Back in his day, Frank Orr was as large in his field as Bobby Orr was in his. No, they weren’t related.
Frank Orr, who died Saturday at 84, was a hockey writer with the Toronto Star when I met him. It was at the 1991 IIHF World Junior Championship that was held in Saskatchewan. I was the Regina Leader-Post’s sports editor, and spent most of the tournament in Saskatoon.
By that time, Orr was a legendary hockey writer; I was a scribbler from Lynn Lake, Man., who was 20 years into his career. Within an hour of meeting Orr, it was like we were best buddies and had been for a long time.
That is how personable he was. He was a master of the one-liner and had travelled extensively — so what if most of it was on expense account — so had tasted the food in many tremendous eateries. Now here he was in Saskatoon, where the weather was miserably cold, and he was loving every minute of it. Well, almost every minute of it . . .
On Dec. 30, Orr and three others drove to Regina to watch Canada play Sweden, choosing to return to Saskatoon after the game. About 30 minutes outside Saskatoon, a red light lit up the dash of their rental car. They limped into the city, finding out later that the PCV valve had frozen open and the car’s oil had blown out all over the engine compartment.
Later, Orr admitted that he had broken out in a cold sweat at the thought of meeting his maker on the frozen prairie.
“I always thought it would end with someone’s husband chasing me down a street,” he said with a laugh.
Sleep well, old friend.
Mark Zwolinski of The Star has more on Frank Orr right here.
ICYMI, the Edmonton Football Team has a shortlist of seven possibles for its new nickname — Elk, Evergreens, Evergolds, Eclipse, Elkhounds, Eagles and Elements all are in the chase. . . . We are left to wonder what happened to Editors, Elaters, Elephants, Ernies, Eroughriders, Eskers. . . . Having lived in the north where there are eskers, I would be inclined to lean that way. . . . Edmonton Eskers. Yes!
Dwight Perry, in the Seattle Times: “If the Lord’s Prayer can be inscribed on the head of a pin, engravers can certainly fit the full name of Tampa Bay Bucs run-stuffer Vita Vea — Tevita Tuli’aki’ono Tuipulotu Mosese Va’hae Fehoko Faletau Vea — onto a Super Bowl ring, right?”
Perry, again: “Players for the Western Hockey League’s Red Deer Rebels will live at the team’s rink in Alberta this season to reduce the COVID-19 risk. ‘Fine with us,’ said every stay-at-home defenceman.”
Congrats to Gilles Courteau, the commissioner of the QMJHL, who celebrated his 35th anniversary in office on Saturday. Stephane Leroux of RDS points out that Courteau spent 15 years as president and now has been commissioner for 20 years. Leroux also points out that Courteau was hired on an interim basis in 1986.
“The NFL patted itself on the back with a spot bragging that the league is donating $250 million ‘to combat systemic racism.’ And that doesn’t even count the millions it paid to Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid for keeping them unemployed.
“If you don’t think it’s racism that’s keeping Kaepernick out of The League, tell me what you think would have happened to (Tom) Brady had he taken a knee in protest.
“Kaepernick and Reid sat out this season, but Tyreek Hill and Antonio Brown suited up and were covered in glory in the National Football League of Second Chances.
“And the 49ers announced they have re-signed Josh Rosen, whose resume now includes this: 1,000th washed-up quarterback to sign an NFL contract since Kaepernick ‘retired’.”
Here’s Ostler, again: “It’s sad to see Pebble Beach get squeezed out of golf relevance by Saudi Arabia and Los Angeles. Pebble’s famed annual AT&T National Pro-Am got snubbed by the world’s top golfers, partly because they want a rest between last week’s big-payoff Saudi International and next week’s Genesis Invitational in L.A. The AT&T has become the great little family diner you speed past on your way from IHOP to McDonald’s.”
A digital subscription to the San Francisco Chronicle is well worth it to read the likes of Ostler, Ann Killion, Eric Branch, Bruce Jenkins et al. . . . And with pitchers and catchers about to report, you may want to subscribe to the Washington Post just for the musings of Thomas Boswell.
When Major League Baseball revealed the details of the shakeup heard ’round the minor leagues, the Pacific Coast League was nowhere to be found. The league that sent so many players to the big leagues — like Joe DiMaggio and Willie McCovey — now is Triple-A West. . . . The California League is gone, too. It’s Low-A West. . . . Here’s hoping saner heads will prevail and that when it does there aren’t corporate names involved. . . . With MLB’s reorganization now complete, there are 120 minor-league teams left. Forty others are nowhere to be seen.
With all that we’ve been through over the past year, who had ‘Earthquake strikes near Banff’ on their 2020-21 Bingo card?
Earthquakes in #Banff are not as rare as you may think. Banff and Cascade Mtn are on the Rundle thrust fault. Including today, there have been at least 11 quakes of M3.8 or greater in the area since 1984. Biggest: M6.0 on Feb 4, 1918. #earthquake
Someone figured out that starter Trevor Bauer’s deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers will pay him somewhere around $10,000 per pitch. Keep in mind, too, that he only performs every fifth day. Can you imagine being a carpenter and getting paid $10,000 for every nail you hammered or every screw you turned? No, neither can I.
It could be that the best feud in hockey features Brian Burke, the new president of hockey operations with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and columnist Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun. . . . This goes back a few years and is far from being over. . . . In his book that came out last fall, Burke sniped at Simmons a time or three. . . . On Sunday, in his weekly notes column, Simmons wondered about Burke’s recent hockey accomplishments, or lack of same:
“Which makes the hiring of Burke in Pittsburgh as president of hockey operations more than a little surprising, although you won’t hear anything like that from all his media pals who laugh along with every word he speaks. It is the hiring of yesterday’s man, who won in Anaheim more than a decade ago, who made the Sedin deals (his signature NHL moves) 22 years ago. What has Burke done lately in hockey, except write a best-selling book and become valued entertainment in between periods? Truth is, it’s a lot of sound and fury, in reality, signifying nothing.”
JUST NOTES: You watch the Daytona 500 and you just know the last lap is going to turn into a demolition derby. . . . Had to chuckle at the WHL fan on social media last week who was debating with a guy named Brent Parker about the role of tutors with teams. Don’t think the fan realized that Parker is a former general manager of the Regina Pats. . . . If you’re wondering how we’re doing over here, well, there aren’t any bodies buried in the back yard so I guess that means we’re still getting along. . . . The St. Louis Blues and Arizona Coyotes will meet today for a seventh straight time. Tell me again how this NHL season won’t warrant an asterisk when it’s all over. . . . On the subject of this NHL season, if you watch enough games it really becomes apparent just how much emotion and passion fans bring to the games. Yes, the players are trying hard, but it just isn’t the same, is it?
Nearly three years after losing his son Evan in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, Scott Thomas has written a letter in support of the semi-driver who was responsible, Jaskirat Singh Sidhu. https://t.co/o3oZTAADTm
It was in 1992 when Gatorade launched its “Be Like Mike” advertising campaign, one that was wrapped around then-NBA star Michael Jordan.
Here we are, almost 30 years later, and all I want is to Be Like Scott.
That would be Scott Thomas.
As hard as it may be to believe, almost three years have slid by since the bus crash involving the SJHL’s Humboldt Broncos. Thomas and his wife, Laurie, lost their son Evan in the crash. He was one of the 16 people who died as a result of the bus colliding with a big rig while en route to Nipawin for a playoff game.
Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, the truck’s driver, is serving an eight-year sentence, and will be eligible to apply for parole in September. He also is waiting for a decision on whether he will be deported.
Not only does Scott Thomas think that shouldn’t happen, he has written a letter in support of Sidhu’s staying in Canada to the Canadian Border Services Agency. Thomas also has been in communication via email with Sidhu and his family.
“I don’t have the energy for hatred, our family just doesn’t,” Thomas told Ken Campbell of The Hockey News. “For me to go on and function and to be the best father I can be to the one daughter I have left and to leave this place with a positive impact and do something for our son’s legacy . . . for us to move forward, the best thing for us to do is forgive. There are days when I want to scream and there are days I do scream at the world, but for us to move forward, the easiest path to that is forgiveness and compassion.”
Take a few minutes out of your day and read them both. You’ll be a better person for having done it.
Let’s not forget, too, that Scott Thomas continues to advocate for standardized training across Canada for semi-truck drivers. You can bet that we’ll be hearing from him on that subject again and again and again, all the while wondering why politicians don’t sit up and take notice.
