The WHL said Thursday afternoon that “at this time” weekend games scheduled for the Pacific Northwest will proceed.
As of early Thursday evening, 70 people in Washington state had been diagnosed with COVID-19. That includes 11 people who have died. Fifty-one of those cases, and 10 of the deaths, have occurred in King County whose county seat is Seattle.
The Everett Silvertips are to play host to the Tri-City Americans tonight (Friday) and the Seattle Thunderbirds on Saturday.
On Sunday, the Silvertips are to visit the Thunderbirds in Kent, Wash.
The Silvertips are second in the U.S. Division, one point behind the Portland Winterhawks. The Thunderbirds, who are to visit the Kelowna Rockets tonight, are in possession of the Western Conference’s second wild-card spot.
On Thursday, Cassie Franklin, the mayor of Everett, took part in a news conference that also involved the Snohomish Health District. Among the recommendations announced was to avoid “non-essential gatherings/large groups of 50+ people and postponing/cancelling events if possible.”
Later, Ron Robison, the WHL commissioner, was quoted in a statement as saying the league, the Silvertips and Thunderbirds “are closely monitoring the public health developments” in the Pacific Northwest.”
He added that “at this time,” weekend games in Everett and Kent, Wash., the home of the Thunderbirds, will go ahead.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the immediate health risk to the United States public is low,” Robison said in the statement. “We will continue to monitor this situation closely and will adopt additional health and safety measures as recommended by local health authorities.”
The Seattle Times has a look right here at other sporting events scheduled for that area, including Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders, who are planning to go ahead with a Saturday night home game.
Meanwhile, officials in B.C. announced eight new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, all on the Lower Mainland, bringing the province’s total positives to 21. That includes four patients who have recovered.
The Vancouver Giants, who play out of the Langley Events Centre, are next scheduled to play at home on March 13 against Seattle. The Giants will visit the Thunderbirds on March 14, then play host to the Prince George Cougars on March 15.
ICYMI, baseball’s West Coast League will have a franchise in Nanaimo, B.C., beginning with the 2021 season. The team, which doesn’t yet have a name, will be the WCL’s 13th team and will be owned by the group that operates the Victoria HarbourCats. That group includes former Prince George Citizen sports editor Jim Swanson, who is the managing partner and will oversee operations with both franchises. . . . The wood-bat league features teams in B.C., Washington and Oregon. . . . There is a news release on Thursday’s announcement right here.
If the Brandon Wheat Kings finish third or fourth in the WHL’s East Division, they will get bumped from Westoba Place for the first round and will play their home games in Virden. . . . The Wheat Kings go into weekend play in second place in the East Division, five points ahead of the Winnipeg Ice and seven up on the Saskatoon Blades.
F Tyler Redenbach (Prince George, Swift Current, Lethbridge, 2001-05) signed a one-year contract with the Oji Eagles Tomakomai (Japan, Asia HL). Last season, with Liberec (Czech Republic, Extraliga), he had nine goals and nine assists in 50 games. . . .
F Chase Clayton (Calgary, Saskatoon, 2010-15) signed a one-year contract with Blue Devils Weiden (Germany, Oberliga Süd). Last season, in 27 games with U of British Columbia (USports, Canada West), he had eight goals and four assists.
Guy Flaming, the host of The Pipeline Show, chatted with Ron Robison, the WHL commissioner, on July 4. Part of that conversation — a partial transcript of which is right here — included this:
Flaming: One of the questions that came in from a listener was about the updated roster pages on the WHL website. It’s something I’ve mentioned over the last couple of years as well. Right now, if I go to the QMJHL website, I can pull up a roster for a respective team, Halifax, whatever, and see every player that that team holds the rights to. If I go to the WHL website and I look at the Calgary Hitmen, Jett Woo isn’t even listed on their roster and, in fact, the roster page is blank for the 2019 pre-season. Why is that and how can we fix that moving forward because, I think you’d agree, that it would be advantageous for the fans at least to generate interest by seeing all the players that a team holds the rights to?
Robison: Well, I think that that is a very good question and I’m glad you brought it to my attention. I’ll certainly look into that. I think it’s important that we keep current rosters. Not quite sure why that would be the case but I will certainly look into it and would suggest to you that as long as there’s the ability to do that, that we would certainly have that information posted.
Well . . . July is about to end, meaning it has been almost four weeks since Flaming and Robison had that conversation.
I checked for pre-season rosters on the WHL website on Monday evening and here is what I found — the Everett Silvertips, Kamloops Blazers, Regina Pats and Victoria Royals have rosters available.
As for the other 18 teams . . . crickets!
So the next time you hear the commissioner of all things WHL talking about how important fans are, well . . .
I mean, sheesh, we’re talking about pre-season rosters here. Not the contract terms of all 22 head coaches, or how much players are being paid, or how much the WHL is paying in legal fees these days.
BTW, Robison’s response to Flaming’s first question — he asked for two or three highlights from the past 12 months — had me spitting out my coffee. I’m thinking the good folks of Prince Albert would have done the same. . . . One of Robison’s highlights was the Raiders having won the 2018-19 WHL championship:
“What a good news story that is,” Robison said, “and it really helped solidify that franchise moving forward, because as you’re well aware, in the smaller markets, there’s challenges and certainly in Prince Albert we need a new facility and the timing couldn’t have been better for their run in the WHL playoffs and winning the championship.”
Hey, Prince Albert, you have been forewarned. Time to start saving your pennies for a new arena.
Quit snickering, Swift Current, because you’ll be up next.
