina, Brandon) 417

16. Marcel Comeau (Calgary, Saskatoon, Tacoma, Kelowna) 411

17. Bryan Maxwell (Medicine Hat, Spokane, Lethbridge) 397

18. Graham James (Moose Jaw, Swift Current, Calgary) 349

19. Shaun Clouston (Tri-City, Medicine Hat) 346

20. Bob Loucks (Lethbridge, Tri-City, Medicine Hat) 340

21. Willie Desjardins (Saskatoon, Medicine Hat) 333

22. Kevin Constantine (Everett) 326


Here are the OHL’s top five winningest regular-season head coaches:

1,193 — Brian Kilrea (Ottawa)

907 — Bert Templeton (Hamilton, St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, North Bay, Barrie, Sudbury)

687 — Dale Hunter (London)

672 — Stan Butler (Oshawa, Brampton, North Bay)

637 — George Burnett (Niagara Falls, Guelph, Oshawa, Belleville, Hamilton)

Hunter, Butler and Burnett are still active. Their totals are through Saturday’s games. . . . Butler also spent one season (1996-97) with the WHL’s Prince George Cougars, winning 28 games.


Here are the QMJHL’s top five winningest regular-season head coaches:

589 — Richard Martel (Chicoutimi, St-Hyacinthe, Val-d’Or, Baie-Comeau)

569 — Guy Chouinard (Longueuil, Victoriaville, Verdun, Trois-Rivières, Sherbrooke, Laval, Quebec, PEI)

541 — Real Paiement (Granby, Chicoutimi, Moncton, Acadie-Bathurst, St. John’s)

500 — Mario Durocher (Sherbrooke, Victoriaville, Sherbrooke, Lewiston, Acadie-Bathurst, Cape Breton, Val-d’Or)

467 — Benoit Groulx (Hull, Gatineau)

Yanick Jean, now with the Victoriaville Tigers, is No. 1 among active coaches, with 402.

Saturday in the WHL: Record for Hay . . . Two goals for Rasmussen in return . . . Four points for Budik . . . Ice sweeps Wheat Kings

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Scoreboard

SATURDAY:

At Prince Albert, D Vojtech Budik had a goal and three assists to lead the Raiders to a 9-2 victory over the Edmonton Oil Kings. . . . Prince Albert (20-20-9) has points in five straight PrinceAlbert(4-0-1). The Raiders are four points behind Saskatoon, which holds down the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot. . . . Edmonton (13-29-7) has lost four in a row (0-3-1). . . . F Cole Fonstad gave the Raiders a 1-0 lead, on a PP, at 9:25 of the first period. . . . F Parker Kelly (21) made it 2-0 at 10:12. . . . F Trey Fix-Wolansky got Edmonton on the scoreboard 28 seconds into the second period. . . . Fonstad (15) got that one back at 4:38 and Budik (8) made it 4-1, on a PP, at 9:23. . . . Fix-Wolansky (20) cut into the deficit at 19:07. . . . The Raiders put it away with five third-period goals, two of them from F Kody McDonald, who has 25 goals, and one each from F Justin Nachbaur (5), D Zack Hayes (2) and F Nikita Krivokrasov (1). . . . The Raiders got two assists from each of D Brayden Pachal and D Max Martin, with Hayes, Fonstad and Nachbaur getting one each. . . . F Tomas Soustal had two assists for Edmonton. . . . Prince Albert was 2-5 on the PP; Edmonton was 0-2. . . . G Ian Scott recorded the victory with 18 saves. . . . Edmonton starter Todd Scott allowed six goals on 25 shots in 44:00. Josh Dechaine finished up with six saves on nine shots in 16:00. . . . Raiders F Regan Nagy (knee) took the pregame warmup but didn’t play in this one. . . . Announced attendance: 1,865.


At Swift Current, F Glenn Gawdin scored twice to lead the Broncos to a 3-1 victory over the Regina Pats. . . . Swift Current (34-12-4) had lost its previous three games (0-2-1). The SCBroncosBroncos lead the season series, 3-0-0. . . . Swift Current is second in the overall standings, nine points behind Moose Jaw. . . . Regina (25-21-5) had points in each of its previous two games (1-0-1). The Pats are fourth in the East Division, six points behind Brandon. . . . The Pats held a 16-11 edge in first-period shots, but mustered only seven shots through the final 40 minutes. . . . D Libor Hajek (10) gave Regina a 1-0 lead at 7:35 of the first period. . . . Gawdin tied it at 8:48 of the second period, then gave his guys a 2-1 lead with his 39th goal, on a PP, at 11:38 of the third. . . . D Artyom Minulin (10), who also had an assist, got the empty-netter, at 19:28. . . . Regina was 1-4 on the PP; Swift Current was 1-5. . . . The Broncos got 22 stops from G Stuart Skinner, while Regina’s Ryan Kubic turned aside 42. . . . While F Jake Leschyshyn and F Emil Oksanen returned to Regina’s lineup, the Broncos were without D Sahvan Khaira and F Kole Gable. . . . These teams will play in Regina this afternoon. . . . Announced attendance: 2,879.