Scott Thomas' son Evan was killed in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. Not only has Thomas found room in his heart to forgive, he's advocating for the man who was driving the truck that killed his son to to stay in Canada after his prison sentence. My blog. https://t.co/tgPfMM8ALQ
The Regina Exhibition Association announced Friday that the ice is being taken out of the Brandt Centre, the home of the WHL’s Regina Pats. . . . Under the present public health restrictions in Saskatchewan, the Brandt Centre is closed through Jan. 29. . . . . In making Friday’s announcement, the association suggested to renters that “if the ice is installed for any reason over the next three months, ice may become available to rent.” . . . Should the WHL get to play the 24-game schedule that it has said it is “committed” to, games almost certainly will be played in empty facilities. Without ice in the Brandt Centre, the Pats could play next door in the Co-operators Centre. . . .
Earlier in the week, the Edmonton Oil Kings told season-ticket holders that if they get to play games this spring they’ll be in the Downtown Community Arena rather than Rogers Place, which also is home to the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers. . . . The Spokane Arena, home of the WHL’s Chiefs, is to be used as a mass vaccination site starting on Wednesday.
In the midst of a global pandemic that is not showing any signs of abating, we take a look at messaging from a pair of under-18 hockey leagues.
In Saskatchewan, the under-18 female and male leagues have postponed their seasons, and it sure sounds as though the boys might be finished for this season.
“Due to the ongoing pandemic and health restrictions, the SU18AAAHL schedule will be postponed effective Jan. 19, 2021,” reads a release on the league’s website. “If public health measures allow for a return to game play at any time, the executive will meet and review game play options for any teams that wish to continue. “
Among the reasons for the decision: “Provide parents the freedom to move their son(s) home for personal reasons. For some parents this will take some pressure off their decision. . . . Provide billets the option to continue hosting players during the COVID-19 19 crisis. This will give them a freedom to evaluate their involvement.”
Meanwhile, next door in Manitoba, the male U18 AAA league has sent what it calls an “open letter” to Premier Brian Pallister, Heather Stefanson, the minister of health and senior services, and Dr. Roussin, the province’s chief health officer. In the letter, signed by Levi A. Taylor, the commissioner, the league makes a case for why it should be allowed to return to play.
At one point, the letter claims that “the continued prohibition of social interaction and limitation of permitted physical activities has caused immeasurable harm to the children of this province.”
Later, there is this: “The Manitoba U18 AAA Hockey League calls on you to reopen recreation facilities, gyms, and fitness centres for use by children and youth. It can be done (safely), and it must be done now to curtail the harms inflicted.”
Super Sky Point to the great Hank Aaron, the man who overcame hate and prejudice to do the unthinkable: chase down Babe Ruth and his legendary mark of 714 career home runs. Let’s relive that magic night in Atlanta one more time. Thank you, Hammer. #RIPpic.twitter.com/eGbIEjF4Yc
Let me be very clear: Nobody should be taking a vacation abroad right now. If you’ve got one planned, cancel it – and don’t book a trip for spring break. We need to hang on and hold tight for the next few months, and get through to the spring in the best shape possible.
CBC News — 173 COVID-19 cases in Manitoba, above the province’s 7-day average of 160. 2 additional deaths are also being reported. On the vaccine front, 23,884 doses have been administered so far.
CBC News — Saskatchewan reported 312 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Friday along with eight additional deaths.
CBC News — Alberta reports 643 new COVID-19 cases, 12 additional deaths.
CBC News — Nine additional deaths, 508 new COVID-19 cases reported in British Columbia on Friday.
CBC News — Ontario is reporting 2,662 new cases of COVID-19 and 87 new deaths. 779 of the new cases are in Toronto, 542 are in Peel and 228 are in York Region.
CBC News — Quebec is reporting 1,631 new cases of COVID-19 and has added 88 deaths to its tally, 18 of which occurred in the last 24 hours.
CBC News — 30 new COVID-19 cases in New Brunswick. This is the 4th time in a week the number has exceeded 30; the 7-day average for new cases in 29.
CBC News — Full lockdown announced in New Brunswick’s Zone 4 Health Zone. All schools to move to virtual learning, non-essential businesses to close, indoor formal gatherings not allowed. 19 of the 30 new cases on Friday are in Zone 4, which is the province’s northwest and includes Edmundston.
CBC News — Nunavut has its 1st new case of COVID-19 since Dec. 28. The new case is in Arviat. The person is asymptomatic and self-isolating.
KTVZ-TV — Oregon reports 22 more COVID-19 deaths, death toll at 1,865; 877 new cases, total at 136,839. . . . Oregon has now administered a cumulative total of 270,453 first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines. All vaccinations were administered by Oregon hospitals, long-term care facilities, emergency medical service (EMS) agencies, urgent care facilities and Local Public Health Authorities (LPHAs).
The Olympian — The Washington State Department of Health on Friday reported 2,162 news confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 49 new deaths. Statewide totals . . . are at 298,249 cases and 4,114 deaths.
Public Health Agency of Canada, Friday, 4 p.m. PT — Total cases: 737,407. . . . Active cases: 65,750. . . . Deaths: 18,828.
CNN, Friday, 4:31 p.m. PT — 413,000 people in the United States have died from coronavirus.
CNN, Friday, 7:21 p.m. PT — 24.8 million people in the United States have tested positive for coronavirus.
The New York Times — Since March of last year, at least 424,000 more Americans have died than would have in a normal year, showing that the true toll of the pandemic may be higher than previously known.
Former MLB player and manager Davey Johnson is back in his Florida home after spending time in hospital with COVID-19. Johnson, now 77, was the New York Mets’ manager when they last won the World Series, in 1986. He played for the Baltimore Orioles, Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs (1965-78). He managed the Mets, Cincinnati Reds, Baltimore, Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals (1985-2013. . . .
Matt Norlander, CBS Sports: “Multiple conference commissioners and athletic directors told CBS Sports in the past week-plus that there is a growing sense of nervousness over the stability of the college basketball season. . . . With Joe Biden now holding office, high-ranking NCAA officials are in wait-and-see mode about monitoring case counts across the country and bracing for the possibility of federal shutdowns that could impact dozens if not hundreds of schools — prompting a midseason pause in the process.” . . .
After having their first four NHL regular-season games postponed after at least 17 players tested positive, the Dallas Stars were in action on Friday night. They were without F Blake Comeau, who was placed on the COVID-19 list earlier in the day, as they beat the visiting Nashville Predators, 7-0. . . . The Detroit Red Wings added F Filip Zadina to the list on Friday, too. He joined teammates F Robby Fabbri, F Adam Erne and F Sam Gagner, and D Jon Merrill on the list. . . . The Washington Capitals were without F Alex Ovechkin, F Evgeny Kuznetsov, D Dmitry Orlov and G Ilya Samsonov as they beat the visiting Buffalo Sabres, 4-3 in OT, on Friday night. All four, one of whom reportedly tested positive, will miss three more games as they all are on the COVID-19 list. . . .
The Memphis Grizzlies have had four straight games postponed, bringing the NBA’s total of such games to 20. The Grizzlies were to have met the Trail Blazers in Portland on Wednesday and last night (Friday) and were to have played the Kings in Sacramento on Sunday and Monday. . . .
If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:
Clay Plume, who spent three seasons in the WHL, died on Tuesday. He was 37. Plume was from Standoff, Alta. . . . Plume, a defenceman, spent two-plus seasons (2001-04) with the Lethbridge Hurricanes before finishing the 2003-04 season with the Prince George Cougars. In 181 regular-season games, he has 22 goals and 43 assists. . . . He went on to play one season in the ECHL and six in the CHL. . . . Plume played 24 games over the past two seasons with the senior AA Fort Macleod Mustangs of the Alberta-based Ranchland Hockey League. . . . Dale Woodard of the Lethbridge Herald has more on Plume right here.
JUST NOTES: F Nigel Dawes, who doesn’t get nearly enough plaudits when the conversation turns to great WHLers, picked up the 500th regular-season point of his KHL career in a 4-3 OT loss to host Lokomotiv on Friday. Dawes, 35, is in his 10th KHL season, but his first with Ak Bars Kazan. This season, he has 22 goals and 17 assists in 40 games. He had a goal and an assist on Friday, leaving him with 501 points, including 266 goals, in 536 games. In his WHL career, he put up 272 points, 159 of them goals, in 245 games. He played four seasons (2001-04) with the Kootenay Ice (remember them?). . . . The QMJHL returned to action with four games on Friday night, its first action since Nov. 29. Playing what it calls a “controlled environment” rather than a bubble, there were games in Shawinigan, Drummondville, Rimouski and Chicoutimi. There will be games in the same venues Saturday and Sunday.
