Thursday, June 19, 2014

Rebels: To bid, or not to bid . . .

F Chris St. Jacques (Medicine Hat, 1999-2004) signed a one-year contract with Sterzing/Vipiteno (Italy, Serie A). Last season, with the Bietigheim Steelers (Germany, DEL2), he had 61 points, including 24 goals, in 50 games.
If a WHL team is interested in playing host to the 2016 Memorial Cup tournament, it has to make its intentions known by July 15.
The Vancouver Giants have made it clear that they are interested, and the Red Deer Rebels also have an interest.
However, Brent Sutter, the owner, general manager and head coach of the Rebels, has told Greg Meachem, the sports editor of the Red Deer Advocate, that he is testing the wind before becoming fully involved.
You could say it’s a textbook case of ‘once burned, twice shy’ if you wish.
“When you’re a mid-sized franchise, you need to know where the league is at with the dynamics of having to compete against large-market teams,” Sutter told Meachem. “When you look at the bid for the (2013) Memorial Cup, we put a lot of time into that — eight months worth — and a lot of people were pretty disappointed when we didn’t get it. People not just in our organization, but (in) the community and the province.
“The due diligence is really important. We never had an opportunity to host it the last time simply because we got outbid by a team that had a 14,000-seat arena and with all provincial money behind it. Their bid was significantly higher than our bid, but we had gone as far as we could for a midsize-market team.”
The 2013 Memorial Cup was played in Saskatoon, the Blades winning the right to play host to it with a bid that included a guarantee backed by the Saskatchewan government.
As Meachem wrote, “The (Rebels) will not bid . . . if a large-market team enters the process with financial backing that’s impossible to match, unless there’s an understanding that money will not be the determining bottom line.”
As for Red Deer’s bid for the 2013 event, Meachem added: “The Rebels felt at the time that their bid turned out to be a colossal waste of human resources when the Blades’ package featured perhaps $1 million more in financial guarantees and a 14,000-seat facility to boot.
“And so, it came down to dollars and cents, with the majority of league governors voting for Saskatoon and a larger windfall as their respective share of the pot that was the Blades’ financial guarantee/potential tournament profits.”
Interestingly, WHL commissioner Ron Robison appeared in front of Lethbridge city council on April 28 and, when asked about that city’s chances of playing host to the Memorial Cup at some point in the future, he replied:
“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.”
So what happened at that annual meeting last week in Vancouver?
Sutter told Meachem that the topic was discussed and, Meachem wrote, “Sutter came away with the feeling that at least some governors would be willing to make the almighty dollar a lower priority in the final selection process.”
“Our (2015-16) team should be good and that has to be a priority in the selection process,” Sutter told Meachem. “And that’s where the dynamics lie. Hockey should always be the No. 1 priority — what type of team will you have and will you have the assets to get your team to where it needs to be?
“I know the league office certainly doesn’t want to see the Memorial Cup always staged in a large market. It’s not good for the league, it’s just not a positive thing. That being said, I fully respect all the governors and their mindsets.
“I just have to have more of a comfortable feeling from the league. I just need to get a feeling from (Robison) that yes, Red Deer could have an opportunity to host.
“As long as we have a chance then I have no problem with it, but to do the work that we and Kelowna did the last time and then lose to a financial bid that blew us out of the water . . . . it’s tough to compete in that environment and I just don’t want to put people through it if at the end of the day you have no chance.
“We’ll see what happens in the next two to three weeks, but as of now our intentions are to bid for the 2016 Memorial Cup.”
The Memorial Cup hasn’t been played in Alberta since 1974 when the Regina Pats won a three-team tournament that was played in the Calgary Corral.

NHL1. Followers of the Portland Winterhawks may be sweating a bit as the Vancouver Canucks’ field of coaching candidates narrows. There are rumblings from some corners of the Vancouver media that Willie Desjardins is the leading candidate to replace the fired John Tortorella. However, Desjardins, the former Medicine Hat Tigers’ GM/head coach who guided the Texas Stars to the AHL title, may well end up with the Pittsburgh Penguins. . . . According to a tweet from Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada: “PIT interviewed him by phone Wednesday, now bringing him in. That's a quick-moving romance.” . . . Should Desjardins go to the Penguins, that might move Mike Johnston, the Winterhawks’ GM/head coach, to the top, or near the top, of the Canucks’ list. Johnston has some history in Vancouver, too, having worked for the Canucks as an assistant and associate coach. . . . Dan Bylsma, who was fired the other day as head coach of the Penguins, also has been interviewed for the Canucks’ job. But he may end up with the Florida Panthers. Or will the Panthers sign Gerard Gallant, an assistant coach with the Montreal Canadiens? . . . What this all means is that the guessing games in the media will continue for another day or two, and Portland fans will continue to hold their collective breath.

