Toigo suggests Giants’ camp may be delayed . . . Also says second wave could be devastating, and WHL won’t play without fans

From Wednesday’s Regina Leader-Post . . .

If you hadn’t already guessed, the WHL’s 2020-21 regular season doesn’t seem likely to start on time, which under what used to be normal circumstances would be in late September.

Yes, that is more than four months away and, yes, there are whole lot of unknowns in these days of a pandemic. But the Vancouver Giants already are looking at pushing back Vancouverthe start of their training camp.

Ron Toigo, the Giants’ majority owner and president, said Wednesday that training camp may not start on Sept. 1, a date that already had been moved back a few days.

Appearing with James Cybulski and Perry Solkowski on Sportsnet 650, a Vancouver radio station, Toigo said: “It’s looking less likely that that will be your starting date.”

Earlier in his appearance, Toigo, who is on the WHL’s executive committee, said that for now they are watching to see what happens with Major League Baseball and the NFL.

“We talk probably weekly about different scenarios,” he said. “The position we’re taking . . . sit back and watch for a while. I think the NFL will dictate a lot of things that happen. They’ve got all the resources. They have all the influence. We’ll follow what happens there. Major League Baseball will certainly have a lot of influence on what happens . . . find a path to making this thing work somehow.

“At our level there really isn’t a lot we can do except sit back and watch and wait.”

Toigo was adamant that the WHL, unlike the big four pro leagues, won’t play without fans in attendance.

The WHL, he said, is “completely” a gate-driven league. “If we can’t get gate revenue then we can’t operate. If we carry on the way we’re going we’re losing significantly hundreds of thousands of dollars as time goes on. If we go the whole year, it’ll be into the millions. It’s not sustainable for a long period of time, that’s for sure.”

As for delaying the start of the regular season, Toigo said: “If we had to do something like that you can . . . probably start in the new year and get a relatively decent season in, and still be able to operate.”

In terms of B.C., Toigo pointed out that the province has done a good job, that “it looks like this wave is under control and could disappear over the summer.”

But, he added, “the second wave is what everybody’s fear is and what happens then. If you’ve got to retrench and shut things down again then I think we’re all in trouble for quite some time.”

At this point in time, Toigo doesn’t see any WHL teams in danger of folding.

“I don’t see it but who knows?” he said. Then, in reference to the Portland Winterhawks being in receivership, he added: “Who saw Portland coming with their scenario, but it had nothing to do with the hockey. It was more to do with the oil industry and (owner Bill Gallacher’s) challenges on that side of it. When oil goes from $100 to $10 if you’re in that business you’re going to feel it no matter how big your are.

“I don’t think anybody is safe if a second wave comes. I don’t care what league you’re talking about — NHL, CHL, CFL — I think they’re all going to be challenged and there will be some that don’t survive.”

In the end, as Toigo put it: “The best scenario is they come up with a vaccine or some way of dealing with this.”

The complete interview is right here.


Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, is bound and determined that his league is going to finish its 2019-20 season on the ice.

On Tuesday, during a virtual town hall played host to by the San Jose Sharks for the NHLbusiness community, Bettman said shutting things down is “not something I’m even contemplating.”

He added: “I believe that if the right time comes, and the right circumstances, based on all of the options that we’re considering and our ability to execute them, we’ll get this season done.

“I don’t want to sound Pollyanna, but canceling is too easy a solution. That means you stop working hard to do all of the things that we’re doing, and I ultimately believe that there will be an opportunity.”

The NHL shut things down on March 12 and since then there has been all kinds of speculation about how and when it will get up and running.

Meanwhile, B.C. Premier John Horgan suggested on Wednesday that his province could play host to all 31 NHL teams as they finished the regular season.

Horgan earlier had offered Vancouver as a hub for Pacific Division play, including the Canucks. On Tuesday, he spoke with Bettman and Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner.

“I believe we’re in a good place to host, that’s why I contacted the commissioner,” Horgan said. “The Canucks have been working very co-operatively with my minister. We’ve heard from others around the league that have other ideas about perhaps having all of the games played in British Columbia.

“We have WHL rinks in Victoria, in Kamloops, in Kelowna, in Prince George . . . Cranbrook has an outstanding facility as well. We have hotel space.”