There are nine WHLers on the 22-man roster for the Canadian team that will play in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup that runs from Aug. 5-10 in Breclav, Czech Republic, and Piestany, Slovakia. . . . The roster was revealed Tuesday after a five-day selection camp in Calgary. . . . Here are the WHL players named to the team: F Ozzy Wiesblatt, Prince Albert Raiders; F Justin Sourdif, Vancouver Giants; F Ridly Greig, Brandon Wheat Kings; F Connor McClennon, Winnipeg Ice; F Jake Neighbours, Edmonton Oil Kings; F Seth Jarvis, Portland Winterhawks; D Daemon Hunt, Moose Jaw Warriors; D Kaiden Guhle, Prince Albert; and G Dylan Garand, Kamloops Blazers. . . . WHLers who were in camp but weren’t selected: F Jakob Brook, Prince Albert; F Kyle Crnkovic, Saskatoon Blades; F Jack Finley, Spokane Chiefs; F Ryder Korczak, Moose Jaw; D Tyrel Bauer, Seattle Thunderbirds; D Luke Prokop, Calgary Hitmen; and D Ronan Seeley, Everett Silvertips. . . . Canada will open against Finland on Monday in Breclav. . . . Michael Dyck, Vancouver’s head coach, is the head coach of Canada’s team, with Dennis Williams, the head coach of the Everett Silvertips, one of the assistant coaches.
The Calgary Hitmen have signed Czech F Jonas Peterek, 18, and Slovakian F Samuel Krajc, 17, both of whom were picked in the CHL’s 2019 import draft. . . . Peterek had two goals and seven assists in nine games with HC Ocelari Trinec’s U-19 team last season, then added two goals and nine assists in 41 games on loan to HC Frydek-Mistek (Czech2). He also had five goals and eight assists in 29 games with his country’s U-18 side. . . . Krajc had eight goals and six assists in 14 games with HK Dukla Trencin’s U-18 team, and also had 11 goals and eight assists in 27 games with the U-20 side. In seven games with Slovakia’s U-18 team, he had two goals and an assist.
Leland Mack has joined the Prince George Cougars has their head scout in the Pacific Region. He is the head coach of the Burnaby Winter Club’s bantam prep team. Mack had been scouting for the Seattle Thunderbirds. . . . The Cougars also have added Tim Mills, David Reekie, Rob Rogers and Trevor Sprague to their scouting staff. . . . Mills moves over from the Swift Current Broncos and will be the Cougars’ Okanagan scout. . . . Reekie, a goaltender in his playing days who suited up with the Regina Pats and Everett Silvertips (2004-07), will work Regina and southern Saskatchewan for the Cougars. . . . Rogers, who had been working with the Spokane Chiefs, will focus on B.C. . . . Sprague, the general manager of the major midget Cariboo Cougars, will keep an eye on the B.C. Major Midget Hockey League and northern B.C.
Taking Note has been told that F Patrick D’Amico, who played three seasons (2012-15) with the Regina Pats, won’t be playing in 2019-20 because of concussion issues. A Winnipegger, he has played four seasons in the ECHL, with the Colorado Eagles, Atlanta Gladiators, Indy Fuel and Norfolk Admirals. Last season, he had seven goals and 10 assists in 28 games. . . . In 2017-18, he had 10 goals and 23 assists in 55 games with Norfolk.
Greg Wyshynski of ESPN has taken an in-depth look at the NHL and its fighting numbers. . . . “In 1,271 regular-season games in 2018-19,” he writes, “there were 224 fights in which at least one player received a fighting major. That’s down from 280 fights in 2017-18.” . . . Also: ”The rate for 2018-19 was 0.18 fights per game, which marks the first time that the average fights per game has dropped below 0.20.” . . . And: “In 2018-19, 15.3% of regular-season games had a fight. In 2008-09, that number was 41.4%.” . . . Let’s compare a couple of those numbers to the WHL’s 2018-19 season, using numbers available at hockeyfights.com. In 748 regular-season WHL games, there were 272 fights in which at least one player received a fighting major. (That number was 345 in 2017-18, when each team played 72 games; last season, each team played 68 games.) The rate for 2018-19 was 0.36 fights per game, down from 0.44 in 2017-18. . . . Yes, there are more fights in the WHL than in the NHL these days. . . . Wyshynski’s complete story is right here.
Dan MacKenzie has signed on as the first full-time president of the Canadian Hockey League, the umbrella under which the Ontario Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Western Hockey League operate. . . . MacKenzie, who spent the past eight years as the managing director of NBA Canada, will report to the CHL executive council which comprises the three commissioners of the aforementioned leagues — David Branch (OHL), Gilles Courteau (QMJHL) and Ron Robison (WHL). As well as being the OHL commissioner, Branch had been the CHL president since 1996. . . . There is a complete news release right here. . . .
F Sebastian Streu, who will turn 20 on Nov. 22, has signed a tryout agreement with Eisbären Berlin (Germany, DEL), meaning that he won’t be returning to the Regina Pats. Streu, who has German/Canadian citizenship, had seven goals and 15 assists in 36 games with Regina last season. . . . Streu’s father, Craig, is preparing for his first season as an assistant coach with Eisbären Berlin. . . . The Pats are left with three 20s on their roster — F Robbie Holmes, F Dawson Holt and F Austin Pratt.
One added note to this about CHL fighting: There's a kid in the WHL right now who fought 56 times before his 20th birthday. In today's game. The WHL's leaders and owners are beyond irresponsible in their disregard for player well-being. https://t.co/Hw7y4a4zj2
It’s been a slow day for signings, so I’ll throw one more name into the UFA market — yours truly! I’m now an unrestricted free agent for the first time in my professional career, since graduating college in 2004 when I was 19. I’m open to any and all opportunities!
