WHL backs up proposed start to Dec. 4 . . . Aiming to play 68 games in 147 days . . . Still lots of questions without answers

Under what once was considered normal circumstances, the 22-team WHL would start a regular season in late September. Each team would play 68 regular-season games, with whlplayoffs — four rounds of best-of-seven series — beginning in late March.

In other words, teams would take six months to play those 68 games. In 2018-19, the teams played the regular season in 178 days, then took 53 days to complete the playoffs.

Then, like the big, bad wolf, along came the coronavirus and the resulting disruption of all things normal.

A few weeks ago, the WHL announced that it hoped to open its 68-game regular season on Oct. 2.

On Thursday, the goal posts moved again; now the WHL is targeting Dec. 4 as opening day, and continues to say it plans on having each team play 68 games.

While the WHL didn’t reveal a closing date, the OHL on Wednesday said that it hopes to play a 64-game season from Dec. 1 through April 29, with the Memorial Cup scheduled for June 17-27.

Presumably the WHL will be following a similar blueprint, meaning it will have to play its regular season in five months. Should it get to open on Dec. 4 and play through April 29, each of its teams would play 68 games in 147 days — 31 fewer days than it took to play the same number of games in 2018-19.

That means teams would be playing as many as four games a week. There likely would be an increase in the dreaded three-in-three weekends. You may recall that decreasing the number of tripleheader weekends was one of the reasons given when the league shortened its schedule from 72 games.

A Dec. 4 start surely would mean a shorter Christmas break — the league stopped for 10 days in 2018-19 and nine days in 2019-20.

But let’s be honest. There aren’t any guarantees there will be a season.

As the WHL’s news release read, all of this “remains contingent on receiving the necessary approvals from the government and health authorities in each of the six provincial/state jurisdictions in WHL territory.”

The WHL’s announcement didn’t mention the situation involving the U.S.-Canada border being closed to non-essential travel, something that doesn’t seem likely to change in 2020, at least not at B.C. crossings. That would lead to teams playing inside their own divisions for the early part of a schedule.

The news release also didn’t mention players and school. The OHL said Wednesday that it will have its players stay home and start school there, so it likely is safe to assume that the WHL do the same as everyone awaits further developments.

The most important thing to remember is that everything — and I do mean everything — is fluid.

What follows are some thoughts from a few WHL officials, all speaking after Thursday’s announcement . . .

Gord Broda, the president of the Prince Albert Raiders, who are the WHL’s defending Raiders50champions, told Trevor Redden of panow.com: “As frustrating as this (process) has been, I just can’t emphasize enough that as a league, safety is at the forefront. Safety for our players, safety for the people in our buildings when we get going, safety for our fans. We’re at a time where patience is necessary.”

Broda also said: “I’ll speak for the Prince Albert Raiders only, even at 50 per cent capacity, we’re going to have financial shortfalls. I think it’s a realistic goal as a starting point to maybe work with our medical authorities and hopefully they find that an acceptable capacity level. And at the same time at least it’s a reasonable start from a financial perspective. It’s going to be financially very challenging to have reduced capacity in all the buildings. We all know we’re a ticket-driven venue and we’ve got to have fans in the seats.” . . .

Don Moores, the president of the Kamloops Blazers, told Marty Hastings of Kamloops This Week: “Being fluid is really important. If the border remains closed, we’ll have to deal with it. If it opens and there are restrictions we have to adhere to, we’ll see if that’s workable and make those decisions as we go.” . . .

Brent Sutter, owner, president, general manager, and head coach of the Red Deer Rebels, Red Deertold Byron Hackett of the Red Deer Advocate: “We gotta have people in the building, no question. We have to have some kind of attendance and that’s our goal right now. And yet we’ll just have to see where it goes because it continues to move. It’s a moving target that’s changing all the time. It changes from week to week. You look at the other leagues — junior A leagues, American Hockey League, National Hockey League — no one is going to be playing in November.”

Ron Robison, WHL commissioner, told Greg Harder of the Regina Leader-Post: “It’s all part of the outcome on where we arrive at with respect to capacity. We’re having ongoing discussions with the provincial/state governments on trying to obtain the capacity that we need. If that is not successful, we will be considering some form of financial support to help us get started. But right now we’re focused on trying to get to a capacity that will work for our teams.”

Zoran Rajcic, the chief operating officer of the Everett Silvertips, told Nick Patterson of the Everett Herald: “The anticipation was that we would be further ahead with (the pandemic) within not only Washington and Oregon, but the four western provinces. The more we looked at things and the way (Washington) is in a holding pattern with Phase 2 (of the state’s reopening plan), it was probably the only decision we can look at. They’re talking about us in Washington not looking at hosting events until Phase 4, so this makes the most sense now. It gives us time to work through things.”



