The piece that follows was to have appeared here a few days ago, but other news got in the way. . . . Thanks to Victoria Cougars Hockey Project (@victoriacougars) for alerting me to the 33rd anniversary of what may have been what the tweet described as “the biggest regular-season upset in WHL history.” . . . If you are a regular here, you will know that I am a sucker for that kind of stuff. So I did some research and came up with this. . . . Enjoy!
It was Feb. 16, 1990, a Friday night.
The Victoria Cougars and their 4-49-2 record were at Memorial Arena in Kamloops for a date with the high-flying Blazers, who were 45-12-0.
The Cougars were looking for their first two-game winning streak of the season, having beaten the visiting Portland Winter Hawks, 8-5, two nights earlier to end a 32-game — yes, 32 games — losing skid. Yes, that was a CHL and WHL record.
There were 2,284 fans in the seats and you know they were expecting their favourites to skate to victory.
But . . . you know what they say . . . That’s why we play the game!
The Cougars got a goal from Ryan Harrison at 4:34 of OT to beat the Blazers, 7-6.
Harrison, a Kamloops native, had been dealt to the Cougars by the Blazers earlier that season, with Clayton Young going the other way.
Shayne Green of the Cougars had forced OT by scoring at 18:33 of the third period with goaltender Corey Jones on the bench for the extra attacker.
Earlier goals had come from Dean Dyer, Dino Caputo, Mike Seaton, Rob Sumner, who suffered a knee injury in the third period, and Mark Cipriano.
The Blazers had gotten two goals from each of Murray Duval and Darryl Sydor, with singles coming from Joe Mittelstaedt and Phil Huber.
Jones finished with 47 saves, while the Blazers’ duo of Dale Masson, who played the first period, and Corey Hirsch combined to stop 18.
Dyer had given the Cougars a 1-0 lead 39 seconds into the game. But the Blazers led 3-1 before the seven-minute mark. They got a wakeup call, though, as the Cougars struck three times before the period’s end, with two of the goals coming in the last 30 seconds.
The Blazers then scored the only two goals of the second period for a 5-4 lead.
Duval upped it to 6-4 at 2:56, with Cipriano getting the Cougars back to within one at 6:43.
The Victoria Times Colonist wasn’t able to report on the game because of deadline issues. The Saturday paper included the game summary through the end of the second period, with a notation that the game was “in progress at press time.”
However, there was a story on the second sports page of the Sunday paper. The headline: Cougars win again.
“After this,” Victoria head coach Lyle Moffat said, “I hope the guys believe that they can beat any team. We got a monkey off our back by breaking the losing streak (beating Portland 8-5 on Wednesday) and we told the players to put it all behind them. We told them to simply look ahead. . . .
“They kept plugging away. With the reputation Kamloops has, they could have given up after betting down but they didn’t.”
Unfortunately for Moffat, the Cougars didn’t win another game that season, losing 15 in a row. They finished 5-65 with two ties, setting WHL records for fewest points (12), fewest victories in a minimum 68-game schedule, most losses, longest losing streak (32 games), and longest road losing streak (23, tie).
Moffat was the team’s third coach that season; the victory over Portland had left him as the only one with more than one victory. Garry Cunningham had gone 1-28-0, while Wayne Naka was 1-5-1.
After beating the Blazers, Moffat was 3-16-1. He finished the season 3-31-1.
If you care about the newspaper industry or have even a glimmer of interest in it, you should pour yourself a cup of your favourite brew and give this piece right here a read. . . . It’s from Jeremy Klaszus of The Sprawl, which, according to its website, provides “in-depth Calgary journalism.” . . . This piece takes a look at the rise and fall of the Calgary Herald, but it could be the story of any once-dominant newspaper in any Canadian city.
SUNDAY’S WHL HIGHLIGHTS:
#WHL KAM/CGY: @blazerhockey score 11 seconds in thanks to Caedan Bankier, on their first of 50 shots in contest, and don't look back. Bankier's 6th icebreaker ties for 8th Leaguewide. Ashton Ferster posts first-er multiassist tilt with a pair. Matches last year's output (10).
The Kamloops Blazers ran their winning streak to eight games with a 4-1 victory over the host Calgary Hitmen. . . . The game was played at the Tsuut’ina Seven Chiefs Sportsplex. . . . F Ryan Hofer, returning from a one-game suspension, scored his 34th goal and added an assist for the Blazers, who also got a goal (28) and an assist from F Daylan Kuefler. . . . F Caedan Bankier (27) got the Blazers started just 11 seconds into the first period. . . . Kamloops had a 50-20 edge in shots. . . . G Dylan Ernst won his 30th game of the season by blocking 19 shots. He is 30-8-3, 2.61, .909. . . . Kamloops F Logan Stankoven had his point streak halted at 35 games. He had 79 points, including 27 goals, over that stretch. That is tied with F Connor Bedard of the Regina Pats for the longest point streak this seaosn. . . . Kamloops (35-10-6) is tied with Portland, eight points behind Western Conference-leading Seattle. . . . Calgary is sixth in the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of Regina, Swift Current and Medicine Hat.
If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:
What follows for your reading enjoyment is another episode from the WHL’s past. This memory begins with a decision by the WHL’s board of governors to change the playoff format in mid-season strictly for financial reasons. . . . But when you look at the first-round playoff matchups they ended up with, you are free to wonder if they really had thought things through. . . . Anyway, here you go. Thanks to Al Dumba and Norm Fong for their time, even if it was almost three years ago!
The Western Canada Hockey League’s 1975-76 season was more than half over when its president, Ed Chynoweth, announced a change to the playoff format.
On Jan. 15, 1976, during the league’s all-star festivities in Lethbridge, Chynoweth revealed that there would be 10 teams advancing to the playoffs, up from eight the previous season.
“We added the two teams simply for financial reasons,” Chynoweth explained in his usual blunt manner.
At the time, the 12-team WCHL was split into two divisions — Eastern and Western. The Saskatoon Blades, Brandon Wheat Kings, Lethbridge Broncos, Winnipeg Clubs, Regina Pats and Flin Flon Bombers finished one through six in the east; in the west, it was, in order, the New Westminster Bruins, Kamloops Chiefs, Medicine Hat Tigers, Victoria Cougars, Edmonton Oil Kings and Calgary Centennials.
The teams voted 8-4 for the new playoff format that called for the teams to be seeded one through 10 according to regular-season points, with the matchups to be 1 vs. 6, 2 vs. 7, 3 vs. 8, 4 vs. 9, and 5 vs. 10.
Brandon, Saskatoon, Victoria and Winnipeg, four teams on the league’s geographic edges, voted against the format.
“I feel it wasn’t done for the good of the league,” Gerry Brisson, Winnipeg’s owner, general manager and head coach, told Bruce Penton of the Brandon Sun. “It was done purely for selfish motives. Nobody wants to play New Westminster.
“All we’re doing is making the airlines a lot of money.”
He was right about that.
Under the new format, Flin Flon and Calgary didn’t make the playoffs, and what they called a “preliminary round” would feature the Medicine Hat Tigers against the Edmonton Oil Kings and the Victoria Cougars versus the Regina Pats. In the second round, the New Westminster Bruins faced the Brandon Wheat Kings, the Saskatoon Blades met the Lethbridge Broncos, the Kamloops Chiefs went against the Winnipeg Clubs and Victoria met Medicine Hat.
The Blades advanced and had to go against Kamloops in one semifinal, with New Westminster and Victoria meeting in the other. In the final, New Westminster took out Saskatoon, 4-2 with one tie.
Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, Regina was locked into that 10th spot. But either Victoria or Brandon still could wind up fifth.
For that to happen, the Wheat Kings needed to win their final game, while the Cougars lost twice.
“If I was forced to make a choice between the two,” Regina coach Bob Turner told the Regina Leader-Post, “my preference would be Brandon as far as the travelling goes. It’s closer and a series with the Wheat Kings would be easier on the club’s pocket book.”
On Friday, March 26, the Cougars settled the issue with a 7-6 victory in Lethbridge. That same night, the Wheat Kings lost 5-4 to host Winnipeg.
After winning in Lethbridge, the Cougars scurried home to Victoria where they dumped the Tigers, 8-4, on Saturday night.
After losing 9-1 in Saskatoon on Friday, the Pats bussed home and flew to Victoria on Saturday night. Game 1 of the eight-point series was scheduled for Sunday evening.
Game 1 — Sunday, March 28, Regina 1 at Victoria 3.
Game 2 — Tuesday, March 30, Regina 2 at Victoria 5.
Game 3 — Wednesday, March 31, Victoria 4 at Regina 4.
Game 4 — Friday, April 2, at Victoria 5 at Regina 4.
Game 5 — Saturday, April 3, Victoria 4 at Regina 6.
Game 6 — Sunday, April 4, at Regina 3 at Victoria 9.
(Victoria won eight-point series, 9-3)
The series schedule — it was an eight-point series, meaning there wouldn’t be any overtime if the score was tied after three periods — called for the teams to play six games in eight nights, including twice going back-to-back IN DIFFERENT CITIES. By highway and ferry, the two cities are more than 1,800 km apart; by air, they are separated by 1,370 km.
“We flew, which really helped,” Al Dumba, a forward on that Regina team, remembered 44 years later.
Perhaps it was a sign of the times that Dumba doesn’t remember even one player complaining about the schedule or the back-to-back games in different cities.
To get to Victoria for Game 1, the Pats flew commercial to Vancouver and then took “a small prop” to Victoria, Dumba recalled.
When the Pats’ flight landed in Victoria in the wee hours of March 28, “there was nobody to greet them at the airport, not even a night watchman,” Dave Senick wrote in The Leader-Post. “The Cougars’ team bus eventually picked up the members of the Regina squad, but that was after a wait of nearly an hour.”
The Cougars opened by holding serve at home, winning 3-1 and, after a day off, 5-2.
After Game 2, both teams boarded the same flight and headed to Regina, changing planes in Calgary along the way.
Dumba said he won’t ever forget that flight.
“On the way back to Regina . . . when we changed planes in Calgary . . . my first cousin’s husband was our pilot,” Dumba said. “We talked as we boarded in Calgary and later he called me up to the cockpit. I flew to Regina with him in the cockpit.”
Dumba, laughing, recalls Turner, the Pats’ coach, and Del Wilson, the president and general manager, along with the Cougars all “wondering why I went up to the cockpit. That was an experience I will never forget.”
The next night, March 31, a late third-period goal gave the Cougars a 4-4 tie in Regina.
Dumba had suffered a bruised hip in the last regular-season game in Saskatoon. He tried to play through it in Victoria and only made it worse. So he didn’t play in the tie, but was back for Game 4.
“The doctor gave me some pills and I was cured in a day,” he said with a laugh. “I can’t imagine what it was.”
After a day off, the Cougars won Game 4, 5-4, erasing a 3-0 deficit in the process. That left Victoria with a 7-1 series lead, meaning a tie in Game 5 would end it.
A fan might have expected the Pats to fold like a cardboard suitcase in a thunder storm the next night. After all, a Regina victory would force a sixth game in Victoria the following night, meaning even more travel. Instead, the Pats got three goals from Jon Hammond, the last one into an empty net, as they won, 6-4, despite trailing 2-0 just six minutes into the first period. Regina tied it 2-2 before the period ended and then scored the only three goals of the second period.
“We were up after two periods,” Dumba remembered, “and we knew Del Wilson did not want to fly us back to Victoria for Game 6. Gerry (Bucky) Minor was a rookie. He stood up after the second and started hollering ‘Let’s go back.’ ”
Norm Fong, the Pats’ trainer/equipment manager who would go on to a lengthy career with the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders, recalls that intermission.
“I remember in between periods of that fifth game, the players asked everybody to leave and they took a vote,” he said. “They were actually voting on whether they wanted to go ahead and throw this game or come back and try to win it.”
Fong remembers talking with Drew Callander, a forward on that Regina team, in later years.
“Drew said he couldn’t remember who stood up, (but) he remembered somebody saying, ‘What do you guys think?’ Drew said he definitely remembers the team voting and saying, ‘Let’s go and win this because that would mean they would have to spend some money.’ ”
Fong added: “Del and Bob were really good guys, but they were tight.”
As the players were voting, Fong said it was all he “could do not to burst out laughing because I knew what they were doing. It was really funny. They were actually voting if they were going to try and win or just throw in the towel.
“Everyone knew Del was cheap, so we went out and won the game.”
In fairness to Wilson, who died on Nov. 3, 2016, there likely wasn’t an owner in the junior game who would have wanted to fork out that kind of money, knowing that his team likely was only going to be alive for one more game.
And that’s what happened.
The next night, the Cougars, back at home, put up a 9-3 victory, behind four goals and two assists from Mike Will, and the series was over.
“They had a good team,” Dumba said. “(Al) Hill, Will and (Jeff) McDill was a great line.”
The Cougars also had winger Archie Henderson, who spent a lot of the 1975-76 season in Chynoweth’s bad books and would find himself facing charges — later dismissed — after a donnybrook against the Blades in Saskatoon.
“Archie was tough, but a nice guy,” Dumba said. “He is still a friend. We went to (the Washington) Capitals’ camp together and have touched base over the years a few times.”
But back to the end of Game 6 . . .
“It was my 19-year-old season and my draft year,” Dumba said, “so a few of us knew we wouldn’t be back. We spent a night in Victoria and then the next night in Vancouver before we got home. So we partied a little to end the season.
“It was a long time ago but they are good memories.”
