Lowry next GM for Wheat Kings? . . . Pats, Thunderbirds sign prospects. . . . Remembering the NHL’s Saskatoon Blues


MacBeth

F Jamie Crooks (Saskatoon, Chilliwack/Victoria, 2008-13) has signed a one-year contract extension with the Guildford Flames (England, UK Elite). This season, he had 15 goals and 19 assists in 53 games.


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There has been speculation involving Dave Lowry and the Brandon Wheat Kings for a couple of weeks now.

The Wheat Kings announced on May 7 that Grant Armstrong’s contract wouldn’t be BrandonWKregularrenewed after he had spent three seasons there. Armstrong had been the assistant GM with the Victoria Royals before signing with Brandon. Prior to joining the Royals, he had been the Portland Winterhawks’ director of scouting.

A source has told Taking Note that Armstrong was in Penticton on Tuesday. It could be that he is a candidate for an opening with the Okanagan Hockey Group, which is looking for a general manager for its academy in Penticton.

Lowry, 54, has ample WHL coaching experience. He has been on staff with the Calgary Hitmen, Calgary Flames, Victoria Royals and Los Angeles Kings.

He was the Royals’ head coach for five seasons (2012-17) before leaving to join Los Angeles as an assistant coach. He spent two seasons with the Kings before being dismissed on April 17 after Todd McLellan was hired as head coach.

David Anning has been the Wheat Kings’ head coach for three seasons, after spending four seasons as an assistant coach. McGillivray has been on staff as an assistant coach through three seasons.

Kelly McCrimmon, the Wheat Kings’ owner, has yet to announce whether the contracts of Anning and McGillivray will be extended.


The CHL import draft is scheduled for June 27 with the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos holding the first selection. . . . The complete order of selection for the two-round draft is right here.


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The Seattle Thunderbirds have signed D Spencer Penner to a WHL contract. Penner, from Blumenort, Man., was a second-round selection in the 2019 bantam draft. . . . This season, Pennder had 14 goals and 26 assists in 35 games with the bantam AAA Eastman Selects. . . . The Thunderbirds now have signed each of their first three selections from the 2019 bantam draft. D Kevin Korchinski and F Jordan Gustafson, both first-round picks, signed WHL contracts earlier this month.

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The Regina Pats have signed F Zane Rowan to a WHL contract. The Pats held three third-round picks in the 2019 bantam draft, and used the first one to take Rowan, who is from Torrance, Calif. . . . Last season, he had 18 goals and 18 assists in 53 games with the Los Angeles Jr. Kings.



Tyson Ramsey is the new general manager and head coach of the MJHL’s Virden Oil Capitals. Ramsey, 42, spent seven seasons on the coaching staff of the midget AAA Brandon Wheat Kings, the last four as head coach. He joined the Oil Capitals as an assistant coach prior to this season. . . . Ramsey, who is from Brandon, also has been scouting for the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors. . . . Ramsey replaces Troy Leslie, whose contract wasn’t renewed following the end of this season.


The Lacombe Generals, winners of the 2019 Allan Cup as Canada’s senior AAA champions, have folded. The decision, combined with a similar one by the Rosetown Red Wings, has left Allan Cup Hockey West with two remaining teams — the Innisfail Eagles and Stoney Plain Eagles. . . . Ashli Barrett of the Lacombe Globe has more right here.


It was in 1983 when the NHL’s St. Louis Blues, then owned by Ralston Purina, were sold to a Saskatoon group headed up by Bill Hunter, one of the WHL’s founding fathers. Of course, the whole thing fell apart when the NHL board of governors voted 15-3 against allowing the sale to go through. . . . But the tale of how Hunter worked to pull off the purchase is a great read, and it’s all right here from Kevin Mitchell of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. Enjoy!


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Mooseheads celebrate loss, advance to Memorial Cup final. . . . Huskies, Storm in semifinal. . . . Thunderbirds sign first pick

MacBeth

F David Hruška (Red Deer, 1995-96) has signed a one-year contract extension with Sokolov (Czech Republic, 1. Liga). This season, he had 12 goals and 14 assists in 35 games. . . . Sokolov played in 2. Liga this season and won promotion to 1. Liga. . . .