Look, the NHL may somehow find a way to complete its season, although the odds are stacked against it. But all 31 teams in B.C.? Sorry, that isn’t going to happen.

When the AHL cancelled the remainder of its 2019-20 season on Monday, it had 31 teams. AHLDave Andrews, the soon-to-retire president, said Wednesday that if the league has to return without fans some teams may not answer the bell. . . . ”We have a very strong league in terms of our ownership,” Andrews told the ESPN On Ice podcast. “We have 19 NHL-owned teams and 12 independently-owned teams. And the independently owned teams are in very good financial condition, even after what happened in this 2019-20 season,” he said. “But if their businesses aren’t viable, if they have to play in front of an empty building for six months, some of those teams will likely choose not to play.” . . . Andrews also said that the AHL is preparing schedules that will begin in October, November, December and January. . . . More on the story right here.


The junior A Manitoba Junior Hockey League cancelled the remainder of its season on March 13. On Wednesday, Kim Davis, the league’s outgoing commissioner, explained in a mjhlstatement what has been happening behind the scenes in terms of preparing for next season.

For starters, the MJHL has been working to access “any and all federal and provincial financial assistant programs that have been made available to small businesses.” According to Davis, the league office and member teams have applied for various programs and “some have accessed these funds already, which is reassuring.”

Davis also said that the 2020-21 regular-season schedule is a work in progress; in fact, it would be fair to say it is ‘works’ in progress because there is more than one scenario.

“These scenarios have been extensive and range from the development of a normal 60-game schedule starting in September down to a 30-game schedule starting in December and several options in between,” he said.

Davis added that the MJHL is developing what he called Return to Play Protocols, which “will be extensive and will range from how fans enter and exit the building and all interactions once they are within the facility to how the two competing teams will prepare for a complete on the ice and everything in between.”

As well, he said, “The MJHL has been informed by the Provincial Public Health Office that the Return to Play Protocols we design must be approved by the Chief Provincial Public Health Officer before league play can resume.”

Davis’s complete statement is right here and it’s quite possible that the insight it provides is applicable to all junior leagues at the moment.

Here is Jack Finarelli, aka The Sports Curmudgeon, with his Thought for the Day, this one for A.J. Liebling: “News is like the tilefish which appears in great schools off the Atlantic Coast some years and then vanishes, no one knows whither or for how long. Newspapers might employ these periods searching for the breeding grounds of news, but they prefer to fill up with stories about Kurdled Kurds or Calvin Coolidge, until the banks close or a Hitler marches, when they are as surprised as their readers.”

With our annual Kidney Walk having been cancelled, my wife, Dorothy, is raising funds in support of a ‘virtual’ walk that is scheduled for June 7. All money raised goes to help folks who are dealing with kidney disease. . . . You are able to join Dorothy’s team by making a donation right here. . . . Thank you.


Years after kidney transplant, Ayres gets first NHL win in debut . . . Helps Hurricanes beat Maple Leafs on night to remember

If you are part of the organ transplant community, the Saturday night NHL game that had the Carolina Hurricanes meeting the Maple Leafs in Toronto really was one to remember.

You can bet that the NHL pooh-bahs won’t have found it overly entertaining, but it was . . . it really was!

After all, it’s not every night when you get to watch a 42-year-old Zamboni driver who has had a kidney transplant play goal in an NHL game. Not only did Dave Ayres, at the age of 42 years 194 days, tend goal, but he ended up with the victory, stopping eight of 10 shots as the Hurricanes won, 6-3.

Ayres became the second-oldest goaltender in NHL history to win in his NHL debut. The first? Lester Patrick, then the general manager and head coach of the New York Rangers, was in goal for a 2-1 OT victory over the Montreal Maroons in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final on March 20, 1927. Patrick was 44 years and 99 days old. For the record, Patrick stopped 18 of 19 shots.

Ayres did set one NHL record as the oldest goaltender to win his regular-season debut. Hugh (Old Eagle Eyes) Lehman of the Chicago Black Hawks was 41 years 21 days when he won his first game in 1926-27.


In our home, it all began when I saw the above tweet and words “kidney transplant” jumped off my computer screen.

I hadn’t yet flipped over to the NHL game in Toronto. However, after seeing this tweet, I immediately changed the channel. I was just in time to see Carolina G Petr Mrázek go down in a collision with Toronto F Kyle Clifford at 11:19 of the second period. The Hurricanes had lost G James Reimer at 3:07 of the opening period in a collision that resulted in Mrázek entering and Ayres having to get into his goaltending gear.

