Cougars to be more ‘assertive’ with schedule making . . . Portland still unbeaten in East . . . Gauthier blanks Americans




MacBeth

F Tomáš Plíhal (Kootenay, 2001-03) signed a contract for the rest of this season with Landshut (Germany, Oberliga South) after requesting and receiving his release from Jablonec nad Nisou (Czech Republic, 2. Liga). He had 14 goals and 20 assists in 23 games.


ThisThat

Andy Beesley is the vice-president of business with the Prince George Cougars. A few days before Christmas, he sat down with Hartley Miller of 94.3 The Goat, a Prince George radio station, and they combined for an episode of the CatScan podcast. . . . If you have ever wondered about what goes into running the business end of a major junior franchise you will want to give this a listen. It’s 50 minutes of Beesley being honest in answering questions about ticket prices, attendance, scheduling, turning games into events, the survival of the WHL in Prince George, and even how he came to change his lifestyle and lose 100 pounds. . . .

One thing I found particularly interesting is that Beesley said the Cougars’ organization has changed its thought process and no longer will look for the one big score.

“We would love to win a Memorial Cup, but we just want to make the playoffs regularly,” he told Miller, “and that’s part of the path that the hockey side of the business is on now. We’ve changed our model a bit to aim for more of a consistent team year by year, rather than selling the farm and just having couple of studs that come in and then you cross your fingers and pay the price for the next five years. We’ve done away with that model.”

The Cougars are scheduled to entertain the Prince George Cougars on Friday night, more than five weeks after their most-recent home game. Between home games, they will have played 11 times on the road and taken the Christmas break.

Beesley promised the Cougars’ fans “that’s not going to happen again . . . we’re not going to put up with that again.”

He added that he, team president John Pateman, co-owner Eric Brown and general manager Mark Lamb “have all talked together and agreed that we need to do a far better job of not just giving input to our schedules but standing up for what the Prince George Cougars need. . . . we are going to be a lot more assertive and make sure we don’t have another six-week gap because we don’t think it’s fair to fans and it’s not fair to our business either.”

There’s lots of interesting stuff in the 50 minutes and it’s all right here.

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KOOTENAY KOUNTDOWN

All signs point to the Kootenay Ice packing up and moving to Winnipeg before another season gets here. However, no one from the Ice or the WHL office has had much, if 21anything to say about all the speculation.

However, Ron Robison, the WHL commissioner, did appear with host Dean Millard on TSN Radio (1260) in Edmonton on Dec. 19.

Asked about the situation, Robison responded in part that “we’ll be very soon making an announcement as to what the future of that franchise is.”

We now are into our 21st day since Robison made that statement, and there has yet to be an announcement of any kind.


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Allow me to apologize to Gino De Paoli, the play-by-play voice of the AJHL’s Okotoks Oilers. It was his tweet that tipped me off to an item on G Nick Sanders that I used here yesterday. I meant to credit De Paoli, but it didn’t get done, and for that I offer up an apology. Sorry about that, Gino.

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The Prince George Cougars have signed F Blake Eastman, 15, to a WHL contract. He was a second-round selection in the 2018 bantam draft. . . . From Ardrossan, Alta., Eastman is playing for the Elite 15 team at OHA Edmonton, where he has 17 goals and eight assists in 21 games.

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The Spokane Chiefs have returned D Graham Sward to the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds of the B.C. Major Midget Hockey League. Sward, 15, was the 17th overall selection in the WHL’s 2018 bantam draft. . . . Sward played one game with the Chiefs and scored his first goal as they beat the Ice, 8-4, in Cranbrook, B.C., on Sunday.

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The Swift Current Broncos have released F Quinton Waitzner, 18, who was a ninth-round selection in the WHL’s 2015 bantam draft. . . . From Victoria, he had two assists in 34 games this season, after finishing last season with one goal in 43 games. He also was pointless in five games in 2016-17. . . . Before joining the Broncos, he played for the junior B Saanich Braves.

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The Prince Albert Raiders have returned G Brett Balas, 17, to the AJHL’s Calgary Canucks. From Calgary, he was a third-round pick by the Raiders in the WHl’s 2016 bantam draft. . . . Balas was brought in by the Raiders to fill the roster spot created with starter Ian Scott with Team Canada at the WJC. . . . Balas got into two games with Prince Albert, going 2-0-0, 2.56, .871. One of the victories was in relief of starter Donovan Buskey.

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Feel free to click on the DONATE button over there on the right and contribute to the cause. Thank you, in advance, and stay safe out there.