At Saskatoon, F Josh Paterson scored in the sixth round of a shootout to give the Blades a 4-3 victory over the Prince George Cougars. . . . Saskatoon (25-23-3) has won two in a row Saskatoonand now is two points behind Regina, which holds down the Eastern Conference’s first wild-card spot. . . . Prince George (18-24-8) is 0-1-1 on its East Division swing and now is 11 points out of the playoffs. . . . Paterson had given the Blades a 1-0 lead with his 25th goal at 11:39 of the first period. . . . The Cougars took a 2-1 lead on goals from D Joel Lakusta (6), at 18:18 of the second period, and F Ilijah Colina (5), at 0:53 of the third. . . . Saskatoon F Braylon Shmyr (26) got the Blades even, on a PP, at 6:50. That was his 100th career goal in his 279th game. He has 70 goals in 151 games with the Blades, who acquired him from Brandon. . . . D Ryan Schoettler (4) gave the visitors a 3-2 lead at 14:05. . . . The Blades thought they had tied it, 3-3, with 56 seconds left in the third period when F Caleb Fantillo tipped a point shot from D Evan Fiala. But it was ruled that the puck was contacted by a high stick. . . . F Max Gerlach (24) tied it for real just 16 seconds later. . . . F Chase Wouters had two assists for the winners, with Shmyr adding one. . . . The Blades were 2-4 on the PP; the Cougars were 1-4. . . . G Tyler Brown stopped 35 shots through OT for Saskatoon. At the other end, Isaiah DiLaura blocked 36 shots. . . . The Blades had Fiala back after he served a one-game WHL suspension. D Dawson Davidson also returned after missing one game due to illness. . . . Announced attendance: 3,817.


At Red Deer, F Kristian Reichel’s OT goal gave the Rebels a 3-2 victory over the Kelowna Rockets. . . . Red Deer (12-25-11) has won two in a row. It had lost its previous eight OT Red Deergames. . . . Kelowna (31-14-4) has points in four straight (3-0-1). This was the third straight game in which it went to OT. It went 2-0-1. . . . The Rockets lead the Western Conference by one point over Everett. . . . F Leif Mattson (17) put the Rockets out front at 14:41 of the second period. . . . Red Deer took a 2-1 lead on goals from F Mason McCarty (25), at 17:33, and F Josh Tarzwell (5), shorthanded, at 1:25 of the third period. . . . The Rockets forced OT when F Kole Lind (26) struck at 19:27. . . . Reichel (17) won it at 2:46 of extra time. . . . Red Deer was 0-2 on the PP; Kelowna was 0-4. . . . The Rebels got a big game from G Ethan Anders, who stopped 41 shots. . . . G Cole Tisdale stopped 19 shots for the Rockets as the 15-year-old made his third WHL start. . . . Kelowna had F Dillon Dube back after a two-game absence. He picked up one assist. . . . Announced attendance: 4,644.


At Cranbrook, B.C., F Peyton Krebs scored twice to spark the Kootenay Ice to a 3-2 victory over the Brandon Wheat Kings. . . . Kootenay (23-23-3) has won three in a row, including Kootenaynewa 6-2 victory over Brandon on Friday night. It is third in the Central Division, one point behind Lethbridge. . . . Brandon (28-17-5) has lost eight straight (0-5-3). The Wheat Kings were 0-5-2 on a seven-game road trip that ended with this one. They are third in the East Division, 11 points behind Swift Current. . . . Krebs gave his guys a 1-0 lead at 19:29 of the first period. . . . F Cameron Hausinger (15) made it 2-0 at 12:46 of the second. . . . Brandon F Stelio Mattheos (33) cut into the lead at 12:56. . . . Krebs, who has 13 goals, made it 3-1 at 18:18. . . . The Wheat Kings got back to within a goal on F Luka Burzan’s eighth score, shorthanded, at 5:47 of the third period. . . . Burzan also had an assist. . . . Brandon was 0-1 on the PP; Kootenay was 0-2. . . . G Matt Berlin stopped 19 shots for Kootenay, while Brandon’s Logan Thompson turned aside 32. . . . Before the game, the Ice announced that it had returned D Nolan Orzeck to the midget AAA Calgary Northstars. Orzeck, 16, got into two games this time, after making his WHL debut in October. . . . Announced attendance: 3,474. That’s the largest announced crowd of the season. The announced attendance for their home-opener was 3,392.


