Thursday, December 11, 2014

Buying or selling? . . . Anholt, in conversation with Kingsmith . . . Rebels' Bleackley finds scoring touch

The trade announced late Wednesday between the Kelowna Rockets and Prince Albert Raiders signaled the beginning of the run up to the WHL trading deadline.
That deadline arrives on Jan. 10 at noon MT. But don’t forget that there is a Christmas trade moratorium that runs from Dec. 15 through Dec. 26.
On Wednesday, if you missed it, the Rockets acquired D Josh Morrissey, 19, and F Gage Quinney, 19, from the Raiders for F Austin Glover, 18, D Jesse Lees, 19, and a pair of bantam draft picks -- a second-round selection in 2016 and a third-rounder in 2017.
If Morrissey isn’t the best defenceman in the WHL, he’s in the conversation. So this was a big ‘get’ by the Rockets.
(Morrissey is in the Canadian national junior team’s selection camp. In Thursday’s first workout, he was paired with new teammate Madison Bowey, with whom he no doubt will get ample playing time with the Rockets.)
It’s interesting, too, that it Kelowna landed Morrissey without surrendering a first-round bantam draft pick. Which makes one wonder if that has set the tone as the deadline nears. Will those teams that see themselves as contenders not have to include first-round bantam picks when attempting to acquire front-line players?
Going into this weekend’s games, there appear to be four championship contenders, a couple of pretenders and a whole lot of also-rans.
At the same time, though, I have long felt that the WHL season doesn’t really start until about 10 days after the trade deadline. It isn’t until then that the uncertainty that comes with the trade deadline has dissipated, players have returned from the World Junior Championship, and teams know who will be on their rosters.
From that point on, it’s full speed ahead.
At the moment, the Kelowna Rockets, Brandon Wheat Kings, Medicine Hat Tigers and Everett Silvertips are the WHL’s top four teams.
Kelly McCrimmon, the Wheat Kings’ owner, general manager and head coach, has clearly been targeting next season as he built his present roster. It would seem more likely, then, that he would keep his roster intact and take his chances on winning this season, rather than give up a couple of young assets and risk damaging next season’s game plan.
Kelowna, Medicine Hat and Everett, you have to think, would be open to adding another big gun or two. Don’t forget, too, that the Rockets have room to add one 20-year-old and they certainly will do that before Jan. 10.
Meanwhile, there are only two teams, the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Saskatoon Blades, who are clearly out of the playoff picture.
If you go by winning percentage, 16 of the WHL’s 22 teams, eight in each conference, are at .500 or above. If you go by wins and losses, that number is 11 -- five in the Eastern Conference and six in the Western Conference.
Call it parity or parody, but there will be a number of those teams feeling that they might be a player or two from breaking into that elite group. That is the thought process that turns potential sellers into buyers.
The Regina Pats are one of the teams on the rung below the elite four. John Paddock, the Pats’ senior vice-president of hockey operations and head coach, recently told Greg Harder of the Regina Leader-Post that he saw his organization as sellers. That, of course, may have put all-star F Morgan Klimchuk, for one, in play.
However, the Pats had a tremendous western road trip that included a victory in Kelowna. After returning to Regina, the Pats swept a home-and-home from the Wheat Kings.
All of which has Paddock hedging his bets.
As Harder wrote in Thursday’s Leader-Post:
“(Paddock) doesn't seem eager to dismantle a group that has worked so hard to exceed expectations. What kind of message would that send to the players? The hard part is to find the right balance between targeting long-range goals without completely disregarding the present.”
A couple of years ago, in an interview with Sportsnet 590 The FAN, a Toronto radio station, Brian Burke, then the general manager of a mediocre Maple Leafs team, summed it up this way”
“I’m not interested in making the playoffs and getting our asses kicked in the first round. I’ve done that. It’s not much fun. I’m interested in getting in with a realistic, reasonable chance to win or bloody somebody’s nose doing it and use that round or two rounds -- or whatever we can do -- as a building block for a championship team.”
You can bet such thoughts are going through the minds of more than one WHL general manager as Jan. 10 approaches.
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Peter Anholt, the Lethbridge Hurricanes’ new general manager and head coach, is into his second day as the man in charge.
On Thursday, he talked with Paul Kingsmith of Global TV in Lethbridge. Kingsmith (@paulkingsmith) tweeted some of the highlights . . .
Anholt, on his recent coaching career: “I haven't coached since ’07 in our league. Basically threw all my coaching material away. I had no inkling I was going to coach.”
Peter Anholt, the general manager and head coach
of the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
On the departed Brad Robson and Drake Berehowsky: “It didn't work out. And it shows this can be a very cold business at times.”
