Saturday, December 1, 2012

The WHL and Portland, Day 3 . . .

T-shirts bearing this graphic were available at the Portland
Winterhawks' home game on Friday night.
Someone contacted me on Friday, asking if I could “ever recall a WHL team getting into a PR battle with the league like this before?”
My immediate reaction was, uhh, NO!
But then I got to thinking . . . and there was this time in January 1975.
Ed Chynoweth was the president of the WHL at the time. Pat Ginnell was the owner and head coach of the Victoria Cougars.
The Cougars had been involved in back-to-back road games with the Winnipeg Clubs and Brandon Wheat Kings and – get this! – there had been a bench-clearing brawl in each game. Yes. They dumped the benches in each game. Imagine that! (Were that to happen today, there might be year-long suspensions and it would take the on-ice officials two days to figure it all out.)
When the dust had settled, Chynoweth hit Ginnell with a three-game suspension and a $1,000 fine.
Ginnell said he wouldn’t pay the fine.
Chynoweth set a deadline and said if the fine wasn’t paid a scheduled game that was to have the Kamloops Chiefs play in Victoria the next night would be cancelled.
Just hours before the deadline, Ginnell was still saying he wouldn’t pay the fine “but I suspect there will be a game Tuesday.”
And then Ginnell told Dale Eisler of the Regina Leader-Post:
“Chynoweth has no business threatening me that way. Nobody closes down a business because one employee has done something wrong. That, in effect, is what Chynoweth wants to do. It becomes a matter of principle. I’m not going to pay the fine until I can appeal to the board of governors.”
The Cougars also were hit with a six-game suspension for defenceman Kim Clackson, while forward Eric Sanderson was suspended indefinitely and defenceman Larry Gloeckner got a one-game suspension.
“What did Winnipeg and Brandon get? Nothing,” Ginnell continued. “I gues sour team must have been fighting with itself.
“This is not a National League and a $1,000 fine is utterly ridiculous. If this is the way it’s going to continue, I might as well hire a coach. I’ve got enough to do as owner and manager of the club.”
Ginnell had been fined and suspended for what Chynoweth said was a lack of control over his team.
“I’ve coached teams for nine years and I’ve got about 50 guys playing in the National League,” Ginnell said. “I must be able to control something.”
Ginnell then added that he was thinking of hitting Chynoweth with “the quickest injunction in legal history if he tries to cancel the game.”
And so what was the outcome?
Well, for one thing, Chynoweth was mostly silent through all of this.
Not long after talking with Eisler, Ginnell informed Del Wilson of Regina, who was then the chairman of the board of governors, that he intended to pay the fine but that he would appeal it.
The game between the Cougars and Chiefs went ahead as scheduled.
The outcome of the appeal has been lost in the annals of history. But how do you think it turned out?
Kerry Eggers, who has been writing in the Portland area for a long, long time, wasn’t able to get anyone from the WHL office to return his phone calls. (Did he really end up speaking with an intern? Seriously?)
So the Portland Tribune columnist scorched the WHL’s earth with an open letter to the commissioner and it’s right here.
Read this and it makes one wish the WHL would re-start that Ask The Commissioner feature on Facebook. Wouldn’t that be fun?
If you haven’t heard it, Ron Robison, the WHL commissioner, came out of the cone of silence Friday and went on the Damage Control Tour. He started with Darren Millard, Doug McLean and Scott Morrison on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central at Noon.
That piece of audio is right here.
On my way home last night, I was listening to WHL commissioner Ron Robison on Vancouver-CKNW’s Sportstalk with Dan Russell.
And the whole time I was thinking, “If Mr. Commissioner had only done this on Wednesday a lot of what has happened over the latter half of the week could have been avoided.”
Because after listening to a couple of Robison’s interviews, you don’t have to agree with the discipline handed the Winterhawks, but at least there now is an explanation.
That interview is on a podcast (Hour 3) right here.
Jordan Shifman of CBC Sports takes a look at the whole situation right here.
Ed Willes of the Vancouver Province talked to some “sources” and filed a column in which Bob Strumm’s name surfaces. That piece is right here.
The Oregonian’s Paul Buker went to Friday’s game in which the host Winterhawks dumped the Seattle Thunderbirds, 5-2. Buker’s report is right here.
And a Free Mike Johnston page is up and running on Facebook. It is right here.
If you have read most of what has been posted here over the last few days, you should have be able to put together the pieces and figure out why the Winterhawks’ paid such a steep price for what might seem like minor transgressions. (You may also be surprised at the number of anonymous sources in a lot of this, but that's what happens when the WHL commissioner places a gag order on everyone but himself.)
All that’s missing, it seems, is for us to hear from Winterhawks owner Bill Gallacher, who has been silent, at least publicly, through all of this.
If you are wondering why that is, it may be because he never really has played an active role in the day-to-day operation of this franchise. He rarely, if ever, attends WHL meetings, so apparently hardly even knows the other owners and governors.

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