Les Lazaruk will be back for his 29th season of calling the play-by-play of Saskatoon Blades’ games. Oh, and he’ll be there for seasons 30 and 31, too, assuming all goes well and the creek don’t rise. . . . That’s because the Saskatoon Media Group (SMG) and the Blades have agreed to terms on a new three-year agreement that will run through the 2024-25 season. . . . This new agreement has the Blades’ games on CJWW, an AM station, for a second straight season. Being on the AM dial, Tyler Wawryk, the team’s director of business operations, said in a news release, creates “some consistency.” Prior to last season, the Blades had bounced among a handful of FM stations. . . . “We’ve appreciated being on some of the different stations at Saskatoon Media Group,” Wawryk added, “but moving back over to 600, which was the original home of Blades hockey on the radio, just has a wider range to cover.” . . . Lazaruk, who at one time was a pretty fair Strat-O-Matic baseball player, said: “Doing Blades’ radio broadcasts is what makes me want to wake up and greet each day, especially when one considers all we have gone through in the last 30 months! However, as the late, great broadcast legend Vince Scully used to say, ‘I need you more than you need me.’ I look forward to bringing you Saskatoon Blades’ action with all the professionalism and excitement I can muster.” . . . There is a complete news release right here.
The Regina Pats have signed Russian F Alexander Suzdalev, 18, whose NHL rights belong to the Washington Capitals. The Pats selected him in the 2021 CHL import draft; Washington took him 70th overall in the NHL’s 2022 draft after he put up 51 points, including 15 goals, in 45 games with the HV71 junior club in Sweden. He signed a three-year deal with the Capitals in July. . . . From a Pats news release: “Born in Khabarovsk, Russia, Suzdalev moved to Sweden when he was seven years old after his father Anatoly Suzdalev had signed a bandy contract with Swedish bandy club, Vetlanda Bandyklubb. He holds dual citizenship, but has represented Sweden at the international level, winning a gold medal with Sweden at the 2022 IIHF World U18 Championships, skating in six games.” . . . Suzdalev also is quite familiar with Pats star Connor Bedard, who played in Sweden during a time when the pandemic had shut down the WHL. “When Connor Bedard played in Sweden, he played for my team (HV71 J18 and J20),” Suzdalev said, “so we know each other pretty well, so that’s where it all started. So when the opportunity came, I thought it was a great one.” . . .
It would seem that the Pats now hold the rights to four imports, the other three being Czech F Stanislav Svozil, who had 10 goals and 31 assists in 59 games with them last season; Austrian F Luca Auer, who was selected in the 2022 import draft, and Czech G Michael Hrabal, who also was selected in the 2022 import draft. . . . Svozil, 19, put up a goal and two assists in three games with Czechia at the 2022 WJC in Edmonton. A third-round pick by Columbus in the 2021 NHL draft, he has signed with the Blue Jackets and could play with their AHL affiliate, the Cleveland Monsters. . . . Auer, 18, was pointless in four games with Austria at the 2022 WJC. He is expected to play at home this season. . . . Hrabal, 17, is expected to play with the USHL’s Omaha Lancers this season. He has committed to the U of Massachusetts for 2025-26.
ANOTHER SIGN THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US — From The New York Times on Thursday: An infection caused by a brain-eating amoeba most likely killed a child who swam in a Nebraska river over the weekend, health officials said Thursday. It would be the first such death in the state’s history and the second in the Midwest this summer.
THIS IS WHY WE LOVE BASEBALL — After the host Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Boston Red Sox, 8-2, on Thursday, ESPN Stats & Info tweeted this: “This is just the third time the Pirates have scored at least 7 runs on the Red Sox. The others were a 9-1 win on Sept. 17, 2014 and a 7-3 win in Game 1 of the 1903 World Series, when the Red Sox were the Boston Americans. . . . Cy Young pitched for Boston that day.”
This is how strongly folks felt about the senseless destruction of forest due to fire. Ye Olde Manning Park Gallows sign was installed on #BCHwy3 in Manning Provincial Park after the “Big Burn."
The Kamloops Blazers have promoted Robbie Sandland to assistant general manager. He had been the director of player personnel. Sandland has been with the club since 2018, first as the head scout in B.C. He was named director of player personnel in 2019. . . . He will continue to work alongside Shaun Clouston, the team’s general manager and head coach, and Tim O’Donovan, the organization’s other assistant GM. . . .
The BCHL’s Salmon Arm Silverbacks have an opening after assistant coach Carter Cochrane left the team, having, according to a news release, “accepted a new opportunity.” Cochrane had been with the Silverbacks for three seasons. . . .
Alec Dillon has joined the junior B Victoria Cougars of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League as goaltending coach. The 6-foot-5 Dillon, 26, played seven games with the Edmonton Oil Kings in 2015-16 (2-2-1, 3.81, .871) after having been a fifth-round pick by the Los Angeles Kings in the NHL’s 2014 draft. But he was plagued by injuries — he underwent at least four hip surgeries — and retired after playing two seasons at the U of Victoria.
THINKING OUT LOUD — OK. You didn’t watch much, if any, of the 2022 World Junior Championship that is soon to wrap up in Edmonton. It’s August. You’re fed up with Hockey Canada. Whatever. Will you be back on the bandwagon when the 2023 tournament opens in Halifax and Moncton on Dec. 26? . . . Is it just me or are there far more gravel trucks on our streets and highways than there used to be? . . . QB Nathan Rourke of the B.C. Lions was lighting it up again on Friday, this time in Regina, before he left in the fourth quarter with an injury to his right foot. The Lions were up 28-10 at the time, and they won by that same score. Lions fans now will hold their breath and hope that Rourke can answer the bell for B.C.’s next game — at home to the Roughriders on Friday. BTW, there isn’t a QB controversy in Regina. Cody Fajardo is the starter . . . unless that sore knee doesn’t allow him to play, which may have contributed to his exit late in the first half of this one.
RORY WITH AN ACE — Rory McIlroy has been outspoken against those golfers who turned their backs on the PGA Tour for the Saudi Arabian cash of the LIV circuit. To which Patrick Reed, who isn’t the most-liked golfer in the world, said: “He’ll never win a Masters to complete a career Grand Slam.” . . . That is said to have brought this response from McIlroy: “The only chance Reed has of getting a Grand Slam is at Denny’s.”
The Brandon Wheat Kings are saddened to learn of the passing of Al Gibbs.
Al aka“Gibby” has been a part of the BWK family for over 30 years working as the away penalty box attendant and timekeeper. He will be greatly missed.
One WHL team went up 3-0 in its best-of-seven conference finally by winning on the road in Monday’s lone playoff game. Two others have the same opportunity tonight. . . . The Edmonton Oil Kings went into Red Deer last night and beat the Rebels, 5-4 in OT, to take a 3-0 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal series. . . . Tonight, the Winnipeg Ice takes a 2-0 lead into Moose Jaw for Game 3 with the Warriors, while the Kamloops Blazers are up 2-0 and in Langley, B.C., to face the Vancouver Giants. . . . The Blazers are likely to be without F Luke Toporowski for a second straight game, while the Giants aren’t likely to have D Mazden Leslie or F Colton Langkow available. Head coach Michael Dyck told Steve Ewen of Postmedia that both players are “doubtful.” All three of those players were injured in Game 1 of this series.
MONDAY IN THE WHL:
#WHLPlayoffs#EDMvsRD: @EdmOilKings – who had one overtime win in season – use another to their advantage and take a commanding lead (and also win 11th straight overall). Jake Neighbours cracks the code for first time this playoffs 7:17 into overtime for the difference maker.
In Red Deer, F Jake Neighbours scored in OT to give the No. 2 Edmonton Oil Kings a 5-4 victory over the No. 3 Rebels. . . . The Oil Kings hold a 3-0 lead in the conference semifinal and get their first opportunity to wrap it up on Wednesday night in Red Deer. . . . D Luke Prokop (2) put the visitors out front at 1:55 of the first period. . . . F Liam Keeler (2) scored the Rebels’ first goal of the series — they had been blanked 4-0 and 5-0 in Edmonton — at 9:44, on a PP. . . . The Oil Kings went ahead 3-1 on second-period goals from F Dylan Guenther (7), at 6:32, and F Carter Souch (4), on a PP, at 15:56. . . . Guenther has a goal in each of Edmonton’s seven playoff games. . . . Red Deer got back to within a goal at 18:22 when F Kalan Lind (1) scored. . . . F Justin Sourdif (2) scored while shorthanded, at 7:38 of the third period, to give the visitors a 4-2 lead and really put the home side in a hole. . . . But the Rebels climbed out of it with two goals 36 seconds apart — F Arshdeep Bains (4) scored at 12:50 and F Jhett Larson (2) tied the game at 13:26. . . . Neighbours won it with his first goal of the playoffs, at 7:17 of OT. . . . G Connor Ungar blocked 47 shots for the Rebels, 29 more than Edmonton’s Sebastian Cossa, who drew an assist on Neighbours’ winner. . . . The Rebels went without D Jackson van de Leest who served a one-game suspension under supplemental discipline from Game 2. Also out: G Chase Coward and D Christoffer Sedoff, both with undisclosed injuries.
Count in Justin Sourdif's shorthanded marker for the Edmonton Oil Kings, there was 10 man disadvantage markers across @CHLHockey on May 9 – and the Ontario Hockey League didn't play. https://t.co/cMB7jGV5r8
ICYMI, Lou Lamoriello, the general manager of the NHL’s New York Islanders, fired head coach Barry Trotz on Monday morning. Trotz, the pride of Dauphin, Man., has one year left on a five-year deal worth US$20 million, so don’t be weeping too long for him. He also is the NHL’s third-winningest regular-season coach of all-time, with 914 victories. Under his guidance, the Islanders reached the NHL’s Final Four twice — in 2020 and 2021. But the Islanders didn’t make the playoffs this season, so Lamoriello pulled the plug on Trotz. . . . “I’d rather not get into any of the reasons because that’s my job upon the information that I have and I experienced to make these type of decisions,” Lamoriello, 79, said during a conference call. . . . Trotz, who played three seasons (1979-82) with the Regina Pats, was the head coach when the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup in the spring of 2018. The Capitals later let him go rather than extend his contract. That’s how he ended up with the Islanders. . . .
The Islanders’ coaching staff includes two former WHL head coaches in Lane Lambert, their associate coach and long-time Trotz lieutenant, and Jim Hiller. . . . Lambert, the head coach of the Prince George Cougars for a season and a half (2003-05), is seen by some observers as the leading candidate to replace Trotz. . . . Hiller, the head coach of the Chilliwack Bruins and Tri-City Americans (2006-14), just completed his third season with the Islanders after spending four seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs. . . .
The Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers and Winnipeg Jets, along with the Islanders, are NHL teams presently in the market for a head coach.
Congratulations to Shell for the terrific start to 2022. Well done! . . . Oh, and congratulations to the Shell gas station on the Trans-Canada Highway in the Valleyview area of Kamloops. The price of a litre of unleaded hit $2.04 there sometime Monday, to the best of my knowledge the first gas station in Kamloops to smash through the $2.00 barrier. Again, well done! . . . Can hardly wait to see what you have in store for us before Christmas.
Steve Kerr, the head coach of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, wasn’t able to work Monday night’s playoff game against the visiting Memphis Grizzlies. You guessed it! He tested positive earlier in the day. . . . In his absence, associate head coach Mike Brown served as the acting head coach. Interestingly, Brown already has signed on for next season — as the head coach of the Sacramento Kings.
JUNIOR JOTTINGS: The NHL’s Minnesota Wild has signed F Pavel Novak of the Kelowna Rockets to a three-year entry-level contract that is to begin next season. Novak, who turned 20 on April 16, is from Czech Republic. He had 72 points, including 29 goals, in 62 games with the Rockets this season. . . . The Wild selected him in the fifth round of the NHL’s 2020 draft. . . .
Craig Didmon is out as the GM/head coach of the BCHL’s Victoria Grizzlies. He has held both positions for the past seven-plus seasons. . . . Didmon has been coaching in Victoria since 2002, either with the junior B Cougars, the WHL’s Royals or the Grizzlies. . . . Taking Note was told last week that Rylan Ferster, a former GM/head coach with the BCHL’s West Kelowna Warriors, will be the Grizzlies’ next head coach. . . .
Chris Lynn is the new head coach of the junior B Victoria Cougars of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League. Lynn, a veteran of the coaching game, is a member of a real hockey family. He takes over from Brady Coulter, who has chosen to step aside. . . . Cleve Dheensaw of the Victoria Times-Colonist has more right here.
My wife, Dorothy, is preparing to take part in her ninth Kamloops Kidney Walk. . . . It will be held on June 5, but thanks to the pandemic it again will be a virtual event. . . . If you would like to sponsor her, you are able to do so right here.
If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:
These days I am spending time going through more than 40 years worth of files. As pages and pages of clippings, news releases and more, most of them related to the WHL and various teams, go into the recycling bin there are memories, lots of memories involving personalities.
Like Patty Ginnell, or Paddy Ginnell, who was Pat Ginnell when he took over as head coach of the Flin Flon Bombers on June 1, 1966. Quick now . . . who did he succeed? That would be Tom Baird, who stayed on as the general manager.
The Bombers were in the SJHL at the time, but that changed when they moved to what was then the Western Canada Junior Hockey League for its second season (1967-68). It had been the Canadian Major Junior Hockey League for its inaugural season (1966-67).
Anyway, Ginnell was 29 when he took over the Bombers. He had spent the previous three seasons playing for the IHL’s Des Moines Oak Leafs. You know that putting Ginnell behind the bench was a popular choice in Flin Flon because he had played for the Bombers when they won the 1958 Memorial Cup.
