Thursday, June 15, 2017

WHL says suit doesn't fit ... Pats get forward from Chiefs ... Benson recovered from surgery


F Justin Kelly (Prince Albert, Spokane, Saskatoon, 1997-2002) has signed a one-year extension with the Bietigheim Steelers (Germany, DEL2). Last season was an injury-plagued one for Kelly, who had five goals and 10 assists in 10 games. In the playoffs, he added four goals and 11 assists in 12 games. . . . 
F Radim Valchar (Portland, Lethbridge, 2007-10) has signed a two-year extension with CsĂ­kszereda Miercurea-Ciuc (Romania, MOL Lisa). Last season, he had 14 goals and 13 assists in 24 games. He led his team in goals and was second in points.
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A Calgary judge has given the OK for a lawsuit against the WHL and its Canadian teams to go ahead as a class action.
At the same time, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Robert Hall exempted the WHL’s five U.S. teams.
The lawsuit is asking that teams be required to pay minimum wages and other items such as overtime, back pay and vacation pay for former and present-day players who qualify and choose not to opt out.
The WHL quickly responded on Thursday by issuing a statement.
“This was a procedural decision only and makes no determination regarding the merits of the claim and, in particular, the status of WHL players,” WHL commissioner Ron Robison said in that statement. “The claim fundamentally misunderstands the nature of amateur sport, including major junior hockey. We believe players are not employees but amateur athletes, and we believe our case is strong.”
On Thursday, while certifying the lawsuit as a class action, Justice Hall outlined the eligibility requirements, which are dependent on age and geography.
From Justice Hall’s decision:
The B.C. class is open to “all players who were or are members of a WHL team owned and/or operated by one or more of the defendants located in B.C. at some point, commencing Oct. 30, 2012, and all players who were members of a team who were under the age of 19 on Oct. 30, 2012, but excluding any players who commenced played for a team on or after Feb. 15, 2016.”
The Alberta and Manitoba class may be joined by “all players who were or are members of a team owned and/or operated by one or more of the defendants in Alberta or Manitoba at some point, commencing Oct. 30, 2012 and ending April 18, 2017, and all players who were members of a team who were under the age of 18 on Oct. 30, 2012.”
The Saskatchewan class may be joined by “all players who were or are members of any team owned and/or operated by one or more of the defendants in Saskatchewan, commencing Oct. 30, 2012, and all players who were members of a team who were under the age of 18 on Oct. 30, 2012, but excluding any players who commenced playing for a team on or after April 29, 2014.”
At the same time, Justice Hall exempted the five U.S. teams that play in the WHL.
“I believe it would be inappropriate,” Justice Hall wrote, “for an Alberta court to tell Washington and Oregon how their law should be interpreted and applied in these circumstances. There are actions available in those states, applying their rules of procedure, some of which differ considerably from Canada and Alberta procedures; such as the fact that in Canada a class member is a plaintiff unless he or she opts out, whereas in their jurisdictions a class member is not a plaintiff unless he or she opts in. It would be preferable that actions proceed in Washington and Oregon in respect to the” U.S. defendants.
TSN’s Rick Westhead, who has covered this situation extensively, tweeted yesterday that it’s “worth noting players, either current or former, can join class action lawsuit in secret . . . (without) teams or league knowing they have done so.”
A similar lawsuit brought against the OHL and its teams got the go-ahead from Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perell on April 27. The OHL had a 20-day window in which it could appeal, something it chose not to do.
A court hearing involving a lawsuit against QMJHL teams is scheduled for next week in Montreal.
In his statement, Robison pointed out that “our position has been endorsed by governments in the majority of jurisdictions where WHL clubs are located. The provinces of Saskatchewan and British Columbia along with the State of Washington have adopted exemptions to their employment standards acts clarifying that WHL players are amateur athletes. The WHL expects all other provincial and state jurisdictions will also pass similar exemptions in the near future.”
The WHL lobbied heavily for such changes in those jurisdictions. In fact, on Oct. 26, columnist Ian Mulgrew of the Vancouver Sun reported right here:
“The Western Hockey League did not register as a lobbyist before leaning on B.C.’s cabinet to exempt major junior players from the minimum wage law, the provincial watchdog says.”
Erin Beatty, communications director for the B.C. Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists, told Mulgrew that the regulator now is “acting on the potential incident of non-compliance in this case.”
Rob Shaw of Postmedia had reported that, according to Mulgrew, “internal government records, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, indicated aggressive lobbying by the WHL with Premier Christy Clark and Labour Minister Shirley Bond.” Bond is the MLA for Prince George-Valemount.