D Tamás Láday (Spokane, Medicine Hat, 2014-16) has signed a one-year contract with SC Csíkszereda Miercurea-Ciuc (Romania, Erste Liga). This season with Fehérvár AV19 Székesfehérvár (Hungary, Erste Bank Liga), he had two assists in 24 games. He also had six goals and 15 assists in 33 games with Fehérvári Titánok Székesfehérvár (Hungary, Erste Liga). . . . Láday is spending this summer playing for the West Auckland Admirals (New Zealand, NIHL). He has two assists in two games. The NIHL regular season started on May 18, ends on July 28, and playoffs end no later than Aug. 18. . . .

F Max Brandl (Prince Albert, Portland, 2007-09) has signed a two-year contract with Landshut (Germany, DEL2). This season, with Bad Nauheim (Germany, DEL2), he had five goals and 17 assists in 52 games. He was the team captain. . . .

F Colin Long (Kelowna, 2005-09) has signed a one-year contract with Lustenau (Austria, Alps HL). This season, with Gherdëina Selva Val Gardena (Italy, Alps HL), he had 12 goals and 24 assists in 39 games. He was second on the team in goals, assists and points.


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The Prince Albert Raiders arrived back home on Wednesday afternoon, where they were greeted by appreciative supporters.

In Halifax, the host Mooseheads lost the last game of the round-robin portion of the 2019MCMemorial Cup and they celebrated.

Seriously!

As one WHL observer wrote in a note to Taking Note: “The fact that Halifax celebrates like that after losing against a huge rival is another example of why the Memorial Cup is stupid.

“I’m sorry. I have all the respect in the world for that trophy and its history, but that tournament is just completely pointless and dumb.”

It’s hard to disagree with that kind of logic, especially after last night’s circus in Halifax.

The QMJHL-champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies scored with 54 seconds left in the third period to beat the Mooseheads, 4-3, last night.

The Huskies beat the Mooseheads in six games in the QMJHL’s championship final, meaning that Rouyn-Noranda has beaten Halifax in five of their past seven meetings.

But it’s the Mooseheads who have advanced to Sunday’s Memorial Cup final. The Huskies and the OHL-champion Guelph Storm will meet in Friday’s semifinal game. The Raiders went 0-3 and were eliminated on Tuesday.

Here is how Kyle Cicerella of The Canadian Press described the silliness:

“Any one of Halifax, Rouyn-Noranda or Guelph could have earned a berth in Sunday’s tournament final based on Wednesday’s outcome. All three clubs finished with 2-1 records, but the Mooseheads got the tiebreaker through a drawn-out mathematical formula.

“All Halifax needed to do to advance was win outright or lose by one goal up to 4-3. Rouyn-Noranda had to win 4-0, or by five or more goals to move on, while the Storm still had a chance if the game finished by any other score.”

Here’s Halifax head coach Eric Veilleux: “Knowing what everybody knows, obviously I hope I never have to go through that again. It’s really not easy.”

Perhaps Halifax defenceman Patrick Kyte summed it all up with this: “Even though we didn’t win, we got the job done.”

(Cicerella’s game story is right here.)

Of course, this is the risk you run with any kind of round-robin situation, and the CHL’s four-team format, including a host team, isn’t going away anytime soon.

As the afore-quoted WHL observer put it: “(It’s a) cash grab in the second-ugliest form in junior hockey . . . the highest-ugliest form being World Juniors.”

Meanwhile, in Prince Albert, they will celebrate the Raiders’ season with a party at the Art Hauser Centre tonight. A good time will be had by all.


Darren Steinke, the travellin’ blogger, was in Prince Albert when the Raiders arrived on Wednesday. His blog post is right here.


By now you will be well aware that the last four WHL champions to play in the Memorial Cup tournament are a combined 0-12. The Brandon Wheat Kings (2016), Seattle whlThunderbirds (2017), Swift Current Broncos (2018) and the Raiders all failed to win even one game at the CHL’s championship tournament.

So, you’re wondering, what’s going on?

Here’s Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News: “Different years, different teams, different situations. Logically, this is just a screwy numbers thing, like the fact a Canadian team hasn’t won the Stanley Cup since 1993 (Montreal), or that a franchise with a predominantly blue jersey hasn’t won the Cup since 1994 (New York Rangers).”

In the overall scheme of things, there likely isn’t any rhyme or reason to it.

But the one thing I don’t feel can be discounted is the travel factor. Because of the WHL’s geography, the championship final is almost always going to feature some killer travel.