Ginnell coached the Bombers through Dec. 9, 1973, his final game a 6-3 victory over the visiting Regina Pats.
Why was that his final game?
He had purchased 40 per cent of the Victoria Cougars and was about to step in as general manager and head coach.
Ginnell told Mal Isaac of the Regina Leader-Post that he had been trying to purchase a piece of the Bombers but hadn’t met with any success.
“I’ve been manager-coach in Flin Flon for nine years,” he told Isaac, “and I don’t have a thing to show for it. I don’t even own a stick.” (If you did the math, you know that he actually was in his eighth season with the Bombers, but, hey, facts didn’t get in the way of a lot of stories back in the day.)
“It’s always been my desire to own and operate my own club and that was something I was unable to do in Flin Flon,” Ginnell continued. “Now I’ll have my own team.”
Interestingly, Ginnell’s impending move leaked with the Bombers on the road and before he was able to inform the team’s board of directors.
With the Cougars, Ginnell bought out Eric Bishop, who said he was quitting as the team’s general manager. The Cougars, who started that season with Ollie Dorohoy as their head coach, were in their third WCHL season, hadn’t made the playoffs in their first two and were struggling again.
Victoria finished that season at 22-40-6, which left it fifth in the six-team Western Division.
At some point before Ginnell bought a piece of the Cougars, he had been asked how long it would take him to turn the team into a contender. “One year minimum,” he replied.
Well, the Cougars, led by Mel Bridgman, finished the 1974-75 season atop the West Division with a 47-18-5 record but dropped a best-of-seven semifinal series to the New Westminster Bruins, 4-2.
The Bombers’ board of directors, meanwhile, accepted Ginnell’s recommendation that Mel Pearson, a teammate on the 1958 Memorial Cup-winning team, be the next GM/head coach. Pearson had spent the 1972-73 season with the WHA’s Minnesota Fighting Saints.
Pearson didn’t get to Flin Flon in time for the Bombers next game, on Dec. 13 against, yes, the Cougars. So trainer Nick Oklobdzija — he was known as Nick Alphabet — served as the interim head coach and posted one of his dozen or so career coaching victories, this one by a 10-2 score. Ginnell watched from the Whitney Forum stands as Dorohoy continued for the moment as the Cougars’ coach.
(Bruce Penton, writing in the Brandon Sun of March 7, 1974, noted that Oklobdzija “is undefeated in 12 tests as coach of the WCHL Bombers.”
“That goes back about eight or nine years,” Oklobdzija told Penton. “I’ve filled in here and there when (Ginnell) was away or suspended, or something. And we’ve never lost while I’ve coached.” The WHL’s coaching records show Oklobdzija with a 2-0-0 coaching mark.)
Pearson made his Flin Flon coaching debut on Dec. 18 with a 7-3 victory over the visiting Brandon Wheat Kings. (One of Brandon’s goals came from John Paddock, now the Pats’ vice-president of hockey operations, general manager and head coach.)
Pearson, who had signed a contract taking him through 1974-75, was gone early in the 1975-76 season, fired on Oct. 29. At the time, the Bombers had two victories in 12 games.
The Bombers then hired Mickey Keating to replace Pearson, thus ending Ginnell’s connection to the Flin Flon franchise.
As an aside, my favourite Keating quote emerged late in the 1976-77 season. At one point, I wrote a few stories detailing the history of the WHL and it included this:
A nine-hour meeting in Calgary resulted in a new playoff format. Under the original format, the Flin Flon Bombers, third in the East, were 20 points ahead of Regina and all but had a playoff spot locked up. Suddenly, there was a new format and the Bombers were fighting for a spot. Oh yes, they were also on a 15-game West Coast road trip.
“In this league, you need two pieces of equipment,” said Flin Flon boss Mickey Keating. “You need a face-guard when you play some of the teams on the ice and a back protector for the committee room. I had inklings that there may be changes in the playoffs but I had confidence there were intelligent hockey men in this league. I was shown different.”
Ahh, yes, those were the days.
If you have time on your hands, you could track down the Twitter account belonging to the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs (@OHLIceDogs) and check out the ‘apology’ from the Burke brothers — Billy and Joey. And then see if you can find the screen shot of the WhatsApp chat that got them into trouble with David Branch, the OHL commissioner. . . . And after you have done all that, you are free to wonder why the Burke boys weren’t suspended for life.
Meanwhile, there is ample speculation that the IceDogs are soon to be sold to, as Ken Campbell of Hockey Unfiltered reported, “a group headed by Darren DeDobberlaer, an insurance magnate from nearby Brantford, who owns both the Brantford 99ers Jr. A team and the Brantford Bandits Jr. B team.”
Campbell also wrote: “Oh, yes, and the selling price is rumoured to be in the range of $20 million, which should disavow anyone of the notion that major junior hockey operators in Canada are mom and pop operations that require millions of dollars in tax money to meet their scholarship commitments and provincial government laws to help them skirt minimum wage requirements. Teams make money when they are strong and struggle financially when they aren’t. If the operators know what they’re doing, they can make it work. And as we’re seeing with the IceDogs, they can cash out when they sell the team.”
Campbell’s piece is right here and it’s because of reports like this that I subscribe to his site.
Bombshell out of Quebec today: Minister Isabelle Charest threatens to unsanction the QMJHL if fighting isn't banned.
“The Greater Toronto Hockey League has hired a private investigator to scrutinize allegations that Jewish players with the U-13 Avenue Road Ducks and their family members were targeted with anti-Semitic slurs during games this season,” reports Rick Westhead of TSN. . . . That story is right here.
Meanwhile, CBC Ottawa reports that “after some Black minor hockey players in western Quebec alleged they were racially abused, a Gatineau, Que., team has suspended six of its players and the provincial governing body cancelled weekend games.” . . . That story is right here.
And, from Oakland, Mich., comes this from clickondetroit.com: “A 15-year-old boy is suing three players on an under 16 youth hockey team, their parents and the coach after he said he endured antisemitic bullying until he quit the team.” . . . That story is right here.
Dorothy is preparing to take part in the annual Kidney Walk for a ninth straight year. She has participated in every one since she underwent a kidney transplant at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver on Sept. 23, 2013. . . . The 2022 Kidney Walk will be held on June 5, but thanks to the pandemic it again will be a virtual event. . . . You are able to support her by making a donation right here.
FRIDAY IN THE WHL:
G Nolan Maier became the winningest regular-season goaltender in WHL history as the host Saskatoon Blades beat the Prince Albert Raiders, 2-0. . . . Maier stopped 20 shots in posting his 121st career regular-season victory, breaking a record he had shared with Tyson Sexsmith (Vancouver Giants, 2004-09) and Corey Hirsch (Kamloops Blazers, 1988-92). . . . Hirsch tweeted: “Congrats Nolan! Your perseverance, resilience and dedication is nothing short of inspirational. Enjoy the moment; you’ve earned it!” . . . The Blades won it with two third-period goals, from F Egor Sidorov (23), at 12:17, and F Trevor Wong (16), at 18:01. . . . Maier has three shutouts his season; he holds the franchise career record, with 11. . . . Saskatoon (37-26-4) moved into fourth place, one point ahead of the idle Moose Jaw Warriors, who hold three games in hand. . . . The Raiders (26-34-5) are 10th, two points out of a playoff spot. . . .
F Jake Chiasson had two goals and two assists as the Brandon Wheat Kings doubled the visiting Medicine Hat Tigers, 6-3. . . . Chiasson, who has six goals, struck twice in the second period as Brandon took a 5-1 lead. Chiasson missed a huge chunk of the season with an injury and only began play on March 4. He now has 15 points in 16 games. . . . D Mason Ward added two goals, giving him six, and an assist for Brandon, with D Chad Nychuk getting a goal, his 21st, and two assists. Nychuk has 68 points in 60 games. . . . Brandon (34-25-5), which has won four in a row, is sixth, four points behind Moose Jaw. Each team has four games remaining. . . . Medicine Hat (11-50-4) has lost nine straight games. . . .
In Red Deer, F Ben King, who leads the WHL in goals, scored in OT to give the Rebels a 5-4 victory over the Lethbridge Hurricanes. . . . King, who also had two assists, scored his 49th goal of the season at 2:56 of OT. . . . King has a WHL-leading 15 game-winning goals this season. F Brian Propp of the 1978-19 Brandon Wheat Kings holds the WHL record of 16. . . . F Logan Wormald scored twice for Lethbridge, giving him 14. His second goal, at 8:33 of the third period, gave his side a 4-3 lead. . . . D Christoffer Sedoff (7) forced OT with a goal at 12:04. . . . Red Deer (44-17-4) is third, four points behind the idle Edmonton Oil Kings, who have a game in hand. . . . Lethbridge (30-30-5) is headed for a seventh-place finish. . . .
F Connor Bedard set two franchise records as his Regina Pats beat the Broncos, 4-2, in Swift Current. . . . Bedard scored twice to give him 47 this season. His 46th goal, a shorthanded effort, set the Pats’ record for most goals by a player in his 16-year-old season. F Jeff Friesen scored 45 times in 1992-93. . . . Bedard now has 89 point in 58 games, and that also is a Pats’ franchise record for a player in his 16-year-old WHL season. F Doug Wickenheiser finished the 1977-78 season with 88 points. . . . Regina got 37 saves from G Kelton Pyne. . . . Regina (25-34-5) is 11th and, with four games remaining, trails the eighth-place Broncos (26-34-7) by four points.
F Matthew Seminoff scored with four seconds remaining in the third period to give the Blazers a 4-3 victory over the Victoria Royals in Kamloops. . . . The goal came one second after the end of a Victoria PP opportunity. . . . F Logan Stankoven had three assists for the Blazers, including the only one on the winner. . . . Seminoff has 25 goals. . . . F Bailey Peach (36) scored twice and added an assist for Victoria, which came back to tie the score three times but wasn’t able to grab the lead. . . . Stankoven now has 99 points, leaving him three behind F Arshdeep Bains of the Red Deer Rebels, who leads the points race. . . . Stankoven, who has played 56 games, leads the WHL in points-per-game (1.77). . . .Kamloops (47-16-2) is second, four points behind the Everett Silvertips. Each team has three games remaining. . . . Victoria (22-37-6) is tied for seventh with the Vancouver Giants, one point behind the idle Spokane Chiefs. . . .
F Alex Swetlikoff scored three times and added an assist as the host Everett Silvertips dumped the Tri-City Americans, 5-2. . . . The Silvertips, who clinched the U.S. Division regular-season pennant, scored the game’s last four goals, the first two from Swetlikoff, who has 33 goals. . . . Everett was 3-for-9 on the PP; Tri-City was 0-for-2. . . . Everett had a 50-13 edge in shots. According to the online game sheet, shots were 10-0 in the third period. . . . F Jackson Berezowski had an empty-net goal and two assists for Everett. He’s got 46 goals. . . . Everett (45-10-10) leads the conference by four points over Kamloops. . . . Tri-City (18-42-7) has been eliminated from playoff contention. . . .
F Jack O’Brien had two goals to help the Portland Winterhawks to a 7-2 victory over the Vancouver Giants in Langley, B.C. . . . O’Brien has 13 goals. . . . F Cross Hanas scored his 25th goal and added two assists for the winners. . . . There was something of a brouhaha at 19:17 of the third period that resulted in 97 penalty minutes being handed out. . . . Portland (44-16-5) is third, three points behind Kamloops. . . . Vancouver (23-36-4) is tied for seventh with Victoria, one point behind Spokane and one ahead of the idle Prince George Cougars.
JUST NOTES: F Logan Nijhoff, the Regina Pats’ captain, has signed a two-year contract with the San Diego Gulls, the AHL affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks. Nijhoff, 20, had 20 goals and 23 assists in 52 games when the signing was announced on Thursday. He is completing his fifth season with Regina. Nijhoff attended the Ducks’ rookie camp in September. . . . The EIHL’s Cardiff Devils have fired head coach Jarrod Skalde, who was in his first season there. Assistant coaches Brodie Dupont and Neil Francis will run things through the end of the season. With four games left in the regular season, the Devils are third at 27-15-3.
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Check out our latest blog on Cougars Hockey Project
1972-73 Victoria Cougars season in review: 🏒 Mid-season coaching change 💰 Local owners purchase the team 🥅 Player revolts ⭐️ All-Star season for Dale Cook 🏒 & many, many losses#WHL#hockeyhistoryhttps://t.co/mXr3V5zkRL
A new post appeared at cougarshockeyproject.ca on Thursday, this one a recap of the Victoria Cougars’ 1972-73 season. . . . A few paragraphs into the post, I came across a piece of WHL history — it was the WCHL in those days — about which I don’t ever recall hearing:
“One of the seasons’ strangest events occurred on Dec. 14. Victoria came away with the victory in a game it actually lost. New Westminster defeated Victoria, 5-4, but the Bruins refused to wear their helmets. After the game, the WCHL awarded Victoria the points, ruling that New Westminster must forfeit the victory because they blatantly violated the league’s helmet mandate.”
So . . . I scurried to newspapers.com and took a look at the Victoria Times Colonist of Dec. 15, 1972. Here’s what I found on the Dec. 14 game that was played in New Westminster:
“Victoria Cougars lost the battle but won the war here Thursday night.
“New Westminster Bruins, erupting for four goals in the second period, edged the Cougars 5-4 but lost two Western Canada Hockey League points because they refused to wear helmets.
