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

Here is the fifth and final piece on the WHL’s first 25 years.  The five stories were written in the late 1990s, while I was the sports editor at the Regina Leader-Post. I had pretty much forgotten about it until recently when I was asked if I might post it again. So I have done just that over the past couple of weeks. . . . As you read each piece, please remember that I wrote them more than 20 years ago and they cover only the league’s first 25 years. It isn’t an all-encompassing history, but hits on some of the highlights and a few lowlights. . . . The stories are pretty much as originally written. . . . Here, then, is Part 5 of 5. Thanks for reading along. I hope you have enjoyed these stories, and thank you for all of the positive feedback. . . .

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The fifth five-year segment was easily the best of the WHL’s first 25 years.

There was success in the stands, particularly in the Pacific Northwest corner of the United States, and in Saskatoon where the Blades welcomed a new facility.

There was stability, too. Recent additions, like the Tri-City Americans and Lethbridge Hurricanes, settled in for what appeared to be long stays.

But the greatest success came on the ice where the WHL won four Memorial Cup championships during the five seasons, opening with three in a row and closing with a victory by the Spokane Chiefs.

DougSauter

The 1986-87 season actually started on something of a strange note. The Regina Pats signed Doug Sauter, who was under contract to the Medicine Hat Tigers, to a two-year deal as general manager/head coach. The result was that the Pats agreed to compensate the Tigers.

The compensation turned into two veteran players — defenceman Kevin Ekdahl and forward Kevin Clemens. It was the first time in WHL history that a coach had, in effect, been traded.

The Pats also welcomed back another familiar face with Dennis Sobchuk, the greatest and most-popular player in franchise history, signing on as assistant coach/assistant manager.

This was a time of great change in the front offices and behind the benches. Barry Trapp left the Moose Jaw Warriors, saying, “I wasn’t fired. It was just a mutual agreement. It was a very friendly parting.”

BryanMaxwell

Medicine Hat signed Bryan Maxwell to replace Sauter, while Peter Esdale was the new coach in Spokane and Wayne Naka took over the Cougars in Victoria. In New Westminster, John Olver was the GM, with Ernie McLean the coach. Harvey Roy was out as the Bruins’ director of marketing, but he would surface in Moose Jaw as the GM and would hire Greg Kvisle to coach the Warriors. In Prince Albert, GM/head coach Terry Simpson left to coach the NHL’s New York Islanders and Rick Wilson took over.

Perhaps the biggest news in the summer of 1986 came on June 2 when the WHL announced it was doing away with round-robin playoff series in the East Division. Instead, the top two teams would get first- round byes.

In the WHL office, Richard Doerksen’s title was upgraded from executive assistant/referee-in-chief to vice-president.

There was trouble in Brandon, where the Bank of Nova Scotia called in a $77,000 demand loan, asking for payment on July 31. This resulted in the Wheat Kings’ board recommending to shareholders that the franchise be sold.

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

In August, shareholders voted 1,411-404 in favour of selling the Wheat Kings. Offers were received from two groups — one in Edmonton headed by Vic Mah, the other comprising Brandon businessmen Bob Cornell and Stuart Craig, and Winnipeg businessman Dave Laing.

Cornell’s group purchased the Wheat Kings for more than $300,000 and then added a unique twist to the situation by signing a 10-year working agreement with the Keystone Centre. The Keystone took over operation of the club, and hired Bill Shinske to run the front office. Shinske hired Marc Pezzin as coach.

The WHL also welcomed the Swift Current Broncos to the fold. Behind the bench was Graham James, who had recently reached an out-of-court settlement with the Warriors over a lawsuit he had started the previous year.

“If we continue to average close to 2,000, we’ll have a real successful year and we’ll show a profit of about $80,000,” Gary Bollinger, the Broncos’ vice-president and alternate governor, said. “That doesn’t include playoff revenue. We were budgeting for an average of 1,600. If we averaged that, we’d still make a bit of a profit.”

The first coaching change of the 1986-87 season took place on Dec. 8 in Seattle when Sheldon Ferguson gave up the Thunderbirds’ coaching reins, but stayed on as GM. Dan McDonald was the new head coach, with former Portland Winter Hawks star Jim Dobson as the assistant.

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

Disaster struck on Dec. 30 when the Broncos, en route to Regina to play the Pats, were involved in a bus accident. Four players — Scott Kruger, Trent Kresse, Brent Ruff and Chris Mantyka — were killed.

EdChynoweth3
ED CHYNOWETH

“There has never been anything more devastating that has happened to me personally,” Ed Chynoweth, the WHL president, said. “The question I keep asking myself is ‘Why?’ My heart goes out to all the parents and the people involved. I wish someone would call and say this is all a mistake.”

John Foster, the Broncos’ publicity director, said: “This team will band together and win it for those guys who died. The (survivors) were absolutely professional under stress. If the people of Swift Current could have seen them, they would have been proud.”

There was never any thought of the team not continuing. As team president John Rittinger said: “It’s up to the players and the fans now. We aren’t ready to throw in the towel.”

Defenceman Ed Brost, talking about the club’s next game, stated: “It will be difficult. To go right back out on the ice would be cheating ourselves emotionally and physically. Right now people have to remember athletes are human beings, not robots.”

Moose Jaw centre Theoren Fleury was in Czechoslovakia with Canada’s national junior team at the time of the accident.

“I just can’t believe it,” Fleury said. “I just sat on the bus all the way to practice today thinking about what’s going on with all those guys on that team right now. It just blows me away. I don’t know what to say. There’s nothing we can do about it and I think being helpless is the most frustrating thing about it.”

As if losing four players in the accident wasn’t enough, Herman Kruger, 67, suffered a fatal heart attack as he entered the church for his great-grandson’s funeral.

And later the same day, Sauter and Regina trainer Stan Szumlak came to the rescue of Keith Giles, a member of the Prince Albert executive, who was choking on some food.

Donations in memory of the players poured into the Broncos’ office and an education fund was set up in their memory. Another fund was started to raise money that would go towards the cost of replacing the bus.

On Feb. 2, a longtime veteran of the WHL’s coaching wars returned for one last fling when John Chapman replaced Wally Kozak behind the bench of the Calgary Wranglers. Chapman also was the Calgary GM.