2. The Saskatoon Blades have promoted Steve Hildebrand from trainer to assistant general manager. Hildebrand spent 13 seasons on the Blades’ training staff. He also spent time with the SJHL’s Flin Flon Bombers, the AHL’s Manitoba Moose and the U of Manitoba Bisons. . . . According to a news release from the Blades: “Hildebrand's role will include helping manage and track the players on the Blades’ 50-man protected list, and taking care of team travel arrangements, contracts and league paperwork, while also watching players at all levels including bantam, midget, junior A and the WHL.” . . . The Blades also announced the hiring of James McDonald as their athletic therapist. He spent the past two seasons as the trainer/equipment manager with the BCHL’s Alberni Valley Bulldogs. . . . Daniel Nugent-Bowman of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix has more right here.

SJHL3. For the first time since 1995, Ron Rumball no longer is the general manager of the SJHL’s Weyburn Red Wings. It was announced at the team’s annual meeting that head coach Bryce Thoma (Red Deer, 1999-2002) also is the GM now. . . . Rumball remains with the Red Wings and will work in player development. . . . For the longest time, Rumball was the GM and Dwight McMillan the head coach with the Red Wings. In fact, it seemed they were partners longer than Hope and Crosby.

4. The Everett Silvertips have extended the contract of assistant coach Mitch Love through the next three seasons. Love, a former WHL defenceman, has been on the Silvertips’ staff for three seasons now. He will continue to work alongside head coach Kevin Constantine. The Silvertips also will sign a second assistant coach before the season arrives. . . . Love, who turned 30 on Sunday, played five seasons in the WHL (Moose Jaw, Swift Current, Everett, 2000-05). He played two seasons under Constantine with the Silvertips, helping them to the Western Conference championship in their expansion season and serving as team captain the following season, as a 20-year-old.

NHL5. Former Spokane Chiefs head coach Bill Peters has been signed as the head coach of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes. . . . General manager Ron Francis will introduce the first head coach of his regime today at noon EST. . . . Peters, 48, has been on head coach Mike Babcock’s staff with the Detroit Red Wings for the past three seasons. Before that, Peters spent three seasons as head coach of the AHL’s Rockford Ice Hogs. . . . Peters was the Chiefs’ head coach for three seasons (2005-08), winning the Memorial Cup in the spring of 2008. . . . Peters and Babcock are former WHL head coaches and both were head coaches with the U of Lethbridge Pronghorns. Peters was a head coach with the Chiefs for four seasons before going to the Pronghorns.

6. The Brandon Wheat Kings have revealed that they sold 1,662 season-tickets by the time its early-bird deadline flew by on Friday. That’s up 33 from the same time last season. . . . “We were hopeful that the increase would have been larger than what it is to date and yet we’re encouraged that there has been quite a few new season tickets sold, and that’s a good sign for us . . .,” Kelly McCrimmon, the Wheat Kings owner, GM and head coach, told James Shewaga, the sports editor of the Brandon Sun. “I think it was helpful for us that we were selling season tickets while our team was still playing, that was a good move by us ... and I think people are excited about our team and the upcoming year.” . . . The Wheat Kings had 2,361 season-ticket holders last season.

7. Steve Buffery of the Toronto Sun was among those in attendance at a charity function in Toronto on Thursday night. Brian Burke, the former general manager of the Maple Leafs who now runs the Calgary Flames, was front-and-centre and offered up his opinion on the Toronto media. “I don’t give a rat’s ass what they write,” Burke said at one point, before going on to prove that he really does. . . . Buffery’s piece is right here.

F David Stephens, who played with the Edmonton Oil Kings, will attend Mount Royal U in Calgary and play hockey for the Cougars, a CIS team that plays in Canada West. Stephens, 21, completed his junior eligibility last season with the Maritime Hockey League’s Weeks Crushers. He played 30 games with the Oil Kings in 2010-11 and two the following season, both seasons curtailed by injuries. . . . F Boston Leier, who played out his eligibility with the Regina Pats last season, has committed to the Acadia Axemen, who play in the CIS out of Wolfville, N.S.

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