Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Ownership transfers on tap today

F Lukáš Zeliska (Prince Albert, 2006-07) has signed a one-year extension with Bordeaux (France, Division 1). This season, he had 38 points, including 13 goals, in 26 games. . . .
G Eetu Laurikainen (Swift Current, 2012-14) has signed  a one-year-plus-option deal with the Espoo Blues (Finland, Liiga). This season with the Broncos, he was 2.90 and .914 in 54 games.
The WHL’s board of governors will meet today in Calgary and is expected to sign off on the transfer of two franchises -- the Prince George Cougars and Regina Pats -- to new ownership groups.
In both instances, the franchises being sold have been under the guidance of long-time owners, the Cougars by Rick Brodsky and the Pats by Diane and Russ Parker, and are being sold to groups, each of which appears to have at least five or six members.
In Prince George, I am told the local businessman Greg Pocock, the front man for the group, is in for 35 per cent, while NHL defencemen Eric Brewer and Dan Hamhuis, both of whom are ex-Cougars, each will own 15 per cent. As yet unnamed partners will share the remaining 35 per cent, with one in for 20 per cent and two others each at 7.5 per cent. The Prince George Citizen has reported that “sources close to the deal say it is worth $7 million.”
In Regina, no one has yet said anything about who will own how much of the Pats. The Queen City Sports and Entertainment Group is led by Anthony Marquart and includes four other Regina-based businessmen in Todd Lumbard, who is a former Brandon Wheat Kings and Pats goaltender, Jason Drummond, and Gavin and Shaun Semple. The Regina Leader-Post has reported that “the price tag is believed to be in the neighbourhood of $7.5 million.”
Earlier this season, Jack, Bob and Debbie Brodsky, Rick’s siblings, sold the Saskatoon Blades to Edmonton-based auto dealer Mike Priestner and his son, Colin. The Saskatoon StarPhoenix has reported that “a source close to the negotiations said the transaction is worth around $9 million.”
If the board of governors approves both transfers today, as it almost certainly will do, it will mean six of the WHL’s 22 teams will have changed hands since the summer of 2007.
None of them has had near the success of the Portland Winterhawks, who were purchased by Calgary-based businessman Bill Gallacher during the summer of 2008.
Prior to Gallacher stepping in, the Winterhawks were worse than abysmal -- they won 17 games in 2006-07 and 11 in 2007-08. The franchise was often thought to have one foot in the grave and another on a banana peel.
In Lethbridge, where the Hurricanes have hit fallen upon hard times and haven‘t appeared in the playoffs since the spring of 2009, WHL commissioner Ron Robison admitted Monday that such challenges aren’t “isolated to Lethbridge.”
He told City Council that there have been times when he “was concerned” whether certain franchises were “going to make it or not.”
One of those franchises, he said, was Portland.
“The Portland one was a great example,” Robison told councillors. “It is privately owned. To the credit of the current ownership . . . (he) had to go in and invest heavily in order to turn that franchise around. Now it is arguably a model franchise within our league.”
It is interesting that Portland, which is into the WHL’s championship final for a fourth straight season, has had great success under Gallacher’s ownership, but no other franchise has tried to follow the plan that got the Winterhawks’ rolling.
While it was common knowledge late in the summer of 2008 that Gallacher was in the process of purchasing the franchise, the sale didn’t close until Oct. 23, well after the season had started. In the meantime, Gallacher, who is believed to have paid Cdn$7.5 million for the franchise, put together new business, management and coaching teams, that included president Doug Piper and general manager/head coach Mike Johnston.
When the deal closed, the new people moved in and the rest is history.
The Winterhawks went 19-48-5 in 2008-09, but followed that up with seasons in which they won 44, 50, 49, 57 and 54 games. Today, they are the WHL’s defending champions.
The Kamloops Blazers had gone from being community-owned to private ownership during the summer of 2007, a year before Portland changed hands. But the new owners in Kamloops chose to maintain the status quo.
So did the Victoria Royals, who were the Chilliwack Bruins until being sold during the summer of 2011.