On Feb. 15, Portland won a game in Spokane and Ken Hodge took over as the winningest coach in WHL history. His 547 victories were one more than Ernie McLean.

BradHornung
BRAD HORNUNG (Photo: University of Regina)

Tragedy struck the WHL again on March 1 when Regina centre Brad Hornung was checked into the end boards at the Agridome and suffered a broken neck.

Dr. Chris Ekong, a neurosurgeon, said Hornung suffered a burst fracture of the third cervical vertebrae and a crushed spinal cord. “Brad has no feelings in his arms and legs,” Dr. Ekong said. “He is completely paralysed from the neck down.”

Hornung would never regain the use of his arms and legs, but that didn’t stop him from going on with his life.

As the WHL completed its 25th season, Hornung was continuing with his education, taking courses at the University of Regina.

Despite the bus accident, Swift Current made the playoffs in its first season. But there wouldn’t be a Cinderella story as the Broncos dropped a best-of-five series to Prince Albert, 3-1.

April was highlighted by three coaching changes — Esdale’s contract wasn’t renewed by Spokane, Kvisle resigned in Moose Jaw and McLean stepped aside in New Westminster.

And Medicine Hat won the WHL championship. The Tigers faced elimination twice in each of their last two series, and dumped visiting Portland 7-2 in the seventh game of the championship final.

The Tigers would win their first of two consecutive Memorial Cup championships, the first under Maxwell, the second under Barry Melrose. Both came with Russ Farwell as general manager.

EdStaniowski

John Van Horlick took over as coach in New Westminster for 1987-88, with

Butch Goring the coach in Spokane. Jim Harrison was the new head coach in Moose Jaw, with Ed Staniowski his assistant. Harrison and Roy, the GM, were friends from their days in Estevan, while Staniowski was a former all-star goaltender with Regina.

And the WHL was returning to Lethbridge. The Tier One Junior Hockey Club of Lethbridge purchased the Wranglers for about $350,000 from Brian Ekstrom. The Lethbridge franchise would be called the Hurricanes, causing Lethbridge Herald columnist Pat Sullivan to wonder if the logo would be an overturned mobile home.

The sale also meant that there wouldn’t be a franchise in the city in which the WHL office was located. But the office wasn’t about to be moved.

“It was decided that it was certainly the most central location for our league,” Chynoweth said.

Going into the new season, the WHL passed a rule cracking down on checking from behind.

“We do use (NHL) rules and the NHL doesn’t have hitting from behind instituted in its rule book,” Chynoweth said, “but I predict that within two years the NHL will have the same rule.”

That is exactly what happened.

There was change in the WHL’s boardroom, too, as Portland’s Brian Shaw stepped down as chairman of the board and was replaced by Saskatoon’s Rick Brodsky.

On June 5, Swift Current celebrated its first birthday by revealing the franchise was no longer in debt.

Rittinger said: “We bought the franchise and we borrowed money to buy the franchise. So we took the season-ticket money to pay the bank loan off. The bank loan is paid off. We don’t owe the bank anything. And that’s incredible because we just got the franchise last year.”

Maxwell left Medicine Hat, joining the Los Angeles Kings as an assistant coach. Lethbridge named Glen Hawker as its first GM/head coach. Before the season started, Lethbridge reorganized, with Wayne Simpson taking over as GM.

On July 6, Hornung, in his first interview since being injured, told the Regina Leader-Post: “You have to accept it. Life goes on and you do the best with what you have. At first, it was a time of change, shock really, but right now, it’s actually gotten easier because you get used to the adjustments. Like everybody else, I have my good days and bad days. But I don’t have many bad days.”

Separate pregame warmups came to the WHL on Sept. 28.

GerryJames

With Seattle off to a 2-15-0 start, owner Earl Hale told Ferguson, the GM, to take a leave of absence. On Nov. 16, Ferguson was fired. A couple of weeks later, Hawker was fired in Lethbridge, where Blaine Galbraith took over. And on Dec. 8, Moose Jaw fired Harrison and hired Gerry James, the only person to have played in a Grey Cup game and Stanley Cup final in the same season.

On Feb. 2, Saskatoon beat Regina 7-2 before 3,308 fans in the final game at the Saskatoon Arena. Regina coach Doug Sauter, for one, was glad to see the end of the old barn: “I get screwed every time I come in here and I haven’t been kissed yet.”

One week later, on Feb. 9, Saskatoon beat Brandon 4-3 in front of 9,343 fans at Saskatchewan Place. Chynoweth announced prior to the game that the 1989 Memorial Cup would be played in Saskatoon.

On March 11, amidst rumours that the Warriors were on the verge of major financial problems, it was announced that Roy’s contract wouldn’t be renewed.

WHL attendance figures compiled by the Regina Leader-Post showed that Swift Current drew 82,080 fans to 36 home games, which was 99 per cent of capacity. Portland led in total attendance — 200,911. The league drew 1,405,874 fans, an increase of almost 80,000 over the previous season.

For the first time in league history, the scoring race ended in a dead heat.

Two centres — Fleury and Swift Current’s Joe Sakic — finished the regular season with 160 points. Sakic had 78 goals, Fleury 68. But there was nothing in the WHL bylaws to deal with the situation so the scoring race was ruled a tie.

JoeCelentano
JOE CELENTANO

The rumours were true — there were financial problems in Moose Jaw. The Warriors began sorting things out by separating the hockey side of things from the business side. With an accumulated debt of $234,000, Joe Celentano, a former referee with basketball’s Harlem Globetrotters, was hired as business manager.

On April 17, Medicine Hat beat visiting Saskatoon 3-0 to win its third straight East Division title. The only other team to win three consecutive East titles was the Flin Flon Bombers, beginning in 1968-69.

On May 3, the Tigers beat visiting Kamloops 5-2 to win their second straight WHL title, this one in six games.

The very next day, Bob Vranckaert, who was in the construction business in Alaska, said he would like to put an expansion franchise in Anchorage in time for the 1990-91 season. Born in Drumheller, Alta., and raised in Burnaby, B.C., Vranckaert spent more than 20 years in general commercial construction 800 miles north of Anchorage.