“If you don’t think COVID is real, right now, you are an idiot…I’m the guy who’s stealing Christmas to keep you safe…you don’t need to like me, I hope in years to come, you might respect me.” MB Premier Pallister almost in tears. #covid19#cdnpoli
At some point in the near future, the WHL will announce that it isn’t going to be starting its next season on Jan. 8, as it had hoped. It has to make that announcement soon because its previous plan would have meant players travelling on Dec. 26 to begin short training camps on Dec. 27.
But with the three Prairie provinces and B.C. turning into COVID-19 hot spots, with the governments in all four jurisdictions imposing restrictions to one degree or another and with the Christmas season closing in on us, now really isn’t the time to be looking at getting a new season started.
The OHL has said it plans on opening on Feb. 4, so I would guess that the WHL, whose pooh-bahs apparently met earlier this week, will choose to try and do the same.
Of course, the WHL will pretty much have to forget about the five U.S. Divisions teams if there is to be a new season, because the U.S.-Canada border isn’t going to open any time soon. Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, said earlier this week that the border will remain closed to non-essential travel until “the virus is significantly more under control everywhere around the world.”
In B.C., the hammer came down on hockey and a whole lot of other sports as Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, announced that most sports, whether being played indoors or outside, were being banned.
She explained, too, that it isn’t the games causing the problems.
“I’ve said this many, many times,” she said. “It’s the locker room, it’s the before, it’s the after, it’s the going for a coffee or a beer after a game that has been the most source of transmission.”
According to Dr. Henry, 10 to 15 per cent of all transmissions in her province can be tied to sports or fitness-related activities.
As Postmedia’s David Carrigg wrote: “This came a day after reporting that an oldtimers team from the Interior Health region had travelled to Alberta and come back infected. This led to dozens of cases among family and workmates and has caused an outbreak in at least one long-term care facility.”
It would seem that, at least in B.C., there won’t be any junior hockey games being played at any level for some time.
The latest order from the Provincial Health Officer suspends “all indoor and outdoor team sports for people 19 years of age and older.”
At the same time, “indoor and outdoor sport for people under 19 years of age can continue” but with restrictions. Games, tournaments and competitions for teams aren’t allowed, but group training may occur so long as participants are able to maintain a physical distance of three metres from one another.
The Ministry of Health also explained that “the intention of the restrictions is to minimize the number of people we interact with and to reduce travel in order to significantly reduce COVID-19 transmission.”
There doesn’t seem to have been any time element discussed in terms of these latest restrictions. I have been the word “indefinitely” used, and also saw that Dr. Henry apparently said they will be in place for weeks to come.
A tip of the Taking Note fedora to the Saanich Predators of the junior B Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League. Here’s part of a news release issued by owners Edward Geric and Norm Kelly on Thursday:
“The public health order impacts players over 19 years old, which is more than half of our team. Rather than looking for ways to request an exemption for continued practice for our whole team, we have instead decided that it’s best for all of our players, coaches and staff to stop play for now and get those who are currently living with billet families safely home for the holiday season.
“Though we are sad to lose this time during such an exciting season with our new name logo and colours, we feel strongly that it’s time to take a look at the big picture, listen carefully to Dr. Henry and not look for ways to continue playing right now. We all need to do our part for the long-term health of our community, and we know the Saanich Predators can be counted on to do just that.”
The San Francisco 49ers arrived in Glendale, Ariz., where they are likely to spend the remainder of the NFL season. For sure, they will play their next two ‘home’ games there after Santa Clara County, their normal home, banned contact sports.
Ann Killion, one of the San Francisco Chronicle’s terrific sports columnists, writes:
“But (Kyle) Shanahan, an NFL coach who is better than most at seeing the big picture, doesn’t deserve your wrath. It is the NFL that has put the 49ers in this situation, with its demented pursuit of the completion of a 16-game schedule. With its unwillingness to cancel games or pause the season. With its forcing of the Ravens and Steelers to play a game on a Wednesday afternoon, with several starters missing. With its demand that the Broncos take the field without a legitimate quarterback. With its solution to sending the 49ers to a state where virus cases are raging rather than just wait until this long-predicted spike subsides.”
BTW, in that column, Dr. Jeff Smith, the county executive for Santa Clara County, told Killion this: “If leaders want to protect their teams and communities, they should not play anywhere until it is safe.”
COVID-19 CHRONICLES . . .
These are iPad stations being prepared for virtual ICU end of life visits by a palliative care doc I know. Jesus. pic.twitter.com/lIgbg0FhaL
CBC News: Manitoba reports 12 more COVID-19 fatalities and 368 new cases. That’s lower than the province’s average for the previous 7-days of 397. Authorities say there are 357 people in hospital with the virus, a record high.
CBC News: Saskatchewan has 259 new COVID-19 cases, which is below the province’s 7-day average of 276. Saskatchewan health authorities are also reporting 1 additional death.
CBC News: Alberta once again shatters COVID-19 record with 1,854 new cases. Province has reported almost 10,000 new cases over the past six days.
Red Deer Advocate: Red Deer has 289 active cases of COVID-19.
CBC News: 12 more people die of COVID-19 in B.C. as 694 new cases confirmed. The number of patients in hospital dips slightly to 325, with 80 in critical condition. . . . Right now, 10,849 people are in isolation and being monitored by public health workers because of exposure to known cases of COVID-19. . . . To date, 35,422 cases of the disease have been confirmed and 481 people have died.
CBC News: 14 more COVID-19-linked deaths reported in Ontario. Critical Care Services Ontario says 203 COVID-19 patients are in ICU. Health officials have said that 150 is the threshold for when unrelated schedules and procedures may be cancelled.
Cynthia Mulligan, Citynews Toronto: Ontario COVID-19 data Thursday: 1,842 new cases; 7 day avg 1770 — highest ever, 1 wk ago at 1427, 2 wks ago at 1370; 14 deaths; Positivity 4.4%, 52,873 tests, Backlog 58,320; Hospitalizations up 10 to 666; ICU 195 – most since May; 122 new cases in schools w 15.6% of all schools showing cases.
CBC News: Quebec is reporting 30 additional deaths and 1,470 new COVID-19 cases. For comparison, the province’s average for the previous 7 days is 1,374.
CBC News: Quebec Premier François Legault has backtracked on his plan to allow gatherings over the Christmas holiday period after a rise in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
CBC News: Global COVID-19 cases top 65M, with over 1.5M deaths: Johns Hopkins University.
CBS Evening News: In just 24 hours, the U.S. has broken every record set since the pandemic began 10 months ago, with more new infections, hospitalizations and deaths in a single day than ever before.
Our daily update is published. States reported 1.8 million tests, 210k cases, and 2,706 deaths. There are 101k people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in the US. Both case and hospitalization counts from today are all-time highs. pic.twitter.com/DuxnKyyG2K
As was expected, the No. 25 Liberty Flames (9-1) won’t be playing football at the No. 14 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (9-0) on Saturday, and the No. 8 BYU Cougars (9-0) will fill the void. ESPN Stats and Info reports that this will be “just the third regular-season or conference championship game between 9-0 or better teams since 2000.” . . . Liberty is in the middle of an outbreak that has included star QB Malik Willis testing positive.
JUST NOTES: I met Jim Loria more than a few years ago when he was working in the Regina Pats’ front office. A couple of years later, he was working with the NHL’s Washington Capitals. Before joining the Pats, he did a stint with the Billings Bighorns. Recently, we renewed our acquaintance for the first time in a long while. In these pandemic times, you might be interested in checking out his new website where you just might find some inspiration to help you get through these strange times. It’s all right here. Give it a look. . . . If you’re a fan of MLB, you should know that The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma is reporting that Len Kasper is leaving the Chicago Cubs’ TV booth — he has been there since 2005 — to do radio play-by-play of Chicago White Sox’ games. Who will replace Kasper? Gordon Wittenmyer of NBC Sports Chicago reports that it will be veteran broadcaster Chris Myers.
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. . . .
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 4 of 5, and it’s a long one (but not as long as Part 5). I hope you enjoy it. . . .
When the WHL headed into the 1981-82 season, which was the beginning of its fourth five-year segment, stability was not exactly a strong suit.
