Thursday, February 20, 2014

OHL adjusts player benefits; was it a gaggeroo?

DELD Jeff Woywitka (Red Deer, 1999-2003) has signed a one-year extension with the Augsburger Panther (Germany, DEL). He has eight points, two of them goals, in 30 games this season.

Swiss-NLADarrell Romuld of CTV in Regina tweeted Thursday afternoon that Pats “defenceman Jesse Zgraggen has signed a 2 year deal with Ambri-Piotta of the Swiss elite league starting next year.” . . . Zgraggen, 20, is from Lethbridge. He began his WHL career with the Victoria Royals and was moved to the Calgary Hitmen last season. The Hitmen dealt him to Regina early this season. He has 21 points, four of them goals, in 42 games with the Pats. In his career, he has 62 points, including 12 goals, in 246 games.
Sunaya Sapurji of Yahoo! Canada reported Thursday afternoon that the OHL is making changes to its player benefit packages.
Sapurji writes: “Yahoo Canada has learned that the two most significant amendments to its current program for players focuses on the OHL’s education packages and a new monthly reimbursement plan – covering a number of items like gas, clothing and other incidentals like food – for up to $470. OHL commissioner David Branch, said the initiatives were ratified by the league’s board of governors in August and are now being implemented.”
The biggest news involves giving players who don’t sign NHL contracts another 12 months to decide on using their education packages.
The full report is right here.
From a WHL perspective, it is especially interesting that the OHL also is moving to what Sapjurji refers to as a “reimbursement plan” that involves money to be used for such things as cell phone bills.
As well, “teams will also give each player maximum allowance of $1,000 to put towards their summer training – both on and off the ice. It's another move for the betterment of the players and one that helps relieve some of the financial burdens on parents.”
You may recall that cell phone bills for captains and offseason training expenses were part of the scandal that enveloped the WHL and the Portland Winterhawks in November 2012.
With the OHL having made these moves, you know the WHL won’t be far behind. You have to wonder, though, just how the small-market teams will find room in their budgets to cover even more expenses when new revenue streams are few and far between and attendance isn’t showing much, if any, of an upswing.
It isn’t often that anyone in the junior hockey world criticizes Hockey Canada.
That wasn’t the case Thursday.
First, Garth Snow, the general manager of the NHL’s New York Islanders, expressed outrage after his team lost F John Tavares for the remainder of this season. Tavares suffered a knee injury in Canada’s 2-1 victory over Latvia at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi on Wednesday.
"Are the IIHF or IOC going to reimburse our season-ticket holders now?" Snow asked rhetorically, according to a report in New York's Newsday.
"It's a joke. They want all the benefits from NHL players in Olympics and don't want to pay when our best player gets hurt. . . . We lost our best player and he wasn’t playing for us.”
Later in the day, Dallas Thompson, the general manager of the WHL’s Prince George Cougars, tweeted: “Feeling Garth Snow's feeling. Dana Tyrell was lost for a year. Hockey Canada does not feel for you or the shit u have to deal with.”
Obviously, Thompson still feels the sting of a knee injury suffered by Tyrell prior to the 2009 world junior championship. Tyrell had 40 points, including 19 goals, in 30 games with the Cougars when he left to join Canada’s national junior team. However, Tyrell suffered a season-ending knee injury in a pre-tournament game against Sweden and never played another game for the Cougars, who ultimately were a first-round playoff casualty in the spring of 2009.
It would seem that Thompson hasn’t forgotten.
If you’re interested in more on Matt Marotta, the peewee hockey player from Prince George, there’s more right here in a story written by Andrea Johnson and Ted Clarke of the Prince George Citizen. Yes, the Prince George Minor Hockey Association is looking into what happened. The team’s head coach chose not to comment.
A thought or two about a couple of WHL goaltenders, both of whom got some heat in the first half of this season . . .
Taran Kozun, a 19-year-old from Nipawin, Sask., opened the season as the Kamloops Blazers’ go-to guy. In 29 appearances, he was 5-19-3, 3.95, .897.
In January, Kozun was dealt to the Seattle Thunderbirds. In 14 games with Seattle, he is 11-3-0, 1.75, .944. Oh, and he has put up four shutouts, which is four more than he had in Kamloops.
With Kamloops, Kozun was seeing 38.2 shots per game; with Seattle that number is 31.1.
The Thunderbirds have allowed 203 goals, which doesn’t give then a stellar defensive record, but it is better than the 253 goals that have been surrendered by the Blazers. Still, I think it’s safe to assume that Kozun sees not only fewer shots but fewer shots from prime scoring areas in Seattle than he did in Kamloops.
Meanwhile, there’s Corbin Boes, a 20-year-old from Saskatoon. He was 5-24-4, 4.11, .900 with the Lethbridge Hurricanes when he was dealt to the Portland Winterhawks for whom he now is 8-0-1, 2.73, .908.
I think it’s safe to say that Boes’ .900 save percentage with Lethbridge, the poorest defensive team in the WHL, may be one of the most surprising numbers in the WHL this season.
With Lethbridge, Boes was seeing 41.1 shots per game. That number with Portland is 29.6. Granted, Boes’ time in Portland presents us with a small sample size, just 550 minutes over nine appearances. But he has taken over the No. 1 job with Brendan Burke out with an illness.
The bottom line to all of this is that you have to think Kozun and Boes both feel as though they were January lottery winners. It will be interesting to watch both these goaltenders to see how they fare in the playoffs. One thing is for sure . . . you know they will be hungry.