COVID-19 CHRONICLES . . .

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The Canadian Junior Football League announced Thursday that it has cancelled its 2020 season and has turned its attention to getting a 2021 season off the ground. . . . The CJFL is the governing body for 18 teams in six provinces that play in three conferences. . . .

The U of Alberta’s men’s and women’s hockey teams have been reinstated by Canada West, so will be eligible to play should the conference start up again in January. The reinstatement comes after the programs received a financial infusion from almuni. . . . The athletic department announced on June 17 that it was suspending all Canada West competition for 2020-21 for financial reasons. . . .

The Hawaii High School Athletic Association has cancelled football’s 2020 season, while pushing girls volleyball, cross-country and cheerleading to January. . . . The only sports left on Hawaii’s fall high school sports calendar are air riflery and bowling. . . . Delaware also has cancelled its high school football season. There are 12 states who have done that, while at least 28 others have postponed the start of the football season. . . .

The U of Louisville booted three players off its men’s soccer team and suspended three others for their roles in a Saturday off-campus party that resulted in 29 positive tests within the school’s athletic department. The three who were kicked off the team apparently organized the party. Players from both soccer teams, as well as the field hockey and volleyball teams, tested positive. . . .

The NFL’s Green Bay Packers said Thursday that they will play their first two home games without fans. That will be re-evaluated after the two games. . . . The Las Vegas Raiders had announced earlier that they will play the entire season without fans in their brand new 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium. . . . The NFL’s regular season is scheduled to open on Sept. 10. . . . Since July 21, when rookies reported to training camps, the NFL has had at least 56 positive tests. . . . The NFL had 66 players opt out of the season by Thursday’s deadline. A complete list is right here.


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Gordon and Leslie Diamond Health Care Centre

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Or, for more information, visit right here.



Tinfoil

WJC in Everett/Seattle? Why not in 2025? . . . Paddock, Farkas put up clean sheets . . . Silvertips roll past Thunderbirds


MacBeth

F Johannes Salmonsson (Spokane, 2005-06) has signed a contract for the rest of this season with Timrå (Sweden, SHL). Last season, he had five goals and seven assists in 52 games with the Iserlohn Roosters (Germany, DEL).


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As was reported earlier in the week, Team USA will stop off in Everett and Kamloops before starting play in the 2019 World Junior Championship that opens in Vancouver and 2019wjcVictoria on Dec. 26.

Team USA will hold its selection camp at the Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett from Dec. 14-18, and then will go to Kamloops for its pre-tournament camp from Dec. 19-23.

While this is big news for Kamloops, it is huge news for the Pacific Northwest. In fact, I would suggest that the World Junior Championship will be held in Everett and Seattle in 2025, that is if everything goes according to plan and Seattle has an NHL franchise at the time.

Why 2025? Because that’s the next time the tournament is scheduled to be held in the U.S.

The Silvertips are owned by Consolidated Sports Holding (CSH).

“That’s the whole underlying thing,” Zoran Rajcic, the COO of CSH, told Josh Horton of the Everett Herald, “to not only help them out in a close location to where they’re going to be for this year’s World Juniors, (but get) a chance for us to sit down with USA Hockey (to find out) if they’d consider us hosting a future World Juniors in Everettt.”

John Vanbiesbrouck, the former NHL goaltender who is in his first go-round as general manager of USA Hockey’s national junior team, told Horton:

“We’re still a ways out. But we’re also looking at the impact that Seattle is going to have on the NHL and, between Seattle and Everett, it’s certainly a possibility and something that we haven’t had on the West Coast for some time, if ever. It’s lining up to be a decent fit and hopefully we can take (a look) as it gets closer at it becoming a reality.”

Gord Miller of TSN tweeted on Feb. 12 that the IIHF has reportedly picked these host countries for the next 14 WJCs:

2019: Vancouver and Victoria.

2020: Czech Republic

2021: Canada

2022: Sweden

2023: Russia

2024: Canada

2025: U.S.