At Medicine Hat, the Tigers scored twice on a five-minute PP in the second period en route to a 5-3 victory over the Moose Jaw Warriors. . . . Medicine Hat (26-19-6) has points Tigers Logo Officialin three in a row (2-0-1). It leads the Central Division by eight points over Lethbridge. . . . Moose Jaw (39-8-3) had won its previous four games. It leads the overall standings by nine points over Swift Current. . . . F Brayden Burke (24) gave the visitors a 1-0 lead at 18:41 of the first period. . . . The Tigers tied it when F Ryan Chyzowski (16) scored at 3:55 of the second period. . . . F Tanner Jeannot (33) put the Warriors out front just 34 seconds later. . . . At 12:11, Moose Jaw F Barrett Sheen was given a headshot major and game misconduct for a hit on Tigers D Joel Craven, who had to be helped off the ice. . . . The Tigers scored twice on the ensuing PP, with D David Quenneville counting at 13:07, and F James Hamblin (15) making it 3-2 at 16:25. . . . The Tigers went up 4-2 at 1:57 of the third period as F Mark Rassell (42) scored. . . . F Ryan Peckford (18) got the visitors back to within a goal at 12:11. . . . Quenneville, who has 21 goals, iced it with the empty-netter at 19:58. . . . The Tigers got three assists from F Ryan Jevne, with Hamblin, Rassell, Chyzowski and Quenneville adding one each. . . . D Kale Clague drew two assists for the Warriors, with Jeannot adding one. . . . The Tigers were 2-7 on the PP; the Warriors were 0-0 as the Tigers weren’t assessed even one penalty. . . . G Jordan Hollett stopped 33 shots to earn the victory. . . . The Warriors got 19 stops from G Adam Evanoff. . . . The Tigers scratched F Tyler Preziuso, who left Friday’s 4-3 OT loss to visiting Kelowna after being struck on the head by a puck. . . . Moose Jaw D Jett Woo remains out of the lineup. . . . Announced attendance: 3,268.


At Kamloops, Don Hay became the winningest head coach in WHL history as his Blazers erased a 2-0 first-period deficit and beat the Portland Winterhawks, 4-2. . . . Hay now has Kamloops1743 regular-season victories, one more than Ken Hodge, who retired as Portland’s head coach after 1992-93. . . . Kamloops (23-23-3) has won five in a row. It remains six points away from a playoff spot. . . . Portland (28-17-4) has lost two straight. It dropped a 5-2 decision in Kamloops on Friday. The Winterhawks are third in the U.S. Division, five points behind Everett. . . . The teams headed for Portland immediately after this one. They’ve got a date there today at 5 p.m. . . . The Winterhawks got first-period goals from F Skyler McKenzie (37), shorthanded, at 4:29, and F Jake Gricius (11), at 12:06. . . . The Blazers tied it in the second period as F Connor Zary (6), at 5:37, and F Luc Smith (13), at 11:31, found the range. . . . F Quinn Benjafield (17) broke the 2-2 tie 43 seconds into the third period. . . . F Luc Smith (14) got the empty-netter at 18:56. . . . D Nolan Kneen had two assists for the Blazers. . . . Kamloops was 0-2 on the PP; Portland was 0-4. . . . G Dylan Ferguson earned the victory with 32 saves. . . . G Shane Farkas stopped 32 shots for Portland. . . . The Winterhawks were without D Matthew Quigley, who drew a two-game suspension for an elbow to the head that took out Kamloops F/D Tylor Ludwar on Friday. Quigley wasn’t penalized on the play, but was suspended after the Blazers filed for supplementary discipline. . . . These teams will play again today in Portland, so Quigley will sit out that one, too. . . . It’s safe to assume that Ludwar is in the concussion protocol and won’t play today, either. . . . The Winterhawks again were without F Cody Glass and F Kieffer Bellows, both out with undisclosed injuries. No word on whether either one might return today. . . . Announced attendance: 3,651.


At Kent, Wash., D Austin Strand scored the only goal of a three-round shootout to give the Seattle Thunderbirds a 3-2 victory over the Everett Silvertips. . . . Seattle (26-17-6) had Seattledropped a 3-1 decision in Everett on Friday. It is third in the U.S. Division, two points behind Portland. . . . The Silvertips (31-16-3) have points in nine straight (8-0-1). They are second in the Western Conference, one point behind Kelowna. . . . Everett took a 1-0 lead when F Connor Dewar scored at 3:44 of the first period. . . . F Blake Bargar (10) tied it at 7:34 of the second period. . . . Dewar, who has 25 goals, put the visitors back out front at 7:41 of the third period. . . . F Matthew Wedman (10) scored on a PP at 10:25 as Seattle pulled even again. . . . Strand was the first shooter of the third round. . . . F Garrett Pilon had two assists for Everett. . . . Seattle was 1-3 on the PP; Everett was 0-2. . . . G Liam Hughes earned the victory with 34 saves through OT. . . . G Carter Hart turned aside 29 shots for Everett. . . . Seattle was in a shootout for the third straight home game and it won all of them. . . . F Sami Moilanen was among Seattle’s scraches after leaving Friday’s game with an undisclosed injury. . . . F Payton Mount, who turned 16 on Jan. 19, made his debut with the Thunderbirds. From Victoria, he was a first-round pick in the 2017 WHL bantam draft. He plays at the Delta Hockey Academy. . . . Announced attendance: 5,476.