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TUESDAY HIGHLIGHTS:

The Portland Winterhawks erased an early 2-0 deficit with four straight goals en route to Portlanda 4-3 victory over the Wheat Kings in Brandon. . . . Portland (24-11-5) has points in nine straight (6-0-3), and is 3-0-0 on its East Division swing. . . . Brandon (16-16-6) has lost two in a row. . . . F Ben McCartney (11) gave Brandon a 2-0 lead with goals at 1:14 and 3:45 of the first period. . . . The Winterhawks tied it before the period ended on goals from F Michal Kvasnica (7) and F Seth Jarvis (10). . . . F Jaydon Dureau (9) broke the tie at 14:39 of the second period. . . . F Joachim Blichfeld upped Portland’s lead to 4-2, shorthanded, at 10:03 of the third period. He leads the WHL in goals (37) and points (76). . . D Braden Schneider (5) got the Wheat Kings to within a goal at 14:53. . . . Portland had a 51-35 edge in shots, including 22-9 in the first period. . . . Brandon G Jiri Patera blocked 47 shots, 15 more than Portland’s Shane Farkas. . . . Portland D Nick Cicek, an 18-year-old freshman from Winnipeg, had one assist in his first 16 games. He had one assist last night, and now is on a six-game point streak, with nine helpers in that stretch. . . . Portland had F Cody Glass back in the lineup after his stint with Canada’s national junior team. He was held off the scoresheet. . . . The Winterhawks were without D Matthew Quigley (suspended) and D Brendan De Jong (concussion).

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F Kyle Crnkovic had a goal and two assists to lead the host Saskatoon Blades to a 4-3 Saskatoonvictory over the Seattle Thunderbirds. . . . Saskatoon (25-12-5) has won two in a row. . . . Seattle (12-21-4) is 1-2-0 on its East Division trip. . . . Crnkovic, a 16-year-old from Chestermere, Alta., was the 10th-overall selection in the 2017 bantam draft. In 27 games, he has four goals and nine assists, with three goals and six assists having come in his past nine games. Yes, this was his first multi-point WHL game. . . . D Zach Ashton, who moved from Saskatoon to Seattle in a deal last week, gave the Thunderbirds a 1-0 lead with his first WHL goal, at 6:35 of the first period. The goal came in his 14th WHL game, the third with Seattle. . . . Crnkovic tied it at 15:24, and F Josh Paterson (14) gave the Blades the lead, on a PP, at 17:30. . . . Seattle F Nolan Volcan, playing in his 300th regular-season game, tied it with his 15th goal, at 19:24. . . . The Thunderbirds went ahead 3-2 when F Matthew Wedman (13) accord at 4:36 of the second period. . . . Saskatoon reclaimed the lead before the period ended, on goals from F Chase Wouters (8), at 13:49, and F Eric Florchuk (11), at 17:20. . . . Volcan, 20, is from Edmonton. He was a second-round pick by Seattle in the 2013 bantam draft. He has 213 points, including 88 goals, in those 300 regular-regular-season games. . . . F Cyle McNabb, acquired Monday from the Kootenay Ice, wasn’t in Saskatoon’s lineup. . . . The Blades remain without F Kirby Each and D Nolan Kneen. . . . F Sean Richards was in Seattle’s lineup for the first time since being acquired last week from the Everett Silvertips. He had to complete an eight-game WHL suspension before suiting up with the Thunderbirds. . . . Seattle was without D Cade McNelly, who completed a three-game suspension.

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G Taylor Gauthier blocked 36 shots to lead the Prince George Cougars to a 1-0 victory PrinceGeorgeover the Tri-City Americans in Kennewick, Wash. . . . Prince George (14-21-3) has won two in a row. The Cougars are 3-7-0 on an 11-game swing that began with a doubleheader in Portland on Dec. 7 and 8, and included the Christmas break. The trip wraps up tonight against the Spokane Chiefs, then the Cougars have to hustle home for games with the Kelowna Rockets on Friday and Saturday nights. . . . Tri-City (20-15-2) has lost two straight. . . . Last night, Cougars F Ethan Browne scored the game’s only goal, his sixth, at 16:05 of the second period. . . . Gauthier, a 17-year-old sophomore from Calgary, was the ninth-overall selection in the WHL’s 2016 bantam draft. He has two shutouts in his career both of them this season. This season, he is 10-14-2, 3.08, .904. . . . Tri-City got 28 stops from G Beck Warm.

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Two WHLers get NHL deals . . . Warriors add first-rounder to their roster . . . Gilhooly writes about James, abuse


MacBeth

F Tomáš Plíhal (Kootenay, 2001-03) has signed a contract for the rest of this season with Heilbronner Falken (Germany, DEL2) after being released  by mutual agreement by Orli Znojmo (Czech Republic, Erste Bank Liga). He had three goals and 12 assists in 45 games, and was an alternate captain. . . . Znojmo has two games left in its playoff round and cannot advance. Heilbronn has two games left and is in the 10th and last playoff spot, three points ahead of 11th-place Weisswasser. If Znojmo doesn’t make the playoffs, Heilbronn will play in the ‘playdowns’ or relegation series. . . .

F Robin Soudek (Edmonton, Chilliwack/Victoria, 2008-12) has signed  a contract for the rest of the season with Eispiraten Crimmitschau (Germany, DEL2) after being released by mutual agreement from Épinal (France, Ligue Magnus). In 42 games, he had 17 goals and 17 assists. . . . Épinal has five games left in its playdown series and cannot be relegated. Crimmitschau has two games left, is in ninth place, and has either playoffs or playdowns remaining. . . .