For example, of the 13 teams that came out of the gate in the fall of 1981, only two — the Portland Winter Hawks and Saskatoon Blades — wouldn’t undergo a change in ownership or location over the next 10 years.
But had you predicted the WHL would be as healthy and as stable as any league in existence just 10 years later, well, not many people wouldn’t have scoffed.
Hockey in the early 1980s was fighting to leave its fightin’ image behind.
The WHL was no different. The days of the Broad Street Bullies were coming to an end. Unfortunately for the WHL, it took some people longer than others to realize that.
For starters, the Regina Pats hired Bill LaForge as their head coach on May 20, 1981. At the time, he was under an OHL-imposed suspension that was to last until Jan. 1, 1982. LaForge, while with the Oshawa Generals, had become physically involved with Peterborough coach Dave Dryden and then with Petes player Doug Evans in a pregame brawl.
Neither the suspension nor LaForge’s reputation scared off Regina general manager Bob Strumm, who gave LaForge a two-year contract.
Of his OHL suspension, LaForge said: “I’ve never been suspended in 12 years of coaching and I have no intention of it ever happening again.”
Before the 1981-82 season ended, LaForge would be suspended three times. And he would also be in a Lethbridge courtroom, facing an assault charge.
At the same time, there were other changes that would mean a lot to this league as its history continued. For starters, Russ Farwell moved into
Calgary as the Wranglers assistant coach and assistant GM. He would later prove to be as astute as any hockey man who has ever sat behind a WHL desk.
An NHL team also became involved in the WHL at the ownership level. Peter Pocklington, the owner of the Edmonton Oilers, purchased the New Westminster franchise and moved it to Kamloops as the Junior Oilers.
Pocklington owned 70 per cent, with 35 shareholders holding the rest.
“They seem to be an enthusiastic group,” WHL president Ed Chynoweth said. “And a new building there in the future would be a plus for us. I know the franchise moved out of Kamloops in the past. But I think that was a case of people looking for greener pastures after seeing the success that was achieved in Portland.”
On Aug. 19, the WHL began shaping its office for the future when Richard Doerksen, the league statistician for three seasons who was named referee-in-chief midway in the 1980-81 season, was given the title of executive assistant.
There was an ugly incident in Medicine Hat on Oct. 14 when, during a bench-clearing brawl against the Lethbridge Broncos, Tigers general manager/coach Pat Ginnell got into it with linesman Gary Patzer. According to The Canadian Press, Ginnell “exchanged blows” with Patzer.
The next day, Medicine Hat RCMP laid an assault charge against Ginnell. One day later, Ginnell and Patzer were suspended indefinitely. Ginnell would later charge Patzer with assault, and both would plead not guilty. Ginnell eventually pleaded guilty and was fined $350, while the charge against Patzer was withdrawn by the Crown. Ginnell ended up serving a 36-game suspension.
There were serious problems in Spokane. And on Dec. 2, the WHL suspended the franchise. A proposed sale fell through and the 3-23-1 Flyers were done for the season.
One of the WHL’s great success stories began on Jan. 19, 1982, when, during meetings at the all-star game in Winnipeg, an expansion application from Prince Albert was accepted.
It was a sad night, March 23 was, in Regina. It was Fan Appreciation Night and by the time the ice chips cleared, the Pats and Calgary had done it up right. When the WHL office got through, the teams were hit with $1,250 in fines and 36 games in suspensions. Regina got 27 games and $1,000.
On April 8, it was revealed that Bill Zeitlin of Chicago, a minority owner with baseball’s White Sox, had bought the Billings Bighorns from Joe Sample for $300,000. Zeitlin promptly moved the team to Nanaimo.
Regina brawled its way into the WHL final, but not before LaForge landed in a Lethbridge courtroom.
LaForge became physically involved with Alfred Gurr, a fan, while players brawled on the ice during the first period of Game 1 of the East final.
LaForge was charged with assault causing bodily harm. Ultimately, LaForge was acquitted as the judge ruled it was hard to convict a person of assault for hitting “an obnoxious person trying to get into the coach’s area.”
Charges against the fan were dropped on June 22 when LaForge, the chief witness, didn’t appear in Lethbridge Provincial Court.
On April 29, Farwell was named GM of the Tigers and, just like that, the foundation was laid for back-to-back Memorial Cups.
Portland defeated visiting Regina 9-2, at home on May 2, to take the WHL final, 4-1. Regina was without Brent Pascal, Al Tuer and Dale Derkatch, who were suspended after a Game 4 brawl, the third time in the playoffs that the Pats were involved in a donnybrook.
Four days later, LaForge resigned. He later signed as GM/head coach in Kamloops.
Kelowna got into the league when Kelowna Sports Enterprises Ltd., headed up by Chris Parker, was sold an expansion franchise. Parker had operated the BCJHL’s Penticton Knights. The Wings named Marc Pezzin coach and Joe Arling GM. The Wings were bad — really bad. They were 1-26-2 at the Christmas break.
On June 22, the WHL approved the sale of the Wranglers to Wilf Richard and Jim Kerr from Pat Shimbashi and the Calgary Flames.
Regina landed defenceman Rick Herbert, 15, one of the most-wanted players in WHL history on Sept. 20, 1982, but it cost the Pats seven players. It happened during a draft that was held as teams cut their lists from 60 to 50 players. Regina traded Byron Lomow, Tim Brown and Kevin Pylypow to Kamloops for the draft’s third pick. Darryl Watts, Scott Wilson, Peter Hayden and Scott Gerla were given to Kelowna and the Wings agreed to pass on Herbert with the first pick. Due to draft rules, Prince Albert, with the second pick, couldn’t take Herbert. The Pats held pick No. 4.
Seattle picked up a 12-year-old from Thompson, Man., in that draft. His name? Glen Goodall.
On Oct. 18, the WHL admitted it had on file franchise applications from Moose Jaw, Edmonton, Red Deer and New Westminster. The Moose Jaw group included Lorne Humphreys, Bill Kelly, Jim Little, Barry Webster and Emmett Reidy. Other groups were headed by: Bill Burton and Ron Dixon, New Westminster; Vic Mah, Edmonton; and, Alf Cadman, Red Deer.
On Jan. 19, 1983, newspaper headlines everywhere read: Player swapped for bus.
Here’s what happened: The Seattle Breakers dealt the rights to left-winger Tom Martin to the Victoria Cougars for a used bus. “Actually, just the down payment,” said Breakers’ owner John Hamilton. “It might have been the best deal I ever made.”
At the time, Martin was playing at Denver University but said he wanted to play in his home town. The bus in question was purchased by the defunct Spokane Flyers from Trailways in 1981 for $60,000. The Flyers spent $15,000 on inside renovations. When that franchise folded, the Cougars bought the bus but it was sitting in the U.S., because Victoria was not prepared to pay customs, excise and sales taxes. Hamilton said he got the bus for Martin and $35,000.
Brandon owner Jack Brockest pulled the plug in March, selling the Wheat Kings to a group of local businessmen. “I simply, as an individual, could not have survived much longer,” said Brockest, who sold just four years after buying the franchise. Average attendance had fallen below the 1,500-mark.
Calgary lost out to Lethbridge in the East final, and Wranglers coach Doug Sauter resigned. He later signed with the AHL’s Springfield Indians.
Lethbridge went on to beat Portland in the WHL final. Both teams advanced to the Memorial Cup, the Winter Hawks getting in as host team. And, lo and behold, the Winter Hawks became the first host team to win the tournament.
On June 14, Bill Burton and Ron Dixon announced they had bought the Nanaimo franchise. They moved it to New Westminster. Yes, major junior hockey was back in Queen’s Park Arena.
On Aug. 28, Brandon traded centre Blaine Chrest to Portland for five players — centre Ray Ferraro, defenceman Brad Duggan, right-winger Derek Laxdal, and left-wingers Dave Thomlinson and Tony Horacek. Ferraro would set a WHL record with 108 goals and, in the process, may have saved the Brandon franchise.
As the 1983-84 season opened, it was revealed that a familiar face had returned to New Westminster. Bill Shinske was back as vice-president of operations.
Early in the season, Kamloops coach Bill LaForge, after beating Kelowna 7-5, said he was tired of facing little opposition: “It’s no fun taking two points off a team that gives you no resistance. They have no breakout, no forechecking, no system, nothing. The only adjustment you have to make is to duck.”