After the sale, Kamloops struggled through four mediocre seasons before enjoying back-to-back 47-victory seasons and a trip to last season’s Western Conference final. However, the Blazers just completed the worst season in franchise history.
The Royals weren’t good in their first season in Victoria, but then underwent major changes, with Cam Hope coming on board as general manager and Dave Lowry as head coach. They won 35 games in 2012-13 and just completed a season in which they won 48 games and enjoyed the franchise’s first 100-point season.
The Blades’ new owners, meanwhile, maintained the status quo, then brought out the brooms after a 16-victory season. The Priestners have yet to hire a general manager or a coaching staff.
In Regina, no one has indicated what might happen with general manager Chad Lang or the coaching staff, although Marquart, the only one of the group who has spoken with the media, hasn’t even hinted at change.
In Prince George, Pocock hasn’t given any indication what might happen, but there is ample speculation that general manager Dallas Thompson won’t be back. No one from Pocock’s group is believed to have spoken with head coach Mark Holick or assistant coach Jason Becker.
“These things can get turned around but it (doesn’t) happen overnight. It was a process,” Robison told Lethbridge’s City Council. “The plan is the key. We’ve taken the success models, if you will, from other franchises and addressed that with the Hurricanes and have asked them to follow a very similar model to ultimately achieve the kind of success you’re looking for.”
It would seem that owners could do worse than follow the plan used by the model franchise that the Winterhawks have become.
In his appearance before City Council in Lethbridge, WHL commissioner Ron Robison indicated that the process by which the WHL selects host cities for the Memorial Cup tournament may be in for a change.
This occurred after Robison was asked by Councillor Joe Mauro about the chances of Lethbridge ever being selected to play host to a Memorial Cup tournament.
Mauro pointed out that the city has “spent a whole pile of money” on the Enmax Centre.
“Our dream and our goal is to host the Memorial Cup,” Mauro said. “What I’m hearing out there is that we’ll never do it . . . the Memorial Cup will go to a privately-owned team before it’ll ever go to a community-owned team.
“Realistically, do we have a chance of hosting a MC in the near future?”
Robison’s reply:
“Maybe I can tell you a little bit more after our June (annual) meeting because we have some recommendations in front of our board of governors at that time which I think are going to change the course of our selection process for the Memorial Cup.
“I’m a believer that every community that meets the criteria that we have for hosting events of this magnitude should get that opportunity to host the event.
“Quite frankly, my view of it is that it is driven by the quality of the hockey program. It comes back to the hockey program because in order to generate excitement in the community you need a quality team. In the particular case of hosting the Memorial Cup, you need a team that is a championship-calibre team, first and foremost.
“Secondly, then you have to look at why have we gone to certain locations in recent years and why has the World Junior Championship moved to major markets like Toronto and Montreal? It’s because of economics, no question, and it’s because of provincial governments, quite frankly, stepping in and providing significant financial support for those events.
“If I have my way, it’s going to be a hockey-driven decision next time . . . not just the largest venue or the best economic offer that we have on the table.”
Robison pointed out that the Memorial Cup hasn’t been held in Alberta “for more than 40 years.”
“It’s too long in my opinion,” he said. “It’s something that is on our agenda for discussion.”
The Memorial Cup was last held in Alberta in 1974 when the Regina Pats won it in the Calgary Corral. The Red Deer Rebels were thought to be a favourite to play host to the 2013 tournament, but it ended up going to Saskatoon.
The WHL next will play host to the Memorial Cup in 2016. The Vancouver Giants, who were the host team in 2007, have indicated that they are building towards the 2015-16 season and are expected enter a bid.
The Memorial Cup hasn’t been held in a U.S. Division city since 1998 when it was in Spokane.