In 2016, it was Brandon and Seattle in the final. The next year, Seattle and the Regina Pats met in the final. A year ago, it was Swift Current and the Everett Silvertips. This season, it was the Raiders and the Vancouver Giants, and they went seven games. They played on a Friday in Langley, B.C., then finished the series in Prince Albert with games on Sunday and Monday. The Raiders travelled to Halifax — three time zones to the east — on the Wednesday and played their first game on Friday.

The travel almost invariably leads to injuries, and by the time a team leaves for the Memorial Cup it is banged up and emotionally drained. And, in a four-team round-robin, you are up against it if you lose that first game.

One WHL fan suggested to Taking Note that the WHL needs to “eliminate the killer travel schedule, which is possibly going to get worse for many Eastern Conference teams. And, of course, save $$$ for smaller Eastern Conference franchises.”

The only way the “killer travel schedule” is eliminated is for the WHL to revamp its regular-season schedule and keep teams playing only in their own conferences. That isn’t likely to happen.

One solution — and it’s only a pipe dream — would be to split the WHL into two leagues, with the B.C. and U.S. teams in one league, and the East and Central division teams in another. There wouldn’t be any interlocking play; these would be two separate leagues.

Each league would hold its playoffs, with the two winners meeting in a western final. Meanwhile, the OHL and QMJHL winners also would go into a best-of-seven final.

The Memorial Cup final, then, would go back to being a true East vs. West best-of-seven series.

Of course, that won’t ever happen because the present format — with a host team as part of a four-team round-robin — is great for the host city and it helps fill the coffers for the host league and its teams.

The present tournament format allows for a celebration of major junior hockey for 10 days every May. It’s time to accept it for what it is, and if the WHL champion never wins another game, so be it.

It could be that Guy Flaming (@TPS_Guy) hit the nail on the head earlier in the week when he tweeted: “It’s more impressive to me to outplay and outlast 15 other teams to win your own league. The Memorial Cup is like dessert after a great meal — not for everyone and it never replaces the meal.”


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The Seattle Thunderbirds have signed F Jordan Gustafson to a WHL contract. The SeattleThunderbirds selected him with the eighth-overall pick in the WHL’s 2019 bantam draft. . . . From Ardrossan, Alta., Gustafson had 31 goals and 39 assists in 33 games with the bantam AAA Fort Saskatchewan Rangers this season. . . .

Gustafson is the third of the WHL’s 22 first-round selections from the May 2 bantam draft to sign contracts. . . . The Edmonton Oil Kings have signed F Caleb Reimer, the 18th selection, while the Prince Albert Raiders signed F Niall Crocker, who was taken with the 22nd pick.

Warriors bank some more money . . . Royals get forward from Blades . . . Ice down to two goalies, four 20s


MacBeth

D/F Curt Gogol (Kelowna, Saskatoon, Chilliwack, 2007-11) has been released by mutual agreement by Fehérvár Székesfehérvár (Hungary, Erste Bank Liga). Last season, he was pointless in one game with Rubin Tyumen (Russia, Vysshaya Liga), and had three goals and three assists in 27 games with the Greenville Swamp Rabbits (ECHL). . . .

F Björn Svensson (Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, 2003-06) signed a one-year contract with Medveščak Zagreb (Croatia, Erste Bank Liga). Last season, he had two goals and eight assists in 35 games with the Fischtown Pinguins Bremerhaven (Germany, DEL). . . .

F Richard Nejezchleb (Brandon, Tri-City, 2012-15) signed a one-year contract with Nové Zámky (Slovakia, Extraliga). Last season, he had five goals and one assist in 22 games with Litvínov (Czech Republic, Extraliga), and had two goals and five assists in 11 games while on loan to České Budějovice (Czech Republic, 1. Liga). . . .

F Chad Bassen (Regina, Vancouver, Medicine Hat, Everett, 2000-04) has  signed a one-year contract with the Nuremberg Ice Tigers (Germany, DEL). Last season, with the Iserlohn Roosters (Germany, DEL), he had four assists in 37 games.


ThisThat

The Moose Jaw Warriors held their annual general meeting on Wednesday morning and reported a profit of $704,182 for the 2017-18 season. . . . Of that, $200,000 goes to the fulfillment of their Multiplex pledge; this is Year 7 of a 10-year pledge. The Warriors now have put $1.9 million into that commitment.