At Kennewick, Wash., D Dylan Coghlan’s second goal of the game, in OT, gave the Tri-City Americans a 5-4 victory over the Spokane Chiefs. . . . Tri-City (24-16-7) has points in four TriCity30straight (2-0-2). It holds down the Western Conference’s second wild-card spot, one point behind Spokane. . . . Spokane (26-19-4) has points in five straight (5-0-1). . . . The Americans overcame a 4-1 deficit by scoring the game’s last four goals. . . . F Jaret Anderson-Dolan (25), at 5:37 of the first period, and F Ethan McIndoe (15), at 1:15 of the second, gave the Chiefs a 2-0 lead. . . . Coghlan halved the deficit on a PP, at 2:43. . . . The Chiefs then got two quick goals to go up 4-1. D Ty Smith (7) scored at 3:46 and F Zach Fischer (22) counted at 4:39. . . . F Michael Rasmussen started the comeback at 10:26, and F Riley Sawchuk (6) cut the deficit to a goal at 14:11. . . . Rasmussen (18) tied it at 19:00 of the third. Coghlan then won it with his 15th goal at 1:14 of extra time. . . . The tying goal originally was credited to Coghlan, which would have meant the winner gave him a hat trick. But the Americans said after the game that the goal will be credited to Rasmussen. . . . F Jordan Topping drew three assists for the Americans, while Rasmussen, in his first game since Dec. 16, added one, as did F Isaac Johnson. . . . Rasmussen had wrist surgery before Christmas. . . . The Chiefs got two assists from D Filip Kral, with Anderson-Dolan getting one. . . . Tri-City was 1-1 on the PP; Spokane was 0-2. . . . G Patrick Tea recorded the victory with 33 saves, seven more than Spokane’s Dawson Weatherill. . . . Tri-City remains without D Juuso Valimaki, D Roman Kalinichenko and F Kyle Olson. . . . Announced attendance: 5,022.


At Victoria, F Tanner Kaspick and F Matthew Phillips each scored twice as the Royals beat the Calgary Hitmen, 4-1. . . . Victoria (29-17-4) has won two in a row. It is second in VictoriaRoyalsthe B.C. Division, four points behind Kelowna. . . . Calgary (15-27-6) will play in Victoria again today in Game 2 of a seven-game road trip. . . . The Royals got out to a 3-0 lead on a goal from Phillips at 1:01 of the first period and two from Kaspick, at 12:03 of the first and at 3:22 of the second, the latter on a PP. . . . F Luke Coleman (10) scored Calgary’s goal, on a PP, at 12:57. . . . Phillips got his 35th goal, on a PP, at 14:52. . . . F Tyler Soy had three assists for Victoria. . . . Kaspick has six goals and two assists in seven games since Victoria acquired him from Brandon at the trade deadline. Four of those six goals have been game-winners. . . . Victoria was 2-3 on the PP; Calgary was 1-9. . . . Victoria G Griffen Outhouse stopped 21 of 22 shots in 58:59. Dean McNabb finished up with two saves in 1:01. . . . Calgary got 18 saves from G Nick Schneider. . . . F Jakob Stukel, with a team-high 22 goals, was among Calgary’s scratches. . . . Announced attendance: 5,638.


SUNDAY (all times local):

Swift Current at Regina, 4 p.m.

Lethbridge at Red Deer, 5 p.m.

Spokane at Everett, 4:05 p.m.

Kamloops at Portland, 5 p.m.

Seattle vs. Tri-City, at Kennewick, Wash., 5:05 p.m.

Calgary at Victoria, 5:05 p.m.


TWEET OF THE DAY

Hay reminisces after tying WHL record . . . Shares career mark with Hodge . . . Standard of 742 could fall tonight

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Kamloops head coach Don Hay (third from left) accepts congratulations from forward Carson Denomie at the bench as trainer Colin Robinson (left) and assistant coaches Dan DePalma, Aaron Keller and Mike Needham wait to greet him.

Down below, the arena had emptied as the mostly satisified fans headed out into the Kamloops night.

The cleaning staff was sweeping and picking up bottles, getting ready for another day and another game.

In the press box, Don Hay pulled up a chair, the radio interview finished and most of his responsibilities done for the night. He undid his tie, took a deep breath and offered up a satisfied smile.

Hay’s Kamloops Blazers had just beaten the Portland Winterhawks, 5-2, for what was the 742nd regular-season coaching victory of his WHL career.

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That tied Hay with Ken Hodge as the winningest regular-season coaches in WHL history. Hodge had held the record since retiring as a coach after the 1992-93 season. Hodge spent the first three seasons (1973-76) of his WHL coaching career with the original Edmonton Oil Kings, and the remainder with the Winterhawks, the franchise having moved to the Oregon city after the 1975-76 season.

Hay will have an opportunity to break the record tonight as the Blazers and Winterhawks complete a doubleheader in Kamloops. They will play again Sunday, too, this time in Portland.

Hay, who will be 63 next month, and Hodge, 71, are hockey lifers.

Hodge’s playing career was cut short by an eye injury while with the Moose Jaw Canucks of what was then the Western Canada Hockey League, and he turned to coaching. He may have been the youngest head coach in junior hockey history when, at 21, he took over the QMJHL’s Sorel Eperviers in 1968.

As a result, Hay and Hodge were never opponents as players, but they certainly were as coaches.