D Alex Roach (Calgary, 2010-14) has been released by Grizzlys Wolfsburg (Germany, DEL). He had three assists in 25 games. He also had two assists in eight games while on loan to Eispiraten Crimmitschau (Germany, DEL2).


A LITTLE OF THIS . . .

The Vancouver Canucks have signed F Kole Lind of the Kelowna Rockets to a three-year entry-level NHL contract. Lind, 19, has 85 points, including 35 goals, in 51 games this season, his third in Kelowna. . . . He scored the game’s first three goals on Wednesday night in Prince George, but his Rockets went on to lose, 7-6 in OT, to the Cougars. . . . During his career, he has 214 points, including 79 goals, in 197 regular-season games. . . . From Shaunavon, Sask., Lind was a second-round pick by the Canucks in the 2017 NHL draft.


F Brayden Burke of the Moose Jaw Warriors has signed a three-year entry-level contract with the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes. Burke was a free agent. This season, Burke, who turned 21 on Jan. 1, has 112 points, 81 of them assists, in 59 games. He is second in the WHL in assists and points. . . . Burke, who was never drafted by an NHL team, is from Edmonton. He has 337 points, 252 of them assists, in 236 regular-season WHL games. He also has played with the Red Deer Rebels and Lethbridge Hurricanes.


The Moose Jaw Warriors have added F Brayden Tracey to their roster for the remainder of the season. Tracey, 16, was a first-round selection in the WHL’s 2016 bantam draft. . . . From Calgary, he had 52 points, including 21 goals, in 30 games with the midget AAA Calgary Northstars this season, finishing third in the Alberta Midget Hockey League scoring race.


F Ryan Robinson, a 16-year-old from Plano, Texas, has committed to Arizona State for the 2020-21 season. Robinson has 19 goals and 23 assists in 36 games with the Dallas Stars U-16 team. . . . He was a seventh-round selection by the Everett Silvertips in the WHL’s 2016 bantam draft.


Tyler Metcalfe was a terrific player through five WHL seasons, all of them with the Seattle Thunderbirds. These days, you are able to find Metcalfe coaching a high school team in Winnipeg — the Sturgeon Heights Huskies.

On Wednesday, the Huskies were involved in a game that ended prematurely when Metcalfe chose have it called.

“The game was getting out of control at that point, it seemed,” Metcalfe told CBC News. “It’s 5-0 and you don’t expect big hits to come when the game is essentially out of reach for us.

“I think it was the right call for all parties involved to call it quits at that point of the game. There’s nothing to gain other than to put more kids at risk.”

By that stage, one of Metcalfe’s players had left on a stretcher after behind hit from behind, and the St. Paul’s Crusaders also had a player who needed help getting back to the bench.

The full CBC story is right here.

The teams played the third game of the best-of three Tier 1 final on Thursday, with St. Paul’s winning, 2-1.


“More than 200 current and retired National Hockey League players have taken concerns about existing or potential brain injuries into their own hands by visiting a neurosurgeon in Kingston, Ont., for MRI brain scan procedures,” writes Rick Westhead of TSN. “Dr. Douglas James Cook says at least 120 former and some 80 active NHL players have undergone the scans over the past two years. He said that about 50 active players combined from the Ontario Hockey League and Western Hockey League have also been tested at Queen’s University over the same time frame.” . . . That complete story is right here.


In 2010, Graham James was charged with sexual abuse of Theo Fleury, Todd Holt and Greg Gilhooly. James pleaded guilty to the Fleury- and Holt-related charges; the charge involving Gilhooly was stayed. . . . Gilhooly now has written a book and the title says it all — I Am Nobody: Confronting the Sexually Abusive Coach Who Stole My Life. . . . I haven’t yet read Gilhooly’s book, but Ken Campbell of The Hockey News has, and his review is right here.


IF THE PLAYOFFS OPENED TODAY …

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Saskatoon/Prince Albert at Moose Jaw

Brandon at Medicine Hat

Regina at Swift Current

Red Deer at Lethbridge

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WESTERN CONFERENCE

Seattle at Everett

Tri-City at Kelowna

Spokane at Portland

Vancouver at Victoria


Scoreboard

THURSDAY:

No Games Scheduled.


FRIDAY (all times local):

Prince Albert at Swift Current, 7 p.m.

Lethbridge at Saskatoon, 7:05 p.m.

Moose Jaw at Brandon, 7:30 p.m.

Calgary at Edmonton, 7 p.m.

Kootenay at Red Deer, 7 p.m.

Vancouver at Kamloops, 7 p.m.

Seattle at Portland, 7 p.m.

Victoria at Prince George, 7 p.m.

Spokane vs. Tri-City, at Kennewick, Wash., 7:05 p.m.

Kelowna at Everett, 7:35 p.m.


TWEET OF THE DAY