F Andrew Clark (Brandon, 2005-09) has signed a one-year contract with Langenthal (Switzerland, Swiss League). Last season, in 52 games with Innsbruck (Austria, Erste Bank Liga), he had 20 goals and 49 assists. He led the league in assists and was tied for the lead in points. . . .
D Juraj Valach (Tri-City, Vancouver, Regina, Red Deer, 2006-08) has signed a one-year contract with the Linz Black Wings (Austria, Erste Bank Liga). Last season, in 44 games with with Piráti Chomutov (Czech Republic, Extraliga), he had three goals and five assists. . . .
D Jonathon Blum (Vancouver, 2005-09) has signed a two-year contract with Färjestad Karlstad (Sweden, SHL). Last season, with Dinamo Minsk (Belarus, KHL), he had three goals and seven assists in 35 games. . . .
F Colton Gillies (Saskatoon, 2004-08) has signed a one-year contract extension with Dinamo Riga (Latvia, KHL). Last season, he had one goal and four assists in 35 games. . . .
F Mark McNeill (Prince Albert, 2008-13) has signed a one-year contract with the Linz Black Wings (Austria, Erste Bank Liga). Last season, in 56 games with the Providence Bruins (AHL), he had eight goals and 17 assists. . . .
F David Rutherford (Vancouver, Spokane, 2004-08) has signed a one-year contract with Lyon (France, Ligue Magnus). Last season, with the Belfast Giants (Northern Ireland, UK Elite), he had 18 goals and 39 assists in 54 games.
The Buffalo Sabres today announced that forward Dylan Cozens will undergo a procedure Wednesday on his left thumb following an injury he sustained on June 29 at Sabres Development Camp. An update on his estimated recovery time will be provided later this week.
F Dylan Cozens of the Lethbridge Hurricanes suffered an injury to his left thumb during the Buffalo Sabres’ development camp on Saturday. He absorbed a hip check — it was a clean hit — and in trying to soften the landing, he put out his left hand, only to be injured when he landed awkwardly. . . . The above tweet from the Sabres came one day after Cozens was seen by a specialist. . . . While the thumb wasn’t broken in the mishap, it appears to have been dislocated, so he will undergo a ‘procedure’ today. . . . The Sabres selected Cozens with the seventh-overall pick of the NHL’s 2019 draft.
Guy Flaming, the owner, operator and host of The Pipeline Show (patreon.com/thepipelineshow), asked fans on Twitter the other day: “If there was ONE thing that you could change/add/remove from the Canadian Hockey League, what would it be and why?”
“I’d add another OA player to teams. Improves the overall hockey fans get to watch and puts a player who’s not quite ready for major junior back in midget. Improving the on-ice competition also improves development of all players.”
“More imports. With the U.S. and Euro junior leagues catching up to the CHL in quality, while also allowing players to keep NCAA eligibility, the CHL needs to cut into that. One way would be increasing imports to 4 or 5 up from 2. Cuts into European junior League talent.”
“A way better TV deal with regional and national broadcasts.”
“An online streaming service, where fans across Canada pay $60 a year to get any regular-season game of any team and then $30 for the playoffs, regulate the streams so they are good quality and call it a day.”
“WHL should change the bantam draft age from 15 to 16. Makes the draft more entertaining for the average fan because there will be a chance for the players to play immediately, and it wouldn’t be as much of a crapshoot for the teams.”
“Fighting. There is no need for teenagers be fighting in the CHL. Too many are paying the price with their health both now and down the road.Really can anyone give a valid reason as to why teens are fighting in the CHL? Everyone else is banning it; time for the CHL to get rid of it.”
“Memorial Cup hosted by a U.S. team.”
“I’d add a Canadian U-17 team that would play games in all three major junior leagues and be our team at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. I love the USA hockey model in the USHL with U-18 and U-17 teams.”
“Lighten the schedule a little. More time for skills development practice. More time for workouts and recovery. More time for personal time, mental health.”
Flaming also tweeted that he is preparing to interview Ron Robison, the WHL commissioner, for an upcoming show. Perhaps Flaming could ask the WHL commish about a regular-season schedule that has the Portland Winterhawks and Prince George Cougars playing each other four times in six days. Seriously! They will meet Dec. 3 and 4 in Portland, then head north and go at it in Prince George on Dec. 7 and 8. . . . The WHL schedule always seems to have its share of quirks, but methinks it will be tough to top this one.
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You may have read here about F James Hamblin of the Medicine Hat Tigers suffering a dislocated kneecap while attending the Toronto Maple Leafs’ development camp last week. . . . It turns out that the injury isn’t as bad as it originally appeared. . . . He told Ryan McCracken of the Medicine Hat News that “the pain was horrible.” . . . And then it was over. Just like that. . . . “Once they stretchered me off,” he told McCracken, “just as we got to the room we kind of hit a bump and it popped back in, and it was basically instant relief,” said Hamblin. “It went from an unbearable pain to nothing in an instant.” . . . Hamblin will undergo surgery, albeit minor, to remove a piece of cartilage that was revealed to be loose during an MRI. . . . Hamblin had 33 goals and 44 assists in 67 regular-season games last season. The Tigers’ captain each of the previous two seasons, Hamblin is prepping for his fifth season in Medicine Hat. . . . McCracken’s complete story is right here.