Their paths did come within a couple of seasons of crossing at one point. Hodge was the head coach of the International league’s Flint Generals for four seasons (1969-73). Hay played one season with the Generals, 1975-76, by which time Hodge was with the Oil Kings.

On Friday, when Hay looked back, the first memory came from Oct. 9, 1992 . . .

Hay, then 38, had gotten his first victory on opening night, Sept. 26, 1992, when the Blazers beat the host Tacoma Rockets, 7-6 in overtime. “Yeah,” Hay says, “we were losing after two periods and Hnat Domenichelli got a hat trick in the third.”

The Blazers went on to lose 7-3 to the Chiefs in Spokane on Oct. 2, then dropped a 4-3 OT decision in Portland the next night.

But it’s that Oct. 9 game that sticks in Hay’s memory.

It was his first home game as the Blazers’ head coach. A Kamloops native, he spent seven seasons as an assistant coach with the team, before taking a leave of absence from the city’s fire department and signing on as head coach.

This game also was the first in the history of what was then Riverside Coliseum and now is the Sandman Centre.

“The building was full and we raised a banner,” Hay says.

The Blazers had won the WHL championship and the Memorial Cup in 1991-92.

“After the game, I’m in my office, my assistants don’t come in,” Hay continues. “We lost about 8-2. We got taught a lesson by Mr. Hodge.”

Aaron Keller and Chris Murray, both of them now on Hay’s coaching staff, were in the Kamloops lineup that night.

“I asked Aaron, ‘Do you remember that game?’ ” Hay says. “He told me, ‘Oh yeah, we lost 8-2.’ ”

Hay chuckles again. He loves the stories and the memories.

“I can remember sitting in that room going, ‘Did I make the right decision leaving the fire hall? Maybe I should go back to the fire hall.’

“(General manager) Bob Brown came in and he was really good. He said, ‘You’re the guy to coach us. We have a lot of faith and belief in you.’ ”

Hay spent two more seasons as the Blazers’ head coach, winning back-to-back Memorial Cups in 1994 and ’95, before giving the pro game a try.

He later spent two seasons (1998-2000) as head coach of the Tri-City Americans before trying the pro game again.

He returned to the WHL in 2004 and spent 10 seasons with the Vancouver Giants, before coming back to his hometown over the summer of 2014.

By the time Hay returned to the WHL, Hodge had retired from coaching. He spent the next 15 seasons as the general manager, and was an owner for part of that time.

“I didn’t coach a lot of games against him, but when I was an assistant those seven years we had a lot of playoff series with him,” Hay says. “I really respect the job he did . . . it’s a pretty special record to tie.

“And it was nice to do it at home.”

Hay also tied the record with a good friend working the other bench.

Mike Johnston, Portland’s vice-president, general manager and head coach, and Hay have been friends since they were together on the coaching staff with Team Canada as it won the 1995 World Junior Championship in Red Deer.

“He was a big help on that coaching staff,” Hay says, “and we’ve been friends ever since.”

They are close enough that they try to to spend at least one day each summer playing golf, having lunch “and talking hockey,” Hay says. They also connect at various coaches’ conferences.

When was the last time they spoke?

Hay chuckles and says: “I talked to him (Friday) morning . . . we’ll probably talk (this) morning.”

Later today, their teams will meet as Hay gets his first shot at becoming the winningest regular-season coach in WHL history.

At the same time, Johnston, who turns 61 next month, will be trying to become the 23rd head coach in WHL history with 300 victories.

No matter the outcome, the friendship will endure. Johnston, like Hay, is a hockey lifer.

Hay closing in on top spot in WHL record book . . . One victory from Hodge’s long-standing mark . . . Standard may fall this weekend

Don Hay, the head coach of the Kamloops Blazers, goes into this weekend with 741 regular-season WHL coaching victories. That is one off the record of 742 that has been held by Ken Hodge since 1993.

Hodge was a long-time head coach with the Portland Winterhawks, who will play in Kamloops on Friday and Saturday nights. The teams then will head for Portland and a Sunday date.

At the same time, Mike Johnston, the Winterhawks’ vice-president, general manager and head coach, is in search of his 300th regular-season victory, all of the with Portland. He will become the 23rd coach in WHL history with at least 300 victories.

On top of that, the Winterhawks will be playing their 3,000th regular-season WHL game on Friday night.

Before the 2015-16 WHL season began, Hay and I sat down for coffee and a chat. What follows is the I wrote for The Coaches Site.


It was late on the afternoon of May 21, 1995.

There was pandemonium in Riverside Coliseum, the home arena of the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers, who had just beaten the Detroit Jr. Red Wings, 8-2, to win their third Memorial Cup championship in four years.

Don Hay, the Kamloops native who was the Blazers’ head coach, stood in their dressing room and watched the celebration carrying on around him.

More than 20 years later, he recalls: “I was in the dressing room going, ‘What am I going

DonHay
Don Hay, the head coach of the Kamloops Blazers, has held a lot of media scrums during his lengthy coaching career. (Photo: Gregg Drinnan)

to do now? What am I going to do now? Am I going to quit the Blazers?’ ”

Hay had been on the Blazers’ coaching staff for 10 years at that point, the last three as head coach. Earlier, when he was an assistant coach, he also was a Kamloops firefighter.

