Did anything go wrong in Prince George? . . . Sask. Hockey Hall gets new name . . . Arena now bears Kennedy’s name


MacBeth

F Jozef Balej (Portland, 1999-2002) has signed a contract for the rest of this season with Freiburg (Germany, DEL2). He was released by Žilina (Slovakia, Extraliga) on Tuesday. The team captain, he had three goals and eight assists in 31 games. . . . Freiburg now has five imports on its roster but is allowed to dress only four per game. The four other imports are d-men Radek Havel and Antti Kauppila, and forwards Brad McGowan, and Josef Mikyska. . . .

F Kris Versteeg (Lethbridge, Kamloops, Red Deer, 2002-06) has signed a contract for the rest of this season with Växjö (Sweden, SHL) after obtaining his release from Avangard Omsk (Russia, KHL). In 11 games, he had three goals and five assists. He left Avangard in late October and returned to Canada. . . .

F Tim Bozon (Kamloops, Kootenay, 2011-15) has signed a two-year contract extension with Genève-Servette (Switzerland, NL A). He has three goals and seven assists in 35 games.


ThisThat

Richard Matvichuk, in the final season of a three-year contract and with a new general manager looking over his shoulder, was going to have to win the WHL championship PrinceGeorgethis season in order to earn a new contract as the head coach of the Prince George Cougars.

Of course, that was never going to happen, what with the Cougars in a rebuilding mode.

So . . . with the team eight points from a playoff spot and only 16 games left to play, general manager Mark Lamb fired Matvichuk following a 4-3 overtime loss to the visiting Vancouver Giants on Wednesday night.

The Giants, at 35-13-3, are atop the B.C. Division, 35 points ahead of the Cougars (16-30-6), who have lost 11 straight games (0-8-3).

Lamb, who spent seven seasons (2009-16) as the GM/head coach of the Swift Current Broncos, has taken over as head coach and will be in that role tonight when the Cougars meet the Rockets in Kelowna.

He will be joined behind the bench by associate coach Steve O’Rourke and Nick Drazenovic, who has been moved up from director of player development to assistant coach, at least for the rest of this season.

If you’re wondering why things went south in Prince George this season, it may have had something to do with the schedule. As bad as 16-30-6 may sound now, the Cougars were 11-14-3 as they began an insane 11-game road trip that was interrupted by the Christmas break and included three separate jaunts into the U.S. Division. They went 3-8-0 on that trip, came home and beat Kelowna twice, and are 0-8-3 since those victories.

Team management has since gone on the record as saying it will never again accept such goofy scheduling.

Matvichuk, a 46-year-old native of Edmonton, will find another coaching job. After all, he was the ECHL’s reigning coach of the year when he left the Missouri Mavericks to sign with the Cougars on June 2, 2016. The Mavericks had finished with the ECHL’s best regular-season record (52-15-5) in 2015-16.

In Matvichuk’s first season in Prince George, the Cougars went 45-21-6 to finish atop the B.C. Division, a first for the franchise since it relocated from Victoria for the 1994-95 season.

You may recall that the Cougars went all-in that season. On Nov. 18, 2016, they acquired D Brendan Guhle from the Prince Albert Raiders in exchange for two players, as well as first- and third-round bantam draft picks. Then, on Jan. 5, 2017, the Cougars got Russian F Nikita Popugaev from the Moose Jaw Warriors for two players, including F Justin Almeida, and a couple of bantam draft picks. Popugaev gave the Cougars 25 points, nine of them goals, in 44 games over two seasons before going home 13 games into last season. Almeida has produced 184 points, 71 of them goals, in 150 games with the Warriors.

It turned out for naught as the Cougars lost a first-round playoff series, 4-2, to the Portland Winterhawks.

Last season, the Cougars were sellers — they unloaded the likes of F Kody McDonald, D Josh Anderson and D Dennis Cholowski — as they wound up 24-38-10, leaving them fifth in the B.C. Division and 20 points from a playoff spot.

Somewhere in all of this, the Cougars’ ownership group decided to make a u-turn in regard to its philosophy. Henceforth, the goal won’t be to aim for a single-season splash, to get caught up in what some people still see as the cyclical nature of major junior hockey. Rather, the owners decided that the Cougars are going to build through the draft with the goal of having a team that makes the playoffs on an annual basis. Make the playoffs, the thinking now is, and let the chips fall where they may.

Unfortunately, none of that does Matvichuk any good because he’s gone.

Remember, too, that hockey teams go through coaches these days the way   a Dairy Queen outlet goes through ice cream.