The Brandon Wheat Kings will be without D Colton Waltz for their next two games as he completes what has been set as a three-game suspension. That is for an unpenalized hit on Regina Pats F Dryden Hunt on Feb. 17 in Regina. Hunt is out indefinitely with a suspected brain injury. Waltz will miss home games Friday (Calgary Hitmen) and Saturday (Moose Jaw Warriors). . . . Meanwhile, Lethbridge Hurricanes F Carter Amson ended up with a two-game sentence for a checking-from-behind major against the Oil Kings in Edmonton. He will complete that suspension on Saturday when the Hurricanes meet the host Medicine Hat Tigers.
The Everett Silvertips have added G Nik Amundrun to their roster and say that he is expected to stay with them for the remainder of the season. A third-round selection in the 2012 bantam draft, Amundrud has spent ample time with the Silvertips but has yet to make his WHL debut. He will be in uniform this weekend as Everett plays three games in three nights – at home to the Seattle Thunderbirds on Friday and the Portland Winterhawks on Sunday, and at the Tri-City Americans on Saturday. . . . Amundrud, from Melville, Sask., was 9-2-1, 2.81 with the North East Wolfpack, a midget AA team in Saskatchewan Centre Four Hockey League.
Nick Patterson of the Everett Herald has his take: “Amundrud's presence is required because goaltender Daniel Cotton and winger Darcy DeRoose remain suspended by the team. The duo was suspended indefinitely last week for violating team rules, and their suspensions remain indefinite. Amundrud being called up for the remainder of the season suggests those indefinite suspensions may be lasting a while longer.”
With Cotton suspended, the Silvertips are riding Austin Lotz.
Greg Gatto (Portland, Regina, Spokane, Brandon, 1990-92) was fired earlier this week after nine seasons as head coach of the U of Lethbridge Pronghorns.
The Pronghorns were 80-143-20 and made three playoff appearances under Gatto, who also played five seasons at the U of Lethbridge. This season, they went 4-21-3 and missed the Canada West playoffs. . . . The search for a replacement started immediately.
Some thoughts from one observer on THE women’s hockey game . . .
Yes, the Canadian women won, but they certainly were the beneficiaries of some breaks, so let’s not have any whining if the Canadian men don’t get any today. It could be that the hockey gods already have spoken. . . . Canada’s first goal -- it was Brianne Jenner’s first point of the tournament -- went in off the right knee of American defender Kacey Bellamy. . . . At 2-1, Kelli Stack of the U.S., with a long clearance, hit the left post of a vacated Canadian net. Had that puck been an inch to the right, the game would have been over with 1:25 left to play. . . . Prior to the equalizer, Canadian F Marie-Philip Poulin made a tremendous play along the boards on the left side of the offensive zone that allowed her side to maintain possession. . . . Canadian head coach Kevin Dineen showed absolutely no emotion when Poulin tied the score. Makes you wonder how much fun these coaches have in games such as this one. . . . As for the penalties in OT: Joy Tottman, a British referee in her third Olympics, had no choice but to call Canada’s Catherine Ward for cross-checking at 6:09. The slashing call on American Jocelyn Lamoureux -- CBC-TV play-by-play man Mark Lee referred to her as the “chippy American forward” -- six seconds later was a call to be made early in a game when you are trying to set the tone, not in overtime after numerous infractions have been ignored. . . . Which brings us to the breakaway by Canada’s Hayley Wickenheiser and the cross-checking call on the U.S.’s Hilary Knight. Well, it wasn’t cross-checking; calling it that makes you wonder if Tottman saw what actually happened. Knight was in the process of catching Wickenheiser from behind. In striding, Wickenheiser’s left heel struck Knight’s right leg, then both of their right legs bumped. Wickenheiser went down and Canada, practically en masse, screamed: PENALTY SHOT! . . . I don’t think it should even have been a penalty, considering that Wickenheiser’s right leg initiated the original contact. . . . No matter. On the ensuing PP, the U.S. twice had possession of the puck in its zone but wasn’t able to get it all the way down the ice. Instead, the Canadians regained possession in the neutral zone, set up in the offensive zone and Poulin pumped home the winner. She also had two goals four years ago when Canada beat the U.S. in the championship game in Vancouver. She is our golden girl, no doubt about that. . . . Whatever you do, don’t forget about the contribution made by Canadian G Shannon Szabados, whose play in the first period prevented the Americans from running away with this one early. . . . You couldn’t pay me enough to officiate women’s hockey games because of the rule against bodychecking. That rule puts the referee in a no-win situation because he/she has to decide what is/isn’t a bodycheck. . . . The bottom line, however, is that the U.S. had a 2-0 lead with fewer than four minutes remaining and couldn’t hold it. . . . Michael Wilbon of ESPN’s PTI offered: “This felt like a gaggeroo.”
THURSDAY’S WHL GAMES (all times local):
No games scheduled.
FRIDAY’S WHL GAMES (all times local):
Medicine Hat at Moose Jaw, 7 p.m.
Victoria at Regina, 7 p.m.
Calgary at Brandon, 7:30 p.m.
Swift Current at Edmonton, 7 p.m.
Spokane at Kootenay, 7 p.m.
Vancouver at Red Deer, 7 p.m.
Kamloops at Portland, 7 p.m.
Kelowna at Prince George, 7 p.m.
Prince Albert at Tri-City, 7:05 p.m.
Seattle at Everett, 7:35 p.m.

From CellPhones@PlaneTix (@hawkeyblog): “Upon reading @sunayas write about the #OHL teams now being able to pay the kids cell phone bills & cover offseason training . . . I'd sure like those 1st rounders back for the @pdxwinterhawks. Paging @CHLHockey commish Branch: can you help a guy out? #whl”

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