According to Mulgrew, “It started with a meeting in March 2015. . . . Robison appealed for protection from a class-action lawsuit launched by current and former players seeking minimum wage, holiday pay and other damages from the for-profit league for violating labour standards.”
Mulgrew added: “The direct lobbying effort worked — cabinet quietly passed an order-in-council on Feb. 15, 2016 granting the league the exemption.”
On Thursday, Robison again made the claim that if teams are ordered to pay more to their players, franchises will be in jeopardy of folding.
“Any change to the status of our players as amateur athletes would have major implications to not only the WHL but amateur sport as a whole,” Robison said in the statement. “If WHL clubs were required to provide minimum wage, in addition to the benefits the players currently receive, the majority of our teams would not be in a position to continue operating.”
Robison’s claim means at least 12 of the WHL’s 22 teams would be in danger of collapsing.
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The Regina Pats have acquired F Koby Morrisseau, 17, from the Spokane Chiefs for a fourth-round WHL
KOBY MORRISSEAU
bantam draft pick in 2019 or 2020. The deal also includes two conditional bantam draft picks.
The Pats also get a conditional fifth-round selection in the 2020 draft, while giving up a conditional third-rounder in 2020.
Morrisseau, who is from Grandview, Man., was the ninth-overall election in the 2015 bantam draft.
Last season, he had a goal and an assist in 22 games with Spokane. In his draft season, he had 39 goals and 22 assists in 30 games with the midget AAA Parkland Rangers of the Manitoba Midget Hockey League.
Morrisseau’s 2016-17 season was cut short by concussions.
He was injured on a check-from-behind during a game against the Portland Winterhawks on Sept. 3 in a preseason tournament in Everett and spent a night in hospital.
Morrisseau returned in time to start the regular season on Sept. 24, but left a Dec. 13 game against the Seattle Thunderbirds following a hard check from D Turner Ottenbreit.
On Jan. 9, the Chiefs announced that Morrisseau’s season was over and that he had been placed on the long-term injured reserve list.
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The injury-related trials and tribulations of Vancouver Giants F Tyler Benson have been detailed at length
TYLER BENSON
over the past couple of seasons. However, not until seeing an Edmonton Sun on Wednesday while in Jasper, Alta., was I aware that Benson had undergone surgery for a sports hernia last season. Postmedia’s Jim Matheson, a Hockey Hall of Famer who covers the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers, reported that Benson “had surgery to repair (a sports hernia) late this past season.” As Matty added, Benson has “had a cyst on his spine and osteitis pubis, along with the sports hernia, and had a shoulder injury he brought to camp last fall, which ended his chances to play exhibition games.” . . . Benson, who is from Edmonton, was a second-round pick by the Oilers in the NHL’s 2016 draft. He apparently has finished his rehab from surgery and is expected to attend the Oilers’ prospects came in Jasper sometime after next weekend’s 2017 draft. . . . Benson, 19, has played only 63 games with Vancouver over the past two seasons, but has put up 70 points, including 20 goals. The Giants selected him with the first overall pick of the WHL’s 2013 bantam draft.
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The Seattle Thunderbirds have signed D Luke Bateman, who was a fourth-round pick in the WHL’s 2017 bantam draft. From Kamloops, Bateman won’t turn 15 until Sept. 9. Last season, he had three goals and 23 assists with the bantam AAA Kamloops Jr. Blazers.
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The arena in which the Seattle Thunderbirds, the reigning WHL champions, play their home games is soon to undergo a bit of a name change. The facility that has been the ShoWare Center since it opened in 2009 will become the access ShoWare Center in the fall. . . . Steve Hunter of the Kent Reporter writes: “England-based access (which used the small letter for its name, which is Italian for access or admission) bought in 2014 California-based VisionOne, Inc., which owned ShoWare.” . . . Hunter reported that “the owners of access agreed to pay $3 million to get the naming rights for 10 years.” . . . The Thunderbirds, as the main tenant, get $50,000 per year under the terms of the naming rights deal. . . . Hunter’s story is right here.
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Coaching

Trevor Letowski is the new head coach of the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires, the reigning Memorial Cup champions. Letowski takes over from Rocky Thompson, now the head coach of the AHL’s Chicago Wolves. . . . Letowski, 40, has been Windsor’s associate coach for the past six seasons. Prior to that, he spent six seasons on the coaching staff of the Sarnia Sting.
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Mike Vellucci is the new head coach of the Charlotte Checkers, the AHL affiliate of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes. Vellucci has been an assistant GM with the Hurricanes through four seasons and will continue in that role, too. . . . With the Checkers, he replaces Ulf Samuelsson, who left after one season to join the Chicago Blackhawks as an assistant coach. . . . Vellucci hasn’t coached since 2012-13 when he was the OHL’s coach of the year while with the Plymouth Whalers. He spent 14 seasons with the Whalers. 

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