Meanwhile, out east, Ferraro was having a glorious season. He scored his 50th goal in his 32nd game, the second fastest 50 goals in WHL history. Bill Derlago had 50 in 27 games with Brandon in 1977-78. “The trade was the best thing that could have happened to me,” Ferraro said. “I wasn’t going to play that much in Portland. At the start of the season, we wrote down our goals and I wanted to have 35 goals by Christmas.”
It was a Merry Christmas in Moose Jaw as it was announced that Moose Jaw Tier One Inc. had purchased the Winnipeg Warriors Hockey Club Inc., and that the franchise would move for the 1984-85 season. Winnipeg would go on to finish with a 9-63-0 record, losing its last game 14-1 to visiting Regina on March 21.
Brawls were few and far between, but there was one with a difference in Regina on March 7. Brandon GM Les Jackson was fined $1,000 and suspended indefinitely for leaving the press box and attacking Strumm, Regina’s GM/coach, at the Pats’ bench, all this while players were fighting on the ice.
“I just wanted to let him know that if the kids are going to fight, I’m going to stick up for the guys, too,” Jackson said.
On March 12, Ferraro became the first player in WHL history to score 100 goals in a season when he scored twice in an 11-9 victory over visiting Winnipeg.
Swift Current was hot on the heels of another franchise, this time offering $360,000 to the Edmonton Oilers for Kamloops. Local businessmen rode to the rescue and kept junior hockey in Kamloops.
The story in the playoffs had to do with the failure of the Pats. It’s doubtful any team has ever been so close to the Memorial Cup and then not made it. Regina was 12 seconds away from eliminating Kamloops in the sixth game of the final. But Dean Evason tied the game 3-3 at 19:48 of the third period in Kamloops and Ryan Stewart won it at 13:03 of overtime. One night later, the Oilers won 4-2 and were off to the Memorial Cup.
Brian Ekstrom, president of Oakwood Petroleum, headed a group that purchased the Wranglers from Jim Kerr for $300,000. Kerr bought the team from Shimbashi in 1982 but still owed $200,000 to the former owner. Ekstrom didn’t renew Marcel Comeau’s contract as coach (Comeau went to Saskatoon), and named Hank Bassen as GM and Sandy Hucul as coach.
Another franchise changed hands in late May when Dennis Kjeldgaard and Al Foder bought Lethbridge from Ross McKibbon of Taber.
And in mid-June, Sauter returned to the WHL, this time as head coach in Medicine Hat.
In Regina, Herb Pinder Jr. assumed controlling interest of the Pats.
Before the 1984-85 season started, LaForge left Kamloops for the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks. Kamloops dipped into the midget coaching ranks in Sherwood Park, Alta., and signed Ken Hitchcock.
Goodall, just 14, played his first game with the Seattle Breakers on Oct. 10, 1984. It was a 12-3 loss in Regina. “My parents were here tonight,” Goodall said, “and they’ll follow us around on the rest of our eastern swing, and they might take a trip out to Seattle and I’ll see them at Christmas, so it won’t be too bad.”
As for his first game, he said: “I thought I played OK in the third period. When you’re down by a lot of goals, it’s hard to keep it up.”
He would play 399 regular season games by the time his career ended.
A rivalry was born on Nov. 13, 1984, when Moose Jaw scored its first victory over Regina, winning 6-4 in Moose Jaw. But referee Darren Loraas was forced to call the game with 26 seconds left.
“I was surprised and disappointed,” Moose Jaw head coach Graham James said. “I thought the league was past that. It’s not necessary to play like that. The whole thing was disgusting. If Bob (Strumm) really wants to do battle like that, let the generals do the fighting and let’s leave the troops on the bench. We’re trying to sell the game here and I don’t think this helps it.”
The Pats were fined $1,500 and hit with 21 games in suspension; Moose Jaw got $200 and four games.
The under-age draft was playing havoc in Portland, where the Winter Hawks were missing a few players. Here’s Portland co-owner/GM Brian Shaw: “We should have had 11 returning players this year from the team that won the Memorial Cup. We have one — John Kordic — and that’s through no fault of our own.” Ken Yaremchuk, Richard Kromm, Alfie Turcotte and Cam Neely were in the NHL, while five other players walked away from the game.
The Winter Hawks gained some publicity, too, when their policy on drug and alcohol use was revealed. Here’s Shaw, again: “Everybody says there’s drugs in sport and nobody does anything about it. We are trying to do something about it. We take urine tests approximately every two weeks, and we also take spot tests, to assure ourselves that there’s no alcohol or drug involvement.”
Shaw said parents were fully aware of all of this: “We sent them a letter saying: “For the benefit of your boy and our organization each boy takes a urine test.” If he wants to refuse to take the test, he can do it. Nobody refuses . . . why would they want to refuse?” And, according to Shaw, no parents objected.
On Dec. 3, Prince Albert, in its third season, moved into first place in the East for the first time. The Raiders got into the WHL for $100,000 and then paid $75,000 for what was left of Spokane’s player list. You see, when the dispersal draft of the Flyers was held on Dec. 3, 1981, WHL teams were allowed to select only players on the active roster. The Raiders, then, bought the list and got three future stars — centre Dan Hodgson, right-winger Dave Pasin and defenceman Manny Viveiros.
On Dec. 12, New Westminster’s Cliff Ronning set a WHL record with a goal in his 16th consecutive game, a 3-2 home-ice victory over Medicine Hat.
It was revealed in January that Seattle owner John Hamilton was having financial problems and — surprise, surprise — Swift Current made him an offer.
“When I got into the hockey business, I was $60,000 short of being a millionaire,” Hamilton said. “Now I’d take the $60,000.” He said he had lost $500,000 since getting involved in 1979.
Swift Current struck out, again, on Jan. 14 when the WHL board of governors, not wanting to lose a West Division team, voted against the sale of the Breakers.
Hallelujah! On Jan. 22, 1985, the WHL did away with round-robin series in the playoffs, choosing to go strictly with best-of-five/seven series in the East, and best-of-nines in the West.
Rumours involving Swift Current surfaced in late March when the Bank of Nova Scotia asked the Wheat Kings for a written financial plan. Swift Current would strike out again when three Brandon businessmen bought the team.
The Raiders, 16-55-1 and last in their first season, were 41-29-2 and fifth the next season. In their third season, though, they went 58-11-3 and went on to win the WHL championship, sweeping Kamloops in the final.
“Winning the world championship was a thrill, but winning the WHL title is more satisfying,” said Terry Simpson, the Prince Albert GM/head coach who had led Canada to a world junior gold medal earlier in the year. The Raiders then won the Memorial Cup, cruising past the Shawinigan Cataractes 6-1 in the final game.
New Westminster beat Victoria 5-4 on March 22 and Ronning had four assists, giving him 197 points, one more than the WHL record set by Brandon’s Brian Propp in 1978-79.
In April, the WHL announced 12-year-olds were no longer eligible for its player lists. The league also decided to allow its teams to use three 20-year-olds, rather than two, in the 1985-86 season.
On April 2, the WHL took over the Seattle franchise, later selling it to Calgary businessman Earl Hale.
The end of Pinder’s association with the Pats began on May 1 with a story in the Regina Leader-Post. The May 1 story began: “Regina Pats fans are going to have to dip into their pockets for an extra dollar to cover parking charges announced by the Pats’ landlord, the Regina Exhibition Association.”
Pinder said he was “very disappointed and very concerned” by the decision. “We’re disappointed because they made a policy and then came and told us after it was in place.”
On May 6, Strumm resigned as GM/head coach in Regina, ending a six-year association with the Pats. He later accepted an offer to join the Sudbury Wolves but changed his mind before leaving for the Ontario city.
And there was trouble brewing in Moose Jaw where James was offered a position as co-coach and assistant GM by general manager Barry Trapp. Here’s James: “The bottom line is they took away my head-coaching position and that is a breach of contract. I can’t work with Barry Trapp anymore.”
James resigned shortly thereafter, saying: “I didn’t quit as head coach. They took that away from me.” He later sued the Warriors for breach of contract, a suit that was settled before it got to court.
For the first time since the fall of 1975, the WHL was ready to open a season with the same teams that finished the previous season.
But before 1985-86 could begin Vic Fitzgerald, now the majority owner in Kelowna, moved to Spokane.
Pat Ginnell was back in the WHL, this time as head coach in New Westminster. On Sept. 11, in their first exhibition game, the Bruins brawled with Seattle in Chilliwack. Ginnell was suspended for five games and fined $500. He was also told that another bench-clearing incident would cost him 25 games and $2,500.