The WHL said it would play two exhibition and four regular-season games in Anchorage and use that, plus the 1989 world junior championship, which was to be held in Anchorage, as a barometer.

On May 8, the Pats announced that Sauter’s contract wouldn’t be renewed.

A week later, Sauter’s old team, the Tigers, beat the Windsor Spitfires 7-6 in Chicoutimi to become the sixth team in the 70-year history of the Memorial Cup to win back-to-back championships.

The board in Moose Jaw put H.J. (Toby) Tobias in charge and then resigned en masse. Tobias was empowered to chair a committee whose immediate responsibility was to carry on a fund-raising campaign aimed at erasing the club’s debt. The immediate goal was to raise $150,000.

Tobias said he would look into the team’s accounting procedures, recommend constitutional changes and appoint an auditor to present a year-end statement at the club’s annual meeting.

“To me it’s a four-stage project,” Tobias said. “Stage 1: Solve the immediate debt crisis and give us some breathing room. Step 2: Have a look at the front office and see if there are some things we can tighten up. Stage 3: Come up with a budget we can live with in years to come. Stage 4: Make sure fund-raising becomes a year-round effort.”

In mid-May, Pezzin resigned as coach in Brandon. He would be replaced by Sauter, who was reunited with Shinske. The two were old friends, going back to the Estevan and New Westminster Bruins. Sobchuk replaced Sauter in Regina.

Celentano resigned in Moose Jaw, saying: “By my staying I become just another liability, one of those accounts payable that they have to make every day, and they don’t have the money.”

On May 31, Tobias announced that the Warriors had reached their goal of $151,800. That figure covered debts accrued up until March 31. Tobias said: “The phoenix has risen from the ashes. The financial health of the club remains fragile . . . but it’s business as usual from here on in.”

Indications were that New Westminster owner Ron Dixon would move the franchise to the Tri-Cities area of Washington State. He just happened to be building an arena, the Tri-Cities Coliseum, there.

TimSpeltz
TIM SPELTZ

In July, Farwell and Melrose resigned in Medicine Hat. Shortly after, they signed in Seattle. Wes Phillips was named GM in Medicine Hat and hired Ron Kennedy, a former Estevan player, as coach. Before the season started, Phillips quit, citing business and family pressures, and Tim Speltz replaced him.

Peter Anholt was named head coach in Prince Albert, where Wilson quit to join the L.A. Kings as an assistant coach. Brad Tippett was the GM in Prince Albert.

The WHL arrived in Anchorage on the weekend of Sept. 24 and 25, 1988.

Kamloops and Portland played two exhibition games in Anchorage, drawing 2,100 to the first game and 1,750 the next night.

A shakeup occurred in Spokane. It started on Oct. 14 when Spokane GM Bob Strumm acquired six players while giving up four others in trades that involved three other teams. The Chiefs were 1-4-0 and had given up 33 goals in those five games.

Twelve days later, with the Chiefs 2-9-0, Strumm relieved Goring of his duties. Strumm, with a three-year contract extension that would take him through the 1991-92 season, went behind the bench, went 2-4-0 and immediately installed Gary Braun as coach.

On Nov. 11, Moose Jaw dumped Gerry James and installed Kvisle as head coach/director of hockey operations.

Three days later, Regina shook up things. Sobchuk moved from coach to GM, with Bernie Lynch moving up from assistant coach to head coach.

It was announced on Nov. 17 that Vranckaert had purchased the Victoria Cougars from Fraser McColl. Ownership actually had changed hands 10 days after the end of the season.

“Bob has been after me for a long time,” McColl said. “He wants to get into the business with a passion. And, perhaps, that’s the type of enthusiasm this team needs right now.”

On Nov. 20, the Tri-City Americans, having played their first 17 games on the road because the Coliseum wasn’t ready, opened at home with a 4-3 overtime victory over Seattle in front of a sellout crowd of 6,004.

Swift Current started the season with 12 straight victories, and went into the Christmas break at 28-5-0 and on a 10-game winning streak. Referring to the bus accident of two years previous, James said: “I think the bus accident galvanized the spirit of the community. I think that was a catalyst. Since then we’ve had to provide a product that’s been worthy of fans coming, but I think that incident certainly rallied the community.”

Added centre Tim Tisdale: “That’s all anybody in town talks about. It’s hard to believe. You go downtown and you’re eating in a restaurant and everybody at the next table is talking about the Broncos. It definitely helps your hockey.”

There was big news out of Calgary on Jan. 3, 1989, when Petr Nedved, a centre with a midget team from Litvinov, Czechoslovakia, defected after a midget tournament. His WHL rights belonged to Moose Jaw, but the Warriors would deal them to Seattle.

The season wasn’t over when Spokane owner Vic Fitzgerald said that Braun wouldn’t be returning.

On March 14, Chynoweth revealed that the WHL “had an inquiry from Terry Simpson about putting a team in Red Deer. They would have to get a new building.” A conditional franchise was sold to Simpson on Aug. 12, 1991. The Rebels would begin play in the fall of 1992.

Attendance figures compiled by The Regina Leader-Post showed that attendance was up 232,951 over 1987-88. Most of that was attributable to the first-year Americans who attracted 203,532 fans, which was 156,149 more than they drew the previous season in New Westminster.

There was a change in Seattle on April 11 when Medicine Hat businessman Bill Yuill bought the Thunderbirds from Earl Hale of Calgary.

The usual spate of front-office changes began in earnest with the news that: 1. Galbraith would not be back in Lethbridge; 2. Al Patterson, who quit in Victoria after the season ended, had signed as Tri-City’s GM; 3. Ron Byrne had signed as the GM in Victoria; 4. Sobchuk had resigned as GM in Regina; 5. Shinske had resigned in Brandon; and, 6. Tippett had quit in P.A.

Swift Current won 4-1 in Portland on April 30 to sweep the Winter Hawks in the championship final. The Broncos became the first team to sweep its way to the WHL championship — they also got past Moose Jaw and Saskatoon in four games each. The Broncos, just a season and a half after having four players killed in a bus accident, went 55-16-1, the best record in the CHL.