“Coaching was different then,” he says. “Believe it or not, there’s more security now than there was then, and I had a good job (with the fire department).”

History shows that Hay didn’t get out of the coaching game, and he never returned to the firehall. He moved on to the NHL, came back to the WHL, and then returned to the NHL before once again coming back to the WHL.

He’s back in Kamloops now, as the Blazers’ head coach, and he is really comfortable being back home.

In a lengthy conversation with the 2015-16 WHL season on the horizon, Hay touches on a lot of things and tells some stories.

—————

Tom Renney had been the head coach when the Blazers began that Memorial Cup run by winning the 1992 championship in Seattle. After that victory, Renney signed a two-year contract with the Blazers. However, he wasn’t in Kamloops long enough to get it started.

During the summer, Dave King left Hockey Canada, where he had been head coach of the national men’s team. Hockey Canada asked Renney if he wanted that job.

“That was always Tom’s dream job, to coach the national team,” Hay says. “He grew up in Nelson watching the (Trail) Smokies and teams like that, and his dad was into that. So he left in the middle of July.”

That’s when Blazers general manager Bob Brown asked Hay, a seven-year assistant coach, if he wanted to succeed Renney.

Interestingly, Hay actually had taken a bit of a step back from the Blazers. His children were old enough that they were getting actively involved in sports and he was able to spend more time with them. And, of course, there was the job with the Kamloops Fire Department.

“I had to take a two-year leave of absence from the firehall,” Hay recalls. “I wasn’t going to go anywhere else to coach. I wasn’t going to leave the security of the firehall. I actually took a paycut to come and coach the Blazers.”

Hay signed a two-year contract as the Blazers’ head coach. That contract was up after the Blazers won the 1994 Memorial Cup in Laval, Que.

“That was the end of my two years,” Hay says. “We had just won the Memorial Cup and I had to make a decision whether I’m going to go back to the firehall.”

Except that the Blazers were to be the host team for the 1995 Memorial Cup tournament.

“So,” Hay says, “they said, ‘Take another year but this is your last year.’ ”

—————

After the Blazers won the 1992 Memorial Cup, they went young with, Hay says, “I think five 16-year-olds.” He also pointed to a “key trade” that Brown made in acquiring goaltender Steve Passmore from the Victoria Cougars “to stabilize our group.”

Passmore returned as a 20-year-old for 1993-94.

“The team to beat that season was Portland,” Hay says. “They had (Adam) Deadmarsh and (Jason) Wiemer and (Scott) Langkow in goal. They had a good team. Langkow got hurt during the season so we had jumped them in the standings.”

Kamloops and Portland met up in the West Division final, with the Blazers, who had finished seven points ahead of the Winterhawks, holding home-ice advantage.

“Game 1 and 2, we won,” Hay remembers. “Game 3 and 4, they won. Game 5, back here, Kamloops1we won that to go up 3-2. Down in Portland for Game 6, Jarome Iginla, who was 16, got the first goal and then Scott Ferguson scored late in the game and we ended up winning the series. It was something that wasn’t expected.”

The Blazers then took out the Saskatoon Blades in a seven-game championship final.

“We went to Laval and it was like, ‘Boy, it all came together.’ So we unexpectedly won in ’94.”

The following season, as Hay puts it, “We had a really strong team. I think we went wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in the country.”

In the end, they came up against the Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL final. With the Blazers the host team for the Memorial Cup, both teams knew they would be advancing. Still, as the series progressed, Hay found himself having to make a key decision.

With the series using a 2-3-2 format, the Wheat Kings won the opener in Kamloops.

“The second game,” Hay explains, “we were down and we make the decision to pull the goalie, Roddie Branch, and we put in Randy Petruk.”

Petruk, a 16-year-old from Cranbrook, had gotten into 27 games as a freshman, going 16-3-4. Still, he was 16 years of age. Branch was 20.

“Petruk won eight straight games after that,” Hay says. “We were down 2-0 going to Brandon. We won all three games in Brandon and came back here to win Game 6 in our building. He won those four games and then he won four games at the Memorial Cup as a 16-year-old.”

That was the last time Hay turned to a 16-year-old goaltender. Still, he says that experience is why he didn’t have any problem turning to 17-year-old Tyson Sexsmith in 2006-07 when he needed a goaltender with the Vancouver Giants the host team for the 2007 Memorial Cup. Hay went to Sexsmith early on, and the kid got into 51 regular-season games and 22 more in the playoffs.

The Giants lost to Willie Desjardins and the Medicine Hat Tigers in seven games in the WHL final that year — “That playoff against Medicine Hat was as good as any playoff I’ve been in,” Hay says — but later beat the Tigers 2-1 in the Memorial Cup final in Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum.

The Giants had won the 2006 WHL title under Hay, but lost a semifinal game at the Memorial Cup in Moncton.

—————

When Hay ended a three-season professional playing career, he returned to Kamloops and was prepared to work as a firefighter and coach minor hockey.