On Oct. 10, the WHL made half-visors mandatory for all players.
As the season began there were ominous signs in Regina. In 1984-85, there were only four (of 36) regular-season crowds under 2,000. In October of 1985, there had already been five crowds under that figure.
Regina businessman Bill Hicke, a former NHL and WHA player, admitted he almost bought the Pats in June for $450,000. But he said he wouldn’t pay that for the team in November with its apparent problems.
Hicke said the Pats were faring poorly at the gate because of poor marketing strategy and low season-ticket sales.
“I think the Pats have to get more aggressive in marketing,” he explained. “They don’t have enough people to do the marketing now. You have to go knocking on doors. I know, for a fact, that they’ve sold only 600 season tickets. I have three partners who would sell 500 season tickets apiece.”
On Nov. 21, John Chapman was fired as head coach in Lethbridge. He was in his sixth season with the Broncos. Earl Jessiman replaced him.
In New Westminster, there was a changing of the dinosaurs — Ginnell was out, replaced by Ernie McLean who said hockey has “gone too much European . . . and I don’t agree with it. I still believe in the Boston style of hockey.”
Things really started to happen in Regina in mid-December. First, GM/head coach Bill Moores confirmed that the Pats had informed their landlord, in writing, that they intended to vacate the Agridome by Jan. 6. By this stage, the team and the Regina Exhibition Association were embroiled in a messy lease negotiation, not the least of which concerned paid parking.
It was evident that Pinder intended to sell the franchise to Swift Current. Moores scheduled practice ice at various Regina arenas and made plans to move to Swift Current in mid-January.
On Dec. 30, Pinder ordered the postponement of the Pats’ first home game of 1986. Chynoweth agreed with the decision: “We thought it would be in the best interests of everyone to cancel the game until the situation is settled.”
But on Jan. 13 the WHL’s board of governors rejected Pinder’s sale of the Pats to Swift Current, choosing instead to purchase the franchise itself.
Hicke, still interested in buying the Pats, said he felt sorry for the people of Swift Current: “I believe down the line that Swift Current deserves a team, but they don’t deserve the oldest team in the league.”
By now, the Swift Current people had at one time or another tried to buy Winnipeg, Brandon, Kamloops, Kelowna, Seattle and Regina.
Ironically, on Jan. 14, about 12 hours after Pinder announced the sale of the Pats to the WHL, the exhibition association said it was dropping its controversial $1 parking fee for Pats games. Mike Kelly, REA general manager, explained: “We feel this is a positive step. While the Pats are in this transition period, we’d like to help out.”
To which Pinder responded: “I think the paid parking has ruined our business and I’ve had to relinquish our business.”
In late February, the WHL sold the Pats to four Regina businessmen — Hicke, Morley Gusway, Ted Knight and Jack Nicolle.
Meanwhile, it was business as usual around the league. In Queen’s Park Arena, for example, Kamloops head coach Ken Hitchcock was seen, according to The Canadian Press, “holding a hand over his eye to mock New Westminster’s one-eyed mentor, Ernie McLean, while McLean brandished a sign depicting the heavy-set Hitchcock as a pig eating hotdogs.” They were later fined $250 each.
And still the Swift Current people weren’t done because on Feb. 23, 1986, Dennis Kjeldgaard revealed the Broncos were for sale.
Guess what! Yes, the WHL brought back the round-robin format, this time deciding that the East’s top six teams would play in a home-and-home round-robin with the top four teams moving on. This would prove to be a disaster, and last just one season.
On March 25, Chynoweth suffered a mild heart attack and was in intensive care in a Calgary hospital. He would return to work, on a part-time basis, early in May.
Finally, Swift Current was in. On April 11, the WHL returned to Swift Current when a group headed by Rittinger purchased the Broncos from Kjeldgaard and Foder.
And Strumm was back in the WHL, this time as the GM in Spokane. Chapman was back, too, as GM in Calgary.
But Lethbridge wasn’t done. By May 1, city officials had contacted Chynoweth, stating their desire for another franchise.
Swift Current moved quickly to get its organization moving. Rittinger announced on May 1 that James would be the club’s GM/head coach.
The WHL final featured Kamloops and Medicine Hat, the latter making the first of what would be three straight trips to the final. This time, Kamloops lost the opener and then won four straight, taking the last one 7-2 on May 5.
There wouldn’t be a WHL team in the Memorial Cup final — the OHL’s Guelph Platers beat the QMJHL’s Hull Olympiques, 6-2 — but Medicine Hat would solve that problem next season. And the season after that.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rhonda Dawes of Lethbridge, Alta., is another kidney hero. Yes, she is. . . . She is back at home in Lethbridge after donating a kidney through a live donor exchange program. . . . “I really wanted it done because 2020 has been such a crappy year,” Dawes told Dale Woodard of the Lethbridge Herald.“For me, I can’t imagine living in 2020 when you have an illness like kidney disease. I thought if I could get this donation done in 2020 that makes my 2020 amazing and someone else’s 2020 amazing.” . . . She had been wanting to donate a kidney since March 2017 but due to a number of things, including the pandemic, it wasn’t able to happen until recently. . . . This is a tremendous story and it’s all right here.
The Rangers mourn the passing of Jim Neilson. The ultimate defensive defenseman, Jim’s quiet demeanor & selfless nature belied the integral role he played on some of the best teams in #NYR history. Our thoughts are with Jim’s family, friends & the countless people he influenced. pic.twitter.com/WuLlCBhy1c
If you have watched MLB or NFL games over the last while, you will have noticed the cardboard cutouts in the stands. Well, you now have the opportunity to have your own cutout in the stands at Brandon Wheat Kings’ home games. . . . The Wheat Kings have partnered with eBrandon.ca on “Fans In The Stands.’ From a news release: “For $50 (after tax), fans can upload a picture that will be made into a cardboard cutout of themselves, their child, their pet, a celebrity, a former Wheat Kings player — anybody they’d like to ‘attend’ home games this season at Westoba Place. . . . The WHL is hoping to open its regular season on Jan. 8. . . . The Wheat Kings’ news release is right here.
The Kamloops Blazers won’t play any WHL games between now and Christmas, but that won’t keep them from holding a virtual kind of Teddy Bear Toss. . . . From a news release: “While we won’t be able to physically toss the bears and other stuffed animals onto the ice, we can still ensure that children in the Pediatric Department at Royal Inland Hospital are comforted with a stuffed animal — by donating online at www.trellis.org/teddybeartoss2020. Donations will be accepted until midnight Dec. 15 and will be used to purchase much-needed teddy bears and other comfort items. . . . The complete release is right here.
When the 22-team Ontario Junior Hockey League begins play at some point in mid-January, games will be played without body contact. As well, among other things, the league said there won’t be any post-whistle scrums or altercations; players will wear bubbles and facial coverings; and benches will be disinfected after each period.
What do you do if teams from your minor hockey association are found to have violated the region’s pandemic response system? In the case of the minor hockey association in Minnedosa, Man., you shut things down for a week. . . . That’s what happened after a public health investigator reported that teams that travelled to play had too many people in their dressing rooms. In this particular region, dressing rooms are limited to 25 per cent capacity. The association received a formal legal warning and then cancelled all home and away games from Nov. 5-9. The association also was planning on meeting with parents in every age group “to re-educate and gain alignment on expectations on compliance” at home and on the road.
We're proud to be a leading partner in a new research project to aid future transplant patients. Health Canada is investing close to $250k in a project called Improving Engagement and Empowering Patients Through Their Transplant Journey. Read more: https://t.co/Ld4Eyb0gDgpic.twitter.com/sf1e7nYecJ
The junior B Kootenay International Junior Hockey League cancelled two weekend games that were to have involved the Creston Valley Thunder Cats. Bradley Jones of myeastkootenaynow.com reported that “a team member was told to self-isolate due to contact with another individual who tested positive for COVID-19.” . . . Creston Valley was to have played at home to the Columbia Valley Rockies last night and against the host Fernie Ghostriders on Saturday. . . . Earlier, the Kimberley Dynamiters had a someone in their organization test positive, resulting in the cancellation of their final three exhibition games. Nine other members of the organization were to self-isolate. There aren’t believed to have been any other positive tests, so the self-isolation should end on Nov. 11. . . . Bill Rotheisler, a veteran junior coach in the west, is in his first season with Creston Valley after battling lymphatic cancer in his esophagus, so he is a high-risk individual.
COVID-19 CHRONICLES . . .
