At ‘going rate’ is Memorial Cup out of reach for teams? . . . Broncos in hiring mode . . . Viveiros now works for Oilers

MacBeth

D Jonathon Blum (Vancouver, 2005-09) signed a one-year contract with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod (Russia, KHL). This season, with Admiral Vladivostok (Russia, KHL), he had one goal and 18 assists in 43 games. He was an alternate captain. . . .  Blum was released for financial reasons and signed by Sochi (Russia, KHL) on Dec. 27. He had three assists in 10 games with Sochi.


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Has the CHL jumped the shark with the Memorial Cup? You are free to ask that question after a story by Josh Brown in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record.

“At the going rate,” Brown writes, “hosting the Memorial Cup is out of reach for the Kitchener Rangers.

“Chief operating officer Steve Bienkowski says the club, which is considered one of the Canadian Hockey League’s most stable franchises, could not afford to put on the annual junior hockey showcase at its current bidding price of $3.65 million.”

Bienkowski told Brown: “There is no way we could bid if that was the number. If it’s that dollar type of guarantee than we’re priced out. I’m not sure there is an Ontario market that is priced in.”

With the 2018 Memorial Cup ongoing in Regina, it was reported during the week that the Pats paid the CHL a total of $3.65 million — $3 million plus $650,000 for expenses — for hosting rights to what is the trophy’s 100th anniversary tournament. This also is the Pats’ 100th anniversary season.

The Pats owners expect to lose $2 million by the time all the bills are paid.

According to Brown:

“Kitchener guaranteed a profit of $1.8 million when it bid for — and won — the right to host the Memorial Cup in 2008.

“More than 53,000 fans attended games at the Aud and the club produced a tidy $1.95 million profit, which was the highest in CHL history at the time.”

Brown’s story, which is full of all kinds of nuggets, is right here.


As expected, the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers announced Friday that they have added Manny Viveiros as an assistant coach. Viveiros spent the past two seasons as the director of hockey operations and head coach of the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos.

The announcement came two days after the WHL-champion Broncos were eliminated from the Memorial Cup tournament in Regina after going 0-3. En route to the WHL title, the Broncos played a league-record 26 playoff games; they won two six-game series and two seven-game affairs. (The 1984 Regina Pats, 1986 Medicine Hat Tigers and 1979 Portland Winterhawks both played 25 games.)

Viveiros, 52, is a native of St. Albert, Alta. He coached for nine seasons in Europe before signing with the Broncos. A former defenceman with the Prince Albert Raiders, Viveiros also played in Europe for 16 seasons. Most of his European time was spent in Austria.

In Edmonton, he joins Oilers head coach Todd McLellan, who is a former GM/head coach of the Broncos, along with assistant coaches Glen Gulutzan and Trent Yawney, whose signings also were announced Friday.

McLellan (Saskatoon, 1982-87), Gulutzan (Brandon, Saskatoon, 1989-92), Yawney (Saskatoon, 1982-85) and Viveiros (Prince Albert, 1982-86) all played in the WHL. Considering that McLelland and Yawney were teammates who played against Viveiros, who played for the Blades’ arch-rivals in Prince Albert, there just might be some interesting conversations in the Oilers’ coaches’ room next season.

The Broncos announced Viveiros’s departure at a Friday morning news conference. At the same time, they announced that Dianne Sletten, their director of business operations, also is leaving the club.

If could be that the Broncos’ front office will have a completely new look come a new season.

They had been operating without a general manager, with Jamie Porter the director of hockey operations, and Viveiros holding the title of director of player personnel and head coach.

Porter has been rumoured as a possible candidate for openings with the Kamloops Blazers and Prince George Cougars, both of whom need a general manager. Also rumoured to be in the mix in Kamloops is Matt Bardsley, presently an assistant general manager with the Portland Winterhawks. Bardsley has been with the Winterhawks since 1999.


With Emanuel Viveiros leaving the Swift Current Broncos, it means that the past six WHL champions have lost their head coaches to the professional ranks. . . . Steve Konowalchuk SCBroncoswon the title with the Seattle Thunderbirds in 2017, then signed on as an assistant coach with the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks. . . . In 2016, the Brandon Wheat Kings, under GM/head coach Kelly McCrimmon, won the Ed Chynoweth Cup. McCrimmon then joined the Vegas Golden Knights as assistant general manager. . . . In 2015, head coach Dan Lambert helped the Kelowna Rockets win the WHL, then signed with the Buffalo Sabres as an assistant coach. . . . Derek Laxdal was the Edmonton Oil Kings’ head coach when they won the WHL in 2014. He then signed on with the NHL’s Dallas Stars as head coach of their AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars. . . . In 2013, Travis Green was the head coach as the Portland Winterhawks won the WHL title. He later joined the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks as the head coach of their AHL affiliate, the Utica Comets.

So, you’re wondering, who was the last WHL head coach win a championship and stay put? Well, Laxdal was the head coach of the Oil Kings when they won the 2012 title, and he hung around for two more seasons. Before that it was Kris Knoblauch, who helped the Kootenay Ice to the 2011 championship and coached in Cranbrook for one more season.


The Memorial Cup schedule (all times local):

Game 1, Friday, May 18 – Regina 3, Hamilton 2 (5,678)

Game 2, Saturday, May 19 – 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 – Hamilton 3, Acadie-Bathurst 2 (6,072)

Game 6, Wednesday – Regina 6, Swift Current 5 (6,484)

Thursday — Day off.

Friday’s Semifinal – Regina 4, Hamilton 2 (6,484)

Saturday — No Game Scheduled.

Sunday’s Final — Acadie-Bathurst vs. Regina, 5 p.m.