 “This is a great accomplishment for our franchise,” James said. “But I don’t want the Memorial Cup to decide if we had a great year.”

TimTisdale

Tisdale added: “We have the team to do it this year. If we can’t get up for four games, we don’t belong there. I’ll be disappointed if we don’t win the Memorial Cup.”

On May 14, Tisdale’s goal at 3:25 of the first sudden-death overtime period gave the Broncos a 4-3 victory over Saskatoon in the final game of the Memorial Cup. The game was played in front of 9.078 fans in Saskatchewan Place and brought to an end the most successful Memorial Cup tournament ever played.

Shortly after the Memorial Cup, the changes continued: 1. Lynch found out his contract in Regina wouldn’t be renewed; 2. Rick Kozuback signed a two-year contract as coach with Tri-City; 3. Simpson returned to Prince Albert as GM/head coach; 4. Bill Hicke was named GM in Regina; 5. Tippett signed as Regina’s head coach; 5. Maxwell returned from L.A. to sign as co-coach and director of hockey operations in Spokane; 6. Braun was Spokane’s co-coach and assistant director of hockey operations; 7. Melrose left Seattle to become head coach of the AHL’s Adirondack Red Wings; 8. Marcel Comeau signed a two-year deal in Saskatoon but shortly after resigned to become head coach of the AHL’s New Haven Nighthawks; 9. Anholt quit in P.A. to join Seattle as head coach; 10. Rob Daum signed as assistant coach/assistant manager in P.A.; and, 11. Terry Ruskowski signed to coach the Blades.

On June 14, 1989, Moose Jaw, so close to financial ruin just one year earlier, revealed at its annual meeting that there was a paper profit of $119,722 and that the Warriors had about $40,000 in the bank.

At its annual meeting, the WHL had two major announcements. It had decided for the first time to use full-time referees. “We’re hoping it leads to more consistent, professional refereeing,” Regina governor Ted Knight said. By the time all was said and done, the WHL had hired eight full-time and four part-time referees.

The WHL also said it would no longer allow teams to list 13-year-old players. From that point on, 14-year-olds would count for two spots on a list, players 15 and older for one.

Seattle set a single-game attendance record on Oct. 7 when 12,173 fans showed up to watch the Thunderbirds edge Portland, 4-3. “We could have sold 2,000 more tickets,” Seth Landau, the club’s director of marketing and public relations, said. “We were sold out the day before the game.” The previous attendance record belonged to Portland, which had attracted capacity crowds of 10,437 to Memorial Coliseum on numerous occasions.

The first coaching change came on Oct. 15 when Naka resigned in Victoria. Lyle Moffat replaced him.

On Nov. 1, Ken Hitchcock, 36 years of age and in the neighbourhood of 400 pounds, went public with the news that he was going on a serious diet.

“There comes a time in life when it becomes a case of now or never,” said the popular coach of the Kamloops Blazers. “I look down the road four or five years from now, what do I want to be doing? If that’s what I have to do to move up the ladder, that’s what I have to do.”

Victoria made another coaching change on Nov. 13 with Garry Cunningham becoming the Cougars’ third coach of the season. Moffat stayed on as marketing director.

A lawsuit launched by Hornung was settled out of court in November. Thirteen defendants, including the WHL, were named in the suit launched in July of 1987. Details of the settlement weren’t made public.

At a WHL board of governors’ meeting on Nov. 20, the chair switched bodies again. It was a case of deja vu, with Shaw taking over from Brodsky.

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

On Dec. 17, Sauter was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a disorder that strikes at the central nervous system. He would not return to coaching until late in the 1990-91 season when he finished the winter with the SJHL’s Estevan Bruins. Brandon GM Kelly McCrimmon moved in behind Brandon’s bench.

There was a player revolt in Tri-City when Dixon named Bill LaForge director of player personnel. LaForge said he had a five-year contract.

On Dec. 31, with Portland scheduled to play in Tri-City, the Americans players refused. A statement signed by 19 players read in part: “We will definitely not participate in any further games without the termination of Mr. Bill LaForge from the Americans organization.”

The players ended their holdout the next day, winning 8-4 in Portland. Dixon had contacted players earlier in the day and said LaForge would no longer have any contact with them.

Defenceman Colin Ruck later explained the Tri-City deal: “He came into the dressing room screaming and cutting guys down. To get to us, he said we had to call him Coach. He had (coach) Rick Kozuback picking up pucks during practice. That really upset us. Bill came out and ran a really brutal practice. We felt we had to do something.”

Byrne was gone as Victoria’s GM before January ended, while Cunningham was out as coach on Feb. 5. Moffat went back behind the bench. The Cougars would set a CHL record, losing 29 in a row.

On Feb. 7, Seattle centre Glen Goodall had an assist in a 5-3 victory over visiting Tri-City to break the WHL record for most points in a career. That lifted his point total to 530, one more than Craig Endean, who had played with Seattle and Regina.

Two nights later, Seattle broke the WHL single-game attendance record as 12,253 fans watched a 5-3 victory over Spokane.

Figures compiled by the Regina Leader-Post showed that attendance totalled 1,678,651, up about 40,000 over the previous season. Tri-City, which sold out every home game, led the way with total attendance of 216,360. Saskatoon, in its first full season in Saskatchewan Place, played in front of 209,542 fans. Seattle, which finished with its best-ever record (52-17-3; the best previous was 32-28-12 in 1977-78), drew 181,211 fans, up 66,189 from a year previous.

On March 28, Chynoweth admitted that two groups had applied for an expansion franchise for Tacoma, Wash.

The Spokane franchise changed hands on April 10, with Fitzgerald selling to the Brett brothers — Bobby, George and Ken — for more than $600,000. Bob Brett wouldn’t say what they paid, other than to say it was “too much.”

JackShupe

The postseason changes started in April when Speltz and Kennedy learned that Medicine Hat wouldn’t renew their contracts, and Rick Hopper was named head coach/director of hockey operations in Victoria. Jack Shupe, the Tigers’ first GM/head coach in 1970-71, was the new GM in Medicine Hat. He hired Tim Bothwell as coach.

