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




MacBeth

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


ThisThat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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KOOTENAY KOUNTDOWN

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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TUESDAY HIGHLIGHTS:

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

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

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

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WHL marketplace starts to heat up . . . Blades add a defenceman, move out two . . . Chiefs juggle to firm up goaltending


COUNTDOWN TO DEADLINE

(WHL trade deadline: Jan. 10, 3 p.m. MT)

Wednesday’s action:

No. of trades: 4.

Players: 5.

Bantam draft picks: 4.

Conditional draft picks: 0.

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Total deals (since Nov. 26):

No. of trades: 21.

Players: 42.

Bantam draft picks: 32.

Conditional draft picks: 10.

(Note: On Nov. 30, Kelowna traded F Jack Cowell, 19, to Kootenay for a third-round selection in the 2020 bantam draft. Cowell chose not to report and the deal was voided, so isn’t included in these totals.)


The Saskatoon Blades made a pair of trades on Wednesday, both of them involving defencemen.

The Blades began the day by acquiring D Reece Harsch, 19, from the Seattle SaskatoonThunderbirds for D Zach Ashton, 17, and a fifth-round pick in the WHL’s 2022 bantam draft.

Later, the Blades sent D Seth Bafaro, 19, to the Vancouver Giants for a fifth-round selection in the 2021 bantam draft.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Harsch was selected by Seattle in the eighth round of the 2014 bantam draft.

In 149 regular-season games with Seattle, he had 15 goals and 32 assists. He also was part of the Thunderbirds’ 2016-17 championship team. This season, Harsch has two goals and eight assists in 28 games.

“Reece is an experienced player we’ve had our eye on for a while,” Saskatoon general manager Colin Priestner said in a news release. “He plays a hard game, has 25 games of playoff experience, and knows what it takes to win a championship in this league.”

Harsch should be available Friday when the Blades entertain the Regina Pats.

Ashton, from Calgary, was a third-round selection by Saskatoon in the 2016 bantam draft. This season, as a freshman, he had one assist in nine games with the Blades. He played the previous two seasons with the midget AAA Calgary Buffaloes.

This season, Bafaro, who was born in Kamloops, has four goals and three assists in 27 Vancouvergames this season. In 116 career games, 31 with the Tri-City Americans and 85 with the Blades, he has seven goals and 11 assists.

Vancouver general manager Barclay Parneta is quite familiar with Bafaro. Parneta was Tri-City’s head scout and assistant GM when Bafaro began his WHL career with the Americans in 2016-17. The Americans selected him in the third round of the 2015 bantam draft.

Tri-City traded Bafaro to Saskatoon on July 5, 2017, getting back two bantam draft picks — a third-rounder in 2019 and a fifth-rounder in 2020.

The Giants are four games into their Central Division trip, having played in Medicine Hat on Wednesday night. Bafaro wasn’t in the lineup for that one, but should be available on Friday in Lethbridge.

BTW, Vancouver’s roster now includes nine defencemen, including Matt Barberis, who is injured and has only played nine games this season.


The Tri-City Americans have acquired F Nick Bowman, 18, from the Kootenay Ice for a tri-citysixth-round selection in the 2021 WHL bantam draft. . . . Bowman, who is from Sherwood Park, Alta., was acquired by the Ice, along with a sixth-round pick in the 2021 bantam draft, from the Moose Jaw Warriors on Oct. 22, in exchange for forwards Kaeden and Keenan Taphorn, who are twins. . . . The Edmonton Oil Kings selected Bowman in the sixth round of the 2015 bantam draft. On May 3, they dealt him to Moose Jaw, with a sixth-round pick in the 2018 bantam draft, for F Vince Loschiavo. . . . This season, Bowman had one assist in 10 games with the Warriors, then scored twice in 10 games with the Ice before choosing to leave the team. . . . In 137 career WHL games, he has 15 goals and 14 assists. . . . Bowman is playing for the AJHL’s Sherwood Park Crusaders and, according to Tri-City general manager Bob Tory, will remain there for the remainder of this season “and will affiliate with the Americans.”


The Spokane Chiefs did some juggling in their goaltending department on Wednesday.

For starters, they announced that Dawson Weatherill won’t play again this season. SpokaneChiefsAccording to a news release, Weatherill “is awaiting surgery.” The Chiefs didn’t specify what kind of surgery.

They then acquired Reece Klassen from the Lethbridge Hurricanes for a seventh-round selection in the WHL’s 2020 bantam draft.

And, finally, the Chiefs returned Campbell Arnold to the junior B Spokane Braves of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League. Arnold got into one game with the Chiefs, stopping 10 of 11 shots.

Klassen, 19, is from Cloverdale, B.C. The Hurricanes signed Klassen in 2017 after he went undrafted. This season, with the Hurricanes, he is 11-4-7, 3.57, .891. In 49 regular-season games over two seasons with the Hurricanes, he is 16-12-10, 3.59, .889.

The Hurricanes moved Klassen after acquiring Liam Hughes, 19, from the Seattle LethbridgeThunderbirds on Tuesday. The Hurricanes now have Hughes and freshman Carl Tetachuk as their two goaltenders.

In Spokane, Klassen will team up with Bailey Brkin as the Chiefs’ goaltenders. Brkin, 19, is 14-7-2, 2.68, .919.

Weatherill, 19, is from Red Deer, and was a second-round pick by the Rebels in the 2014 bantam draft. This season, he was 6-6-2, 4.33, .862 with the Chiefs, but hadn’t played since Dec. 16, which was Spokane’s last game before the Christmas break.

In 102 career appearances — five with the Rebels and 97 with the Chiefs — he is 44-33-14, 3.46, .885. The Chiefs acquired him from Red Deer on Sept. 28, 2016, in a deal that had G Tyson Verhelst go the other way.

The Chiefs are scheduled to entertain the Kamloops Blazers on Friday night.