“Executive-secretary Tom Fisher of New Westminster announced the forfeiture after officially receiving the game report from referee Al Paradise.
“In addition to losing the points that would have provided the Bruins with undisputed possession of first place in the Western Division, the New Westminster club was fined $320.
“ ‘Our league is bound by Canadian Amateur Hockey Association rules,’ said Fisher, ‘and these rules make it mandatory for players to wear helmets.’
“Fisher fined 16 New Westminster players $20 each. The only ones to avoid fines were New Westminster’s two goaltenders and Denis Anderson, the only Bruin who wore a helmet.
“The Cougars did not lodge a protest. Fisher, who attended the game, took the default action on his own initiative.”
One day later, I found more on this story, with Ernie McLean, the Bruins’ owner-coach, saying that he would appeal Fisher’s ruling.
According to McLean, Fisher “doesn’t have the authority” to take away the points and the Bruins would be taking their case before the league’s governors.
On Dec. 17, the Bruins all wore their helmets as they beat the visiting Centennials, 3-2.
The Bruins also wore their helmets on Dec. 19 as they beat the host Cougars, 6-1.
On Dec. 21, Del Wilson of Regina, the league’s president, said there was “little chance” of the Bruins getting back the two points.
“I’ve talked it over with Fisher,” Wilson said, “and there can be no appeal. New Westminster broke the rules, and the points will remain with Victoria.”
And that was the end of that story, although there doesn’t seem to be any record of whether those Bruins players paid their fines.
In the end, the two points didn’t figure in the final standings as the Bruins (31-22-15) finished fourth in the Western Division, four points behind the Centennials (35-22-11).
Kelly McClintock, the Saskatchewan Hockey Association’s general manager, told CBC News on Thursday that “it’s pretty safe to say that we’re not going to be having any hockey games.” . . . That was in reaction to the province extending public health restrictions until at least March 19. Under those restrictions, hockey games aren’t permitted, while players 18 and younger are allowed to practise in groups of eight while physically distancing and wearing masks. . . . According to CBC News, “McClintock said the association is now focusing on becoming as prepared as possible to start in September, if all goes well.” . . . McClintock said: “I’m hoping by September . . . there’s a lot more people vaccinated, there’s a lot less fear. I think and hope that we’re at levels where we can start our September season.” . . . The CBC story is right here.
Hearing the AJHL has received approval from AHS for a return to play. Teams will be playing in cohorts of three (three teams play each other) and a total of 24 games. Games starting in early March. #AJHL
The NHL’s Dallas Stars, who had their first four games of this season postponed after having a number of players test positive, now have had four more games scrubbed, all because of the weather conditions and power outages in Texas. . . . The Stars were to have played the Nashville Predators on Monday and Tuesday, and the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday and Saturday. The latter two games would have been a rematch of last season’s bubbled Stanley Cup final, which the Lightning won in six games. . . . Two of the four early-season games that were postponed also were to have featured the Lightning and Stars. . . . Dallas is scheduled to play five games in eight days starting on Monday, with two of those games in Tampa.
The ECHL’s Brampton, Ont., Beast announced on Thursday that the franchise has folded. In an open letter, Cary Kaplan, the Beast’s president and general manager, said the franchise had “become the latest of many victims of COVID-19.” . . . The Beast played seven seasons in the ECHL. . . . Spiros Anastas, a former U of Lethbridge Pronghorns head coach, was the Beast’s head coach.
THE COVID-19 CHRONICLES . . .
Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, Wednesday, 10:01 p.m. PT — Canada: 21,439 have died from coronavirus; 839,155 have tested positive.
Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, Thursday, 9:48 p.m. PT — Canada: 21,509 have died from coronavirus; 842,590 have tested positive.
Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, Wednesday, 10:01 p.m. PT — United States: 490,447 have died from coronavirus . . . 27,825,043 have tested positive.
Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, Thursday, 9:48 p.m. PT — United States: 493,082 people have died. . . . 27,896,042 have tested positive.
CBC News — COVID-19 vaccine deliveries back on track following weeks of delay, says Public Health Agency.
CBC News — In the past week in Canada, there were 20,334 cases, a decrease of 13 per cent. . . . The number of active cases declined 14 per cent. . . . There were 410 deaths, or 1.1 per 100,000 people, a decrease of 29 per cent. . . . Hospitalizations declined five per cent and ICU beds filled declined seven per cent.
CBC News — B.C. records 617 new cases of COVID-19 and 4 more deaths, the highest number of new cases since Jan. 7. There are 224 people in hospital with the disease, 60 of whom are in intensive care.
CBC News — Number of new COVID-19 cases in Ontario rises to 1,038, the 1st time in 5 days the number has exceeded 1,000. Of those, 376 are in Toronto, 142 are in Peel Region and 122 are in York Region. There have also been 44 additional deaths. . . . York Region’s top doctor calls for return to red level as Toronto, Peel seek lockdown extension. A decision on these 3 Ontario areas and North Bay, which also remain under a stay-home order, is expected Friday.
CTV News — Two passengers fined a combined $17,000 for allegedly faking negative COVID-19 tests.
The New York Times — Arkansas has lifted its curfew for bars and restaurants and loosened restrictions on large outdoor venues.
CBC News — Alberta reports 415 new COVID-19 cases, 7 more deaths. There are now more than 2,300 contact tracers in the province and 239 variants of concern have been identified to date.
CBC News — Saskatchewan reports 146 new COVID-19 cases. That’s the most in 5 days but still below the province’s 7-day average of 163.
CBC News — Manitoba announces 139 new cases of COVID-19, the 1st time the number has been over 100 since February 5 and well above the 7-day average of 91. There have also been 2 additional deaths.
I have a feeling that Ken Campbell of The Hockey News was watching the waning moments of the Minnesota Wild’s 3-1 victory over the host Anaheim Ducks on Thursday night when he posted this tweet . . .
Not sure why the NHL tolerates its coaches removing their masks when in close quarters talking with players during time outs. Doesn't that essentially defeat the purpose of having them wear the masks?
The NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list was down to 13 players on Thursday, the lowest its been since Jan. 17 when it contained 12 players. . . . There were 59 players on the list on Feb. 12. . . . Unfortunately for Philadelphia, the Flyers have six players on the list, none of whom are expected to play in Sunday’s outdoor game at Lake Tahoe against the Boston Bruins. . . . The Flyers played Thursday night, their first game in 11 days, and lost, 3-2 in a shootout, to the visiting New York Rangers. . . . D Justin Braun, F Claude Giroux, F Travis Konecny, F Scott Laughton, F Oskar Lindblom and F Jake Voracek are the Philly players who didn’t play last night and aren’t likely to play Sunday.
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Here is the fifth and final piece on the WHL’s first 25 years. The five stories were written in the late 1990s, while I was the sports editor at the Regina Leader-Post. I had pretty much forgotten about it until recently when I was asked if I might post it again. So I have done just that over the past couple of weeks. . . . As you read each piece, please remember that I wrote them more than 20 years ago and they cover only the league’s first 25 years. It isn’t an all-encompassing history, but hits on some of the highlights and a few lowlights. . . . The stories are pretty much as originally written. . . . Here, then, is Part 5 of 5. Thanks for reading along. I hope you have enjoyed these stories, and thank you for all of the positive feedback. . . .
The fifth five-year segment was easily the best of the WHL’s first 25 years.
There was success in the stands, particularly in the Pacific Northwest corner of the United States, and in Saskatoon where the Blades welcomed a new facility.
There was stability, too. Recent additions, like the Tri-City Americans and Lethbridge Hurricanes, settled in for what appeared to be long stays.
But the greatest success came on the ice where the WHL won four Memorial Cup championships during the five seasons, opening with three in a row and closing with a victory by the Spokane Chiefs.
The 1986-87 season actually started on something of a strange note. The Regina Pats signed Doug Sauter, who was under contract to the Medicine Hat Tigers, to a two-year deal as general manager/head coach. The result was that the Pats agreed to compensate the Tigers.
The compensation turned into two veteran players — defenceman Kevin Ekdahl and forward Kevin Clemens. It was the first time in WHL history that a coach had, in effect, been traded.
The Pats also welcomed back another familiar face with Dennis Sobchuk, the greatest and most-popular player in franchise history, signing on as assistant coach/assistant manager.
This was a time of great change in the front offices and behind the benches. Barry Trapp left the Moose Jaw Warriors, saying, “I wasn’t fired. It was just a mutual agreement. It was a very friendly parting.”
Medicine Hat signed Bryan Maxwell to replace Sauter, while Peter Esdale was the new coach in Spokane and Wayne Naka took over the Cougars in Victoria. In New Westminster, John Olver was the GM, with Ernie McLean the coach. Harvey Roy was out as the Bruins’ director of marketing, but he would surface in Moose Jaw as the GM and would hire Greg Kvisle to coach the Warriors. In Prince Albert, GM/head coach Terry Simpson left to coach the NHL’s New York Islanders and Rick Wilson took over.
Perhaps the biggest news in the summer of 1986 came on June 2 when the WHL announced it was doing away with round-robin playoff series in the East Division. Instead, the top two teams would get first- round byes.
In the WHL office, Richard Doerksen’s title was upgraded from executive assistant/referee-in-chief to vice-president.
There was trouble in Brandon, where the Bank of Nova Scotia called in a $77,000 demand loan, asking for payment on July 31. This resulted in the Wheat Kings’ board recommending to shareholders that the franchise be sold.
In August, shareholders voted 1,411-404 in favour of selling the Wheat Kings. Offers were received from two groups — one in Edmonton headed by Vic Mah, the other comprising Brandon businessmen Bob Cornell and Stuart Craig, and Winnipeg businessman Dave Laing.
Cornell’s group purchased the Wheat Kings for more than $300,000 and then added a unique twist to the situation by signing a 10-year working agreement with the Keystone Centre. The Keystone took over operation of the club, and hired Bill Shinske to run the front office. Shinske hired Marc Pezzin as coach.
The WHL also welcomed the Swift Current Broncos to the fold. Behind the bench was Graham James, who had recently reached an out-of-court settlement with the Warriors over a lawsuit he had started the previous year.
“If we continue to average close to 2,000, we’ll have a real successful year and we’ll show a profit of about $80,000,” Gary Bollinger, the Broncos’ vice-president and alternate governor, said. “That doesn’t include playoff revenue. We were budgeting for an average of 1,600. If we averaged that, we’d still make a bit of a profit.”
The first coaching change of the 1986-87 season took place on Dec. 8 in Seattle when Sheldon Ferguson gave up the Thunderbirds’ coaching reins, but stayed on as GM. Dan McDonald was the new head coach, with former Portland Winter Hawks star Jim Dobson as the assistant.
Disaster struck on Dec. 30 when the Broncos, en route to Regina to play the Pats, were involved in a bus accident. Four players — Scott Kruger, Trent Kresse, Brent Ruff and Chris Mantyka — were killed.
“There has never been anything more devastating that has happened to me personally,” Ed Chynoweth, the WHL president, said. “The question I keep asking myself is ‘Why?’ My heart goes out to all the parents and the people involved. I wish someone would call and say this is all a mistake.”
John Foster, the Broncos’ publicity director, said: “This team will band together and win it for those guys who died. The (survivors) were absolutely professional under stress. If the people of Swift Current could have seen them, they would have been proud.”
There was never any thought of the team not continuing. As team president John Rittinger said: “It’s up to the players and the fans now. We aren’t ready to throw in the towel.”
Defenceman Ed Brost, talking about the club’s next game, stated: “It will be difficult. To go right back out on the ice would be cheating ourselves emotionally and physically. Right now people have to remember athletes are human beings, not robots.”
Moose Jaw centre Theoren Fleury was in Czechoslovakia with Canada’s national junior team at the time of the accident.
“I just can’t believe it,” Fleury said. “I just sat on the bus all the way to practice today thinking about what’s going on with all those guys on that team right now. It just blows me away. I don’t know what to say. There’s nothing we can do about it and I think being helpless is the most frustrating thing about it.”
As if losing four players in the accident wasn’t enough, Herman Kruger, 67, suffered a fatal heart attack as he entered the church for his great-grandson’s funeral.
And later the same day, Sauter and Regina trainer Stan Szumlak came to the rescue of Keith Giles, a member of the Prince Albert executive, who was choking on some food.
Donations in memory of the players poured into the Broncos’ office and an education fund was set up in their memory. Another fund was started to raise money that would go towards the cost of replacing the bus.
On Feb. 2, a longtime veteran of the WHL’s coaching wars returned for one last fling when John Chapman replaced Wally Kozak behind the bench of the Calgary Wranglers. Chapman also was the Calgary GM.
On Feb. 15, Portland won a game in Spokane and Ken Hodge took over as the winningest coach in WHL history. His 547 victories were one more than Ernie McLean.
Tragedy struck the WHL again on March 1 when Regina centre Brad Hornung was checked into the end boards at the Agridome and suffered a broken neck.
Dr. Chris Ekong, a neurosurgeon, said Hornung suffered a burst fracture of the third cervical vertebrae and a crushed spinal cord. “Brad has no feelings in his arms and legs,” Dr. Ekong said. “He is completely paralysed from the neck down.”
Hornung would never regain the use of his arms and legs, but that didn’t stop him from going on with his life.
As the WHL completed its 25th season, Hornung was continuing with his education, taking courses at the University of Regina.
Despite the bus accident, Swift Current made the playoffs in its first season. But there wouldn’t be a Cinderella story as the Broncos dropped a best-of-five series to Prince Albert, 3-1.