On April 29, Kamloops scored a 6-5 overtime victory in Lethbridge to win the WHL final in five games. Kamloops lost the opener and then won four straight. The Blazers struck out at the Memorial Cup, though, as the Oshawa Generals, with Eric Lindros, won it all in Hamilton.

There was much expansion talk in the WHL, resulting in this comment from Brodsky: “It’s sort of like being in love. If you have to ask yourself whether you’re in love, you’re probably not. If we’re wondering why we should expand, then maybe we’re forcing the issue a bit. If expansion is right, we’ll know it.”

DennisBeyak
DENNIS BEYAK

Farwell left Seattle to become GM of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers. Anholt added the GM’s nameplate to his door, and hired assistant GM Dennis Beyak from Saskatoon. Beyak had been in Saskatoon since 1981 and was the person deemed most responsible for the success of the 1989 Memorial Cup in Saskatoon.

Simpson left Prince Albert again, this time to become an assistant coach with the Winnipeg Jets. Daum was promoted to replace him.

There were shockwaves in Kamloops when Hitchcock resigned after six seasons with the Blazers. He signed as an assistant coach with Philadelphia. Tom Renney replaced Hitchcock, who left with a 291-125-15 regular-season record over six seasons, his .693 winning percentage the highest of any coach in WHL history.

Leaving wasn’t easy for Hitchcock, who said: “I got cold feet a couple of times. I almost went into (GM) Bob Brown’s office and said, ‘Call the whole thing off, I don’t want to go.’ ”

On Sept. 30, Chynoweth chatted about expansion: “There are what I like to call tire-kickers in Boise, Idaho; Eugene, Oregon; and, Tacoma, Washington. The WHL is in good shape and we’re aggressive to expand by one, possibly two teams in the West Division sometime soon. We are coming off our second record-setting attendance season. We’re also proud of the fact that this is the third year in a row we aren’t opening a new site. Believe it or not, but we’re stable.”

Bruce Hamilton, a former player and scout with the Blades, headed a group of Saskatoon and Tacoma investors who were eventually granted a franchise for Tacoma to start with the 1991-92 season.

On Oct. 30, with the 1990-91 season one month old, one night before Halloween, James went wild in Swift Current. Upset with referee Kevin Muench after the Broncos turned a 7-3 second-period lead into a 9-8 loss to visiting Medicine Hat, James went on to the ice in pursuit of Muench, then returned to the bench and threw sticks and water bottles onto the ice. James then removed his jacket, tie, shirt and one shoe and threw them onto the ice before his players escorted him to the dressing room.

Bothwell summed it up: “All I can say is, ‘Wow.’ I don’t know what words can describe what happened out there, from a lot of different aspects.”

James was suspended for six games and fined $2,000. “At least they didn’t ask me for the shirt off my back,” he said. The incident would show up on video on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and the David Letterman Show among others.

GerryJohansson
GERRY JOHANSSON

There was some silliness in Spokane, too. On Dec. 6, with Tri-City visiting Spokane, Maxwell and Americans assistant Gerry Johannson got into it after first period.

Here’s Maxwell: “He was waiting for me. He was yapping at me. He challenged me and I accepted the challenge.” Maxwell was said to have out-punched his opponent, 4-0.

Here’s Johansson: “He throws punches like marshmallows.”

Maxwell was suspended for three games and fined $500. Johansson got hit for $1,000 and four games.

Remember that $1 parking fee in Regina? Well, on Dec. 17, Regina Exhibition Park announced it was doubling it to $2. “I don’t think our fans will take very kindly to it if it does happen,” said co-owner/GM Bill Hicke. “If that’s the case it’ll drive another nail in the coffin.”

The Pats’ lease would expire after the 1990-91 season and Hicke had already made at least one trip into the Pacific Northwest to scout buildings.

A change in Prince Albert had Dale Engel move in as GM, with Rob Daum giving up that title but staying on as coach. It was no surprise when Daum left P.A. for Swift Current at season’s end.

On Feb. 4, Saskatoon fired head coach Terry Ruskowski, replacing him with former Blades defenceman Bob Hoffmeyer.

On March 17, Seattle was awarded the 1992 Memorial Cup.

The Leader-Post’s attendance figures showed that Tri-City, with 36 sellouts, again topped the WHL with 216,360 fans. Seattle was next at 215,248, up 34,037 from the season previous. But overall attendance was down 22,861 to 1,655,790.

LorneFrey
LORNE FREY

On April 17, Marcel Comeau was named the first head coach of the Tacoma Rockets. Hamilton would be the GM, with Lorne Frey, most recently with Swift Current, as director of player personnel.

Spokane scored a 7-2 victory over home-town Lethbridge to sweep the WHL final. The Chiefs would go on to win the Memorial Cup, with goaltender Trevor Kidd and right-winger Pat Falloon wrapping up dream seasons. Both played for the Canadian junior team that won the gold medal in Saskatoon.

One thing more than any other summed up the WHL as it headed into its second 25 years. When the 1991-92 season opened, the league not only had the same 14 teams for the fourth consecutive season, but it had welcomed the Tacoma Rockets to the fold.

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IceDogs’ situation looks awfully messy. . . . Pats, Hurricanes make a trade. . . . WHL final resumes tonight in Langley

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An Ontario Superior Court judge in Hamilton ruled last month that documents related to ohlthe OHL’s Niagara IceDogs and unauthorized contracts with players would be unsealed on Friday. They were, and TSN’s Rick Westhead has gone over those documents.

According to Westhead:

“The Ontario Hockey League’s Niagara IceDogs agreed to unauthorized side contracts with the families of two players — one of whom is still in the OHL — and likely had similarly secret and unsanctioned deals with a number of European players, according to an investigation into the team’s recruiting practices.”

Westhead provides a lot of details in this piece, which is particularly damning because the OHL, as he puts it, “is embroiled in a class-action lawsuit filed by a group of current and former players demanding they be paid minimum wage.”

The IceDogs are owned by Denise and Bill Burke.

Westhead continues:

“In connection with that case, Denise Burke testified in a Nov. 14, 2015, affidavit that while her OHL team brought in an average of $2.7 million, it still lost money.

“Seven months before the IceDogs purportedly signed a secret deal with the (Liam) Ham family, Denise Burke said that it would be ‘catastrophic’ if the IceDogs had to pay players.”