1. The WHL bantam draft is scheduled for Thursday in Calgary. As usual, you won’t be able to read about it on this blog. Instead, you will want to spend the day with Alan Caldwell, over at Small Thoughts At Large. He assures me that he is ready with all the statistics and info you might want.

2. If you haven’t seen this right here, it’s worth a read. Marcus Thompson II of the San Jose Mercury News reported on his blog that the Golden State Warriors had a plan to boycott Tuesday night’s NBA playoff game if commissioner Adam Silver had gone soft on Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

3. I was told on Tuesday that Tyler Kuntz is soon to be named the new head coach of the UBC Thunderbirds men’s hockey team. Kuntz, who is from Regina, just completed his sixth season as an assistant coach with the Thunderbirds. . . . A defenceman during his playing days, Kuntz played five seasons at UBC. . . . He will succeed Milan Dragicevic, who was fired in March after 12 seasons as the team’s head coach.

4. For the first time in QMJHL history, both semifinal series went seven games, and both were decided last night. . . . The Val-d’Or Foreurs went into Halifax, where they had won the first two games, and beat the Mooseheads, the defending Memorial Cup champions, 3-2. Val-d’Or trailed 2-1 after the first period and won it with two second-period scores. F Maxime Presseault broke a 2-2 tie with his first goal at 13:59, while G Antoine Bibeau, who was acquired from the Charlottetown Islanders for a first-round draft pick (along with two other picks) in December, stopped 39 shots. . . . Meanwhile, in Baie-Comeau, the Drakkar rode two first-period goals to a 2-1 victory over the Blainville-Boisbriand Aramada, 2-1. . . . The final will open Friday in Val-d’Or. . . . Neate Sager of Yahoo! Sports has more on the two QMJHL games right here.

5. F Mike Baird of the North Bay Battalion has been hit with a 20-game suspension by the OHL for physical abuse of an official during a playoff game on April 10. . . . Baird, in his first OHL season, missed six games while under indefinite suspension and won’t play in the OHL final which opens Thursday with the Battalion in Guelph to play the Storm. . . . Baird, who turned 17 on March 25, had one assist and 27 penalty minutes in 28 regular-season games.

6. The NHL playoffs will feature three Game 7s tonight. I’m thinking there will be a lot of unanswered phone calls in homes across North American tonight and a lot of wives going shopping.

7. I’m thinking my friend Brad Hornung will be in front of a TV set tonight, because there isn’t a bigger hockey fan anywhere. It’s hard to believe that more than 27 years have passed us by since he was left a quadriplegic after an unfortunate incident during a WHL game in Regina. . . . The one thing that wasn’t damaged that evening was his spirit. . . . You owe it to yourself to read this story right here, by Austin M. Davis of the Regina Leader-Post.

THE FOURTH ROUND (best-of-seven; all times local):
WHL final, for the Ed Chynoweth Cup
(x - if necessary)
(All games televised live by Shaw)
(All games televised by Root Sports -- Game 2 live, others on delayed basis)
PORTLAND (2, West) vs. Edmonton (1, East)
Season series: Portland, 0-0-1; Edmonton, 1-0-0.
Saturday: Edmonton at Portland, 7 p.m. (Moda Center)
Sunday: Edmonton at Portland, 5 p.m. (Moda Center)
Tuesday: Portland at Edmonton, 7 p.m.
Wednesday, May 7: Portland at Edmonton, 7 p.m.
x-Friday, May 9: Edmonton at Portland, 7 p.m. (TBA)
x-Sunday, May 11: Portland at Edmonton, 4 p.m.
x-Monday, May 12: Edmonton at Portland, 7 p.m. (TBA)
Portland: None.
Edmonton: None.
No game scheduled.

From Neate Sager (@neatebuzzthenet) of Yahoo! Sports: “Population of the cities of 6 teams left in #WHL, #OHL and #LHJMQ playoffs: 1.16 million; 600,000; 141,000; 64,000; 33,265; 28,789.”
One more from Sager: “Both #LHJMQ cities could fit inside North Bay, those 3 fit inside Guelph; those 4 fit inside Portland & all 5 could fit inside Edmonton.”

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