The gang at capfriendly.com reports that Day 1 of NHL free-agent frenzy resulted in the signings of 125 contracts covering 239 years with a total cap hit of $218,986,001. The total contract dollars involved were $704,499,000. . . . On Tuesday, which was Day 2, the totals were 10 signings covering 19 years, with a total cap hit of $8,509,167, and total dollars of $17,525,000. . . .
Meanwhile, the first day of NBA free agency was Sunday. Teams promptly committed more than $3 billion to 45 players.
Geoff Grimwood has filed a lawsuit in B.C. Provincial Court in Kelowna, claiming that the BCHL’s West Kelowna Warriors owe him $29,166, plus interest, after he was fired late last season. . . . You may remember that Grimwood was the team’s interim general manager and head coach when he was fired early in the season, only to be rehired when the players chose not to practice and went on a hike instead. Grimwood was rehired after the boycott, but was fired again on Jan. 28 by owner Kim Dobranski. . . . Wayne Moore of castanet.net has more right here. . . . Grimwood now is the GM/head coach of the MJHL’s Swan Valley Stampeders.
Matt Samson, the general manager of the junior B North Vancouver Wolf Pack, also will be the head coach in 2019-20. Samson stepped in as an assistant coach during last season and helped the club win the Pacific Junior Hockey League championship. . . . Samson takes over from Bayne Koen, who left after five years and now is the head coach of the bantam prep White team at Delta Hockey Academy. He also is the director of player development with the PJHL’s White Rock Whalers.
ICYMI, the Saskatchewan Roughriders throttled the visiting Toronto Argonauts on Monday evening, improving their CFL record to 1-2. You would think that the Roughriders having won their home-opener would be cause for excitement in Saskatchewan, but you would be wrong. Instead, football fans are confused/angered/upset/dismayed/up in arms (pick one, or insert your own) over the new-look Gainer. It seems that Gainer spent a chunk of his off-season at the Gopher Spa and came back with a brand new look. . . . There’s more right here.
They showed up for a funeral at Western Financial Place in Cranbrook on Sunday afternoon. But, in the end, it was a celebration of life and of what used to be, of three WHL championships and the Memorial Cup title that put the city in hockey’s spotlight in 2002.
The Kootenay Ice played its final game in Cranbrook on Sunday, beating the Red Deer Rebels, 5-4, and there were more than 2,600 fans in the pews to witness it.
The franchise had been in Cranbrook for 21 seasons, most of them full of smiles, chuckles and success.
This season, however, has been more heartbreak than anything else. It began with rumours and speculation, with fans in a state of denial. That all ended in January when Ron Robison, the WHL commissioner, and Ice owners Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell, who is the president and general manager, admitted that, yes, the Ice would be moving to Winnipeg upon the conclusion of this season.
That day came on Sunday.
Here are some notes from a few fans who were in the arena, not only for the final game, but for a lot of games over the team’s time in the city:
From one fan . . .
“What a game and what a finish for the Kootenay Ice . . . An emotional game in many respects — 2,654 in attendance — for one of the largest walk-up attended games. Fans were lined up at the ticket window until halfway through the first period. . . .These fans came to watch the last game and were supportive of the Ice the whole game. The Rebels, with four of their key players left at home, capitalized on Ice penalties — including the captain, Peyton Krebs, taking a major for boarding early in the first and being ejected from the game (deservedly so, I must add) — and then other penalties to the Ice giving the Rebels many chances.
“It was a hard-fought game, back and forth, with the Ice scoring late in the third, breaking a tie and winning, 5-4.
“Fans cheered throughout, and all were on their feet for the last three minutes of the game, the Rebels having pulled their goalie . . . the Ice being called for a penalty with 10 seconds left . . . the referees adding 4.5 seconds to the clock and then the clock goes for an additional 27 seconds instead of just 14.5 seconds until a scrum at the end resulted in the whistle finally being blown and the referees called the game as ended and giving the Ice the win. . . .
“The crowd stayed around and watched a long stick salute by the Ice players, who came up from the dressing room to sign autographs and talk to fans, to talk about how they are going to miss Cranbrook, their billet families, the weather and the fans.
“The crowd remained to meet with the players . . . probably close to 50 per cent stayed. There were many fans in tears uttering less flattering comments about the owners and noting they should have been upfront with us when they arrived.”
Here’s how another fan viewed it all . . .
“There was one group of season-ticket holders, who sit below the CIBC signs. They watched kids juggle signs reading ‘GO ICE GO.’ After the kids were done, the adults stood up with individual signs that read ‘GONE ICE GONE.’ . . .
“Cam Hausinger, who was traded to Red Deer along with Brett Davis earlier in the season, came upstairs after the game and before our players got there to say hi to everyone and sign autographs. He said he misses everyone in Cranbrook. . . .
“There were tears among the fans and the hosts, and talk of getting the same seats when we hopefully get another hockey team in the arena. . . . We had four young hockey players from the university team in Castlegar (the BCIHL’s Selkirk Saints) sitting beside us who there specifically checking everything out. . . .
“As the game ended most people never moved from the stands as if they couldn’t bring themselves to believe it was all over. . . .
“As I was getting autographs I couldn’t help but admire these young men who took the time to sign everything from hockey pucks, to hats, to shirts to programs. Peyton Krebs, who didn’t play the whole game, stood there having his picture taken, talking to even the smallest little one and thanking all the people for supporting the team. . . .
“It was a very class act by the whole team with the exception of Matt Cockell, who never left the box. Some of the stuff that happened over the last couple of games . . . with the awards ceremony, most seasons they set up a table on ice and did the presentations there. This time, they didn’t do that . . . just had people who were doing the presentations standing in the alleyway by the bench. . . .
