Saturday, February 23, 2013

The WHL must have felt some chest pains after seeing the headline — Why the WHL would work in Winnipeg; multiple franchises in trouble — on a Kelly Friesen-penned piece at Yahoo! Sports on Friday morning.
If you haven’t seen that piece, it’s right here.
NHLFriesen’s story doesn’t break much new ground, as it speculates that major junior hockey could work in the Manitoba capital with the city’s NHL franchise as the owner. That, of course, would be a business plan similar to Calgary and Edmonton where the Flames and Oilers control WHL franchises.Interestingly, Winnipeg has a rather dismal history of supporting junior hockey, from the junior A Manitoba Junior League, which now has just one team in the city, to the WHL. Last summer, the MJHL’s Winnipeg Saints were sold and relocated to Virden, where the franchise now operates as the Oil Capitals.
Winnipeg, at one time or another, was home to the WHL’s Jr. Jets (1967-73), Clubs (1973-76), Monarchs (1976-77) and Warriors (1980-84). The Jr. Jets, under the ownership of the legendary Ben Hatskin, had some near-glory days, but those were a long, long time ago.
Jim Toth of Winnipeg radio station CJOB, who has connections in the Kootenays from having spent some time working in the area, broke the news last weekend that True North Sports & Entertainment, which owns the NHL’s Jets, had been in WHL team logotalks with a WHL franchise about a possible sale and relocation.
Friesen, in his story, writes: “Multiple sources believe True North Sports and Entertainment recently kicked tires at the Kootenay Ice. The two sides apparently didn’t go far in negotiations with Ice owner Jeff Chynoweth asking for a much higher price than the Jets' ownership group is willing to pay.”
Would Chynoweth sell the Ice? Well, I would suggest that the Ice isn’t for sale but, as they say in the business world, everything has its price.
Furthermore, Jeff Hollick, the radio voice of the Ice, has reported on his blog that the Ice’s attendance “has dropped almost 450 per game this season over last.” According to Hollick, that leaves the Ice’s average attendance at 2,350.
The Ice, of course, signed a 15-year lease with the facility in Cranbrook in January 2009.
When I contacted Chynoweth on Thursday night via text about his having spoken with TNSE, he replied: “No truth. 100% we will be in Cranbrook next (season).”
Friesen also points to the Lethbridge Hurricanes, Prince George Cougars and Swift Current Broncos as franchises that are struggling financially.
Lethbridge and Swift Current both are community-owned, meaning that the franchises are controlled by shareholders within their cities. Neither of those is likely to be sold, unless there is an accompanying guarantee that the franchise won’t be relocated. The people in those communities recognize that once the team is gone, it’s gone.
As for the Cougars, owner Rick Brodsky has indicated time and time again that he has no intentions of selling his franchise.
Were I in the market for a WHL franchise, and you can bet that TNSE is at least exploring its options, I would be placing a call to Bill Gallacher, the owner of the Portland Winterhawks.
There has been ample speculation that Gallacher is quite interested in purchasing the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes and relocating that franchise to Portland.
If TNSE hasn’t already done it, perhaps a call would be in order to ask Gallacher: If you do end up owning an NHL franchise, would you be interested in selling your WHL franchise?
F Frederik Tiffels, a German who was the Moose Jaw Warriors’ first selection in the CHL’s 2012 import draft, has committed to the NCAA route, saying he will join the Western Michigan University Broncos, who play out of Kalamazoo. . . . The Broncos head coach is former NHL head coach Andy Murray, who also speaks German. . . . Tiffels, who is from Cologne, has been playing in the USHL with the Muskegon Lumberjacks. Tiffels, 17, has 20 points, including 18 assists, in 36 games. He also played for Germany at the World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia.
Former WHL G Kurtis Mucha earned the shutout as the Alberta Golden Bears opened a best-of-three Canada West playoff series with a 4-0 victory over the visiting Calgary Dinos. . . . Mucha is riding a shutout streak of 204 minutes 20 seconds. . . . The teams play again tonight in Edmonton.
The visiting Evansville IceMen scored a 5-4 ECHL victory over the Florida Everblades last night. The game went to the circus and it went 21 rounds. That’s right. A 21-round circus. . . . There were 42 shooters and five goals. Hey, Dan Russell, we can only imagine how exciting that must have been!

The matchups, if the WHL playoffs opened today:
Edmonton (1) vs. Kootenay (8)
Saskatoon (2) vs. Swift Current (7)
Calgary (3) vs. Medicine Hat (6)
Prince Albert (4) vs. Red Deer (5)

Portland (1) vs. Everett (8)
Kelowna (2) vs. Seattle (7)
Kamloops (3) vs. Victoria (6)
Tri-City (4) vs. Spokane (5)
A reminder: If you’re on Twitter and a hockey fan, you should be following WHL Facts at @WHLFacts . . .