April was highlighted by three coaching changes — Esdale’s contract wasn’t renewed by Spokane, Kvisle resigned in Moose Jaw and McLean stepped aside in New Westminster.
And Medicine Hat won the WHL championship. The Tigers faced elimination twice in each of their last two series, and dumped visiting Portland 7-2 in the seventh game of the championship final.
The Tigers would win their first of two consecutive Memorial Cup championships, the first under Maxwell, the second under Barry Melrose. Both came with Russ Farwell as general manager.
John Van Horlick took over as coach in New Westminster for 1987-88, with
Butch Goring the coach in Spokane. Jim Harrison was the new head coach in Moose Jaw, with Ed Staniowski his assistant. Harrison and Roy, the GM, were friends from their days in Estevan, while Staniowski was a former all-star goaltender with Regina.
And the WHL was returning to Lethbridge. The Tier One Junior Hockey Club of Lethbridge purchased the Wranglers for about $350,000 from Brian Ekstrom. The Lethbridge franchise would be called the Hurricanes, causing Lethbridge Herald columnist Pat Sullivan to wonder if the logo would be an overturned mobile home.
The sale also meant that there wouldn’t be a franchise in the city in which the WHL office was located. But the office wasn’t about to be moved.
“It was decided that it was certainly the most central location for our league,” Chynoweth said.
Going into the new season, the WHL passed a rule cracking down on checking from behind.
“We do use (NHL) rules and the NHL doesn’t have hitting from behind instituted in its rule book,” Chynoweth said, “but I predict that within two years the NHL will have the same rule.”
That is exactly what happened.
There was change in the WHL’s boardroom, too, as Portland’s Brian Shaw stepped down as chairman of the board and was replaced by Saskatoon’s Rick Brodsky.
On June 5, Swift Current celebrated its first birthday by revealing the franchise was no longer in debt.
Rittinger said: “We bought the franchise and we borrowed money to buy the franchise. So we took the season-ticket money to pay the bank loan off. The bank loan is paid off. We don’t owe the bank anything. And that’s incredible because we just got the franchise last year.”
Maxwell left Medicine Hat, joining the Los Angeles Kings as an assistant coach. Lethbridge named Glen Hawker as its first GM/head coach. Before the season started, Lethbridge reorganized, with Wayne Simpson taking over as GM.
On July 6, Hornung, in his first interview since being injured, told the Regina Leader-Post: “You have to accept it. Life goes on and you do the best with what you have. At first, it was a time of change, shock really, but right now, it’s actually gotten easier because you get used to the adjustments. Like everybody else, I have my good days and bad days. But I don’t have many bad days.”
Separate pregame warmups came to the WHL on Sept. 28.
With Seattle off to a 2-15-0 start, owner Earl Hale told Ferguson, the GM, to take a leave of absence. On Nov. 16, Ferguson was fired. A couple of weeks later, Hawker was fired in Lethbridge, where Blaine Galbraith took over. And on Dec. 8, Moose Jaw fired Harrison and hired Gerry James, the only person to have played in a Grey Cup game and Stanley Cup final in the same season.
On Feb. 2, Saskatoon beat Regina 7-2 before 3,308 fans in the final game at the Saskatoon Arena. Regina coach Doug Sauter, for one, was glad to see the end of the old barn: “I get screwed every time I come in here and I haven’t been kissed yet.”
One week later, on Feb. 9, Saskatoon beat Brandon 4-3 in front of 9,343 fans at Saskatchewan Place. Chynoweth announced prior to the game that the 1989 Memorial Cup would be played in Saskatoon.
On March 11, amidst rumours that the Warriors were on the verge of major financial problems, it was announced that Roy’s contract wouldn’t be renewed.
WHL attendance figures compiled by the Regina Leader-Post showed that Swift Current drew 82,080 fans to 36 home games, which was 99 per cent of capacity. Portland led in total attendance — 200,911. The league drew 1,405,874 fans, an increase of almost 80,000 over the previous season.
For the first time in league history, the scoring race ended in a dead heat.
Two centres — Fleury and Swift Current’s Joe Sakic — finished the regular season with 160 points. Sakic had 78 goals, Fleury 68. But there was nothing in the WHL bylaws to deal with the situation so the scoring race was ruled a tie.
The rumours were true — there were financial problems in Moose Jaw. The Warriors began sorting things out by separating the hockey side of things from the business side. With an accumulated debt of $234,000, Joe Celentano, a former referee with basketball’s Harlem Globetrotters, was hired as business manager.
On April 17, Medicine Hat beat visiting Saskatoon 3-0 to win its third straight East Division title. The only other team to win three consecutive East titles was the Flin Flon Bombers, beginning in 1968-69.
On May 3, the Tigers beat visiting Kamloops 5-2 to win their second straight WHL title, this one in six games.
The very next day, Bob Vranckaert, who was in the construction business in Alaska, said he would like to put an expansion franchise in Anchorage in time for the 1990-91 season. Born in Drumheller, Alta., and raised in Burnaby, B.C., Vranckaert spent more than 20 years in general commercial construction 800 miles north of Anchorage.
The WHL said it would play two exhibition and four regular-season games in Anchorage and use that, plus the 1989 world junior championship, which was to be held in Anchorage, as a barometer.
On May 8, the Pats announced that Sauter’s contract wouldn’t be renewed.
A week later, Sauter’s old team, the Tigers, beat the Windsor Spitfires 7-6 in Chicoutimi to become the sixth team in the 70-year history of the Memorial Cup to win back-to-back championships.
The board in Moose Jaw put H.J. (Toby) Tobias in charge and then resigned en masse. Tobias was empowered to chair a committee whose immediate responsibility was to carry on a fund-raising campaign aimed at erasing the club’s debt. The immediate goal was to raise $150,000.
Tobias said he would look into the team’s accounting procedures, recommend constitutional changes and appoint an auditor to present a year-end statement at the club’s annual meeting.
“To me it’s a four-stage project,” Tobias said. “Stage 1: Solve the immediate debt crisis and give us some breathing room. Step 2: Have a look at the front office and see if there are some things we can tighten up. Stage 3: Come up with a budget we can live with in years to come. Stage 4: Make sure fund-raising becomes a year-round effort.”
In mid-May, Pezzin resigned as coach in Brandon. He would be replaced by Sauter, who was reunited with Shinske. The two were old friends, going back to the Estevan and New Westminster Bruins. Sobchuk replaced Sauter in Regina.
Celentano resigned in Moose Jaw, saying: “By my staying I become just another liability, one of those accounts payable that they have to make every day, and they don’t have the money.”
On May 31, Tobias announced that the Warriors had reached their goal of $151,800. That figure covered debts accrued up until March 31. Tobias said: “The phoenix has risen from the ashes. The financial health of the club remains fragile . . . but it’s business as usual from here on in.”
Indications were that New Westminster owner Ron Dixon would move the franchise to the Tri-Cities area of Washington State. He just happened to be building an arena, the Tri-Cities Coliseum, there.
In July, Farwell and Melrose resigned in Medicine Hat. Shortly after, they signed in Seattle. Wes Phillips was named GM in Medicine Hat and hired Ron Kennedy, a former Estevan player, as coach. Before the season started, Phillips quit, citing business and family pressures, and Tim Speltz replaced him.
Peter Anholt was named head coach in Prince Albert, where Wilson quit to join the L.A. Kings as an assistant coach. Brad Tippett was the GM in Prince Albert.
The WHL arrived in Anchorage on the weekend of Sept. 24 and 25, 1988.
Kamloops and Portland played two exhibition games in Anchorage, drawing 2,100 to the first game and 1,750 the next night.
A shakeup occurred in Spokane. It started on Oct. 14 when Spokane GM Bob Strumm acquired six players while giving up four others in trades that involved three other teams. The Chiefs were 1-4-0 and had given up 33 goals in those five games.
Twelve days later, with the Chiefs 2-9-0, Strumm relieved Goring of his duties. Strumm, with a three-year contract extension that would take him through the 1991-92 season, went behind the bench, went 2-4-0 and immediately installed Gary Braun as coach.
On Nov. 11, Moose Jaw dumped Gerry James and installed Kvisle as head coach/director of hockey operations.
Three days later, Regina shook up things. Sobchuk moved from coach to GM, with Bernie Lynch moving up from assistant coach to head coach.
It was announced on Nov. 17 that Vranckaert had purchased the Victoria Cougars from Fraser McColl. Ownership actually had changed hands 10 days after the end of the season.
“Bob has been after me for a long time,” McColl said. “He wants to get into the business with a passion. And, perhaps, that’s the type of enthusiasm this team needs right now.”
On Nov. 20, the Tri-City Americans, having played their first 17 games on the road because the Coliseum wasn’t ready, opened at home with a 4-3 overtime victory over Seattle in front of a sellout crowd of 6,004.
Swift Current started the season with 12 straight victories, and went into the Christmas break at 28-5-0 and on a 10-game winning streak. Referring to the bus accident of two years previous, James said: “I think the bus accident galvanized the spirit of the community. I think that was a catalyst. Since then we’ve had to provide a product that’s been worthy of fans coming, but I think that incident certainly rallied the community.”
Added centre Tim Tisdale: “That’s all anybody in town talks about. It’s hard to believe. You go downtown and you’re eating in a restaurant and everybody at the next table is talking about the Broncos. It definitely helps your hockey.”
There was big news out of Calgary on Jan. 3, 1989, when Petr Nedved, a centre with a midget team from Litvinov, Czechoslovakia, defected after a midget tournament. His WHL rights belonged to Moose Jaw, but the Warriors would deal them to Seattle.
The season wasn’t over when Spokane owner Vic Fitzgerald said that Braun wouldn’t be returning.
On March 14, Chynoweth revealed that the WHL “had an inquiry from Terry Simpson about putting a team in Red Deer. They would have to get a new building.” A conditional franchise was sold to Simpson on Aug. 12, 1991. The Rebels would begin play in the fall of 1992.
Attendance figures compiled by The Regina Leader-Post showed that attendance was up 232,951 over 1987-88. Most of that was attributable to the first-year Americans who attracted 203,532 fans, which was 156,149 more than they drew the previous season in New Westminster.
There was a change in Seattle on April 11 when Medicine Hat businessman Bill Yuill bought the Thunderbirds from Earl Hale of Calgary.
The usual spate of front-office changes began in earnest with the news that: 1. Galbraith would not be back in Lethbridge; 2. Al Patterson, who quit in Victoria after the season ended, had signed as Tri-City’s GM; 3. Ron Byrne had signed as the GM in Victoria; 4. Sobchuk had resigned as GM in Regina; 5. Shinske had resigned in Brandon; and, 6. Tippett had quit in P.A.
Swift Current won 4-1 in Portland on April 30 to sweep the Winter Hawks in the championship final. The Broncos became the first team to sweep its way to the WHL championship — they also got past Moose Jaw and Saskatoon in four games each. The Broncos, just a season and a half after having four players killed in a bus accident, went 55-16-1, the best record in the CHL.
“This is a great accomplishment for our franchise,” James said. “But I don’t want the Memorial Cup to decide if we had a great year.”
Tisdale added: “We have the team to do it this year. If we can’t get up for four games, we don’t belong there. I’ll be disappointed if we don’t win the Memorial Cup.”
On May 14, Tisdale’s goal at 3:25 of the first sudden-death overtime period gave the Broncos a 4-3 victory over Saskatoon in the final game of the Memorial Cup. The game was played in front of 9.078 fans in Saskatchewan Place and brought to an end the most successful Memorial Cup tournament ever played.
Shortly after the Memorial Cup, the changes continued: 1. Lynch found out his contract in Regina wouldn’t be renewed; 2. Rick Kozuback signed a two-year contract as coach with Tri-City; 3. Simpson returned to Prince Albert as GM/head coach; 4. Bill Hicke was named GM in Regina; 5. Tippett signed as Regina’s head coach; 5. Maxwell returned from L.A. to sign as co-coach and director of hockey operations in Spokane; 6. Braun was Spokane’s co-coach and assistant director of hockey operations; 7. Melrose left Seattle to become head coach of the AHL’s Adirondack Red Wings; 8. Marcel Comeau signed a two-year deal in Saskatoon but shortly after resigned to become head coach of the AHL’s New Haven Nighthawks; 9. Anholt quit in P.A. to join Seattle as head coach; 10. Rob Daum signed as assistant coach/assistant manager in P.A.; and, 11. Terry Ruskowski signed to coach the Blades.
On June 14, 1989, Moose Jaw, so close to financial ruin just one year earlier, revealed at its annual meeting that there was a paper profit of $119,722 and that the Warriors had about $40,000 in the bank.
At its annual meeting, the WHL had two major announcements. It had decided for the first time to use full-time referees. “We’re hoping it leads to more consistent, professional refereeing,” Regina governor Ted Knight said. By the time all was said and done, the WHL had hired eight full-time and four part-time referees.
The WHL also said it would no longer allow teams to list 13-year-old players. From that point on, 14-year-olds would count for two spots on a list, players 15 and older for one.
Seattle set a single-game attendance record on Oct. 7 when 12,173 fans showed up to watch the Thunderbirds edge Portland, 4-3. “We could have sold 2,000 more tickets,” Seth Landau, the club’s director of marketing and public relations, said. “We were sold out the day before the game.” The previous attendance record belonged to Portland, which had attracted capacity crowds of 10,437 to Memorial Coliseum on numerous occasions.
The first coaching change came on Oct. 15 when Naka resigned in Victoria. Lyle Moffat replaced him.