But now Mrázek was hurt and the rest, as they say, became history.

If you didn’t see the game, the Hurricanes held a 3-1 lead when Ayres entered, and they quickly made it 4-1. But the Maple Leafs scored goals on their first two shots on Ayres as the Hurricanes struggled to get to the intermission with a lead.

They were able to do that, then scored two early third-period goals to stretch their 4-3 lead to 6-3 and give Ayres some breathing room. Ayres was steady in the third period, while his new teammates really shut down the home side, much to the dismay of the crowd.

During the second intermission, I headed for the Internet to find out what I could about Ayres. I didn’t care about his hockey-playing background; I wanted to know about his kidney issues.

I found this from St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, from the Nov. 18, 2019, edition of The Globe and Mail:

“Like many kids growing up in Canada, Dave Ayres wanted to play hockey in the NHL.

“He was 25 and at a hockey training camp when his feet became so swollen he couldn’t put on his skates. Then one day while driving, he became so dizzy he nearly hit someone.

“It was Thanksgiving weekend when he ended up in the ER. His kidneys were working at 15 per cent capacity and he had to start dialysis immediately. Three days a week, four hours at a time, for the next seven months.

“Then in May, he came to St. Michael’s Hospital’s Kidney Transplant and Care Centre, where he received a new kidney, courtesy of his mom.”

A native of Whitby, Ont., Ayres underwent a kidney transplant in 2004. After donning gear for an outdoor practice with the Maple Leafs just last month, he told Lance Hornby of the Toronto Sun about those days:

“I told the doctor at St. Michael’s Hospital I needed to get back because I was supposed to go to the (Central Hockey League’s) Laredo Bucks. They said ‘we’ll try our best’ and my Mom (Mary) was a match. They ended up moving me along pretty quick (for the operation), about a year after I got sick.”

In his other life, Ayres drives the Zamboni at the Coca-Cola Coliseum, the home of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. He also has been on the ice with the Marlies and Maple Leafs on occasion, as he was for the outdoor practice.

In yet another twist to this story, Ayres told media after Saturday’s game that he is scheduled to practice with the Maple Leafs on Monday. I am thinking that practice session just might draw a bit of press coverage.


Here’s more from St. Michael’s Hospital:

“Dave’s case is not unusual, but he was one of the lucky ones. In Canada, one in 10 people has kidney disease — that’s the population of Vancouver and Calgary combined. It’s a chronic disease with no chance of remission. And it’s considered a silent killer because there are few symptoms — apart from the swelling and dizziness, like in Dave’s case, there can be fatigue, chills, back pain, itching — but it’s still difficult to detect. With an aging population, increas­ing rates of obesity and high blood pressure, and an epidemic of diabetes (the leading cause of kidney disease), the numbers are only going up.

“Some people can live with kidney disease for years, and many do — when it’s caught early enough and treated properly. But in too many cases, the kidneys fail, leaving only two options: dialysis or a kidney transplant. “Dialysis can take over a person’s life. And it’s not a life saver: half of patients 65 years of age and older starting dialysis today will not be alive in five years. And while transplant is by far the best solution, 3,600 Canadians are on the waiting list. It’s not a permanent fix either: a kidney from a deceased donor will last on average 10 to 15 years, and from a living donor 15 to 20 years.”


Shortly after game’s end, the Hurricanes announced that t-shirts with Ayres’ name and number (90) already were available via their online shop and that a portion of the proceeds will be going to a kidney foundation.

As I have written about here previously, kidney disease isn’t going away. There isn’t a cure — a transplant really is just a form of treatment. But what is needed more than anything is more education. People from all walks of life need to understand that while there isn’t a cure, you can have kidney disease and get on with your life; if you are fortunate enough to have a transplant, you don’t have to forget about your dreams.

Dave Ayres is proof of that.

Roy Cooper is the governor of North Carolina:





If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:

Living Kidney Donor Program

St. Paul’s Hospital

6A Providence Building

1081 Burrard Street

Vancouver, BC V6Z 1Y6

Tel: 604-806-9027

Toll free: 1-877-922-9822

Fax: 604-806-9873