The Cougars are the second of the WHL’s 22 teams to make a coaching change this season. Kelowna was 4-10-0 when Jason Smith was fired and replaced by Adam Foote. The Rockets are 17-16-5 under Foote.

After last season, eight WHL teams changed head coaches. Seven teams, including the Cougars, also brought in new general managers.

The Cougars decided not to renew Todd Harkins’ contract after last season. He had been in the organization for four seasons, the first one as head scout and director of player personnel, the last one as general manager.

It was Harkins who hired Matvichuk.

With Lamb coming in and Matvichuk into the last year of his contract, many observers thought they could see the writing on the wall. Late on Wednesday night, their eyesight was proven to be 20/20.

Lamb signed a four-year contract with the Cougars, and now he gets to hire his own head coach. Or maybe he puts himself into the position on a permanent basis. His last stint as a head coach, with the AHL’s Tucson Roadrunners, didn’t end the way he would have liked when he was dismissed after one season (2016-17).

Unless Lamb, 54, is one of those rare people who is able to shake free from the coaching bug, he may have a desire to give it another go with the hope that at some point he will be able to walk away on his terms.


F Ilijah Colina left the Prince George Cougars last week.

At the time, the Cougars said that Colina, a 19-year-old from North Delta, B.C., who was in his third WHL season, had gone home for “personal reasons.”

In a tweet (above) that was posted on Thursday evening, Colina’s mother, Carrie, has shed some light on her son’s departure.

The next time you attend a junior hockey game, take a minute to think about the stress the players face, almost all of them living away from home as they chase a dream, with some of them starting to realize that that’s all it is — a dream.

In 151 regular-season games, 68 with the Cougars and 83 with the Portland Winterhawks, Colina has 18 goals and 37 assists.


An update on F Cody Glass of the Portland Winterhawks, who has been rehabbing a knee injury, from Vince Sapienza, a sports reporter with FOX 5 in Las Vegas:


The Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame has undergone a name change after receiving a $500,000 donation from the family of the late Ted Knight, a former co-owner of the saskhallRegina Pats.

It has been renamed the Ted Knight Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame.

From a news release:

“Ted Knight’s children — Tracey, Kevin and Kyle — wanted to honour their father’s name and his love for the game of hockey. Through this title sponsorship of the Hall, the Ted Knight Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame will remain a hub for hockey in the province and honour those individuals who have made a lasting impression on Saskatchewan hockey.”

Knight, who was born in Selkirk, Man., in 1939, played for the Winnipeg Braves when they won the 1958 Memorial Cup.

In 1986, Knight, Bill Hicke, Morley Gusway, Jack Nichol and Huddy Bell bought the Regina Pats. Knight was part of that ownership group for 10 years.

Knight, along with sons Kevin and Kyle, owned the Knight Automotive Group. It started with Crestview Chrysler Dodge in Regina and now has 15 dealerships in the three Prairie provinces.

Knight died on Oct. 13, 2017, at the age of 78.

The Hall of Fame is located in the Credit Union I-Plex, the home arena of the Swift Current Broncos.


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Hicke, Delorme into Sask. Hockey Hall . . . Gawdin to top of points derby . . . Blades win, get breathing room

A LITTLE OF THIS . . .

The late Bill Hicke, a former player, owner, general manager and coach with the Regina Pats, will be one of the inductees into the Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018. . . . The names of the inductees were revealed Saturday night in Swift Current, where the Credit Union iPlex is home to the Hall of Fame. . . . The induction dinner is scheduled for July 7 at the iPlex. . . . Also being inducted as players are Hayley Wickenheiser of Shaunavon, Sask., who won four Olympic gold medals with Canada’s women’s team; and Vancouver Canucks’ chief amateur scout Ron Delorme, who played with the Swift Current/Lethbridge Broncos before going on to a pro career. . . . The late Kelly Lovering will be inducted as a builder, with Lyle Wilhelm going in as an official. . . . Larry Johnson and the late Dennis Loeppky will be inducted in the grassroots category. . . . The 1987-88 Notre Dame Hounds, who won the Canadian junior A title, will go into the team category.