At that time, Denise Burke testified: “We knew that we wouldn’t become rich owning a team, but seeing as this is our only business, we have always hoped that we would at least be able to break even and at least make more money than we spend, otherwise sooner or later the ‘Bank of Burke’ will run dry.”

Westhead’s complete story is right here.


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The Regina Pats have acquired F Drew Englot, 16, from the Lethbridge Hurricanes for a Patsfourth-round selection in the 2022 WHL bantam draft. Englot, who is from Candiac, Sask., was picked by the Hurricanes in the fourth round of the 2017 bantam draft. . . . He has played the past two seasons with  the midget AAA Notre Dame Hounds, who have won back-to-back league titles. This season he had 21 goals and 20 assists in 43 regular-season games.


Two former WHL coaches were fired by the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers on Monday as they juggled their staff after the hiring of Alain Vigneault as head coach. . . . Kris Knoblauch and Rick Wilson both were dismissed. . . . Knoblauch, 40, had been with the Flyers for two seasons. He began his coaching career as an assistant with the Prince Albert Raiders in 2006-07. He then spent five seasons with the Kootenay Ice, the last two as head coach. He also spent four-plus seasons as head coach of the OHL’s Erie Otters. . . . Wilson, 68, joined the Flyers this season, on Dec. 4. He has been an NHL coach, mostly as an assistant since 1988-89. He spent eight seasons (1980-88) on Prince Albert’s staff, the last two as head coach.


Dave Andrews will retire after spending one more season as the president and CEO of the American Hockey League. Andrews, a former head coach of the WHL’s Victoria Cougars, told the AHL’s board of governors on Monday that he is going to retire as of June 30, 2020. He is completing his 25th season as AHL president. . . . Andrews was the Cougars’ head coach for all of 1982-83 and part of 1983-84, when he was replaced by Les Calder. He later spent seven seasons as the director of hockey operations with the Nova Scotia/Cape Breton Oilers, then the Edmonton Oilers’ AHL affiliate.


The OHL’s Ottawa 67’s had their 14-game playoff winning streak come to an end on Monday as they were beaten 7-2 by the Storm in Guelph. The 67’s, who were outshot 36-20, lead the OHL championship series, 2-1. . . . They’ll play Game 4 in Guelph on Wednesday. . . . The 67’s had swept their first three series and then opened the final with two victories. . . . Ottawa G Mikey DiPietro, who suffered what is believed to have been a high ankle sprain in Game 2, wasn’t in uniform for this one. . . .

In the QMJHL, the visiting Rouyn-Noranda Huskies dumped the Halifax Mooseheads, 5-2, to take a 2-1 lead in the championship final. . . . They’ll play again tonight in Halifax. . . . Both teams will play in the Memorial Cup because the Mooseheads are the host team. The tournament is to run from May 17 through May 26.


Mike Reagan has signed a new contract as general manager and head coach of the SJHL’s Flin Flon Bombers. This deal will take him through the 2020-21 season. . . . Reagan has been with the Bombers for 12 seasons, winning at least 30 games in six of them. The Bombers have been in the playoffs in each of those 12 seasons. . . . There is a news release right here.


Cam Basarab is the new head coach of the Trail-based Kootenay Ice of the B.C. Major Midget Hockey League. He started this season as an assistant coach with the junior B Campbell River Storm of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League. He was moved up to head coach in November and then replaced on Jan. 23. . . . Basarab also was a video coach with the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes for the previous two seasons. . . . Basarab takes over from Kris Boyce, the head coach for the past three seasons.


F Liam Stewart, who played four seasons (2011-15) with the Spokane Chiefs, has signed on with the SkyCity Stampede of the New Zealand Hockey League. Stewart, born in Great Britain, has a New Zealand passport through his mother, ex-model Rachel Hunter, so won’t be classified as an import. . . . The Stampede, which plays out of Queenstown, is to open the season on May 31 against the Dunedin Thunder. . . . He was to have played this season with the Sheffield Steelers of the Elite Ice Hockey League in Great Britain, but was sidelined by a concussion. . . . Stewart’s father is rock musician Rod Stewart.


EdChynowethCup

NOTES: The WHL final for the Ed Chynoweth Cup resumes tonight (Tuesday) with the  Prince Albert Raiders and Vancouver Gains meeting at the Langley, B.C., Events Centre. . . . The series is tied, 1-1. . . . They’ll play again Wednesday and Friday in Langley. . . . The $64,000 question going into Game 3 is whether Prince Albert D Max Martin will play. He left Game 2 in the second period after falling awkwardly into the end boards and appearing to injure a shoulder. . . . Martin is key part of the Raiders’ back end. He had 41 points, including 35 assists, in 59 regular-season games, and has seven assists in 18 playoff games. . . . Here’s Darren Steinke of Stanks’ Sermon explaining the Raiders’ options: “If (Martin) doesn’t play that will likely shake up the Raiders normally locked-in defensive pairings of Martin with Sergei Sapego, captain Brayden Pachal with Zack Hayes, and Jeremy Masella with Kaiden Guhle.” . . . If Martin doesn’t dress, the Raiders likely will insert D Loeden Schaufler into what will be his fifth game of these playoffs.

Steve Ewen of Postmedia takes a look right here at Marc Habscheid, the Raiders’ head coach, who has learned to change with the times.


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‘Tips get Patterson from Broncos . . . Warriors add two forwards . . . WHL has seven on camp roster


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COUNTDOWN TO DEADLINE

(WHL trade deadline: Jan. 10, 3 p.m. MT)

Monday’s action

No. of trades: 3.

Players: 4.

Bantam draft picks: 3.

Conditional draft picks: 0.

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Total deals (since Nov. 26):

No. of trades: 8.

Players: 21.

Bantam draft picks: 18.

Conditional draft picks: 3.


The Everett Silvertips have acquired F Max Patterson from the Swift Current Broncos for F Dawson Springer, 16, and a fourth-round selection in the 2020 WHL bantam draft.

Patterson, from Kamloops, is the third member of the Broncos’ championship team from Everettlast season now on Everett’s roster, along with D Artyom Minulin and D Sahvan Khaira, both of whom are 20 years of age.