He also was in on the ground floor with the Kamloops Cowboys, a short-lived senior team that played in a league with the likes of the Quesnel Kangaroos, who featured the legendary Gassoff boys, Prince George Mohawks and North Delta Hurricanes.

Hay’s coaching career began innocuously enough when the Cowboys’ coach skipped a practice.

“One day our coach got mad at our group and didn’t show up,” Hay recalls. “We’re sitting in the dressing room, going, ‘Who wants to run practice?’

“I said, ‘Well, I’ll give it a try,’ and I became kind of the player-coach.”

As he got involved in coaching minor hockey, he worked hard to get his coaching levels. As he says, “They wouldn’t give me a head-coaching job because I didn’t have my levels.”

He got the levels and was quite content coaching minor hockey. Then came the phone call that would change everything. It was the summer of 1985 and Ken Hitchcock was preparing for his second season as the Blazers’ head coach.

“I didn’t know him at all,” Hay says. “He said, ‘Come on down for a coffee. I want to meet you.’ I went down there and by the time I left he offered me a part-time assistant-coaching job.”

Hay’s head was spinning as he went home. He was 31 years of age and knew he wanted to give it a shot.

He remembers going home and saying to his wife, Vicki: “Just let me try this for a year. I can work it around my shifts.”

It was a part-time gig and he wouldn’t be making road trips. At least that was the plan at the start.

“But the more you got into it,” Hay says, “the more you were there all the time. I said, ‘Just let me try it for a year’ and it’s been ever since.”

Of course, if Hay thought he was a coach then, he admits that he quickly underwent an attitude adjustment.

“I remember my first practice with Hitch,” Hay says. “I thought being an ex-pro player, I knew everything. I found out I didn’t know anything.

“He was a student of the game. He had gone to watch the Oilers practice with Glen Sather. He had spent time with Clare Drake in Edmonton. Hitch used to watch Sather with Gretzky, Kurri, Coffey . . .”

Hay spent five years working with Hitchcock, and they made two trips to the Memorial Cup — 1986 in Portland and 1990 in Hamilton.

“That 1990 team . . . it was a good team,” he says. “Lennie Barrie. Dave Chyzowski. We got Clayton Young in a trade from Victoria. He got 100 points. He was our fourth-line centre. We had an awesome team. We had some great teams here.”

It was Hitchcock who pushed Hay towards Hockey Canada. It was Hitchcock who prodded Hay until he got involved in the U-17 program that was in its infancy. Hay was one of the coaches when some B.C. teams gathered at Memorial Arena in Kamloops.

“That was the first year of the program,” Hay says. “Bob Nicholson was the head of B.C. amateur hockey. I can remember we were representing Okanagan and we were playing a Lower Mainland team. The first period was all penalties.

“Bob was there and he said, ‘If you guys can’t get this thing straightened out we might not have this program.’

“It was a startup program; they wanted to identify the best players. It obviously ended up fine and things moved on.”

—————

A lot of ice has been made since Hay got into the coaching game. When he first started coaching, who would have seen cell phones and social media on the horizon?

“The players have changed. The coaches have changed,” Hay says. “At one time you had one coach. Now you have an assistant coach . . . some people have two assistant coaches. We have a couple of part-time guys. . . .  The players have so many resources now . . . video, YouTube.

“At one time we had nothing. Then we had VHS for a long time. My first year in Vancouver we had a computer and I was a little leery about how this thing all worked.”

Hay pauses, and then he chuckles.

“In 1990, Len Barrie had the first cell phone. He was in the back of the bus with this great big cell phone like this,” Hay says, and he holds his hands about a foot apart.”

Yes, even the t-shirts have changed.

“In ’94 in Laval, we had Stanfield underwear that we would write things on with a Sharpie,” Hay says. “Now you get a new t-shirt with something written on it.”

The way Hay sees it, everything has changed.

“The kids have really changed,” he says, but he adds that a lot of that is because “technology has changed. . . . Society has changed.”

He thinks back 15 or 20 years and remembers when coaches and players read The Hockey News on the bus “to find out what was going on” in the NHL and the three major junior leagues.

Hay was the head coach of the Canadian team that played in the 1995 World Junior Championship in Red Deer. He remembers attending a summer session in Red Deer . . .

“The Quebec guys sat over there. The Ontario guys sat over there. The Western Hockey League guys sat over there. Nobody knew each other,” he says. “The only guy they knew was Brett Lindros because he was such a recognizable guy. People didn’t know who Bryan McCabe was. Nobody knew what was happening.”

These days, thanks at least in part to social media, everyone knows everyone and many players are in regular contact with each other.

This, of course, has led to rules regarding the use of phones and social media.

“We have no phones at meals,” Hay says. “When you come in the dressing room, you put your phone away.”

When the Blazers travel to Vancouver, for example, the players have to turn off their phones once they reach Chilliwack.

“You have to explain why you’re doing it,” Hay says. “You’re doing it so they can focus and concentrate.”

A chuckle follows.

“I remember one time when we were playing in Swift Current and staying in Medicine Hat,” he says. “We got back and I was upset after we lost.”

Hay ordered his player to go “straight to your rooms.”