“On Sunday, they had teachers and other people, who have contributed to helping the players, on the ice for a round of applause before the game. Also we had two players who were finishing as 20-year-olds, and the coach, James Patrick, gave them their gifts, not the GM or Mr. Fettes. Not that Mr. Fettes has put in an appearance in Cranbrook since the media circus began.”
From another fan:
“The second and third stars were the two 20-year-olds. As a final slap in the face, the first star was the Kootenay Ice fans, which brought about an audible groan from the crowd. Nuff said!”
The last 30 seconds in @WHLKootenayICE history, highlighted by an epic scorekeeping fail. Watch what happens after the stoppage with 10.4 left! Confusion reigns supreme then the game is called 😂 pic.twitter.com/Y41oVbgyct
Ron Robison, the WHL commissioner, was in Cranbrook on Tuesday morning to provide the last rites to the Kootenay Ice.
The WHL’s Cranbrook-based franchise is dead after 21 seasons. It will be reborn in Winnipeg after it plays nine more home games in Cranbrook’s Western Financial Place.
In Winnipeg, the franchise will continue to be known as the Ice and will play out of the WHL’s East Division, something that will result in the Swift Current Broncos moving to the Central Division. That allows each division to remain at six teams.
The Winnipeg Ice began taking $50 non-refundable deposits this morning, noting that the team will spend a couple of seasons in the U of Manitoba’s Wayne Fleming Arena and that seating will be limited. That deposit will get you on “a priority list for season-seat membership,” according to a news release at winnipegice.ca.
As for ticket prices, the news release stated: “Season-seat pricing will be communicated
prior to the seat-selection period. At this time, no decision has been made on whether fans can choose a multi-year season-seat commitment option.”
Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell, who purchased the Ice from the Chynoweth family prior to the 2017-18 season, joined Robison at the news conference that was held in WFP and lasted about 30 minutes.
They had met with members of the business community earlier in the morning in an event that one observer told Taking Note appeared to be by “invite only to friendly business people.”
That observer said the message was that “we are apologetic that it didn’t work . . . and we had to make a business decision,” and that the situation was looked at from a league point of view “for several years and we came to the conclusion that it wasn’t going to work.”
When the scene shifted to the arena for the news conference, there were a few fans present who had hoped to be allowed in. However, they were told that it was for media only. Someone did stream it on Facebook, so there were people elsewhere in the building who were able to watch.
According to two Taking Note correspondents who were in attendance, Robison began by acknowledging that losing the franchise is difficult for Cranbrook fans. He also thanked the fans for their support over the team’s 21 seasons in their city.
Robison pointed out that the previous owners — the Chynoweth family — attempted to increase fan support but that it has continued to slide over the past number of years.
In Robison’s estimation, the Chynoweths, as well as Fettes and Cockell, did everything they could to get things turned around.
Robison tried to take some of the heat off the franchise’s owners by claiming that “this was a Western Hockey League decision ultimately — not the ownership decision — to transfer this franchise. It was a decision made over an eight- or nine-year period of assessment of this market and the ability of this franchise to be sustainable over a long period of time.”
It turns out that the WHL’s board of governors voted on the move in December; Robinson refused to say whether the vote was unanimous.
Asked what this announcement means for other small-market WHL teams, Robison responded that those teams, some of which are community-owned, have to work hard to maintain a balance. He added that moving the Ice isn’t a reflection on the Cranbrook community.
Asked what went wrong in Cranbrook, Robison referred to the WHL playoffs in the spring of 2011, pointing to poor attendance at Ice games, and adding that the attendance has been declining since then.
The Ice won the WHL championship that season, but the announced average attendance for nine home playoff games was only 3,049. Kootenay beat the Portland Winterhawks in the final, winning in five games, but the arena wasn’t sold out. Of course, it didn’t help attendance that a lot of WHL games, including all games in the final, were televised.
Robison also admitted that attendance league-wide has been declining, saying that it has changed overall for most teams, and stating again that the Ice’s owners, past and present, did all they could to boost attendance.
When Fettes was asked how long he has been looking at the Winnipeg market, he said he had been wanting to buy into the WHL long before purchasing the Ice. He added that the Ice’s owners have been studying the attendance situation and began working on moving plans last summer.
As for the chances of another team moving to Cranbrook, Robison told the news conference that there aren’t any teams interested in moving at this time.
The Ice is the first WHL team to change locations since the Chilliwack Bruins were sold and moved to Victoria after the 2010-11 season.
Prior to the start of this season, the Ice launched a season-ticket campaign — Drive to 25 — with a goal of selling 2,500 season tickets, which would have marked an increase of about 600 from the previous season. Instead of an increase, however, the drive resulted in about 1,700 season tickets.
In 2017-18, the first season under new ownership, the team had an announced average attendance of 2,442, up from 1,754 the previous season.
This season, attendance has slipped to an average of 2,218.
In November, a group comprised mainly of local businessmen — the Green Bay Committee — began work to sell tickets and sponsorships on behalf of the Ice. After raising what members said was more than $50,000, the committee ceased operations due to an “absence of active engagement” from the Ice owners, who chose not to attend GBC meetings or provide anything in the way of support.
At the time, John Hudak, the GBC’s marketing director, told the Cranbrook Townsman that “it’s extremely disappointing that we have had to terminate our campaign at this particular time, but it is what it is.”
On Tuesday, Hudak told Taking Note: “I have never ever heard of successful business people turning down business.”
