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  • Suspended Winterhawks coach-GM Mike JohnstonRon Toigo, a rich man indeed, cannot be expected to keep track of all his financial wheeling-dealing.

    The owner of the Vancouver Giants — a big-market Western Hockey League team with ample resources, like those renegades in the Rose City, the Portland Winterhawks — spoke on the record about the WHL's sanctions on Thursday. One has to think that, given this is an owner of long standing in the league, that is something close to the WHL's party line. Toigo said the rules Portland broke are in place to save major junior hockey in smaller centres. He might have forgotten about favours he's paid to past Giants players out of the goodness of his heart that were within the rules, but might have been too rich for the Swift Currents and Prince Georges of the world.

    Read More »from Winterhawks’ punishment by WHL likely no boon to small-market teams
  • Western Hockey League commissioner Ron Robison (Aaron Bell, CHL Images)

    The Western Hockey League might be judge and jury in BenefitGate — but it's not faring well in the court of public opinion after punishing the Portland Winterhawks.

    A commissioner in sports is like a politician who has to direct and lead opinion. Being out front on controversy is the name of the game in politics, as is understood from everyone in the various inner circles down to people who were really into The West Wing a few years back. The WHL and commissioner Ron Robison were bold to drop the hammer on league-leading Portland and coach-GM Mike Johnston, especially in a season when they seem capable of bringing the Dub its first MasterCard Memorial Cup title since 2008 (the current four-year drought is the league's longest since the host-team tournament format was adopted in 1983). They felt compelled to shoot now, rather than hold their powder and try to revise the rules that were broken by sitting in a boardoom next summer.

    As bold as it was, though, now it has to face the question of whether the juice is worth the squeeze. Based on a survey of the opinion out there in the media, it looks like the WHL might have bitten off more than it could chew.

    Read More »from Winterhawks’ punishment from WHL widely seen as heavy-handed
  • Combing all corners of the country and the blogosphere for your junior hockey headlines ...

    WHL

    BenefitGate has basically boiled down to a parry-and-thrust of press releases. The WHL says Portland committed 54 infractions involving 14 players; the Winterhawks counter by "encouraging more transparency in the process."(Vancouver Province, Oregon LivePortland Tribune)

    Jess Rubenstein says Portland has been turned into an escape goat: "The Winterhawks offering a player's family plane tickets BASED ON NEED during the season so the player's family can see their child shouldn't be a violation to begin with." (The Prospect Park)

    Vancouver Giants owner Ron Toigo's take: "The league has to be set up in such a way that Moose Jaw and Swift Current have just as much a chance as Vancouver, Portland and Calgary." So when can we expect the Dub to introduce NFL-style revenue sharing? Got a lot of people holding their breath over here waiting for it. (Vancouver Sun, Taking Note)

    Shorter Damien Cox: Mo' money in major junior, mo' problems. Similarly, Chris Cochane calls the violations "lightweight." (Toronto Star, Halifax Chronicle-Herald)

    Daniel Nugent-Bowman highlights a key difference between Portland's transgressions and the Windsor Spitfires'. Please read it. (Saskatoon StarPhoenix)

    Hey, news that pertains to something on the ice, how novel: Montreal Canadiens second-rounder Dalton Thrower is still recovering from a concussion, meaning he will not line up vs. brother Josh Thrower in the Saskatoon-Calgary game. The Blades will have 19-year-old right wing Shane McColgan back, though. (Calgary Herald)

    Tough times for the Regina Pats, who had only 14 healthy skaters at one practice this week ahead a home-and-home with Eastern Conference-leading Prince Albert. (Prince Albert Daily Herald)

    Prince George and Victoria are each looking to sweep their two-game set this weekend. (Victoria Times-Colonist)

    OHL

    Heavy-hitting defenceman Thomas Welsh has decommitted from Penn State and will hop in the boat with the Mississauga Steelheads. (Toronto Sun)

    Read More »from Portland Winterhawks poke back at WHL: Friday’s coast-to-coast
  • Red Wings fourth-rounder Andreas Athanasiou (OHL Images)

    The Barrie Colts broke out new line combos on Thursday, but their winning goal in Windsor was all Andreas Athanasiou.

    The Detroit Red Wings fourth-rounder — the Barrie Bolt? And1 Athanasiou? — is one of the fleetest players in junior hockey. Spitfires defenceman Saverio Posa can probably vouch for that what happened in on Thursday. In the second period, Double-A accelerated out of his own zone and used his world-class wheels to back up the Windsor defenders so quickly that Posa blew a tire and fell down in front of 5,408 spectators. Athanasiou went on to put a shot off the post and in, sending the Colts well on their way to a victory.

    The play starts at 1:28 into TV Cogeco Ontario's recap.

    Read More »from Detroit Red Wings pick Andreas Athanasiou’s beautiful end-to-end goal (VIDEO)
  • Val-d'Or Foreurs Anthony ManthaNo. 1 star: Anthony Mantha, Val-d'Or Foreurs (QMJHL)

    Mantha (2G, +2) had consecutive goals for the Foreurs to give them the upper hand in their 7-5 win over Saint John, as he took over the Q's goal-scoring lead with 25 and also moved into second in points. One hesitates to say those goals helped Val-d'Or "take control" since it was a 7-5 game with Jonathan Huberdeau playing for the other team, but the 18-year-old's Mantha's markers were momentous. The lanky striker converted from the slot in the first period after Michaël Beaudry found him with a pass. In the second period, according to Station Nation's recap, Mantha scored his goal on a shot where he broke his stick.

