Monday, December 17, 2007

Needed: One lion tamer and a highwire act

From The Daily News of Monday, Dec. 17, 2007. . . .

Three months ago, the Kamloops Blazers were happy campers.
But, my oh my, how things have changed.
Three months ago, the Blazers were coming off an exhibition season that made the prognosticators sit up and take notice. Yes, it was only the silly season, but the Blazers did put up a 6-1 record. And it was how they did it, seemingly scoring at will and shutting down the opposition with ease.
They were seen throughout a lot of the hockey world as a team with solid coaching, a young goaltender in Justin Leclerc who appeared on the verge of recapturing the form he had shown two seasons earlier, a stout defence that could play a strong transition game, and young guns up front who would skate hard, forecheck harder and create lots of offence.
They would, the experts felt, contend for first place in the Western Conference.
But here we are, three months later, and the Blazers are a lot closer to the bottom than the top. Only the ineptitude of the Prince George Cougars is keeping the Blazers from having to scramble just to qualify for the playoffs.
What has happened in Little Montreal has not been pretty.
There are new owners — one of whom drops by on occasion, four of whom are NHL players and, as such, are occupied elsewhere.
Two of the three full-time coaches who began the season are gone, both of them shoved out the door in messy fashion. Employees who remain have their realtors on speed dial.
There is an interim head coach and an interim director of hockey operations. There isn’t a president or a general manager. The one-man marketing department who preceded the sale still is a one-man marketing department.
There is an interim head coach who wasn’t granted the courtesy of an introductory news conference. He showed up one morning, climbed on the team bus and left for Spokane. The Blazers went 7-1 immediately after the change; they are 3-7-0-0 since then, with victories against three of the WHL’s weak sisters — the Portland Winter Hawks, Prince Albert Raiders and Prince George.
The young goaltender has struggled.
Two members of what was going to be one of the best defensive corps in the WHL are gone.
The forward group continues to search for its personality.
The interim head coach, who was put in place despite having zero coaching experience, is learning on the fly and sometimes it hasn’t been pretty, witness a passive forecheck that generated only four third-period shots on goal in a 3-1 loss to the visiting Medicine Hat Tigers on Dec. 11.
There are rumblings that at least a handful of players will return after Christmas and ask to be traded before the Jan. 10 deadline.
“We are,” one employee said the other day, “like a chicken with its head cut off.”
The most frightening thing of all, however, is the number of empty seats in the local mausoleum on game nights.
The fans are voting with their feet as they stay away from Interior Savings Centre. These days, it is quicker to count the bodies than the empty seats. A facility that once routinely was sold out has welcomed more than 5,000 fans to only one of 19 games this season. Yes, the home season is more than half over.
Five of the 10 smallest crowds to attend games in the facility since the autumn of 1993 have been in the last three months.
The local team is in danger of becoming the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Blazers. And there are plenty of ring-side seats available.
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Meanwhile, in another ring . . .
Lawyer Richard Hewson of Vernon, who represents Monica and Ladd Maloski in their dispute with the Kamloops Minor Hockey Association, has written a letter to John Hamilton, the chairman of the KMHA’s appeal committee.
You will recall that Ladd Maloski was suspended for one year by the KMHA for, among other things, informing the media of a drinking party involving members of the midget AAA North Kamloops Lions in the home of KMHA president Stan Burton. A young player who was in the care of the Maloskis got terribly intoxicated at that party and ended up in hospital.
When Maloski was suspended, he was given a letter that included appeal procedures under KMHA bylaws. Maloski immediately indicated that he would appeal under the terms of those bylaws.
However, a letter to Maloski, dated Dec. 4 and signed by Hamilton, included a copy of Articles 1005 to 1013 of the B.C. Amateur Hockey Association bylaws dealing with the provincial body’s appeal procedure.
Hewson’s letter to the KMHA points out that the B.C. Hockey “articles are not applicable to an appeal to your committee. They apply to individuals wishing to appeal to B.C. Hockey against a final appeal decision of an Association.
“Article 1007(a), in particular, requires individuals to ‘exhaust all levels of appeal as specified in the By-Laws and Regulations of the member Association . . .’ before these Articles come into play.”
Hewson also points out that “the appeal procedure set out in the KMHA By-Law differs from the procedure set out in the B.C. Hockey By-Law in a number of ways. For example, the KMHA By-Law requires your committee to set a date for the appeal and does not require a written submission to establish grounds for the appeal before that happens. It also requires the 2nd Vice-President to act as Chairperson.”
According to the KMHA’s website, from which its bylaws recently disappeared, its second vice-president is Kelly Brandt. Brandt is a friend of the Maloskis and was in their home the evening of the party. She has since removed herself from the appeal committee.
Hamilton was appointed the committee’s chairman at a Nov. 26 board meeting. He is the KMHA’s midget director. It was a midget team that held the party in the home of the KMHA president.
And around and around it goes.

Gregg Drinnan is sports editor of The Daily News. He is at gdrinnan@kamloopsnews.ca.

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