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IF THE PLAYOFFS OPENED TODAY …

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Saskatoon at Moose Jaw

Regina at Medicine Hat

Brandon at Swift Current

Kootenay at Lethbridge

——

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Seattle at Everett

Tri-City at Victoria

Spokane at Portland

Vancouver at Kelowna


Scoreboard

SUNDAY:

At Calgary, F Conner Chaulk’s second goal of the game, at 18:12 of the third period, gave the Hitmen a 5-4 victory over the Medicine Hat Tigers. . . . Calgary (17-31-7) had lost its Calgaryprevious two games (0-1-1). . . . Medicine Hat (28-23-7) had won its previous two games. It leads the Central Division by seven points over Lethbridge, which now holds four games in hand. . . . Medicine Hat held a 20-10 edge in first-period shots but managed only a 1-0 lead, that on a goal from D David Quenneville, at 9:41. . . . Calgary took a 2-1 lead on goals by D Dakota Krebs (2), at 5:33 of the second period, and F Carson Focht, at 6:52. . . . The Tigers came back with two goals of their own, from F Ryan Jevne, on a PP, at 9:08, and F Bryan Lockner (10), at 18:59. . . . The Hitmen took a 4-3 lead as Focht (9) scored at 7:25 and Chaulk got his first at 10:09. . . . F Mark Rassell (45) pulled the Tigers into a tie at 14:25. . . . Chaulk won it with his 13th goal of the season. . . . The Hitmen got two assists from F Luke Coleman. . . . Rassell, Lockner and Quenneville had an assist each for the Tigers. . . . Medicine Hat was 1-4 on the PP; Calgary was 0-1. . . . The Hitmen got 44 stops from G Nick Schneider. . . . Tigers G Michael Bullion, who was coming off back-to-back shutouts, turned aside 42 shots. . . . Announced attendance: 7,468.


At Prince Albert, F Glenn Gawdin had a goal and two assists to take over the WHL scoring lead as he helped the Swift Current Broncos to a 5-4 victory over the Raiders. . . . SCBroncosSwift Current (40-13-4) has won four in a row. It is second in the East Division, three points behind Moose Jaw, which has three games in hand. The Broncos last enjoyed at least 40 victories in a season in 2008-09 when they finished 41-24-7. Last season they finished 39-23-10. . . . Prince Albert (22-23-11) has lost three straight. It now is four points out of a playoff spot. . . . Both teams were playing for the third time in fewer than 48 hours. The Broncos went (3-0-0); the Raiders were (0-3-0). The Broncos had beaten the visiting Raiders 5-1 on Friday. . . . Swift Current took a 1-0 lead at 3:25 of the first period when F Andrew Fyten scored. . . . F Nikita Krivokrasov (2) tied it at 7:33. . . . Fyten (9) put the visitors back ahead at 17:41, only to have F Jordy Stallard (37) tie it, on a PP, at 19:22. . . . The Raiders took a 3-2 lead at 1:59 of the second period on a goal by F Kody McDonald. . . . The Broncos followed with three straight goals. Gawdin (48) scored, on a PP, at 4:23. D Josh Anderson (3) scored at 9:33, and F Tyler Steenbergen (39) made it 5-3 at 11:36. . . . Gawdin drew assists on each of the last two goals. . . . The Raiders tied it on goals from McDonald (28), on a PP, at 4:54, and F Cole Fonstad (17), at 13:18. . . . F Max Patterson won it with his eighth goal at 15:58. . . . Gawdin now has 104 points, two more than Moose Jaw F Brayden Burke. . . . The Broncos got two assists from F Beck Malenstyn, with Patterson and Steenbergen each getting one. . . . Stallard added two assists to his goal for the home side, with Fonstad getting one. . . . The Raiders were 2-3 on the PP; the Broncos were 1-5. . . . G Stuart Skinner stopped 23 shots for Swift Current. . . . The Raiders started G Ian Scott, who allowed five goals on 16 shots in 31:36. Curtis Meger finished up by stopping 12 of 13 shots in 26:21. . . . The Raiders were without F Parker Kelly, who drew a TBD suspension for a checking-from-behind major and game misconduct during Saturday’s 6-3 loss in Saskatoon. Each was scratched from the Blades game on Sunday. . . . F Tanner Nagel was scratched from the Broncos’ lineup after leaving Saturday’s game with an undisclosed injury. . . The Broncos are 6-1-0 in the season series; the Raiders are 1-4-2. . . . Announced attendance: 1,824.