Asked if 2,500 season tickets would have kept the franchise in Cranbrook, Cockell admitted the community had reacted well in Year 1, but ticket sales didn’t show well prior to this season and reflected a reduction in management’s benchmark goal.
But, Cockell added, management had to acknowledge that people in the community have worked hard in support of the team.
Robison, Fettes and Cockell also spent time with Mayor Lee Pratt and some city councillors, but the franchise’s exit from its lease has yet to be negotiated.
It’s believed that the Ice players were given the spiel earlier in the morning. They then were taken to Kimberley for a team outing, so there weren’t any players around the arena to speak with the media following the news conference.
Robison, Fettes and Cockell departed via a side door, so didn’t have any interaction with fans who were waiting in the arena’s foyer.
“Leaving town and throwing the fans under the bus” is how Hudak put it.
With 18 games left, the Ice is 10-32-8. It is ninth in the 10-team Eastern Conference and won’t make the playoffs for a fourth straight season, the second in a row under the ownership of Fettes and Cockell.
Last season, the Ice went 27-38-7, missing a playoff spot by 16 points. This season, it is 22 points from a wild-card spot.
The franchise began as the Edmonton Ice, an expansion franchise that was owned by longtime WHL president Ed Chynoweth. Unable to gain any traction in two seasons (1996-98) in that marketplace, he moved the franchise to Cranbrook where it now is in its 21st season.
The Ice has won three WHL championships (2000, 2002 and 2011) and the 2002 Memorial Cup.
The Ice will play its final game in Cranbrook on March 17 against the Red Deer Rebels.
The Winnipeg Ice’s next game is scheduled for Friday against the Swift Current Broncos in Cranbrook.
JUST NOTES: Taylor Rocca, the WHL’s senior manager, communications, was on hand to do the introductions at the news conference in Cranbrook. Before going to work for the WHL, he was a sports writer at the Cranbrook Daily Townsman and, yes, he covered the Ice. . . . Fettes confirmed at the afternoon news conference in Winnipeg that he has reached agreement to purchase the MJHL’s Winnipeg Blues. The Blues are the only Winnipeg-based franchise left in the MJHL, which once also included the West Kildonan North Stars, St. Boniface Saints and St. James Canadians. . . . If you have been following this story, you will recall that Fettes purchased two domain names — WinnipegIce.com and WinnipegIce.ca — in April 2017. Asked about that, Fettes said that through his business (24-7 Intouch, a global call centre), he has hundreds of domain names. On this occasion, he claimed he and his eight-year-old son were playing around and just made up some more. . . . The website winnipegice.ca was up and running on Tuesday. . . . Robison has long wanted to have a WHL franchise in the capital city of each of the four Western Canadian provinces. Under his watch, the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers were awarded an expansion franchise that began play in 2007-08 in Edmonton, Alberta’s capital; the Chilliwack franchise relocated to Victoria, the capital of B.C.; and now Winnipeg, Manitoba’s capital, has a franchise. Regina, Saskatchewan’s capital, has long been home to the Pats.
Good news for @PDXWinterhawks and Cody Glass. The leg injury suffered on Saturday will NOT sideline the @GoldenKnights prospect long-term, according to Mike Johnston. No timetable for his return, but the rehab process has already begun and Glass will play again this season.
F Dominic Zwerger (Spokane, Everett, 2013-17) signed a contract extension with Ambrì-Piotta (Switzerland, NL A) through the 2021-22 season. The contract extension has an NHL exit clause after the 2020-21 season. This season, an alternate captain, he has 16 goals and 20 assists in 38 games.
Ron Robison, the WHL commissioner, and the owners of the Kootenay Ice are to address the media in Cranbrook this morning at 10:30.
The news conference, which will include Ice owners Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell, is to be held at the team’s office in Western Financial Place.
At the same time, the Winnipeg Free Press has reported that the Ice’s owners “have scheduled a Tuesday afternoon news conference to announce they are moving their franchise to Winnipeg after the 2018-19 season . . .”
The Free Press didn’t indicate a time or a site for that news conference, but Tuesday is expected to be the coldest day of this winter in Winnipeg, with a high of -29 C.
The news conferences are being held on Day 41 of the Kootenay Kountdown — it has been 41 days since Robison appeared with Dean Millard on Edmonton radio station TSN 1260 and said there would be an announcement regarding the Ice “very soon.”
The Ice, at 10-32-8, has the WHL’s second-poorest record and won’t be in the playoffs for a second straight season under the ownership of Fettes and Cockell, who purchased the franchise from the Chynoweth family prior to the 2017-18 season. This will be the fifth straight season out of the playoffs for the Ice.
Last season, the Ice finished 27-38-7, missing a playoff spot by 16 points.
The Ice began life in 1996 as the Edmonton Ice, but left the Alberta capital for Cranbrook after two seasons. In its 21 seasons in Cranbrook, the Ice won three WHL championships (2011, 2002, 2000) and one Memorial Cup, that in 2002.
The Ice will be first franchise to have won a Memorial Cup to relocate since the QMJHL’s Granby Predateurs. They won the 1996 Memorial Cup and moved to Sydney, N.S., in 1997 where they now are the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.
The last WHL relocation occurred following the 2010-11 season when the Chilliwack Bruins moved to Victoria where they now operate as the Royals.
This season, the Ice has the lowest announced average attendance in the 22-team WHL, at 2,218. The Ice has nine home games remaining, starting Friday against the Swift Current Broncos, the only team in the WHL with a poorer record.
