Tuesday, February 19, 2008

WHL 'reviewing' situation in Portland

The situation in Portland regarding the Winter Hawks has become a full-blown crisis with which the WHL is dealing.

The Internet has been abuzz with rumours for the last few days as irate Portland fans vent their frustrations.

And now those rumours have surfaced on a blog (westerncollegehockey.blogspot.com) that deals primarily with NCAA hockey. If the WHL doesn’t address the situation in Portland, this could turn into a recruiting nightmare, if it hasn’t already.

WHL commissioner Ron Robison spent Tuesday traveling to Naples, Fla., site of an NHL general managers’ meeting where he will be involved in making a CHL-related presentation Wednesday. CHL president David Branch was to have made the presentation but wasn’t able to attend following the death of Windsor Spitfires captain Mickey Renaud on Monday.

Robison's day began with a meeting in Vancouver on Tuesday morning. I reached him by phone late Tuesday night. He had just arrived in Fort Myers, Fla., and was driving to Naples.

“We addressed some of (the Portland situation) at the governors’ meeting (in Calgary earlier this month) and there is more we have to review,” said Robison, who understandably had to be careful in choosing his words.

Asked if the WHL might wait until the end of the regular season to deal with this, Robison quickly replied: "It can’t wait. We’ll be into it right away.

“We’re reviewing it and we’ve got to make sure that from the standpoint of player treatment everything is as we expect it to be.”

A story in Tuesday’s Oregonian, which is right here, addresses the situation on the ice, but not the off-ice goings-on. The Winter Hawks, who have won only nine games this season, have the WHL’s poorest record – 9-50-1-1 – and won’t make the playoffs. This comes on the heels of last season’s 17-52-1-2 record. (You have to go back to 1989-90 when the Victoria Cougars went 5-65-2 to find a season comparable to what the Winter Hawks are having on the ice.)

The Winter Hawks are so banged up that they were able to dress only 14 skaters for Monday’s 4-1 loss to the visiting Prince George Cougars. That included D Daniel Johnston, who was the 104th pick in the 2007 bantam draft. He was dressed as the fourth defenceman but went down near the end of the second period with an injury and didn’t return.

Portland also will have LW Taylor Peters, another 15-year-old, in its lineup this weekend. The 68th pick in the 2007 draft, Peters plays with the major midget Greater Vancouver Canadians.

The biggest concern in Portland, however, has to be the rumblings concerning LW Kevin Undershute, 20, and the attention that either has, or hasn’t, been given to a shoulder injury that occurred in October.

According to westerncollegehockey.blogspot.com: “A rumor surfaced on a (message board), saying Portland refused to pay for surgery for one of its injured players. There are also rumors that Portland hasn't been able to pay their stick supplier, meaning players have had to buy sticks with money out of their own pocket. . . .

“The rumors of players not receiving proper medical treatment casts a dark shadow over the fact that Portland has been plagued by injuries this year.”

As for the stick situation, I have been told by someone close to the situation that the Winter Hawks “haven't paid (our stick supplier) in gawd knows how long so they stopped sending sticks, understandably.”

Meanwhile, I have been told by a reliable source that Undershute was to have had surgery in Portland on Feb. 6. However, that was cancelled and he and his family were told the procedure would need to be done in Canada. Undershute is scheduled to visit a specialist in Calgary on Feb. 29; however, that is only a preliminary visit and there is no date set for surgery.

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The WHL is addressing the situation and Robison was adamant that things are being dealt with now, rather than later.

The WHL also is getting a taste of the power of the Internet. This Portland situation has been festering for a long while now as fans, almost all of them under the cloak of anonymity provided by message boards, have questioned what has been going on in Portland. Some fans, however, have taken the bull by the horns and contacted the WHL office and Robison and, yes, they have used their names.

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D Ryan Aasman, the eighth overall pick in the 2007 bantam draft, has joined the Prince Albert Raiders for the rest of the season. He had been playing for the midget AAA Medicine Hat Big County Energy Tigers, whose season ended Sunday. He had 15 points and 24 penalty minutes with the Tigers. Aasman, who played two games for the Raiders earlier in the season, may play Wednesday against the Blades in Saskatoon. . . . It appears that the Vancouver Giants soon will have another BCHL refugee in their lineup. The BCHL’s Surrey Eagles had suspended F Adam Basford for inappropriate off-ice conduct. While he hasn’t been playing, he has been working out off the ice for the Giants for the last couple of weeks. Basford, 18, had 54 points in 49 games with Surrey. Originally, the Prince George Cougars selected him with the 104th pick of the 2004 bantam draft. . . . Basford will join F Casey Piero-Zabotel (Merritt Centennials) and F Garry Nunn (Victoria Grizzlies) as players who left BCHL teams to join the Giants during this season. . . .

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TUESDAY IN THE WHL:

In Calgary, the Hitmen struck four times on the power play en route to a 7-1 victory over the Regina Pats. . . . The Hitmen (43-16-1-3) have won four of five and continue to lead the Eastern Conference. . . . Regina (36-20-3-2) leads the East Division and had been 2-0 against Calgary. . . . C Brandon Kozun led Calgary with a goal and three assists. . . . Kozun’s linemates also had big nights as Kyle Bortis had two goals and an assist and T.J. Galiardi scored once and set up two. . . . C Jordan Eberle scored Regina’s goal. He is tied for second in the WHL with 36 goals and has at least one goal in 11 of his last 17 games. . . .

In Chilliwack, the Bruins bested the Edmonton Oil Kings in the first meeting between the WHL’s two newest teams. . . . The Oil Kings are in their first season; the Bruins their second. . . . The Bruins (26-27-3-4) ended a three-game losing streak and moved three points ahead of the eighth-place Kamloops Blazers in the Western Conference. . . . The Oil Kings (19-30-4-7) led this one 2-0 in the second period. . . . RW Evan Pighin got the Bruins rolling with a 40-footer late in the second period. . . . LW Mark Santorelli tied it at 8:18 of the third period and C Oscar Moller got the winner at 12:43, his 30th goal of the season. . . . Former Bruins G Alex Archibald turned aside 25 shots, while the Bruins’ Marc Friesen stopped 36. . . . The Bruins now head out into the Prairies on a six-game swing through the East Division. They will be there at the same time as the Blazers. . . .

In Spokane, the Chiefs erased a third-period deficit and beat the Kelowna Rockets, 2-1. . . . The Chiefs (41-13-1-5) are 2-0 versus Kelowna. . . . The Rockets (33-19-2-6) have lost six straight on the road. . . . The Chiefs, now four points behind the Western Conference-leading Tri-City Americans, got third-period goals from C David Rutherford and LW Drayson Bowman to win it. . . . C Colin Long, the WHL scoring leader, scored for Kelowna midway through the first period. . . . Rutherford scored in the PP at 10:31 of the third and Bowman won it with 2:32 left in the period. Bowman has 36 goals, tying him for second in the WHL. . . . In an interesting move, Bowman and his younger brother, Kelowna D Collin, duked it out 10 seconds into the third period. Hmm, wonder if Mom was in attendance? . . . Spokane C Mitch Wahl served Game 2 of a two-game WHL suspension for a match penalty he incurred Friday.

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