On his outlook: “We have an obligation to our kids to give them a Western Hockey League-level organization. And that's what we need to do. . . . I'll make some mistakes here and there but it won't be through lack of effort."
On his team: “We've won 18 games out of the last hundred. I think that says it right there. . . . I think we have some half-decent players. Our 96s are a group of really good guys; we can lean on them to be good citizens. . . . There are some blocks there to build upon but we have lots of heavy lifting to do over the next while. It is a lot of hard work.”
On the overall organization: “This organization has lost respect in the league. So, what can we do to bring it back? We have to go above and beyond.”
On his immediate approach: “We'll lay some things out that are non-negotiables in our dressing room and I've laid out in our coaching staff certain roles.” . . . I think we've got some good kids in there. We've got to find a way to put a plan in place (that) will give them some success.”
On his dual role: “It's different. When you're wearing your GM's cap you're thinking of the future. When I walk downstairs, it's for today.”
On the city, arena, travel as far as players are concerned: “We have so many good things that it's ridiculous to me that players don't want to play here. . . . That's on us. So let's develop an atmosphere where people want to play here. And that won't happen overnight."
On what’s ahead after this season: “I've committed to come for this (season). We'll see when this (season) is done whether they want me or I want them. I'm focused on the now."
Anholt will make his first appearance behind the Hurricanes’ bench on Sunday when the Kamloops Blazers pay a visit.
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F Wyatt Sloboshan (broken jaw) and D Jordan Thomson (concussion) of the Saskatoon Blades were cleared to return to full practice on Thursday. . . . Sloboshan, who has eight points in 12 games, hasn’t played since Oct. 24. . . . Thomson, with six points in 17 games, last played on Nov. 4. . . . The Blades are at home to the Moose Jaw Warriors tonight. . . . Kevin Mitchell, the sports editor of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix has more right here. . . .
The Swift Current Broncos have recalled D Colby Sissons, 16, from the Edmonton-South Side Athletic Club’s midget AAA team. He has 11 points, including three goals, in 20 games with SSAC. . . . The Broncos will travel to Brandon today to meet the Wheat Kings tonight. . . .
The Regina Pats have recalled F Jacob Elmer, 15, and D Ryan Krushen, 16. . . . Elmer, a sixth-round pick in the 2013 bantam draft, plays for the EDGE School in Calgary. He’s got 24 points, including 13 goals, in 15 games. In his previous three games, he put up 12 points, eight of them goals. Elmer won‘t turn 16 until Dec. 31, so he becomes the youngest player on a WHL roster. . . . Krushen plays for the midget AAA Sherwood Park Kings. He was pointless in two earlier games with the Pats this season. . . . Krushen’s recall comes after D James Hilsendager suffered an undisclosed injury in Wednesday’s 6-4 loss to the Broncos in Swift Current. John Paddock, the Pats’ head coach, has said Hilsendager will out for “quite a while.” . . . Regina already was without D Colby Williams (wrist), who has missed four games. . . . The Pats are scheduled to visit the Saskatoon Blades on Saturday. . . . The Blades are at home to the Moose Jaw Warriors tonight. . . .
F Rihards Bukarts of the Brandon Wheat Kings was back at practice on Thursday. He hasn’t played since Nov. 25 after suffering an undisclosed injury in practice. Bukarts has 29 points, 11 of them goals, in 24 games. . . . The Latvian was off to a prolific start before slowing in November, when he had two goals and three assists in nine games. . . . F Tyler Coulter, F Jayce Hawryluk, F Tim McGauley and D Colton Waltz weren’t on the ice with the Wheat Kings on Thursday. Rob Henderson of the Brandon Sun reports that Wheat Kings GM/head coach Kelly McCrimmon refused “to say why they were absent.” . . . The Wheat Kings are at home to the Swift Current Broncos tonight. . . .
F Jackson Houck didn’t skate with the Vancouver Giants on Thursday after suffering an apparent leg or knee injury in a 3-0 victory over the visiting Prince Albert Raiders on Wednesday night. . . . Houck is riding a four-game goal streak. . . . The Giants visit the Victoria Royals for a Teddy Bear toss game tonight. On Saturday, the Royals are in Vancouver for Ugly Christmas Sweater Night. . . .
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THURSDAY’S GAME:

In Red Deer, D Brett Cote scored 16 seconds into the game and the Rebels went on to a 6-2 victory over the Kamloops Blazers. . . . Cote has six goals this season. . . . F Conner Bleackley, who seems to have found some chemistry with recent acquisition Riley Sheen, had two goals, giving him 12. . . . Sheen had assists on both of them. . . . It was Bleackley’s second straight two-goal game on home ice. . . . Red Deer F Preston Kopeck drew three assists and F Brooks Maxwell had two. . . . F Cole Ully scored his 14th goal for Kamloops, which got two assists from D Josh Connolly. . . . The Rebels (17-11-4) have won three in a row and have points in 17 of their last 21 games (14-4-3). . . . The Blazers (12-17-5) have lost four in a row.
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