In Saskatoon, the Blades set a franchise record as they won their 14th straight game, beating the Brandon Wheat Kings, 7-4. . . . The previous record of 13 had been held by the 1987-88 Blades. . . .  Saskatoon is atop the East Division, five points ahead of the Prince Albert Raiders with each team having 11 games to play. . . . Saskatoon F Matej Stransky scored three times in the first period and later added an assist. He‘s got 36 goals. His NHL rights belong to the Dallas Stars – he was a sixth-round selection in 2011 – and Les Jackson, the Stars’ director of scouting and player development, was in the house. . . . Former Wheat Kings F Brenden Walker, who now is the Blades’ captain, had a goal, his 24th, and two assists. . . . Saskatoon F Josh Nicholls scored his 40th goal, into an empty net. . . . Saskatoon D Darren Dietz scored twice. He leads all WHL defencemen in goals (19). . . . Brandon G Corbin Boes, who had been sidelined with a knee injury since Jan. 25, came on in relief of starter Curtis Honey. . . . Brandon D Nick Walters was ejected with a headshot major at 10:34 of the first period. . . . Saskatoon F Nathan Burns had his nine-game assist streak snapped. . . . The Wheat Kings are 13 points out of a playoff spot with 10 games to play. . . .

In Moose Jaw, D Morgan Rielly’s 12th goal stood up as the winner as the Warriors beat the Regina Pats, 4-3. . . . Rielly’s goal, at 6:31 of the third, gave the Warriors a 4-2 lead. . . . Regina F Morgan Klimchuk later scored his 31st. . . . Moose Jaw F Brayden Point had a goal, his 15th, and two assists. . . . Moose Jaw F Jordan Wyton, who has missed a lot of the season with concussion-related issues, scored his fifth goal of the season. He hadn’t played since Dec. 29 and was playing in only his fourth game since Nov. 10. . . . Moose Jaw D Dallas Valentine is out indefinitely with what Matthew Gourlie of the Moose Jaw Times-Herald reports is a “fracture to part of the growth place in his hip.” . . . Gourlie also reported that D Spencer Morse, whom the Warriors had sent home for disciplinary reasons two weeks ago, has returned. He didn’t play last night. . . . The Warriors are 10th in the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of the Pats, but nine points out of the last playoff spot. . . .

In Swift Current, F Miles Koules scored in the fourth round of the circus to give the Medicine Hat Tigers a 2-1 victory over the Broncos. . . . Swift Current F Adam Lowry scored his 40th goal at 8:56 of the first period, via the PP. . . . Medicine Hat got its goal from F Logan McVeigh, his 16th, via the PP, at 4:43 of the second. . . . Broncos G Eetu Laurikainen stopped 39 shots through OT, while Medicine Hat’s Marek Langhamer stopped 28 shots. . . . The Tigers now are sixth in the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of the Broncos. . . .

In Calgary, F Brooks Macek scored the only goal in the circus and that gave the Hitmen a 6-5 victory over the Prince Albert Raiders. . . . The Hitmen won their 40th game of the season and clinched a playoff spot on head coach Mike Williamson’s 40th birthday. . . . Calgary F Brady Brassart didn’t take long running his goal streak to five games – he scored his 26th goal 10 seconds into the game. . . . F Leon Draisaitl of the Raiders scored twice, giving him 18. . . . Calgary D Jayden Rissling forced OT with his fifth goal at 17:39 of the third. . . . Calgary is seven points behind the Central Division-leading Edmonton Oil Kings. . . . The Raiders, who led the East Division for so long, now are in danger of losing home-ice advantage in the first round. They are tied for fourth in the Eastern Conference with the hard-charging Red Deer Rebels. . . .

In Lethbridge, G Patrik Bartosak turned aside 32 shots as the Red Deer Rebels beat the Hurricanes, 2-0. . . . Bartosak has three shutouts this season and four in his career. . . . F Dominik Volek scored his ninth goal for Red Deer, via the PP, at 10:03 of the first. . . . F Turner Elson got his 20th into an empty net at 19:59 of the third. . . . The Hurricanes lost F Axel Blomqvist with a back injury during the first period. He was taken to hospital at the time. . . . The Rebels are tied with the Prince Albert Raiders for fourth in the Eastern Conference. Each team has 11 games remaining. . . . The Hurricanes are two points behind the eighth-place Kootenay Ice. . . .

In Prince George, F Ty Rattie scored twice and added an assist as the Portland Winterhawks beat the Cougars, 6-2. . . . Rattie has 37 goals. . . . Portland F Brendan Leipsic, the WHL’s leading point man, had two assists, while linemate Nic Petan, who is second, had a goal, his WHL-leading 43rd, and an assist. . . . Portland G Brendan Burke stopped 24 shots in earning his 20th victory. . . . Both Portland goaltenders now have won at least 20 games. . . . Prince George F Zach Pochiro was unsuccessful on a third-period penalty shot. . . . The Winter hawks (50-9-3) are the first CHL team to 50 victories. . . . Portland D Troy Rutkowski scored his 19th goal, moving him into a tie with Saskatoon’s Darren Dietz for most goals by a defenceman. Dietz had gotten to 19 earlier in the evening. . . . The Winterhawks also set a franchise record with their 25th road victory of the season. . . . The Cougars remain three points out of the Western Conference’s final playoff spot, which is held by the Everett Silvertips. . . .