The Broncos beat the Silvertips in six games in last spring’s WHL final. This season, the  Broncos have the 22-team WHL’s poorest record (4-21-2), while the Silvertips lead the U.S. Division, at 22-7-1.

The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Patterson will turn 19 on Dec. 27. He is the son of former WHL/NHL F Ed Patterson.

Max was selected by the Kootenay Ice in the fourth round of the 2014 bantam draft. He had 15 goals and 10 assists in 127 games with the Ice, before being dealt to the Broncos on Sept. 10, 2017, for G Bailey Brkin and a fifth-rounder in the 2018 bantam draft.

Last season, Patterson had nine goals and 15 assists in 72 games. He had five goals and SCBroncostwo assists in 26 playoff games. This season, he had eight goals and 11 assists in 27 games.

With his size, Patterson will give the Silvertips more grit along the boards and on the forecheck, and more net-front presence in the offensive zone.

Springer, from Yorkton, Sask., was listed by Everett last month. He was in the Brandon Wheat Kings’ training camp prior to the 2017-18 season.

Springer is playing for the midget AAA Prince Albert Mintos and is tied for the league lead with 18 goals. In 21 games, he has put up 25 points

Last season, Springer had 35 goals and 16 assists in 36 games with the midget AA Melville Millionaires.


The Moose Jaw Warriors were involved in two trades on Monday, acquiring F Luke Ormsby, 19, from the Everett Silvertips and getting F Kjell Kjemhus, 17, from the Prince MooseJawWarriorsGeorge Cougars.

In exchange for Ormsby, who is from Everett, the Warriors gave up a sixth-round selection in the 2022 bantam draft.

The Warriors gave up a seventh-round pick in the 2020 bantam draft for Kjemhus. The pick originally belonged to the Seattle Thunderbirds.

This season, Ormsby has three goals and three assists in 25 games. In 150 regular-season games, he has 11 goals and 13 assists. He was a ninth-round selection by Seattle in the 2014 bantam draft. The Silvertips acquired him from the Thunderbirds on Nov. 2, 2017, for a ninth-round pick in the 2018 bantam draft.

Kjemhus, from Grande Prairie, Alta., was a fourth-round selection by the Regina Pats in the 2016 bantam draft. He was dealt to Prince George in January in a deal that had F Jesse Gabrielle, then 20, join the Pats.

This season, Kjemhus had two assists in five games with the Cougars and had been a frequent healthy scratch. In 36 career games, six of them with Regina, had has two goals and four assists.


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Seven WHL players were among the 34 invitees by Hockey Canada to the selection camp for the country’s national junior team.

The WHL contingent includes F Jaret Anderson-Dolan of the Spokane Chiefs, who is Canadasidelined with a broken wrist and may not have medical clearance in time for the selection camp.

Also on the camp roster are G Ian Scott and F Brett Leason of the Prince Albert Raiders, D Calen Addison of the Lethbridge Hurricanes, D Josh Brook of the Moose Jaw Warriors, Spokane D Ty Smith and F Cody Glass of the Portland Winterhawks.

The roster, which is right here, includes 14 players from the OHL, eight from the QMJHL, seven from NCAA teams and one from the NHL. F Gabe Vilardi is with the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings but is expected to be assigned to the camp.

The roster features three goaltenders, 12 defenceman and 19 forwards.

The selection camp is to run Dec. 11-14 at the Q Centre, the home of the BCHL’s Victoria Grizzlies.

The 2019 World Junior Championship runs from Dec. 26 through Jan. 5 in Victoria and Vancouver.

NOTES: Finland’s selection camp roster includes D Lassi Thomson of the Kelowna Rockets. He is one of 10 defencemen on the roster. . . . Finland’s roster also includes F Aleksi Heponiemi, who played the past two seasons with the Swift Current Broncos but now is with Kärpät in Finland’s top pro league. Heponiemi, 19, put up 204 points, including 148 assists, over two seasons with the Broncos. He has six goals and 16 assists in 25 games with Kärpät. . . . Jiri Patera of the Brandon Wheat Kings is one of three goaltenders on Czech Republic’s selection camp roster. Also listed are D Filip Kral of Spokane, D Libor Zabransky of Kelowna and F Krystof Hrabik of the Tri-City Americans. D Daniel Bukac also is on the roster. He played two seasons with Brandon, and now is with the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs.

——

At least three WHL players will be playing in the IIHF World Junior Championship (Division 1 Group A) that begins Sunday and runs through Dec. 15 in Fussen Germany.

F Aliaksei Protas and D Sergei Sapego of the Prince Albert Raiders will play for Belarus, while F Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen of the Saskatoon Blades is to be in Norway’s lineup.

The Division I Group A tournament features the national junior teams from Austria, Belarus, France, Germany, Latvia and Norway. The winner of the tournament will be promoted to play with the big boys in the 2020 World Junior Championship.

All three players are expected to miss six games, but should be back by Dec. 27 when both teams return from the Christmas break for a game in Saskatoon.



Veteran NHL assistant coach Rick Wilson, who spent eight seasons on the coaching staff of the Prince Albert Raiders, is joining the Philadelphia Flyers. Wilson, 68, is from Prince Albert. . . . He was an assistant coach with the Raiders for six seasons (1980-86) and the head coach for two seasons. . . . He then went on to an NHL career that has included stints with the New York Islanders, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues. He actually had two stints with Dallas — 1993-2009 and last season. . . . With the Flyers, he will fill the void created by last week’s firing of Gord Murphy. Wilson be working under head coach Dave Hakstol, a former U of North Dakota head coach. Wilson played at UND and also spent two seasons (1978-80) there as an assistant coach. . . . The Wilson signing was first reported by Brad E. Schlossman of the Grand Forks, N.D., Herald.


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Partnership between WHL, Kidney Foundation pays off . . . Pats’ owners expect $2-million loss on Memorial Cup . . . Former NHL ref remembers Flin Flon

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D Connor Cox (Moose Jaw, Saskatoon, Everett, 2008-13) signed a one-year contract with the Dundee Stars (Scotland, UK Elite). This season, with the U of Saskatchewan (Canada West), he had one goal and eight assists in 20 games. . . .