Mike Pelino, a former assistant coach with the Spokane Chiefs, has signed on as an assistant coach with Avangard Omsk of the KHL. Pelino, 58, spent the past four seasons as an assistant coach with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL. He was with the Chiefs for two seasons (1997-99).

Hockey’s heartland left to cry once again

Humboldt is in the heartland of hockey. It really is. Located east of Saskatoon, south of Prince Albert, not far from Yorkton and Tisdale and Melfort and Nipawin, it is one of those hockey-town communities where teenagers grow into men as they chase their dreams.

The junior A Humboldt Broncos were doing just that on Friday when they boarded the team bus and headed for Nipawin and Game 5 of their Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League semifinal series with the Hawks. Nipawin held a 3-1 edge in the best-of-seven affair, but you can bet your boots that the Broncos didn’t think it was close to being over.

That game, of course, wasn’t played, nor will it be. As the bus rolled closer to Nipawin, it was involved in a collision with a big rig.

Early Saturday morning, Nipawin RCMP revealed that there were 28 people on the Broncos’ bus, and that 14 were dead, with 14 others injured, three of them critically. Later Saturday, the RCMP updated those numbers, saying that there had been 29 people on board, and that 15 of them were injured.

That other number — 14 fatalities — didn’t change.

(Later Saturday, RCMP said the number of dead now was 15, including 10 players. Also dead are two coaches, two broadcasters and the bus driver.)

The accident immediately brought back thoughts and memories of Dec. 30, 1986, when the Swift Current Broncos were involved in a single-vehicle accident in which four players died.

On that night, the Broncos were en route to Regina for a game with the Pats. Just east of Swift Current, in winter driving conditions, the bus fishtailed, went into a ditch and, at a high rate of speed, struck an approach, went airborne, ended up on its side and skidded for a distance, before coming to a stop and becoming engulfed in silence.

On Friday, the Humboldt team’s north-bound bus came into collision with the west-bound truck at an intersection and was left a mess of crumpled metal. (There are photos out there but I just can’t bring myself to post them here. Sorry.)

Stuff like this simply isn’t supposed to happen, not to junior hockey players. They are 10-feet tall and bulletproof. The bus is their sanctuary, their home away from home away from home.

The Humboldt players were from places like Slave Lake, Edmonton, Saskatoon, St. Albert, Allan, Montmartre, Airdrie, Stony Plain, Lethbridge, Humboldt . . . hockey towns, all of them.

They now were living in Humboldt, and you can bet that the community had adopted them.

Most of these players, the ones who weren’t from Humboldt, had three homes, one with their own immediate families, others with billet families. There are siblings, and the brothers and sisters of the billet families. Ask an NHLer about his relationship with his billet family and, invariably, you will find that the vast majority of the these are long-term and rock solid, too. In later years, there often are wedding anniversaries, visits during off-seasons and Christmas visits.

And then there is the team as family, one that lives a lot of the time in a dressing room and on a bus, which really is the third home.

Todd McLellan, the head coach of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers, is from Melville, one of those Saskatchewan hockey towns. He cut his coaching teeth with the SJHL’s North Battlefords North Stars. He pointed out on Saturday that the team bus “is as important as the ice. It’s a part of the fabric of our game. . . . It provides camaraderie and community.”

The team bus isn’t supposed to be a coffin. It just isn’t. It’s a place for movies, complete with goofy commentary from the peanut gallery. It’s a place for music and card games and cheap shots and zingers and the kibbitzing of teenagers. It’s a place to talk about dreams and girls and, well, life.

This was supposed to have been one of the best weekends on the sporting calendar. There was Sedin magic in Vancouver on Thursday night, and the twins putting the wraps on their careers in Edmonton tonight (Saturday). There is the Masters, starring Tiger Woods, in case you hadn’t heard. It’s also the final weekend of the NHL’s regular season, and there should be some excitement there.

Meanwhile, the second round of the WHL’s playoff continues. The Lethbridge Hurricanes, Moose Jaw Warriors, Portland Winterhawks and Tri-City Americans opened with victories on Friday night. None of the victors celebrated.

“I really don’t want to be here talking to you guys,” Moose Jaw head coach Tim Hunter told media after the game. “I feel really sad for those people. All these young kids that we have on our team, and I’m sure those guys over there and throughout the Western Hockey League, they’re all connected.

“It’s not an easy thing to talk about or even think about. It makes you sick to your stomach.”

There are four more games tonight, after which the Brandon Wheat Kings, Swift Current, the Winterhawks and the Americans will board busses and head for home.

You know they will do so with heavy hearts.

Meanwhile, the junior B Kimberley Dynamiters won the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League championship on Friday night. They rode their bus to Revelstoke, where they beat the Grizzlies, 5-3. The Dynamiters climbed right back on the bus and drove home through the night. You wonder how much dread was mixed with the excitement of what was a night to remember, at least in part because of all the wrong reasons.

But what now for the SJHL?

While it’s early and the tears have yet to dry, the SJHL powers-that-be, led by Bill Chow, their president, are trying to come to grips with what has happened. Still, they will have to make a decision soon. The RBC Cup is to open on May 12 in Chilliwack, and there are schedules in place with not a lot of time with which to play.

The Estevan Bruins have been waiting to see whether they will face Humboldt or Nipawin in the SJHL’s championship final. It is obvious that Humboldt can’t continue, but I would suggest that Chow and his people will decide to forge ahead. Really, it’s the thing to do; it’s what those who won’t play again would have wanted.

The Humboldt Broncos were chasing a dream, just like the players with Estevan and Nipawin. Those who no longer are with us would want the playoffs to continue and to be played to a conclusion.

Play them in honour of the Humboldt Broncos. Dedicate the RBC Cup to a franchise that won that championship in 2003 and again in 2008.

Besides, that’s who we are. We are Canadians, we are hockey fans, and we won’t ever forget while we watch through the tears.