At Saskatoon, F Michael Farren scored in the seventh round of a shootout to give the Blades a 2-1 victory over the Regina Pats. . . . Saskatoon (28-26-3) has won two in a row. It Saskatoonholds down the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot, five points behind Regina and four ahead of Prince Albert. . . . The Blades have matched last season’s victory total when they finished 28-35-9. . . . Regina (29-23-6) is fourth in the East Division, one point behind Brandon. . . . Regina went 1-1-1 in playing three games in fewer than 48 hours. The Blades also played three times in fewer than 48 hours, going 2-1-0. . . . D Logan Christensen (3) gave the Blades a 1-0 lead, on a PP, at 6:12 of the first period. . . . Regina tied it at 3:25 of the third period when F Matt Bradley (33) scored, on a PP. . . . Regina was 1-5 on the PP; Saskatoon was 1-6. . . . The Blades got 38 saves from G Nolan Maier. . . . G Max Paddock stopped 28 shots for the Pats. . . . The Pats were without G Ryan Kubic (ill) for a second straight game, so had Jacob Wasserman of the SJHL’s Humboldt Broncos backing up. . . . F Kirby Dach was among Saskatoon’s scratches. He took a hit from behind from Prince Albert F Parker Kelly on Saturday night. . . . Saskatoon leads the season series, 5-2-0. Meanwhile, Regina is 2-2-3. . . . Announced attendance: 3,647.


At Portland, the Winterhawks scored three third-period goals to erase a 3-2 deficit and beat the Seattle Thunderbirds, 5-3. . . . Portland (35-18-4) has won five in a row. It is Portlandsecond in the Western Conference, two points behind Everett and two ahead of Victoria. . . . Seattle (27-20-8) has lost three straight (0-2-1). It and Tri-City are tied for the Western Conference’s second wild-card spot. . . . On Saturday, the visiting Winterhawks beat the Thunderbirds, 4-1. . . . On Sunday, both teams played three games in fewer than 48 hours — Seattle went 0-2-1, while Portland was 3-0-0. . . . F Dillon Hamaliuk (13) gave the Thunderbirds a 1-0 lead at 4:48 of the first period. . . . Portland F Joachim Blichfeld tied it, shorthanded, at 13:16. . . . Seattle D Turner Ottenbreit (7) gave his guys a 2-1 lead, on a PP, at 19:11. . . . F Lane Gilliss (4) pulled Portland back into a tie at 15:30 of the second period. . . . The Thunderbirds went back out front at 19:00 when F Matthew Wedman (13) scored on a PP. . . . F Ryan Hughes (11) tied it at 8:48 of the third period, and F Alex Overheard (13) put Portland ahead, 4-3, at 13:02. . . . Blichfeld, who also had an assist, added insurance with his 20th goal, into an empty net, at 19:40. . . . Portland got two assists from each of D Dennis Cholowski and F Jake Gricius. . . . D Austin Strand had two assists for Seattle, while Ottenbreit added one to his goal. Ottenbreit, 20, has a career-high 34 points, two more than last season. Last season, he had career highs in goals (7) and assists (25). This season, he has seven goals and 27 assists. . . . Seattle was 2-4 on the PP; Portland was 0-4. . . . G Shane Farkas stopped 19 shots for Portland, while Seattle’s Dorrin Luding turned aside 31. . . . Portland is 6-0-2 in the season series; Seattle is 2-5-1. . . . Announced attendance: 6,122.


At Spokane, the Silvertips built up a 3-0 lead and hung on for a 3-2 victory over the Chiefs. . . . Everett (36-17-4) has points in five straight (4-0-1). It leads the Western EverettConference by two points over Portland. . . . Spokane (30-20-5) had points in each of its previous 10 games (8-0-2). It is third in the U.S. Division, nine points behind Portland and three ahead of Settle and Tri-City. . . . These two teams also were playing for the third time in fewer than 48 hours. Everett went 2-0-1, including a 2-1 OT loss to the visiting Chiefs on Friday. Spokane finished the hectic weekend at 2-1-0). . . . F Spencer Gerth (5) gave Everett a 1-0 lead at 17:11 of the second period, and F Riley Sutter (22) upped it to 2-0 at 19:00. . . . F Connor Dewar (29) made it 3-0 at 12:32 of the third period. . . . F Jaret Anderson-Dolan (33) got Spokane on the scoreboard, on a PP, at 13:10, and F Kailer Yamamoto (13) made it a one-goal game at 17:07. . . . Yamamoto also had an assist. . . . Spokane was 1-4 on the PP; Everett was 0-4. . . . The Silvertips got 24 stops from G Dustin Wolf. At the other end, Donovan Buskey blocked 18. . . . Everett leads the season series, 5-2-1; the Chiefs are 3-4-1. . . . Announced attendance: 5,219.


MONDAY (all times local):

Lethbridge vs. Kootenay, at Cranbrook, B.C., 2 p.m.

Edmonton at Kamloops, 2 p.m.

Red Deer at Prince George, 2 p.m.

Victoria at Kelowna, 2:05 p.m.


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