A year ago, the Warriors announced a loss of $463,566, but that was after they put $531,197 into Mosaic Place improvements and put $200,000 towards their pledge.

“Even with their profit loss, the Warriors have $1,081,545.01 in the bank and the franchise is as healthy as it has ever been,” Matthew Gourlie of dubnetwork.ca reported a year ago.

Last season, the Warriors announced average regular-season attendance was 3,482. That increased to 4,619 for eight home playoff games.


The WHL and NeuLion, its digital media partner, have announced their pricing for  their viewing package of 2018-19 games.

From the news release, which is right here:

WHL Live Early Bird Pricing

Team Away Pass — $69.99 (reg. $99.99 — save $30)

Team Home & Away Pass — $179.99 (reg. $194.99 — save $15)

All-Access Pass — $279.99 (reg. $299.99 — save $20)

*All prices in Canadian dollars

While the news release reads that early-bird pricing is “available for a limited time only,” it doesn’t indicate a cutoff date.

The announcement from the WHL came a few days after the AHL announced its package, including US$79.99 for a full-season all-access package; US$59.99 for a single-team full-season pass; and US$39.99 for a single-team home or away pass.

The WHL responded to that tweet with: “The WHL has a longstanding partnership with NeuLion that runs through the conclusion of the 2018-19 season.”


The Victoria Royals have acquired F Logan Doust, 17, from the Saskatoon Blades for a ninth-round selection in the 2020 WHL bantam draft and a conditional fifth-round pick in that same draft. . . . From North Vancouver, Doust played last season with the major midget Vancouver Northwest Giants, putting up six goals and 10 assists in 20 games. He was pointless in three games with the Blades, who selected him in the ninth round of the 2016 bantam draft.


Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News spent a few days in Traverse City, Mich., where he Portlandwatched an eight-team NHL prospects tournament. Included in the competition was a team entered by the Chicago Blackhawks. . . . Kennedy wrote this on Chicago D Henri Jokiharju: “Great escapability when he’s breaking the puck out of the zone. The 2017 first-rounder is another mobile blueliner who handles the puck and can run the point on the power play. Jokiharju will return to the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks this season.” . . . The 19-year-old Jokiharju was selected by Chicago in the first round of the NHL’s 2017 draft and he has signed with the Blackhawks. . . . He has played two seasons with the Winterhawks, but there has been speculation that he was on loan to them from a Finnish team, meaning that he could be recalled or that the Blackhawks could assign him to their AHL affiliate. . . . Judging by what Kennedy wrote, however, Jokiharju seems ticketed for a third WHL season. Of course, you can bet that Mike Johnston, Portland’s GM/head coach, won’t be counting on Jokiharju until he sees the whites of his eyes. . . . Kennedy’s complete piece is right here and he’s got takes on a whole lot of prospects.


The Kootenay Ice is down to two goaltenders after releasing veteran Matt Berlin, 20, on KootenaynewTuesday. That leaves it with Duncan McGovern and Jesse Makaj as its goaltenders with the regular-season opener 10 days away. . . . McGovern, 18, is from Winnipeg. Last season, he got into 34 games with the Ice, going 13-13-3, 3.10, .893. He was a fifth-round selection by the Medicine Hat Tigers in the 2015 WHL bantam draft. . . . Makaj, from East Vancouver, was a second-round pick by the Ice in the 2016 bantam draft. He played one game with the Ice last season, going 0-0-1, 1.85, .935. He had a 3.15 GAA last season with the major midget Greater Vancouver Canadians. . . . Berlin, from Edmonton, was a seventh-round selection by the Spokane Chiefs in the 2013 bantam draft. He has played with the Chiefs, Seattle Thunderbirds and Kootenay. He split last season between Seattle and Kootenay, going 15-15-4. With the Ice, he was 3-8-1, 3.62. .875. . . .

Berlin’s departure leaves the Ice with four 20-year-olds on its roster — F Gunnar Wegleitner, F Jaeger White, D Dallas Hines and Slovakian D Martin Bodak. Wegleitner was acquired from the Brandon Wheat Kings over the off-season, while White came over from the Medicine Hat Tigers. As an import, Bodak would be a two-spotter should he be on the season-opening roster.



If you would like to support my wife, Dorothy, as she celebrates the fifth anniversary of her kidney transplant by taking part in the 2018 Kamloops Kidney Walk — a walk, I should point out, that she is helping to organize — you may do so right here. Thank you!


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