680 CJOB Winnipeg: The ongoing surge of new COVID-19 cases continued in Manitoba Friday as health officials reported 243 new cases, five additional deaths and said further restrictions are coming to the province’s Southern Health region.
Vancouver Province: B.C. health officials announce 589 new cases, warn of ‘gathering storm clouds’
CBC News: B.C. sets new COVID_19 record for 2nd straight day as province announces 589 new cases and 2 more deaths
CBC News: Alberta reported 609 new COVID-cases today, 1 day after identifying a record 802 new cases. Currently 171 people are in hospital with the disease, 33 of them in ICU. 9 people have died over the last 2 days.
APTN News: Nunavut is no longer the only region of Canada with no cases of COVID-19. The territory announced the first confirmed positive test today in Sanikiluaq, a small community of nearly 900 people.
SaskNOW.com: Province records 87 new cases of COVID-19, mandatory mask policy begins today in Prince Albert.
KOMO News: Washington state records highest-ever daily number of COVID-19 cases.
Washington State COVID-19 Bot: Washington State COVID-19 numbers for Wednesday, November 04, 2020: 1070 new positive case(s) out of 21580 test(s) (5.0%); 49 new hospitalization(s); 15 new death(s).
Albany Democrat-Herald: Five Oregon counties must have a “social pause” for two weeks to fight a spike in COVID-19 infections that led to a record 805 new cases on Thursday and 770 on Friday.
NBC New York: The U.S. has reported at least 122,000 new COVID-19 cases in a single day, according to an NBC News tally — the third day in a row that cases surged past 100,000.
The Pac-12 didn’t even get its season started before it had to cancel two games that were scheduled for Saturday. . . . First, it had to dump the Washington-Cal game due to positive tests with the host Golden Bears. . . . On Friday, the Arizona-Utah game also went by the wayside due to positive tests among the Utes. . . .
The NFL fined the Las Vegas Raiders $500,000 and took away a sixth-round draft pick, and also fined head coach Jon Gruden $150,000. That ran the tab to $1,215,000 for the organization, Gruden and players for coronavirus-related violations. . . . Head coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers reportedly was fined $100,000 and the team hit for $250,000 for coaches improperly wearing facemasks on Sunday. . . .
Meanwhile, MLB didn’t discipline Justin Turner or the Los Angeles Dodgers for his embarrassing performance after the club’s World Series-clinching Game 6 victory. Turner had been taken out of the game in the eighth inning after MLB was told that he had tested positive. Turner, a 35-year-old who should have known better, later returned to the field to partake in the post-game festivities, sometimes wearing a mask and sometimes not. Sorry, MLB, you blew it after the game and you blew it again with your weak-kneed statement on Friday. . . . Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY has more on MLB’s love letter to Turner right here. . . .
Later Friday, Bob Nightengale and Josh Peter of USA TODAY reported:
“Five members of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization and a family member have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
“The disclosure comes 10 days after Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner was notified during Game 6 of the World Series that he had tested positive for COVID-19.
“It is unclear if Turner or any other players are among the five people. According to a person with knowledge of the situation, most of the people who tested positive were outside the so-called bubble at the World Series in Arlington, Texas. The person requested anonymity because of privacy issues.”
JUST NOTES:Mike Lysyj has resigned after spending one season as an assistant coach with the Everett Silvertips. According to general manager Garry Davidson, Lysyj, 31, resigned to pursue new career opportunities. . . .F Connor Bedard of the Regina Pats has played five games with the HV71 organization in Sweden. Bedard, 15, had a goal and an assist in one game with the U-18 team, and has two goals and two assists in four games with the U-20 side. . . . D Carson Lambos of the Winnipeg Ice is in Sweden with JYP. Lambos, 17, has two assists in three games with the U-20 club.
F Connor Bedard, who turned 15 on July 17, is expected to play for the Regina Pats when/if a WHL season gets started in January. In the meantime, he’s playing for HV71, which is based in Jönköping, in Sweden’s U-20 league. Bedard played his first game in Sweden on Wednesday, going pointless in a 2-1 loss to Färjestad. . . .
Dave Struch, the Pats’ head coach and assistant general manager, told Taking Note that they released Bedard to HV71 “with the understanding that he will be back to us when we get going.”
The WHL has said it will open its regular season on Jan. 8.
“We have been in regular communication with Connor, his agent (Newport Sports Management) and HV71,” Struch said. “We have built a good relationship that we hope will benefit Connor’s development.”
Bedard was granted exceptional status that allows him to play regularly with the Pats at 15 years of age. He is the first WHL player to be given such status. Following that declaration, the Pats selected him with the first overall pick of the 2020 bantam draft, then signed him to a contract.
The break in the WHL schedule couldn’t have come at a better time for at least one head coach. Mitch Love of the Saskatoon Blades is about 14 weeks removed from having a hip replaced. “The hip is coming along. Sure glad I did it this offseason,” Love, 36, told Taking Note on Wednesday night. Love, who is preparing for his third season as the Blades’ head coach, has been on skates once since the surgery. But, as he said, “I’ll be active on it soon enough.” . . . Love also is an assistant coach with Canada’s national junior team, as is Michael Dyck, the head coach of the Vancouver Giants. André Tourigny, the head coach of the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s, is Canada’s head coach.
Dennis Beyak says it will be great to get back to work.
Beyak, one of TSN’s hockey play-by-play voices, will be spending part of December and January in an Edmonton bubble working the 2021 World Junior Championship.
The fun gets underway on Dec. 20 as TSN televises two exhibition games to kickoff a 10-game pre-tournament schedule. That will include a pair of Canadian games — versus Sweden on Dec. 21 and Russia on Dec. 23 — and two featuring Team USA — vs. Switzerland on Dec. 20 and Finland on Dec. 22.
The 10-team tournament starts for real on Dec. 25, one day earlier than it normally would. This is because all games will be played on the same ice surface ice surface. In order to accomplish, the schedule includes four days with three games each and two with four, including Jan. 2 when all four quarterfinals will be featured.
Canada opens on Dec. 26 against Germany, then meets Slovakia on Dec. 27, Switzerland on Dec. 29 and Finland on Dec. 31.
There aren’t any games scheduled for New Year’s Day, with quarterfinals on Jan. 2 and semifinals on Jan. 3. The third-place game is on Jan. 5 at 2:30 p.m. PT (5:30 p.m. ET) with the championship game to follow at 6:30 p.m. PT (9:30 p.m. ET). Yes, the good folks in the east will have to stay up past their bedtime to see the title decided.
Beyak and Gord Miller, as usual, will handle play-by-play duties. Miller, of course, gets lots of exposure, but Beyak, who is the TV voice of the Winnipeg Jets, is one of hockey’s best play-by-play secrets. Beyak did 60 TV games for the Jets last season; he hasn’t worked since March 12 when the Jets beat the host Edmonton Oilers, 4-2.
BTW, if you’re a veteran WHL follower you may remember Beyak as the play-by-play voice of the Flin Flon Bombers and later the Saskatoon Blades and Victoria Cougars. He also worked as the Blades’ assistant general manager and even did stints as the general manager of the Seattle Thunderbirds and Tri-City Americans.
F Keegan Kolesar played four seasons (2013-17) with the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds, and now is with the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights. In fact, he was with them in the Edmonton bubble as they skated in the NHL playoffs, and he signed a one-year, two-way contract earlier this week. . . . But while Kolesar was with the Golden Knights, his father, Charles Peterson, died after a battle with the coronavirus. A former pro baseball player who had turned to scouting, he was 46. . . . Carter Brooks of fullpresshockey.com has that story right here.
The BCHL’s Wenatchee Wild will scrimmage twice in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, this week, on Thursday and Friday, and then again on Nov. 6 and 7, and Nov. 13 and 14. At the moment, at least eight WHLers are scheduled to participate — F Bear Hughes and F Erik Atchison of the Spokane Chiefs; F Mekai Sanders of the Seattle Thunderbirds; G James Porter Jr., who has played with the Kelowna Rockets and Spokane; D Luke Gallagher, who played with the Chiefs but is ticketed to the Wild this season; F Jack Lambert, who played four games with the Everett Silvertips last season; F Sal Collora, who got into five games with the Lethbridge Hurricanes last season; and Everett G Braden Holt. . . . The Wild are taking their show to Idaho for scrimmages because Washington state health regulations at the moment don’t allow 5-on-5 games with contact.
COVID-19 CHRONICLES . . .