Last season, the average for 36 home games was 2,442, up from 1,754 in 2016-17, the final season under the ownership of the Chynoweth family.
The Ice has been playing in 4,264-seat Western Financial Place, which opened in 2001. In its first two seasons in Cranbrook, the Ice played in that city’s Memorial Arena.
In its first season in the new arena, the Ice’s announced average attendance was 3,635, which remains the single-season high.
That was one of seven seasons in which that figure was north of 3,000, somewhere it hasn’t been since 2008-09 (3,071).
The relocated Ice is expected to spend a couple of seasons playing in the 1,400-seat Wayne Fleming Arena at the U of Manitoba while it waits for its permanent home to be built. It is expected that some work will be done to freshen up that facility and that some seats will be added.
If you click right here and scroll down to the last two photos, you will see a couple of pictures from the interior of the Wayne Fleming Arena as it now stands.
The expected relocation announcement comes just days before WHL governors and general managers travel to Las Vegas, as they do every year on Super Bowl weekend, for meetings on Monday and Tuesday.
It’s too bad that they couldn’t have moved those meetings to Cranbrook this time . . . you know, just to thank the businesses and fans of the area for 21 seasons of support.
With G Jiri Patera (leg) on the shelf, the Brandon Wheat Kings have added G Connor Ungar, who turned 17 on Jan. 12, to their roster. He had been with the AJHL’s Okotoks Oilers. . . . Ungar will back up freshman Ethan Kruger, who is 5-6-2, 3.45, .893. . . . Ungar, who began the season with the Northern Alberta X-Treme prep team, made two earlier appearances with the Wheat Kings, going 0-1-0, 3.09, .892 in 78 minutes. . . . The Wheat Kings open a four-game trip into the Central Division tonight in Edmonton against the Oil Kings. . . .
The Wheat Kings also have added F Jake Chiasson, 15, to their roster. He has been playing at the Yale Hockey Academy in his hometown of Abbotsford, B.C. Chiasson was the 15th overall selection in the WHL’s 2018 bantam draft. This season, with Yale’s prep team, he has 22 goals and 36 assists in 29 games.
The OHL’s Owen Sound Attack fired head coach Todd Gill on Monday. Dale DeGray, the Attack’s general manager, announced that assistant coach Alan Letang has taken over as interim head coach, with Jordan Hill now the lone assistant coach. . . . The Attack was 61-42-12 under Gill, who was in his second season as head coach. . . . This season, the Attack is 23-20-4, and in fifth place in the 10-team Western Conference.
The BCHL’s West Kelowna Warriors fired head coach Geoff Grimwood on Monday and named Brandon West as their general manager and head coach. . . . You may recall that this is the second time this season that Warriors owner Kim Dobranski has fired Grimwood. . . . Grimwood was named interim head coach iafter Rylan Ferster, the veteran GM and head coach, suddenly resigned on Aug. 21. . . . Three weeks later, Dobranski fired Grimwood, but reinstated him after the players rebelled, leaving the ice during one practice and going for a hike, rather than practise, the next day. . . . Grimwood had been hired on July 3 as associate coach and assistant GM. . . . West, who is from Kelowna, is a veteran BCHL coach. He was in his third season as head coach of the Salmon Arm Silverbacks when he was fired on Nov. 9, 2016. He spent last season as the head coach of the Surrey Eagles, but that ended in August through one of those mutual parting of the ways. This season, he had been with the Penticton Vees, as an assistant coach, since Oct. 15. . . . The Warriors are 25-21-1 and in fourth place in the Interior Division. They have clinched a playoff spot.
The SJHL’s Nipawin Hawks have fired assistant coach Gavin Brandl and replaced him with Devin Windle, a former general manager and head coach of the SJHL’s Melville Millionaires. . . . Windle was in his third season as the Millionaires’ GM and head coach when he was fired on Nov. 29. He spent two seasons (2014-16) as an assistant coach in Nipawin, working with Doug Johnson, the Hawks’ general manager and head coach. . . . Brandl was in his first season with Nipawin.
Tha WHL suits up with Don Cherry to promote organ donation raised over $23,000 for @KidneyNAB from sale of game wormed sweaters and miniature helmets. Unfortunately Medicine Hat Tigers best our Rebels 5-3. pic.twitter.com/LxdRXo9jB4
F Tomáš Netík (Medicine Hat, 2000-01) has signed a contract for the rest of this season with Innsbruck (Austria, Erste Bank Liga) after obtaining his release from Košice (Slovakia, Extraliga). He had six goals and 18 assists in 30 games. . . .
G Juraj Hollý (Calgary 2010-11) has been traded by Liptovský Mikuláš to Dukla Trenčín (both Slovakia, Extraliga) for Marek Šimko. In 17 games, Hollý was 3-12-0, 3.47, .901 with one shutout.
The Brandon Wheat Kings traded F Stelio Mattheos, their leading scorer, to the Everett Silvertips on Jan. 10, which was the WHL’s trade deadline.
Except that they didn’t.
Josh Horton of the Everett Herald reported Wednesday that “the Silvertips agreed to a deal to acquire top-flight Brandon forward Stelio Mattheos . . . but the trade fell apart at the last minute.”
According to Horton, “A Silvertips player and draft picks were headed to Brandon in return for the 19-year-old Mattheos, sources said.”
Horton, citing sources, added that “both of the players involved had been informed of the trade and were getting ready to leave for their new teams when the deal collapsed.”