2026: Canada

2027: Finland

2028: Czech Republic

2029: Canada

2030: USA

2031: Russa

2032: Canada


There has been ample speculation that an arena will be built in Winnipeg and that it Kootenaynewwould eventually be home to the Kootenay Ice, a WHL team that presently plays in Cranbrook, B.C. . . . The Ice’s owners, Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell, both were in Winnipeg when they purchased the franchise prior to the 2016-17 season. Cockell relocated to Cranbrook, with his family, as president and general manager. . . . The Winnipeg Free Press reported recently that the Ice would move to Winnipeg, likely in time for next season, and that the team would play out of an arena on the campus of the U of Manitoba until a 5,000-seat arena, built in conjunction to the Rink Hockey Academy, was ready for use. . . . Mike Sawatzky, who has been covering this story for the Free Press, reported Saturday:

“Reeve Brad Erb, who was recently re-elected, told the Free Press this week he has not been approached by representatives of the WHL’s Kootenay Ice for approval to build an arena adjacent to the Rink Hockey Academy (RHA) on the west end of South Landing and just off McGillivray Boulevard.

“A new facility for the RHA, which is currently under construction, lies within the municipality’s boundries.”

Erb told Sawatzky: “I’ve not officially had any introduction or conversation with anyone regarding a Western Hockey League team. I’m more curious than anything about some of the rumours that are out there and whether there’s any truth to them or not. That’s kinda where we stand.”

Sawatzky’s story is right here.


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SATURDAY NIGHT HIGHLIGHTS:

F Reese Johnson’s shootout goal gave the visiting Red Deer Rebels a 4-3 victory over the Red DeerMoose Jaw Warriors. . . . Red Deer improved to 12-5-1, while Moose Jaw now is 7-5-4. . . . The Warriors erased a 3-1 deficit in the final 2:04 of the third period. . . . F Ryan Peckford (4) got Moose Jaw to within a goal at 17:56, with his second goal of the game, and F Daniil Stepanov (3) tied it at 18:26. . . . Johnson was the first shooter in the fourth round of the shootout. F Oleg Zaytsev had scored for Red Deer in the second round, with F Peckford quickly replying for the Warriors. . . . F Jeff de Wit scored his 12th goal for Red Deer as he ran his goal streak to six games. He has 12 goals in 18 games; he went into this season with 30 goals in 247 career regular-season games. Last season, de Wit finished with 11 goals in 43 games — one goal in seven games with the Regina Pats, two in 15 with the Kootenay Ice and eight in 21 with the Victoria Royals. He also had an assist last night, and now has 21 points, two shy of his career high, in 70 games, with Red Deer in 2015-16. . . . The Rebels were without D Jacob Herauf, who was injured during a 6-3 loss to the Wheat Kings in Brandon on Friday. . . . F Justin Almeida was among Moose Jaw’s scratches. He suffered an undisclosed injury while playing for Team WHL in the CIBC Canada Russia Series in Kamloops on Monday. . . . The Rebels will meet the Broncos in Swift Current this afternoon in what will be the third game in fewer than 48 hours for both teams.


G Max Paddock stopped 20 shots to record his first WHL shutout as the host Regina Pats Patsgot past the Swift Current Broncos, 2-0. . . . The Pats (7-12-0) have won three in a row and four of five. . . . The Broncos (3-16-0) had lost two in a row. They have been blanked three times this season. . . . These teams have met three times this season and the Pats have won all three. . . . F Jake Leschyshyn (13) gave Regina a 1-0 lead at 19:22 of the first period, and F Scott Mahovlich (3) got the insurance marker at 2:03 of the second. . . . Paddock’s first shutout came in his 54th regular-season appearance. This season, he is 5-10-0, 3.82, .883. . . . Among the Broncos scratches were F Owen Blocker and D Garrett Sambrook, with undisclosed injuries, and D Matthew Stanley, who is ill and missed a second straight game. . . . The Pats will play their next six games on the road; they next play at home on Dec. 1.


The Saskatoon Blades got 31 saves from G Nolan Maier as they beat the Kootenay Ice, 2-1, Saskatoonin Cranbrook, B.C. . . . The Blades (12-7-2) have won two in a row. . . . The Ice (6-11-3) has lost four straight. . . . F Gary Haden (6) opened the scoring, giving Saskatoon the lead at 8:41 of the first period. That was his fifth goal in eight games since being acquired from the Medicine Hat Tigers. . . . The Ice tied it when F Cole Muir (4) scored at 18:59. . . . Saskatoon D Seth Bafaro (2) broke the tie at 4:29 of the second period. . . . Maier was named the game’s first star for the second night in a row. On Friday, he turned aside 35 shots in a 3-1 victory over the Tigers in Medicine Hat. . . . This season, Maier is 10-5-1, 2.84, .910. . . . Kootenay D Jonathan Smart played in his 200th regular-season game. A 19-year-old from Kelowna, he also has played with the Rockets (68 games) and Regina Pats (64 games).