On Nov. 1, Ken Hitchcock, 36 years of age and in the neighbourhood of 400 pounds, went public with the news that he was going on a serious diet.
“There comes a time in life when it becomes a case of now or never,” said the popular coach of the Kamloops Blazers. “I look down the road four or five years from now, what do I want to be doing? If that’s what I have to do to move up the ladder, that’s what I have to do.”
Victoria made another coaching change on Nov. 13 with Garry Cunningham becoming the Cougars’ third coach of the season. Moffat stayed on as marketing director.
A lawsuit launched by Hornung was settled out of court in November. Thirteen defendants, including the WHL, were named in the suit launched in July of 1987. Details of the settlement weren’t made public.
At a WHL board of governors’ meeting on Nov. 20, the chair switched bodies again. It was a case of deja vu, with Shaw taking over from Brodsky.
On Dec. 17, Sauter was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a disorder that strikes at the central nervous system. He would not return to coaching until late in the 1990-91 season when he finished the winter with the SJHL’s Estevan Bruins. Brandon GM Kelly McCrimmon moved in behind Brandon’s bench.
There was a player revolt in Tri-City when Dixon named Bill LaForge director of player personnel. LaForge said he had a five-year contract.
On Dec. 31, with Portland scheduled to play in Tri-City, the Americans players refused. A statement signed by 19 players read in part: “We will definitely not participate in any further games without the termination of Mr. Bill LaForge from the Americans organization.”
The players ended their holdout the next day, winning 8-4 in Portland. Dixon had contacted players earlier in the day and said LaForge would no longer have any contact with them.
Defenceman Colin Ruck later explained the Tri-City deal: “He came into the dressing room screaming and cutting guys down. To get to us, he said we had to call him Coach. He had (coach) Rick Kozuback picking up pucks during practice. That really upset us. Bill came out and ran a really brutal practice. We felt we had to do something.”
Byrne was gone as Victoria’s GM before January ended, while Cunningham was out as coach on Feb. 5. Moffat went back behind the bench. The Cougars would set a CHL record, losing 29 in a row.
On Feb. 7, Seattle centre Glen Goodall had an assist in a 5-3 victory over visiting Tri-City to break the WHL record for most points in a career. That lifted his point total to 530, one more than Craig Endean, who had played with Seattle and Regina.
Two nights later, Seattle broke the WHL single-game attendance record as 12,253 fans watched a 5-3 victory over Spokane.
Figures compiled by the Regina Leader-Post showed that attendance totalled 1,678,651, up about 40,000 over the previous season. Tri-City, which sold out every home game, led the way with total attendance of 216,360. Saskatoon, in its first full season in Saskatchewan Place, played in front of 209,542 fans. Seattle, which finished with its best-ever record (52-17-3; the best previous was 32-28-12 in 1977-78), drew 181,211 fans, up 66,189 from a year previous.
On March 28, Chynoweth admitted that two groups had applied for an expansion franchise for Tacoma, Wash.
The Spokane franchise changed hands on April 10, with Fitzgerald selling to the Brett brothers — Bobby, George and Ken — for more than $600,000. Bob Brett wouldn’t say what they paid, other than to say it was “too much.”
The postseason changes started in April when Speltz and Kennedy learned that Medicine Hat wouldn’t renew their contracts, and Rick Hopper was named head coach/director of hockey operations in Victoria. Jack Shupe, the Tigers’ first GM/head coach in 1970-71, was the new GM in Medicine Hat. He hired Tim Bothwell as coach.
On April 29, Kamloops scored a 6-5 overtime victory in Lethbridge to win the WHL final in five games. Kamloops lost the opener and then won four straight. The Blazers struck out at the Memorial Cup, though, as the Oshawa Generals, with Eric Lindros, won it all in Hamilton.
There was much expansion talk in the WHL, resulting in this comment from Brodsky: “It’s sort of like being in love. If you have to ask yourself whether you’re in love, you’re probably not. If we’re wondering why we should expand, then maybe we’re forcing the issue a bit. If expansion is right, we’ll know it.”
Farwell left Seattle to become GM of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers. Anholt added the GM’s nameplate to his door, and hired assistant GM Dennis Beyak from Saskatoon. Beyak had been in Saskatoon since 1981 and was the person deemed most responsible for the success of the 1989 Memorial Cup in Saskatoon.
Simpson left Prince Albert again, this time to become an assistant coach with the Winnipeg Jets. Daum was promoted to replace him.
There were shockwaves in Kamloops when Hitchcock resigned after six seasons with the Blazers. He signed as an assistant coach with Philadelphia. Tom Renney replaced Hitchcock, who left with a 291-125-15 regular-season record over six seasons, his .693 winning percentage the highest of any coach in WHL history.
Leaving wasn’t easy for Hitchcock, who said: “I got cold feet a couple of times. I almost went into (GM) Bob Brown’s office and said, ‘Call the whole thing off, I don’t want to go.’ ”
On Sept. 30, Chynoweth chatted about expansion: “There are what I like to call tire-kickers in Boise, Idaho; Eugene, Oregon; and, Tacoma, Washington. The WHL is in good shape and we’re aggressive to expand by one, possibly two teams in the West Division sometime soon. We are coming off our second record-setting attendance season. We’re also proud of the fact that this is the third year in a row we aren’t opening a new site. Believe it or not, but we’re stable.”
Bruce Hamilton, a former player and scout with the Blades, headed a group of Saskatoon and Tacoma investors who were eventually granted a franchise for Tacoma to start with the 1991-92 season.
On Oct. 30, with the 1990-91 season one month old, one night before Halloween, James went wild in Swift Current. Upset with referee Kevin Muench after the Broncos turned a 7-3 second-period lead into a 9-8 loss to visiting Medicine Hat, James went on to the ice in pursuit of Muench, then returned to the bench and threw sticks and water bottles onto the ice. James then removed his jacket, tie, shirt and one shoe and threw them onto the ice before his players escorted him to the dressing room.
Bothwell summed it up: “All I can say is, ‘Wow.’ I don’t know what words can describe what happened out there, from a lot of different aspects.”
James was suspended for six games and fined $2,000. “At least they didn’t ask me for the shirt off my back,” he said. The incident would show up on video on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and the David Letterman Show among others.
There was some silliness in Spokane, too. On Dec. 6, with Tri-City visiting Spokane, Maxwell and Americans assistant Gerry Johannson got into it after first period.
Here’s Maxwell: “He was waiting for me. He was yapping at me. He challenged me and I accepted the challenge.” Maxwell was said to have out-punched his opponent, 4-0.
Here’s Johansson: “He throws punches like marshmallows.”
Maxwell was suspended for three games and fined $500. Johansson got hit for $1,000 and four games.
Remember that $1 parking fee in Regina? Well, on Dec. 17, Regina Exhibition Park announced it was doubling it to $2. “I don’t think our fans will take very kindly to it if it does happen,” said co-owner/GM Bill Hicke. “If that’s the case it’ll drive another nail in the coffin.”
The Pats’ lease would expire after the 1990-91 season and Hicke had already made at least one trip into the Pacific Northwest to scout buildings.
A change in Prince Albert had Dale Engel move in as GM, with Rob Daum giving up that title but staying on as coach. It was no surprise when Daum left P.A. for Swift Current at season’s end.
On Feb. 4, Saskatoon fired head coach Terry Ruskowski, replacing him with former Blades defenceman Bob Hoffmeyer.
On March 17, Seattle was awarded the 1992 Memorial Cup.
The Leader-Post’s attendance figures showed that Tri-City, with 36 sellouts, again topped the WHL with 216,360 fans. Seattle was next at 215,248, up 34,037 from the season previous. But overall attendance was down 22,861 to 1,655,790.
On April 17, Marcel Comeau was named the first head coach of the Tacoma Rockets. Hamilton would be the GM, with Lorne Frey, most recently with Swift Current, as director of player personnel.
Spokane scored a 7-2 victory over home-town Lethbridge to sweep the WHL final. The Chiefs would go on to win the Memorial Cup, with goaltender Trevor Kidd and right-winger Pat Falloon wrapping up dream seasons. Both played for the Canadian junior team that won the gold medal in Saskatoon.
One thing more than any other summed up the WHL as it headed into its second 25 years. When the 1991-92 season opened, the league not only had the same 14 teams for the fourth consecutive season, but it had welcomed the Tacoma Rockets to the fold.
At some point in the late 1990s, while I was the sports editor at the Regina Leader-Post, I put together a brief history of the Western Hockey League. I had pretty much forgotten about it until recently when I was asked if I might post it again. So I am doing just that. . . . As you read each piece, please remember that I wrote them more than 20 years ago and they cover only the league’s first 25 years. It isn’t an all-encompassing history, but hits on some of the highlights and a few lowlights. . . . The stories are pretty much as originally written. . . . Here is Part 3. . . .
The mid-1970s belonged to the Ernie McLean-coached New Westminster Bruins. They were the Western Canada Hockey League’s most-dominant team.
If you didn’t believe that, well, they would convince you of it. And they’d do that any way they felt like it.
The Bruins ran their string of WCHL titles to four, and won the Memorial Cup the last two seasons, in 1976-77 and 1977-78. But by the time the 1980-81 season ended, the bloom was off the rose in New Westminster. Little did anyone know that it never would return.
Prior to the start of the 1976-77 season, the WCHL instituted a rule calling for an automatic game misconduct to any player who initiated a fight. Ironically, the first player stung was Brandon Wheat Kings starry centre Bill Derlago. He got the heave-ho after starting a scrap with Brian Schnitzler of the Saskatoon Blades in a season-opening 3-0 Brandon victory.
Two coaches felt WCHL president Ed Chynoweth’s wrath on Nov. 2. Ivan Prediger of the Kamloops Chiefs was suspended for 20 games, while Ken Hodge of the Portland Winter Hawks got 10 games. Prediger apparently struck Hodge during an altercation between the benches on Oct. 24.
There was joy in Regina on Jan. 27 when the Pats scored a 3-2 victory over visiting Portland. It ended a 36- game Regina winless streak that covered 96 days. “I hope the players don’t become satisfied with the win,” said Lorne Davis, who had taken over as GM/head coach from Del Wilson and Bob Turner with the Pats at 2-32-5.
A nine-hour meeting in Calgary resulted in a new playoff format. Under the original format, the Flin Flon Bombers, third in the East, were 20 points ahead of Regina and all but had a playoff spot locked up. Suddenly, there was a new format and the Bombers were fighting for a spot. Oh yes, they were also on a 15-game West Coast road trip.
“In this league, you need two pieces of equipment,” said Flin Flon boss Mickey Keating. “You need a face-guard when you play some of the teams on the ice and a back protector for the committee room. I had inklings that there may be changes in the playoffs but I had confidence there were intelligent hockey men in this league. I was shown different.”
In Portland, the Winter Hawks were beginning to carve out a niche, which resulted in this March 1 comment from GM Brian Shaw: “We’re selling the all-American boy image. Our players are all properly dressed in public. They all have respectable hair lengths. We feel image is important. Our players have become our outstanding selling point, and they have actually played much better because of the great acceptance which now is blossoming in Portland.”
In mid-April, Kamloops majority owner Ephram Steinke admitted the franchise would likely move to Spokane over the summer. The reasons? Steinke blamed almost $500,000 in losses over four years, and the city’s refusal to construct a new arena.
On May 12, the Calgary Centennials signed Bob Strumm as general manager. One of Strumm’s first moves was to confirm that a move to Billings was being contemplated.
Strumm, who had been Chynoweth’s executive assistant, was, at 29, the WCHL’s youngest GM. He would be one of the league’s most-prominent figures through the mid-1980s.
The Calgary move became official on May 19. Eleven days later, Kamloops moved to Seattle and became the Breakers under new owner John Hamilton.
On July 19, at the annual meeting in Calgary, the transfer of the Winnipeg Monarchs to Calgary was approved. Del Wilson, president and governor of the Pats, was named chairman of the board, replacing Bill Burton.
When Winnipeg moved to Calgary and became the Wranglers, owner Gerry Brisson named Doug Barkley as GM. The coach? It was Brisson. Would the GM be able to fire the owner/coach.
The 1977-78 regular season hadn’t even started when McLean was in trouble. It stemmed from an exhibition game against the host Victoria Cougars when midway in the second period he ventured into the stands to tangle with a fan who was taunting him. For his troubles, McLean got a gash on his forehead and, later, a $250 fine. This would serve as an omen.
A fierce rivalry was building between Regina and the Brandon Wheat Kings. After one early-season game, Davis had this to say: “If (Dave) Semenko would have been close enough to the box I would have swung at him . . . he came over by our bench trying to intimidate us.” To which Brandon coach Dunc McCallum responded: “How can a 220-pound man be held back by a stick boy?”
A few days later, Semenko joined the WHA’s Edmonton Oilers. A couple of years later, Davis joined the Oilers as a scout.
Derlago, perhaps the best pure offensive talent this league has seen, had a 40-game point streak end on Nov. 9 when he left a game with a thigh injury during his first shift. One month later, he blew out a knee in an exhibition game against the Moscow Selects. Had Derlago not been hurt, who knows what kind of numbers he would have put up? When he was injured, he had 48 goals and 80 points in 26 games. He was on pace for 133 goals, three more than the then-CMJHL record of 130 held by Guy Lafleur.
On Feb. 3, Jack McLeod resigned as coach of the Saskatoon Blades. He stayed on as GM, but put Garry Peters behind the bench. In Calgary, Barkley, the GM, took over as coach from Brisson, the owner.