Lethbridge now has 147 active cases of COVID-19 with 44 on the west side, 56 on the north side and 47 on the south side. #YQLhttps://t.co/XTISd4N4yk
Global News: For the first time, B.C. has recorded more than 200 cases of COVID-19 in a single day.
CBC News: Alberta broke two COVID-19 records on Wednesday, for the most new cases in a single day, 406, and for the most active cases.
CBC Saskatchewan: COVID-19 in Sask: 57 new cases reported Wednesday, 3rd largest daily bump of pandemic.
CBC News: Manitoba posts 3rd-highest daily increase in COVID-19 cases, with 135 on Wednesday.
KOMO News: The Washington State Department of Health reported 720 new COVID-19 cases, 25 additional hospitalizations and four more deaths due to the virus.
KOIN News: Oregon reports 331 new COVID cases, 2 deaths.
The school board in Kennewick, Wash., the home of the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, voted 3-2 on Wednesday to delay the start of middle and high school in-person learning until Feb. 2. The original plan was to have had hybrid learning — a mix of online and in class — begin on Nov. 2. The school district has had 16 positives since Aug. 26. . . .
The Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) has cancelled all of its winter championships. From a news release: “The decision was made in response to the sport restrictions that are in place across the country, the variety of provincial health restrictions CCAA hosts were facing and the limitations effecting travel of teams across the country.” . . . The decision impacts badminton, men’s and women’s volleyball, and men’s and women’s basketball. . . . The curling championships were cancelled in September, while the CCAA cancelled golf, men’s and women’s soccer and cross-country in June. . . .
Michigan health officials have issued a “stay-at-home” order for the U of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus. This order comes after the county in which the school is located experienced hundreds of new cases, including on campus, and contact tracing showed that students are ignoring restrictions. . . . So the students have been told to leave the campus or stay in residence unless they have an essential reason to go outside. . . . You won’t be surprised to learn that none of this applies to the Wolverines football team. . . . As Dustin Foote of Deadspin wrote: “If there is any silver lining to college sports in a pandemic, it’s that COVID-19 has revealed the rot of amateurism. There are different rules for ‘amateur’ athletes who generate money for the university versus the majority of students who do not.” . . . The Big Ten is to return to football action this weekend, and the Wolverines are to play at Minnesota on Saturday night.
JUST NOTES: Cameron Hope, who was the general manager of the WHL’s Victoria Royals for eight seasons (2012-20), has joined BC Hockey as its new chief executive officer. He replaces Barry Petrachenko, who, after 20 years with BC Hockey, was dismissed in April. . . . Enrico Ciccone, an enforcer in his hockey-playing days, now is a Liberal MNA in the Montreal riding of Marquette. As the opposition critic for sports, recreation and healthy lifestyles, he has presented a bill calling for the prohibition of fighting in sports, including hockey, for those under the age of 18. “Of course some people will say ‘look at this guy, he’s a hypocrite. He made a bunch of money and now he wants to change things,’ ” Ciccone told the Montreal Gazette’s Herb Zurkowsky. “Of course I do. And I’m probably the best guy to do it. I’ll raise that flag for the safety of our kids, any time of the day. I don’t care.” Zurkowsky’s story is right here.
In 1991, Andre Dawson was called out looking by Cowboy Joe West and then ejected for arguing the call. He was fined $500 by the National League and paid it via check with the memo line filled out “Donation for the blind.” True story. I love Andre Dawson. pic.twitter.com/ngGRCYHYDO
FAUCI: "If we had everyone have universal use of masks, distancing, no crowds, outdoors, wash hands, you wouldn't see the surges we're seeing. It occurs because of the lack of implementation of simple public health measures. It's so frustrating, because it's not rocket science."
Well, that was an interesting day in the world of major junior hockey and I’m not referring to the NHL draft.
First, it was revealed that the QMJHL’s Blainville-Boisbriand Armada now has 18 positives tests in its organization.
Then, Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries, reiterated something that she told Rick Westhead of TSN last week: If the OHL wants to play this season, it will have to ban bodychecking and fighting.
In addressing the subject on Wednesday, MacLeod told reporters: ”It would be safe to say that body contact, unless it’s incremental, will not be permitted as a result of COVID-19. That would pose a challenge in terms of how they amend their play.”
MacLeod also said that the 20-team OHL, while it is in “constant contact” with the government is it works on a reopening plan, hasn’t asked for any financial help. That is unlike the QMJHL, which has asked for a $20-million subsidy from the Quebec government.
According to The Canadian Press, “The OHL said in a statement that it will not comment on its ongoing negotiations with the Ontario government.”
The OHL hasn't offered details on how often it proposes players be tested for Covid. (Frequent tests at a time when Ont. has a big case backlog would raise more questions.) Also unclear which infections disease & public health experts (if any) are advising OHL on plans to resume.
The QMJHL’s Blainville-Boisbriand Armada had one player test positive on Monday. On Wednesday, the team said that it now had 18 positives in its organization. . . . As a result, players and staff have gone into a two-week isolation period and all team activities have been suspended indefinitely. . . . This all comes after the QMJHL’s first weekend of regular-season play. The Armada opened by playing a doubleheader with the Sherbrooke Phoenix, which also has suspended in-person activities. It reportedly has one positive case. . . . Of course, the Armada and Quebec Remparts also are in a government-designated red zone and team sports in those areas have been shut down through the end of October. . . . Here’s Gilles Courteau, the QMJHL commissioner, from a news release: “Although our sanitary and medical protocol is very strict and rigorous, we knew that COVID-19 was highly infectious and could eventually hit certain players and team staff members. Nevertheless, we are extremely confident that the measures contained in our contingency plan, which is currently deployed, will prove to be very efficient.”
Johnston continued on the status of the new owners:
“All I can say right now is it does look positive, but there are still some things that need to be done before their group closes with the receiver and is vetted by the league.”
Dr. Dubey did not disclose the organization where the student played, citing privacy concerns. This follows news last week that public health had also investigated cases in local adult recreational hockey.
The NFL’s Tennessee Titans had hoped to return to their practice facility on Wednesday after not having any positive tests on Monday or Tuesday. But two more players tested positive Wednesday, bringing the organization’s total to 22, with 20 of those having occurred since Sept. 29. . . . The Titans are scheduled to play host to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, in a clash of unbeaten teams, although that now may be in jeopardy. . . .
CB Stephen Gilmore of the New England Patriots, the NFL’s defensive player of the year last season, has tested positive. He is the third New England player to test positive. . . . The Patriots, who are to play the visiting Denver Broncos on Sunday, cancelled their Wednesday practice. . . . Patriots QB Cam Newton tested positive on Saturday. . . .
I’ve been a Dolphins fan for dang near 30 miserable years.
For the love of all that is holy and unholy do not risk your life to watch the gosh darn dolphins live. Cheese and rice – watch it on tv or do something productive like convincing yourself that titles don’t matter.
Production of the CBC-TV show Battle of the Blades is on hold because a member of the production team tested positive. This means that the season premiere that had been scheduled for Oct. 15 has been postponed. . . . The show was to be taped at the CAA Centre in Brampton, Ont. . . .
The host Colorado Rapics and LAFC were to have played an MLS match on Wednesday night. However, it was postponed after the Rapids had a staff member test positive. The Rapids now have had three players and 12 staff members test positive, and they have had three straight games postponed. . . .
Appalachian State and Georgia Southern have postponed their football game that was to have been played on Oct. 14 at Georgia Stadium. The game has been rescheduled for Dec. 12. Appalachian State now has had two straight games postponed because of 19 positive tests around the team.
With the news that Guy Lafleur's cancer has returned, the Canadiens family would like to send best wishes to our legendary No. 10 as he faces this latest challenge.
Allow me to correct something that was posted here on Tuesday night. . . . Phil Andrews, who has been the Regina Pats’ manager of media and communications, as well as the team’s radio voice, tells me that Evan Daum will be doing “the marketing portion of my job . . . not the play-by-play/hockey communications.” . . . So if you are an aspiring play-by-play person, there’s still a chance.
JUST NOTES: A note to B.C.’s political parties — Dorothy and I already have mailed in our ballots, so you are wasting your time with the phone calls. . . . If you haven’t been watching the MLB playoffs, you should know that there’s some real emotion in the mostly empty stadiums. Wednesday night’s game between the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers looked to be a powder keg for a lot of the time. You didn’t need to be a lip-reader to understand what was happening, that’s for sure.