F Mário Bližňák (Vancouver, 2005-08) signed a one-year contract with Dukla Trenčín (Slovakia, Extraliga). This season, with Liberec (Czech Republic, Extraliga), he had two goals and two assists in 24 games. On loan to Benátky nad Jizerou (Czech Republic,1. Liga), he was pointless in one game. . . .

F Milan Bartovič (Brandon, Tri-City, 1999-2001) signed a one-year contract with Dukla Trenčín (Slovakia, Extraliga). This season, with Liberec (Czech Republic, Extraliga), he had one goal and one assist in 19 games. On loan to Vítkovice Ostrava (Czech Republic, Extraliga), he had one goal and four assists in 18 games. . . .

F Pavel Padakin (Calgary, Regina, 2012-15) has been traded by Sochi (Russia, KHL) to Ak Bars Kazan (Russia, KHL) for Dmitri Arkhipov and monetary compensation. With Sochi this season, Padakin had nine goals and a team-high 22 assists in 53 games. . . .

F Martin Erat (Saskatoon, Red Deer, 1999-2001) signed a one-year contract extension with Brno (Czech Republic, Extraliga). in 49 games, he had 12 goals and 34 assists. An alternate captain, he led his team in assists in points. He was second in the league in assists and fifth in scoring. . . .

G Ty Rimmer (Brandon, Prince George, Tri-City, Lethbridge, 2009-13) signed a one-year contract with Kitzbühel (Austria, Alps HL). This season, in 42 games with the Greenville Swamp Rabbits (ECHL), he was 14-23-1-1, 3.91,.898. . . .

F Brett Ferguson (Red Deer, 2008-11) signed a two-year contract extension with Guildford Flames (England, UK Elite). In 48 games, he had 18 goals and 38 assists.


Scattershooting

The WHL announced Monday at the Memorial Cup in Regina that $265,500 was raised through the RE/MAX Presents: WHL Suits Up with Don Cherry to Promote Organ Donation campaign. . . . The WHL’s 17 Canadian teams each played host to an event during the regular season. . . . The money was raised through various initiatives, including the auctioning of sweaters that resembled Cherry’s suit jackets. . . . From the WHL news release: “The $265,500 raised is the Kidney Foundation of Canada’s largest public awareness and fundraising campaign for organ donation.” . . . The Cherry family has been a huge supporter of the Kidney Foundation for years. Tim, Cherry’s son, received a kidney from his sister, Cindy, in 1979. . . . If you are interested in signing up as an organ donor, please visit CanadaDonates.ca. . . . There wasn’t any mention in the news release about whether the WHL will be involved in the campaign again next season, but here’s hoping.


Who was the scheduling wizard who scheduled Game 5 of the Stanley Cup series between the Vegas Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets for Sunday afternoon on the first long weekend of summer? No, I didn’t watch. I was driving, so caught the game on XM.


Early on Sunday, there were social media notices that plenty of seats were available for that day’s Memorial Cup game in Regina, between the Pats and the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, starting at $75 plus fees. For junior hockey?


The Kelowna Rockets have signed F Ethan Ernst, a native of Weyburn, Sask., who turned 16 on Jan. 26. He was a third-round selection in the WHL’s 2017 bantam draft. . . . This season, he had 15 goals and 20 assists in 41 games with the midget AAA Notre Dame Hounds.


Hockey fans may not be aware that retired NHL referee Kerry Fraser first made his mark in the WHL, and it all started with a game in Flin Flon. Rob Vanstone of the Regina Leader-Post spoke with Fraser about that and other WHL stories. It’s all right here.


Rick Wilson, a former WHL coach, has decided to retire, ending a coaching career that began with two seasons (1978-79) at his alma mater, the U of North Dakota. He then spent eight seasons with his hometown Prince Albert Raiders, six as an assistant coach and the last two as head coach. . . . Wilson, 67, worked as an assistant coach with the NHL’s New York Islanders, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues. But most of his career was spent with the Dallas Stars, which is where he finished up this season.


The Memorial Cup schedule (all times local):

Game 1, Friday – Regina 3, Hamilton 2 (5,678)

Game 2, Saturday – Acadie-Bathurst 4, Swift Current 3 (OT) (6,237)

Game 3, Sunday – Acadie-Bathurst 8, Regina 6 (5,832)

Game 4, Monday – Hamilton 2, Swift Current 1 (5,820)

Game 5, Tuesday – Acadie-Bathurst vs. Hamilton, 8 p.m.

Game 6, Wednesday – Regina vs. Swift Current, 8 p.m.

Tiebreaker (if necessary) – Thursday, 6 p.m.

Semifinal – Friday, May 25, 8 p.m.

Final — Sunday, May 27, 5 p.m.


The Medicine Hat Tigers have signed F Kadyn Chabot, 16, to a WHL contract. Chabot, from Lethbridge, had 13 goals and 22 assists in 32 games with the midget AAA Lethbridge Hurricanes this season. . . . He was a sixth-round selection by the Tigers in the 2017 bantam draft.


So here’s the deal. . . . The owners of the Regina Pats paid $3.65 million to the CHL for the right to play host to the 2018 Memorial Cup and celebrate the event’s 100th anniversary. . . . Shaun Semple, who is part of the ownership group and chairman of the tournament’s organizing committee, says they expect to lose about $2 million. . . . Alex Soloducha of CBC News has more right here.


Darren Steinke, the travellin’ blogger, was at the Memorial Cup on Monday as the OHL-champion Hamilton Bulldogs got past the WHL-champion Swift Current Broncos, 2-1. Steinke has a game story and some info on Bob Ridley, the voice of the Medicine Hat Tigers, right here.


The 1980 Memorial Cup, which started in Brandon and finished in Regina, was the messiest in the event’s history. You may recall that it featured questions about whether one team threw a game that eliminated the WHL-champion Pats; it also featured at least one chicken-throwing incident. . . . I know that I never will forget the sight of a reporter with a Regina radio station sporting a Pats cap and asking Mike Keenan, the head coach of the Peterborough Petes, questions about what had happened. Daniel Nugent-Bowman has produced an oral history of that tournament and it’s all right here.


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