More bad ink, and lots of it, in early February when McLean was slapped with a 25-game suspension for allegedly hitting an official. He returned for the playoffs.
“Our league has long been accused of protecting either our coaches or, more particularly, owner/coaches, but there is no way one coach or one franchise is bigger than the league,” Chynoweth said. “I can live with the so-called violence on ice, as projected by the media, but when it comes to our officials, qualified or unqualified, I look at things much differently.”
More bad ink in the first round of the playoffs. Yes, it emerged from a round-robin series. This one featured Brandon, Flin Flon and Regina in a double home-and-home series. When it got to the final game, Flin Flon at Regina, the Pats had to beat the Bombers by at least six goals to eliminate Brandon and set up a Regina-Flin Flon division final. Regina won 10-4 and the high-powered Wheat Kings, led by the likes of Derlago, Brian Propp, Laurie Boschman and Ray Allison, were done like so much burnt toast.
“For us to say anything is stupid. You saw what happened,” Flin Flon defenceman Ray Markham said after the game.
Ultimately, Flin Flon, New Westminster and Billings advanced to the WCHL’s round-robin semi-final to eliminate one team and put the other two in the championship final. Out went Flin Flon. New Westminster then swept Billings in the final. It was the Bruins’ fourth straight WCHL title and they would win their second consecutive Memorial Cup.
The Bruins, a power for oh, so long, would rarely be heard from in a positive light again.
On May 22, Flin Flon governor Gord Mitchell revealed that the community-owned team would cease operations. “I hate to see it go,” Mitchell said. “It’s certainly not the fault of the league. The league’s not kicking us out. But there comes a time when something like this seems to be the most reasonable thing to do. We’re a small centre and it got to the point where the league had outgrown us.”
A week later, Chynoweth, who had threatened to resign, announced he would remain as president, thanks to a promise from the governors that an executive assistant would be provided to help with such things as discipline. Wilson, the part-owner of the Pats, filled the bill as vice-president and referee-in-chief. Shaw replaced Wilson as chairman of the board.
On June 1, Gregg Pilling was named GM/coach in Regina, replacing Davis who, in a surprise move, was fired. Davis professed sadness, saying he had worked awfully hard and that all of that work would bear fruit in two years. Which is exactly what happened — two years later the Pats were in the Memorial Cup. But Pilling was gone by that point.
It was during the summer of 1978 when Chynoweth began talking of an education program. On July 4, he announced a program whereby teams would provide a year’s tuition and books at a recognized post-secondary institution for every season a player was in the league.
On Aug. 16, Chynoweth announced an Edmonton group headed by Bill Hunter had purchased the Flin Flon franchise from the league. Hunter would be president and governor, Vic Mah would be first vice-president.
The 1978-79 season began with news of a name change and ended with a new champion for the first time since the spring of ’74.
With three of 12 teams situated in the U.S., the WCHL was no more. Now it was the Western Hockey League.
The goofiness started on Oct. 22 when Pilling went into the penalty box at the start of the third period of a game in Calgary. He said he would serve a bench minor handed him for delay of game at the end of the second period in what would be an 8-1 loss. Pilling also alternated goaltenders Jeff Lastiwka and Gregg Dumba every shift change after a brawl at 2:52 of the second. Changing goalies ended 30 seconds into the third period when, with the faceoff outside Regina’s blueline, Dumba lined up behind his net. He was given a gross misconduct.
Chynoweth, who fined Pilling $1,000, said: “I thought it was a circus. I wouldn’t blame anybody if they didn’t go back.”
This was to be the season of McCallum’s Wheat Kings. That much was evident when Brandon ran its two-season unbeaten streak to a WHL-record 49 games and its single-season streak to 29 games. Brandon finally lost, going down 9-4 in Edmonton on Dec. 13 with the Oil Kings scoring all nine goals with the man advantage.
There was more news from Brandon on Jan. 11 when GM Jack Brockest, one of the WHL’s most likeable people, bought the team.
If any team could match Brandon it was Portland. The Winter Hawks had a 19-game unbeaten streak ended when visiting Brandon won 7-4 to go to 42-3-7.
In mid-March, rumours had the Edmonton franchise, which was averaging about 500 fans a game, moving to Great Falls, Montana, or Red Deer.
Things got ugly on March 22 in New Westminster when an incident involving the Bruins and Portland resulted in McLean’s being suspended indefinitely and seven of his players being charged by police. A game-ending brawl broke out, but this one was different because, while the Bruins left their bench, Hodge managed to keep his players under control.
On March 27, Wilson said McLean would not be allowed to coach during the playoffs, nor would he be allowed to communicate with the bench from the press box as he had done during previous suspensions.
McLean apologized for the brawl at a Vancouver press conference: “I have to take the full load, the full responsibility for what happened . . . when I look at it, maybe the game has gone by me. Maybe my coaching style isn’t what’s needed anymore. I’m an old horse that’s been at it for 25 years and it’s tough to change your thinking. The game is changing — maybe I haven’t changed with it.”
On April 4, GM Bill Shinske and McLean announced the Bruins were for sale, for $350,000.
The Winter Hawks got a small measure of revenge, beating the visiting Bruins 5-3 on April 8 to eliminate them from post-season play.
But this sad episode would drag on through the summer.
Meanwhile, Brandon was finishing with a 58-5-9 record, setting or tying 19 records.
The Oil Kings were sold on April 10, with ownership handed over to a Portland group headed by Bob Cooper and Tom Gauthier, who said they would move the franchise to Great Falls. “I guess sports is not my bowl of rice,” said Mah, an Edmonton restauranteur. It was Mah’s second go-round as an owner in Edmonton, and he wouldn’t give up. He would try and try again and again to get another franchise for the Alberta capital.
On April 20, charges of common assault were filed against seven Bruins — J.P. Kelly, Terry Kirkham, Bruce Howes, Rick Amann, Boris Fistric, Rob Roflik and Bill Hobbins. In August, the seven pleaded guilty. Judge James Shaw — no relation to the Portland general manager — granted conditional discharges to all seven, then banned them from league games at any level until Dec. 1. McLean said Shaw was “trying to be the judge who is going to clean up hockey. I’m worried about the affect on the game because the judge’s ruling makes a hip-check a criminal offence.”
Portland and Brandon ended up in the final, with Brandon winning in six games.
And, on May 28, Chynoweth resigned, effective June 30. This time he would leave, becoming part-owner of the Wranglers. “It’s more than 25 per cent and less than 50,” said majority-owner Jim Morley.
In late May, Pat Ginnell, who had been with the Lethbridge Broncos, moved north to take over the Medicine Hat Tigers. Mike Sauter would replace him in Lethbridge. Dave King left as coach in Billings to become head coach at the University of Saskatchewan.
The Pats were sold on June 8, with Wilson, Bill Patton, Gord Wicijowski, D.K. MacPherson, Wilf Degelman and Bob Babchuk selling to the Pinders — father Dick and sons Herb, Gerry and Tom. The price was believed to be near $300,000. Strumm was named GM, governor and part-owner.
Strumm later signed Bryan Murray as head coach and one of the great turnarounds in WHL history was under way.
But before that got started, Dave Descent was chosen to run the WHL. In his third season with the Canadian Amateur Wrestling Association at the time, Descent had lots of hockey experience at various levels in the OHA. “This job is an opportunity to get back into hockey, which is my chosen sport, and advance my sporting career,” he said.
Regina, which finished 18-47-7 (last in the East, second-worst in the league) in 1978-79, would go 47-24-1 in 1979-80 to win the division.
It was obvious early that the Bruins were going to pay a steep price for the brawl against Portland. They got their first point, after 13 losses, with a 5-5 tie in Great Falls on Oct. 31.
And on Nov. 16 McLean was at it again. And again it involved Portland.
McLean got tangled up with a fan at a game in Portland and was charged with fourth-degree assault. In one of the most ironical situations in WHL history, McLean was in jail until Brian Shaw posted his bail of $525. Charges were later reduced to harassment and it was all cleared up when a civil compromise was signed, ending the criminal case.
In mid-December, Descent’s title was changed from executive director to president. And concern was being shown about Great Falls, which was 2-22-1 and hurtin’ at the gate. The Americans folded on Dec. 13.
On March 2, McLean threw a 30-gallon garbage can onto the ice to protest the work of referee Ken Wheler during a game against visiting Portland.
The next day, Descent announced his resignation. Said Descent: “Speaking honestly, I’ve enjoyed my stay and feel it was a positive experience. But for personal reasons I’ve decided to take a different career path which is something I’m not at liberty to discuss now.”
Shaw said a five-man board would run the league, and that McLean would be suspended for three games for throwing the can. Oh yes, McLean was later named acting chairman of the management committee.
On March 24, McLean said he was leaving the Bruins. “I’ve made up my mind,” he said. “I’ve worn out my welcome. I will not be in New Westminster next year. We built a dynasty here but it’s time to move on.” All this after the Bruins set a WHL record with 61 losses. It was the first time in 18 seasons that McLean had missed playoffs.
On April 17, Vancouver businessman Nelson Skalbania bought out McLean and Shinske for slightly more than $300,000.
A week later, the WHL announced that Winnipeg would have an expansion team for 1980-81 and that the owners were former Pats star Fran Huck, his law partner Gerald Gunn and Winnipeg businessmen Harry Buekert, Arnold DeFehr and Marsdon Fenwick. Buekert would be GM, with Huck as coach.
On April 27, Regina beat visiting Victoria, 5-4, to win the WHL final, 4-1. The 1980 Memorial Cup, which would be won by the Cornwall Royals, opened in Brandon and closed in Regina.
During the Memorial Cup it became apparent the major juniors were terribly concerned with NHL’s practice of drafting 18-year-olds.
Chynoweth said: “I understand the legal problems the NHL has, although I don’t sympathize with it . . . at this rate, the pros will be scouting midgets soon.”
McLeod remembered the 1979 draft: “Back in June one NHL general manager said there was nothing to worry about, that only seven or eight under-ages would be taken. When they took 58, we were a little disturbed. Once they got into it, they just kept going.”
Junior teams were to be paid $50,000 to $65,000 for under-age players who stuck in the NHL.
Some NHL people said they weren’t in favour of the 18-year-old draft, either.
“The general managers unanimously fought to the 11th hour to avoid drafting under-ages,” said Washington GM Max McNab. “We were going to get caught in a lawsuit. But the NHL is like the government in the eyes of the public here. We’re going to get shot at in any decision.”
On May 15, the WHL announced that the dormant Great Falls franchise would relocate to Spokane with Cooper remaining as majority owner.
On June 26, Skalbania, already the owner of New Westminster and the NHL’s Calgary Flames, bought 50 per cent of the Wranglers. Skalbania explained: “It’s a sympathetic thing. I said when we bought the Flames that we’d support junior hockey in Calgary and I can’t think of a way we’d be supporting it any more than owning the team. I just hope we don’t lose that much money with them.”
Pat Shimbashi, a minority owner in Lethbridge, bought the other 50 per cent of the Wranglers from Jim Morley and Chynoweth, which meant that the latter would return as WHL president.
On June 27, Skalbania completed his purchase of the Bruins, buying 100 per cent for $325,000. McLean stayed as GM, while Skalbania’s 20-year-old daughter, Rozanda, was named president.
McLean resigned a couple of weeks later and Tracy Pratt was named GM. “I’d like to forget about the big bad Bruins of the past,” Pratt said, “and I’d like to think of them as the scrappy Bruins in the future. My concern is putting families back in the building. There was a shade too much violence in past years and many people became very bitter about what happened at Queen’s Park Arena.”
The league lost its referee-in-chief on Aug. 8 when Wilson announced he would scout for the Montreal Canadiens, a team with which he had long been associated.
The 1980-81 season opened quietly enough, but the silence was shattered on Dec. 1 with a shakeup in Saskatoon. McLeod and coach Lorne Frey ended their association with the Blades. Majority owner Nate Brodsky bought McLeod’s share (20 per cent) and named Daryl Lubiniecki GM and coach.
Lubiniecki began shaking things up when, on Jan. 15, he traded one player — centre Rocky Trottier — to Billings for six players — Pat Rabbitt, Dave Brown, Brad Duggan, Dave Chartier, Lyndon Byers and Al Acton.
Fighting was still a concern and on Dec. 17 Chynoweth announced that teams would be fined $2,500 if their players fought before games or between periods. Players who started the fights or were main combatants would get a minimum of five games.
A black cloud continued to follow the Bruins. A labour dispute forced them to play their last 29 games on the road. Their last 13 home games were played in such places as Bellingham, Wash., Kamloops, Trail, Duncan, B.C., and Coleman, Alta. The Bruins set a WHL record by losing 25 in a row and had to give season-ticket holders a refund for the 13 home games that were moved.
There were rumblings out of Swift Current that the locals were interested in a WHL franchise. John Rittinger, president of the SJHL team there, was trying to raise money for the venture. “I can’t give you a figure at this time,” he said on April 1, “but, personally, I feel there has been insufficient support.”
The juniors were beginning to realize they were going to have to live with the 18-year-old draft. Said Chynoweth: “The under-age situation is a problem but also a fact of life. The law of the land says at 18 you can fight for your country, drink and get married. Consequently, they’re also eligible to be drafted and play for NHL teams.”
The WHL had a new referee-in-chief — Richard Doerksen — and he was in the news in the playoffs after Strumm grabbed him in the press box during a game. Strumm was slapped with a two-game suspension and a $1,000 fine.
Victoria, under coach Jack Shupe, would win the WHL championship in 1980-81. Trailing Calgary 3-1, the Cougars bounced back and wrapped it up on May 1, beating the visiting Wranglers, 4-2, in Game 7.