No one is saying how many WHL bantam draft picks were involved in the swap. However, Taking Note has been told that the teams had been working on the deal for a couple of months and that the Everett player who was told he was on his way to Brandon was F Reece Vitelli, whom the Silvertips selected in the fourth round of the 2016 bantam draft.
Garry Davidson, the Silvertips’ general manager, told Horton that a deal was in the works but that “it didn’t work out.” However, that is all Davidson, who is said to have been most upset, would say.
Taking Note also has been told that the deal didn’t really collapse, that it was more a case of it not having been filed in its entirety with the WHL office in time to beat the deadline of 3 p.m. MT.
Neither the WHL office nor Brandon GM Grant Armstrong would comment to Horton.
Interestingly, Davidson and Armstrong worked together with the Portland Winterhawks. Davidson, who is in his seventh season as Everett’s GM, was Portland’s director of player personnel for four seasons (2008-12); Armstrong, now in his third season as Brandon’s GM, was Portland’s head scout during that time.
This season, Vitelli, a 17-year-old sophomore from Winnipeg, has five goals and 11 assists in 45 games. He has one goal in five games since the trade deadline.
Last season, Vitelli finished with two goals and eight assists in 70 games, then added four goals and three assists in 22 playoff games.
Mattheos also is from Winnipeg. The Wheat Kings selected him with the first overall pick in the 2014 bantam draft. His NHL rights belong to the Carolina Hurricanes, who picked him in the third round of that league’s 2017 draft. Mattheos has yet to sign an NHL contract.
Mattheos is Brandon’s captain and leads the Wheat Kings in goals (30), assists (31) and points (61), all in 40 games.
Last season, Mattheos put up 43 goals and 47 assists in 90 games. In 228 career regular-season games, he has 243 points, including 113 goals.
The Silvertips and Wheat Kings aren’t scheduled to meet again this season. They played in Brandon on Oct. 19, with the home team winning, 5-2, behind three goals from Mattheos. Vitelli, playing in his home province, had one assist.
On Dec. 19, Ron Robison, the WHL commissioner, said that there would be an announcement “very soon” and that it would deal with “what the future of that franchise is.”
That franchise is the Kootenay Ice, an organization that is believed to be headed to Winnipeg once this season is over.
But we now are into the 36th day since Robison appeared on TSN Radio 1260 in Edmonton with host Dean Millard.
Since then . . . crickets from the Ice and the WHL office.
F Bryce Bader has left the Prince Albert Raiders.
According to a news release from the Raiders, Bader, 17, flew to Calgary on Sunday “to write a final exam,” then “elected not to re-join the team for personal reasons.”
The Raiders added: “There will be no further comment from the hockey club.”
Bader’s departure leaves the Raiders’ roster at 21 players, including seven defencemen and 12 forwards.
Bader, from Sherwood Park, Alta., was selected by the Calgary Hitmen in the second round of the WHL’s 2016 bantam draft.
The Raiders acquired Bader from the Hitmen on Jan. 10 in exchange for F Quinn Olson, a 17-year-old Calgarian who has committed to the U of Minnesota-Duluth for 2020-21. In the deal, the teams also swapped conditional sixth-round selections in an undisclosed bantam draft.
This season, Bader had four goals in 10 games with the Hitmen this season, but had yet to play for the Raiders.
The Raiders, the CHL’s top-ranked team, is scheduled to conclude a B.C. Division swing tonight against the Vancouver Giants. The game will be televised on Sportsnet.
After tonight's three-point game, @joachimblich hit 200-career points!
F Joachim Blichfeld, the WHL’s leading scorer, struck for two third-period goals to help the host Portland Winterhawks to a 4-2 victory over the Tri-City Americans. . . . Portland (28-13-5) is second in the U.S. Division, seven points behind the Everett Silvertips. . . . Tri-City (24-17-3) had points in each of its previous four games (3-0-1). It remains fourth in the U.S. Division, two points behind the Spokane Chiefs. At the same time, the Americans are in control of the Western Conference’s first wild-card spot, with a 12-point lead on the Seattle Thunderbirds. . . . With two games left in the season series, Tri-City is 5-1-0; Portland is 1-1-4. That means that while Tri-City has won five of six games, Portland still has grabbed six points. . . . The Americans grabbed a 2-0 lead on first-period goals 40 seconds apart by F Krystof Hrabik (10) and F Kyle Olson (14). . . . Portland pulled even late in the period as F Jaydon Dureau (10) scored at 18:58 and F Josh Paterson (17) found the range at 19:35. . . . The teams played a scoreless second period, before Blichfeld, who now has 42 goals, hit at 9:53 and 16:18, with F Cody Glass assisting on both scores. . . . Blichfeld’s second goal gave him 200 career regular-season points. He has 94 goals and 106 assists in 165 games. . . . Blichfeld, who also had an assist, leads the WHL with 86 points, 10 more than F Tristin Langan of the Moose Jaw Warriors and F Trey Fix-Wolansky of the Edmonton Oil Kings. . . . Blichfeld’s 42 goals are five more than Langan. . . . Andy Kemper, the Winterhawks’ historian, points out that Blichfeld is the second import in franchise history to get to 200 points. F Oliver Bjorkstrand, who put up 290 points in 193 regular-season games. . . . G Joel Hofer blocked 26 shots for Portland, 16 fewer than Tri-City’s Beck Warm. . . . Portland won 41 of the 63 faceoffs, and was 0-5 on the PP. Tri-City was 0-1. . . . The Americans were without F Blake Stevenson (undisclosed injury) and F Sasha Mutala, who was in Red Deer for the Top Prospects Game. . . . D John Ludvig was among Portland’s scratches.