Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Pighin Saga, Chapter ??

It isn’t often that WHL commissioner Ron Robison allows his emotions to show through what is a normally quiet and peaceful demeanour. Most times, in fact, Robison will go to great lengths to avoid confrontation of any type.
He is all about negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. And, by the way, do it behind closed doors.
But, in a hard-hitting interview with Eric J. Welsh of the Chilliwack Progress, it is apparent that the commissioner is not a happy man.
The problem is the situation involving F Evan Pighin, 20. And to read what the commissioner has to say and then glance between the lines, well, this one sounds as though it could blow up into something bigger than it already is.
How big is it right now? Well, it involves the WHL, BCHL, B.C. Hockey and Hockey Canada, with the CHL, the OHL and the QMJHL lurking in the background.
First, some background . . .
Pighin has played two games for the BCHL’s Victoria Grizzlies. Pighin, who is from the Lower Mainland, played last season with the WHL’s Chilliwack Bruins. Over the summer, he decided he wanted to play for the Grizzlies. But the Bruins have refused to grant him a release. However, the BCHL, with the approval of B.C. Hockey, has allowed the Grizzlies to play Pighin.
Understand that the relationship between the WHL and BCHL has been tenuous at best in recent years. It was thought, however, that Robison and BCHL commissioner John Grisdale were trying to work through things.
The situation with Pighin, however, just may have brought everything crashing down like a house of cards.
“I was shocked and disappointed,” Robison told Welsh. “We’ve had ongoing discussions with B.C. Hockey on this matter. The player was not released and was not eligible to play, and they made a unilateral decision without our knowledge.”
Among other comments made by Robison in his chat with Welsh:
* “B.C. Hockey’s reasoning for letting him play was that they have a different release process than we do. We don’t accept it. This is a player under a standard Western Hockey League player agreement. He’s property of the Chilliwack Bruins and he hasn’t been released by the club or the league. Our regulations apply in this case and not theirs.”
* “Our focus isn’t necessarily on this particular player’s situation. Our focus is trying to use this opportunity to sit down and correct some of the problems that have existed in the past and see how the relationship between our league, B.C. Hockey and the BCHL would function in the years ahead. That was our hope.”
* “I don’t believe I would characterize the relationship between the two leagues as solid. We’ve attempted to work through some issues in the past. We were committed to trying to improve the system, but obviously this is a big step backwards.”
* “Our first step is to deal with B.C. Hockey and see if there’s an ability to have any kind of relationship with that organization and its members in the future.”
* “The system is now at risk because a player has been released without authorization. I’m not sure if we can reverse course now. Internally, we’ll discuss what steps we can take to keep this from happening again, but under the circumstances, it looks like Evan will be able to continue to play for Victoria.”
* “Ultimately, it will be (Hockey Canada’s) decision. This is uncharted waters. This has not occurred in recent memory. We’re into territory we haven’t ventured into before, and we’ll just have to wait and see what the outcome is.”
This is ultra-tough talk from Robison, a commissioner who most times is the consummate politician. Rarely, if ever, has he criticized the way in which other hockey bodies conduct their business.
Never before has he said anything that comes anywhere close to his comment concerning whether “there’s an ability to have any kind of relationship with (B.C. Hockey) and its members in the future.”
Understand that this is awfully tough talk from the WHL commissioner.
Don’t forget, too, that Robison came to the WHL after many years in the Hockey Canada hierarchy. It isn’t like he is new to the politics that so dominate this country’s amateur hockey scene.
And right now it looks like he is going to need all of that experience as he navigates the WHL through this mess.
The unfortunate thing about all of this is that players move back and forth between junior A and major junior hockey all the time. Most times, in these situations, a player expresses a desire to play elsewhere, a release is quietly negotiated and the player moves on.
That didn’t happen this time and the consequences just may shake up the junior hockey scene.
Former WHL scoring king Erik Christensen had an MRI on an injured shoulder Tuesday and Mike Knobler of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports the test came back negative. Christensen, who the Atlanta Thrashers are hoping will centre their top line, is day-to-day but won’t play in exhibition games Thursday at Nashville and Friday at St. Louis. . . . Former Swift Current Broncos F Brad Larsen, who also is with the Thrashers, also is shown as day-to-day. Larsen has an abdominal strain.

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