In Spokane, F Mike Aviani scored twice to help the Chiefs get past the Edmonton Oil Kings, 6-4. . . . Aviani has 28 goals. . . . Spokane D Brenden Kichton picked up three assists. . . . Edmonton F Cole Benson scored Edmonton’s first three goals, giving him six. It was his first WHL hat trick. . . . The Oil Kings cut the deficit to 5-4 on D Keegan Lowe’s 14th goal, a PP score, at 10:13 of the third. Edmonton then went on the PP at 17:36 but gave up a shorthanded goal to F Liam Stewart at 18:35. . . . Stewart has 11 goals. . . . The Chiefs were 3-for-5 on the PP and scored twice while shorthanded. . . . The Chiefs are fifth in the Western Conference, one point behind the Tri-City Americans. . . . The Oil Kings are second in the overall standings, but now are 12 points behind Portland. . . .

In Kennewick, Wash., F Justin Feser and F Jesse Mychan each had two goals and two assists to lead the Tri-City Americans to a 6-2 victory over the Everett Silvertips. . . . Feser, who was playing in his 339th career game, has 37 goals; Mychan has 15. . . . Everett has lost a franchise-record 11 straight games. . . . Tri-City G Troy Trombley won his fourth game in his fourth straight start. Trombley, who was a late cut by the Silvertips in training camp, stopped 23 shots. . . . “As far as it goes, this is the highlight of my career,” Trombley told Annie Fowler of the Tri-City Herald. “I haven’t had an opportunity like this (in) forever. I can show everyone what I can do, especially Everett — they didn’t want me.” . . . The Americans were 3-for-5 on the PP. . . . Tri-City F Malte Stromwall had three assists. . . . Everett D Austin Adam, back in the lineup after missing 14 games as he battled a concussion and mononucleosis, scored his first goal and had an assist. . . . The Americans have won four in a row. . . . Tri-City F Tyson Dallman (left leg) departed 11 seconds into the game and didn’t return. . . . The Americans are fourth in the Western Conference, one point ahead of the Spokane Chiefs. . . . The two arch-rivals may indeed be headed for a first-round clash. . . .

In Victoria, the Kelowna Rockets scored five times in the second period and went on to an 8-3 victory over the Royals. . . . F Myles Bell had two goals, giving him 34, and two assists for Kelowna. . . . The teams were tied 1-1 going into the second period. . . . The Royals took 100 of the 174 penalty minutes handed out by referees Jeff Ingram and Brett Iverson. . . . The Rockets were 3-for-7 on the PP. . . . F Jamie Crooks scored his 30th goal for the Royals, who have lost five straight. . . . The Royals are sixth in the Western Conference, three points behind Spokane. . . . Kelowna leads the B.C. Division by three points over the Kamloops Blazers and has closed to within a point of Edmonton, which is second in the overall standings. . . .

In Vancouver, G Cole Cheveldave stopped 24 shots as the Kamloops Blazers beat the Giants, 6-0. . . . Cheveldave has four shutouts this season and eight in his career. . . . Kamloops F Brendan Ranford opened the scoring 10 seconds into the game. . . . F Colin Smith scored his 38th goal and added an assist, while F Cole Ully got his 20th goal. . . . The Giants lost D Wes Vannieuwenhuizen with a boarding major and game misconduct for a hit on F JC Lipon at 13:37 of the second period. . . . Kamloops took 66 of the game’s 121 penalty minutes. . . . Kamloops F Brendan Ranford had a goal and an assist. He’s got 20 points in his last 11 games. . . . The Blazers, who have won eight of 10, are three points behind Kelowna. . . . Each team has 10 games remaining and they will play each other three more times, with two of those games scheduled for Kamloops.
F Jordan Wyton, Moose Jaw
D Devan Fafard, Red Deer
D Michal Plutnar, Tri-City
D Kolton Dixon, Victoria

D Nick Walters, Brandon (major)
D Griffin Reinhart, Edmonton
F Mitch Holmberg, Spokane
F Austin Carroll, Victoria
D Kolton Dixon, Victoria

From Saskatoon Blades F Josh Nicholls (@Jnicks20): “What’s that Saskatoon? You want @blades hockey to break a record on home ice? . . . Sure I think we could do that for ya #14straight #heater”
From writer Kelly Friesen (@KellyFriesen) of Yahoo! Sports: “#WHL isn’t allowing Mike Johnston to speak to the media . . . the league hasn’t handled that situation very well, to say the least.”

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