F Brett Kemp started the scoring and he ended it as the Edmonton Oil Kings beat the host EdmontonOilKingsMedicine Hat Tigers, 4-3, in OT. . . . Edmonton (12-7-2) has points in eight straight (7-0-1). . . . Medicine Hat (9-8-3) has lost two in a row. . . . Kemp, who has 14 goals, gave Edmonton a 1-0 lead, on a PP, at 9:20 of the second period and he won it at 1:11 of extra time. . . . These teams went into the third period tied 1-1. . . . D Trevor Longo’s first WHL goal gave the Tigers a 2-1 lead at 5:50. . . . The Oil Kings went ahead 3-2 on PP goals from F Vince Loschiavo (9), at 8:21, and F Andrei Pavlenko (5), at 11:19. . . . Medicine Hat forced OT when F Hayden Ostir (7) scored, on a PP, at 13:50. . . . F Trey Fix-Wolansky of the Oil Kings had two assists and moved into the lead in the WHL scoring race, He has 42 points, two more than F Brett Leason of the Prince Albert Raiders, who didn’t play last night. Fix-Wolansky has a WHL-high 30 assists.


G Shane Farkas blocked 26 shots in earning his first shutout of the season as the Portland PortlandWinterhawks beat the visiting Kelowna Rockets, 3-0. . . . Portland (11-6-1) has won four straight. . . . Kelowna (8-11-0) had won its previous four games. . . . This was the Rockets’ first loss under head coach Adam Foote, who had been 4-0-0 since replacing Jason Smith. . . . Farkas had three shutouts last season. . . . F Joachim Blickfeld (15), who was credited with 10 shots on goal, gave Portland a 1-0 lead at 3:20 of the first period. He also had two assists. . . . F Cody Glass (7) made it 2-0 at 6:43 of the second period, with F Reece Newkirk (11) putting it away at 11:04 of the third. . . . Portland finished with a 50-26 edge in shots. . . . Blichfeld has 38 points in 18 games. . . . Glass has 31 points in 15 games. . . . The same teams meet again today in Portland.


F Connor Dewar scored twice to lead the Everett Silvertips to a 5-1 victory over the EverettSeattle Thunderbirds in Kent, Wash. . . . Everett (13-6-0) has won three straight and leads the U.S. Division. . . . The Silvertips, who now have won six straight on the road, have won both meetings with the Thunderbirds this season. . . . Seattle (7-8-2) has lost five in a row. . . . Everett took control of this game in the first period, when it outshot Seattle, 18-1, and emerged with a 3-0 lead. . . . Dewar, who has 14 goals, got it started at 2:57, with F Jalen Price (1) scoring at 7:44, and D Wyatte Wylie (3) making it 3-0 at 18:19. . . . Dewar made it 4-0 at 5:59 of the third period. . . .  Everett F Akash Bains was among the scratches. He scored twice in Kamloops on Friday night before leaving with an apparent knee injury. . . . The Silvertips, 6-1 victors over the Blazers in Kamloops on Friday night, are back in Kamloops today for a 5 p.m. start.


G Trent Miner turned aside 32 shots to lead the Vancouver Giants to a 2-1 victory over Vancouverthe Prince George Cougars in Langley, B.C. . . . Vancouver (13-3-2) has won three in a row. . . . Prince George (7-8-3) had won its previous two games. . . . These teams will play again this afternoon in Langley. . . . Miner’s evening included 17 saves in the third period. . . . F Connor Bowie (1) have the Cougars a 1-0 lead at 6:10 of the first period. . . . The Giants won it with second-period goals from F Tyler Ho (1), at 11:44, and F Cyle McNabb (1), at 15:07.


D Filip Kral had a goal and two assists to help the Spokane Chiefs to a 7-2 victory over the SpokaneChiefsRoyals in Victoria. . . . The Chiefs (9-7-3) had lost three in a row. . . . The Royals (10-6-0) had beaten the visiting Chiefs, 7-5, on Friday night. . . . F Luke Toporowski (6) of the Chiefs broke a 1-1 tie on a PP, at 13:38 of the first period. . . . Kral got his first goal of the season at 18:53. . . . F Eli Zummack (7) made it 3-1 just nine seconds into the second period as the Chiefs took control. . . . Kral drew assists on the goals by Toporowski and Zummack. . . . The Chiefs finished with two empty-net goals. . . . F Jake McGrew, who played for the Chiefs on Friday, was scratched from this one. He’s got six goals and nine assists in 16 games.


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