Singing a song that would become popular in NHL circles in years to come, Calgary coach Doug Sauter explained: “(Goaltender Grant) Fuhr was the difference.”
It didn’t take long for life in the pandemic to take a nasty turn for the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
The 12-team league was cruising along, having gotten in 38 regular-season games since opening on Oct. 9, until the province’s numbers started running wild. By Tuesday, the Winnipeg Free Press was suggesting the MJHL’s season might be in doubt.
Let’s recap . . .
On Monday, Hockey Manitoba announced that it had shut down all hockey activity in the Winnipeg metropolitan region effective immediately, with things to be revisited on Nov. 15. As a result, the MJHL postponed weekend games that were to involve the Selkirk Steelers, Winnipeg Blues and Winnipeg Freeze. At the time, the league said the weekend’s other games would go ahead as scheduled, after which it would shut down until Nov. 20.
On Tuesday, the MJHL announced that “this week’s games involving the OCN Blizzard have been postponed due to a public health concern.”
It wasn’t long before Jason Bell and Mike Sawatzky of the Free Press were reporting that “at least one player with the OCN Blizzard has tested positive for COVID-19, putting the club’s season and perhaps even the MJHL’s 2020-21 campaign into doubt.”
The Blizzard was to have played the Kings in Dauphin on Tuesday night, but that game was postponed. The teams played Sunday in Dauphin, with the Blizzard winning, 7-4. The Blizzard player who tested positive played in that game.
OCN’s lineup on Sunday included two players on loan from the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders — F Justin Nachbaur and F Evan Herman — and F Eric Alarie of the Moose Jaw Warriors. Dauphin’s lineup included F Tyson Kozak of the Portland Winterhawks, F Jakob Brook of the Regina Pats and F Kade Runke of the Warriors.
The parent of an OCN player told the Free Press: “All the details haven’t been released yet. I certainly wouldn’t want to provide any misinformation, so the information has to come from the right channels. (The organization said) just that there’s been possible exposure in the division, so we’re following proper health protocols and going into isolation mode until there’s more information.”
The Free Press also reported it had been told by multiple sources that “OCN players from outside The Pas were being told to return home.”
A parent of a player with a different MJHL team told the Free Press: “Almost close to calling that anonymous line for COVID reporting. Something I think MJHL commissioner should answer questions on. Certainly OCN. But sure the league is done until (Christmas) at least after this.”
Taking Note has been told that at least one of the four on-ice officials who worked Sunday’s game has been told he should self-isolate for 14 days.
According to the MJHL’s schedule, weekend games in Winkler, Portage la Prairie, Steinbach and Dauphin will be played before the league breaks until Nov. 20.
Brent Gogol holds the WHL record for most penalty minutes in one season — 511 in 1977-78. He started the season with the Victoria Cougars, earning 46 minutes in six games. He was dealt to the Billings Bighorns, where he added another 465 minutes in 61 games. . . . Interestingly, Mel Hewitt, who split his 1977-78 season between the Saskatoon Blades and Calgary Wranglers, finished only three minutes behind Gogol in that same season. . . . In 1990-91, Kerry Toporowski of the Spokane Chiefs got to 505 minutes. You have to wonder if he knew how close he was to Gogol’s record at the time.
Gump Worsley, knocked out cold by a slapshot. Don’t worry, it’s nothing a few cold beers won't cure for the Gumper. pic.twitter.com/sTdzUGNCMl
CB Marlon Humphrey of the Baltimore Ravens has tested positive. He played every defensive snap on Sunday in the Raven’s 28-24 loss to the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers. . . . The Steelers announced Monday that all of their tests had come back negative. . . . By Tuesday, though, the Ravens had put seven players on the reserve/COVID-19 list — linebackers Tyus Bowser, L.J. Fort, Malik Harrison, Matthew Judon and Patrick Queen, DB DeShon Elliott and practice squad DB Terrell Bonds. Those seven will quarantine for five days but could be activated in time to face the host Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. . . .
RB AJ Dillon of the Green Bay Packers has tested positive and won’t play Thursday against the host San Francisco 49ers. Dillon played on Sunday as the Packers dropped a 28-22 decision to the visiting Minnesota Vikings. He was on the field for 10 offensive snaps and seven plays on special teams. . . . RB Jamaal Williams and LB Kamal Martin, named as high-risk close contacts, also won’t play. . . .
The NFL’s Arizona Cardinals came off their bye week and head coach Cliff Kingsbury revealed a pair of positive tests from the weekend. Kingsbury wouldn’t provide identities of the two players, but LB Devon Kennard later reported on Twitter that he had tested positive. . . . The team also has placed CB Byron Murphy on the reserve/COVID-19 list. . . . The Cardinals are to play the visiting Miami Dolphins on Sunday. . . .
The Denver Broncos revealed Tuesday that team president Joe Ellis and general manager John Elway have tested positive. Meanwhile, assistant coaches Ed Donatell, Curtis Modkins and Mike Munchak are under COVID-19 protocols, as is OL Graham Glasgow. . . . The Broncos are scheduled to visit the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. . . .
QB Andy Dalton of the Dallas Cowboys had been expected to return on Sunday against the host Pittsburgh Steelers. However, he was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Tuesday. . . . Dalton missed the Cowboys’ previous game with a concussion. . . .
The U of Wisconsin Badgers have had a second straight football game cancelled. The Badgers were to have played Purdue on Saturday. Wisconsin has had 27 positives since Oct. 24 — 15 players and 12 staff. . . . Interestingly, there isn’t room in the Big Ten schedule to play games that are affected by the virus, so the games are cancelled. . . .
Following one positive test, the junior B Kimberley Dynamiters of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League have nine additional members of the organization self-isolating until Nov. 11. This comes after the Interior Health Authority completed contact tracing. The Dynamiters’ last exhibition game, scheduled for Friday against the visiting Fernie Ghostriders has been cancelled. . . . The KIJHL plans on opening its regular season on Nov. 13. The Dynamiters are scheduled to be at home to Fernie that night. . . .
The Chilliwack Minor Hockey Association has paused for at least two weeks. An outbreak at a Chilliwack dance studio — there are at least 30 positives — resulted in meetings between the CMHA and health authorities, and a decision was made to suspend all hockey activities. . . .
The South Eastern Manitoba Hockey League has delayed the start of its regular season to Nov. 26. The seven-team league hopes to play a 12-game regular season. . . . The original plan was to play the regular 18-game season starting on Nov. 6. . . .
The QMJHL’s Drummondville Voltigeurs have lost assistant coach Mathieu Turcotte, who has left the team for personal reasons. According to Mikael Lalancette of TVA Sports, Turcotte “has health problems that put him at risk” during these pandemic times. . . . The Voltigeurs are one of the QMJHL teams that has experienced positive tests. . . .
The U of Rhode Island Rams football team has had to put things on hold after a player and a staff member tested positive. All players and staff members have been told to quarantine for two weeks. . . . The Rams have been hold light workouts as they aren’t scheduled to play until Feb. 27 as the Colonial Athletic Association chose not to play in the fall.
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The headline in the Victoria Times-Colonist read: Paddy (The Phantom) Ginnell back in town.
It was Sept. 15, 1985, and the New Westminster Bruins were in Victoria for an exhibition WHL game with the Cougars.
Ginnell, a former owner, general manager and head coach of the Cougars, now was the Bruins’ GM/head coach. While he wasn’t behind the bench for this one because he was serving Game 1 of a five-game suspension, he actually was in the arena. At least for a few minutes.
Dave Senick of the Times-Colonist covered the game and wrote that Ginnell “had a false moustache pasted on his upper lip, a pair of sunglasses perched on his nose and a floppy cap pulled well down his forehead. A frumpy lumber jacket completed the outfit.”
It seems that Ginnell had planned on taking in the game in person, but after being recognized — gee, you think! — Senick reported that the veteran coach “stood by the Bruins’ bus and spent the afternoon chatting with those he knew from a past coaching job with the Cougars.”
Why was Ginnell suspended (and fined $500)?
It seems the Bruins and Seattle Thunderbirds had become involved in a bench-clearing brawl on Sept. 11 in Chilliwack, and Ginnell’s guys were deemed the first to leave the bench.
Bench-clearing brawls. Coaches in disguise. Yes, those were the days, weren’t they?
BTW, the above photo of Ginnell, in disguise, was taken by Ian McKain of the Times-Colonist.
The QMJHL, which unveiled a new logo on Monday, plans to begin its 2020-21 regular season on Oct. 1 with a schedule calling for each team to play its usual 68 games. Commissioner Gilles Courteau told a video conference on Tuesday that his league expects to have “a certain percentage of spectators” attending games. . . . The QMJHL opened its 2019-20 regular season on Sept. 19. The 18-team league has teams in four provinces — New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Quebec. . . . Courteau said the league is working on a return-to-play program and that it will continue to work through all of this with public health officials. . . . Later, some teams, including the Halifax Mooseheads, issued statements. “Although this is a positive announcement for all of us . . . we fully understand that there are still a number of factors to be determined and approved by our Provincial Government and public health authorities before we can begin selling ticket packages,” the Mooseheads said. “We are currently working closely with the QMJHL on a Return to Play protocol for the 2020-21 season in order to ensure a safe return for our players, staff and fans, that will be in compliance with public health guidelines.” . . . So, while the QMJHL is aiming for Oct. 1, it still is faced with a lot of unknowns, meaning the league is no different than anyone else.
Don’t shoot the messenger. OK?
Bartley Kives of CBC News wrote an interesting piece that was posted on the Corp.’s website on Sunday morning.
Here’s the headline: Never mind 2020 — It could be years before pro sports fans are back in the stands.
That is something I have been wondering about for a while now. Faced with an aggressive virus, no vaccine, and with governments, at least in Canada, who are reluctant to allow large gatherings in their jurisdictions, where exactly does the sports world go from here.
That sports world would include pro sports and, yes, junior hockey.
While the NHL, NBA and MLB likely could survive in the short term without fans in the stands, it’s doubtful that the CFL could make it. And there is no chance — Zero! Nil! Nada! — that junior hockey at any level could make it.
The CFL, like all leagues, is wanting badly to have some sort of season in 2020.
As Kives points out, “. . . the CFL may not be able to afford a year of failing to engage its audience. The CFL desperately needs real fans to buy tickets to games, merchandise, food and beer.
“The league could be holding out faint hope public health authorities will allow fans to gather in large groups this season.
“That is quite unlikely, given the highly communicable nature of COVID-19 and the potential for infection when thousands of people are gathered in a confined space such as a stadium concourse.
“It’s hard enough for public health employees to trace the contacts of a single infected patient who works at a Winnipeg Walmart or a Brandon trucking company.
“Imagine the complexity — if not outright impossibility — of trying to figure out who came in contact with one infected person among a crowd of tens of thousands at a stadium such as I.G. Field in Winnipeg or Mosaic Stadium in Regina.”
Kives spoke with Dan Chateau, an assistant professor of community health sciences at the U of Manitoba.
“Think about the Roughriders,” Chateau said. “They get people from all over Saskatchewan, and the Blue Bombers get people from all over Manitoba and from all over the City of Winnipeg, which is three quarters of a million (people) itself.
“You don’t want those people to go back to their communities and eventually spread COVID-19 again through each of their individual spheres of social contact.”
Kives followed that by writing this:
“This would not just be a problem this fall. It will be a problem for the CFL, NHL and any professional league as long as COVID-19 continues to circulate among the population and no vaccine treatment is available.
“This, unfortunately, means there may be no fans in the stands for CFL and NHL games in 2021, 2022 or beyond.”
As for a vaccine, well, you can read all about it right here, which is where you will find Kives’ complete story.
Just remember . . . please don’t shoot the messenger.
When you talk about the most under-rated players in WHL history, Rick Blight’s name has to be near the top of the list. Playing with the Brandon Wheat Kings, he put up 31 goals and 62 assists in his freshman season (1972-73). The next season, he totalled 130 points, including 49 goals, in 67 games. In 1974-75, Blight scored 60 goals and added 52 assists. . . . He finished his major junior career with 336 points, including 141 goals, in 201 assists. . . . Blight committed suicide in April 2005. . . . Ed Willes of Postmedia has more on Blight’s story right here.
The Kamloops Blazers have signed F Connor Levis, a first-round selection in the WHL’s 2019 bantam draft who had committed to the U of Michigan Wolverines. Levis was the 20th overall selection in that draft. . . . He and D Mats Lindgren, who was taken seventh overall by the Blazers, had both committed to Michigan. Lindgren also has signed with the Blazers. . . . Levis, at 15, had 12 goals and 14 assist in 33 games for the St. George’s School prep team last season.
Glen Goodall holds one WHL record that won’t ever be broken. Over six WHL seasons, Goodall, now 50, played in 399 regular-season games. At 14, he was a regular with the Seattle Breakers in 1984-85. He played the next five seasons with the Seattle Thunderbirds. . . . Having played at 14, he can relate to what F Connor Bedard is faced with as he prepares to join the Regina Pats at 15. . . . Greg Harder of the Regina Leader-Post chatted with Goodall and the results are right here.
USA Hockey has cancelled boys’ and girls’ player development camps for this summer. From a news release: “USA Hockey cancelled the Boys Select 15, Girls 15, and Girls 16/17 camps on March 20 and on Monday cancelled the remaining camps that had been listed as tentative, including the Boys Select 16, Boys Select 17 and Girls Under-18 Select camps.”