Except that Darcy Tucker chimed in with: “I have to phone my mom and dad.”

So, as Hay recalls, “They all lined up at the pay phone.”

Another pause. Another chuckle. He has asked players what they would rather give up — a hot shower or the cell phone.

“They would all rather shower in cold water than give up their cell phones,” he says with a laugh.

Hay also points out that dealing with cell phones and social media is “part of the discussion” at all levels of hockey, including the World Junior Championship. “How are we going to handle cell phones and computers and things like that? You want the focus to be on the task at hand, but the phone has become such a big part of their lives.”

Helping players learn to deal with social media, as Hay points out, is part of a coach’s responsibility. The WHL has rules regarding the use of social media because, as Hay says, “We don’t want the players embarrassing themselves.”

He adds: “They’re young people. They have to learn the right decision-making. I always tell the players ‘my job is to not only teach you hockey skills, but to teach you life skills.’

“The biggest life skill is making good decisions.”

—————

If Hay has learned one thing in his coaching career, it is that the only constant in hockey is change. That is something that he doesn’t see changing, either.

“The kids are more educated; they’re more aware,” he says. “They’re well coached. They’re probably not as coachable . . . not open to change at times. That’s probably the biggest thing.

“As coaches, we have to change with the times and the players. The players have got to change and adapt, also. Sometimes there’s stubbornness to change on both sides.”

However, as he is quick to point out, it is “the coachable guys who have a chance to become players.”

He quickly names four former WHLers who went on to play in the NHL and in a couple of sentences he explains how they got there. “Chris Murray, Darcy Tucker, Milan Lucic, Brendan Gallagher . . . those guys would come to the rink every day wanting to get better,” Hay says. “They wanted to know, ‘What can you teach me today?’ If they got corrected, they would try to do it (better) and please you. That’s what coachability is all about. They had to work to get where they wanted to get to.”

Of course, nothing is like it used to be. Hockey didn’t use to be all about systems. Oh, sure, coaches worked on defensive zone coverages and such, but . . .

“It wasn’t like it is now; no doubt about it,” Hay says. “Games were like 8-6 and 9-7. There were systems, but not as detailed as they are today and not as structured as they are today. That’s probably the biggest change I’ve seen in my time.”

When Hay left for the first time after the 1994-95 season, he left behind a WHL that, as he puts it, “was still a pretty explosive league with lots of goals.” It’s not like that now and one of the main reasons, he suggests, is that the “coaches are more educated now.”

Hockey coaches, as a rule, love to share. They spend their summers attending coaching clinics, either as presenters or participants. Hay is no exception.

“I learned from Hitch to give back,” Hay says. “Give back to the community that helps you. Every summer I try to either present at a coaches clinic or go to a coaches clinic. It’s important to continue to learn. You pick up one or two things that you think can help you have success and I think that’s important.”

As for the future of the game, he sees hockey “going to more of a development model.” It starts with the increase in the number of coaches being hired in the pro game.

“You look at the (Chicago) Blackhawks and their farm team,” he says. “They had a head coach, an assistant coach . . . they had special assignment coaches. They had a faceoff guy, a goalie guy, a defence guy, a forward guy, a penalty-killer guy. They’re trying to teach their players as much as they can because of the salary cap . . . they have to replace these guys with younger guys.”

The people who run junior teams are paying attention, too. In the case of the Blazers, Hay says they spent the first two days of their training camp on skill development. They brought in Dallas Stars goaltending coach Jeff Reese.

“We also did defencemen development. We did forward development,” Hay says. The focus on skill development has meant one other thing, too.

“You want to get to your group as quick as possible so you can start working with them and start developing them,” he says.

—————

Hay returned to Kamloops as the Blazers’ head coach over the summer of 2014. He had spent the previous 10 years as the head coach of the Vancouver Giants. Ron Toigo, the Giants’ majority owner, let Hay out of the final year of a contract in order to allow him to return to his hometown.

“I had 10 really good years in Vancouver,” Hay says. “The opportunity came probably at the right time for everybody. I didn’t think the opportunity would come, to be able to come back. Things just didn’t match up along the way. When I was looking for a job, the Blazers had a quality coach. When they needed a coach, I had a job.”

Hay seems completely at peace with where he is at this stage of his life. He is 61 now, and he’s back home and surrounded by family.

“It feels different,” he says of being back in Kamloops. “It feels good but it feels different.”

These days, with Hay into his second season in his second stay with his hometown Blazers, he seems really comfortable with his lot in life.

While son Darrell continues to play professionally — he is a defenceman with the Sheffield Steelers of Great Britain’s Elite Ice Hockey League — Hay is in close proximity to his and Vicki’s twin daughters. Angela, who is married to former WHL goaltender Thomas Vicars, lives in Salmon Arm, while Ashly, who was married in July, lives in Kamloops.

“This is home. I was born and raised here. I came back every summer. It’s not like I left Kamloops and never came back. I have always felt that Kamloops is home. I enjoyed my time in Vancouver and the people I met there and the people I worked with there. I just didn’t think the opportunity would ever present itself.”