    Huberdeau, whose three assists made him Saint John's leader in career points, eventually helped pull the Sea Dogs level at 5-5. Rookie Mason Gray's first QMJHL goal untied the game for good. The Foreurs, rather impressively, had two assists on all seven of their goals, but no player was credited with more than two points. Beaudry, centre Nicolas Aubé-Kubel and defender Matt Murphy all had two-assist outings.

    Mantha's had quite a season. It feels like the photo illustrating this post has been on BTN as often as Marge Simpson wears a green dress.

    Read More »from Anthony Mantha drills in 2 more goals for Foreurs: Thursday’s 3 Stars
  • Combing all corners of the country and the blogosphere for your junior hockey headlines ...

    WHL

    Jim Matheson's B.S. detector went off over BenefitGate: "Surely there has to be something more sinister than this to get the esteemed Mike Johnston ... a suspension for the rest of the WHL season." (Edmonton Journal)

    Johnston says the Portland Winterhawks are seeking recourse: "We believe that, apart from recruiting trips and parents' weekend, there is no prohibition in the rules governing flights for players' parents, which were the majority of the infractions." (Vancouver Sun)

    Getting to know Kelowna Rockets defenceman Madison Bowey, who could be drafted early next summer. (The Pipeline Show)

    The Edmonton Oil Kings will certainly have two players named to Hockey Canada's national junior team selection camp. Could gritty Travis Ewanyk make three if his knee holds up well? (Edmonton Journal)

    The popular question at a Calgary Hitmen practice: "Who's playing with who today?" But Mike Williamson's line juggling is working. (Calgary Herald)

    OHL

    Barrie Colts rookie left wing Brendan Lemieux has his first game in Windsor. Does his dad, Claude Lemieux, have any history with Detroit/Windsor area hockey fans? (Windsor Star)

    Read More »from Portland Winterhawks feel fallout from BenefitGate: Thursday’s coast-to-coast
  • Kris Knoblauch took Kootenay to the Memorial Cup semifinal in 2011 (OHL Images)Twenty-seven games into the Connor McDavid era, the Erie Otters have made a huge change in direction behind the bench.

    The Otters' coaching change, ousting Robbie Ftorek to bring in former Ed Chynoweth Cup-winning coach Kris Knoblauch, will be worth watching in terms of whether it amounts to a sea change for Erie. The Otters, who are last in the OHL's Western Conference with a 7-15-2-3 record and were subjecting goalies Oscar Dansk and Devin Williams to regular 40-shot shellings, including a lot of high-percentage shots.

    The 34-year-old Knoblauch showed in his all-too-brief two-season tenure with the Kootenay Ice that he can make a team's whole greater than the sum of its parts. Managing partner Sherry Bassin might just be doing now what he might have done during next summer's coaching carousel. In this case, a coach with a recent championship on his résumé was available during the season, thanks to the, uh, unique circumstances that put Knoblauch out of a job with the Ice.

    Ftorek resumed coaching this summer just weeks after the death of his 23-year-old daughter, Anna Ftorek. He might be too proud to say whether that affected him at work, but it's part of the story. In any event, the Otters had to do something:

    "Robbie has a distinguished career in coaching and is one of the classiest people in the game," Bassin said. "He is a great mentor on and off the ice. I decided after considerable thought to make this difficult decision and to move in a different direction. The entire Otters family has the utmost respect for Robbie, Wendy and their family and expect that he will go on to bigger and better opportunities."

    "Based on this decision, I negotiated through the night and am happy to announce that Kris Knoblauch has accepted, in principle, the position as head coach of the Erie Otters." (ottershockey.com)

    Read More »from Erie Otters shuffle: Kris Knoblauch replaces Robbie Ftorek as coach
  • Wednesday's No. 2 star, Jaimen Yakubowski (Lethbridge Hurricanes)No. 1 star: Luke Philp, Kootenay Ice (WHL)

    The Ice knocked off the defending champion Edmonton Oil Kings for their first when-trailing-after-two triumph of the season. Philp (2G-1A, +2 and the shootout winner) and the more highly touted Sam Reinhart (1G-2A, +2 and a successful shootout attempt), both 17-year-olds who are not eligible for the NHL draft in 2014, were both in on three third-period Kootenay goals in the unexpected comeback.

    As Jeff Hollick described it, Philp's 38th career game in the Western League might have been his best. He cut through the slot with 7:07 to play to beat star goalie Laurent Brossoit to tie the game, then scored just 1:47 later off a pass out from Reinhart.

    No. 2 star: Jaimen Yakubowski, Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)

    Yakubowski (2G-2A, +3) helped the 'Canes snap a six-game losing streak by knocking off the conference-leading Prince Albert Raiders 6-4. The 18-year-old wing was in on the last four Lethbridge goals. In the second period, his missed breakaway created a chance for Sam McKechnie to pocket the loose change and a goal that gave the 'Canes their first lead. Yakubowski later tied the game 4-4 early in the third period, then assisted on Axel Blomqvist's game-winner and buried the empty-netter. All in a night's work, eh.

    Hurricanes goalie Chris Tai earned his first WHL win.

    Read More »from Kootenay Ice’s Luke Philp burns Oil Kings: Wednesday’s 3 Stars
  • What’s next for the Portland Winterhawks?

    Portland Winterhawks coach-GM Mike Johnston (Portland Winterhawks)It sounds like there's an appeal forthcoming, but for now the Portland Winterhawks are facing an uncertain future after being assessed heavy penalties for violations of the WHL's player benefit rules, which our own Cam Charron outlined earlier today.

    While much has been made at the lack of specific information about the infractions in the WHL's statement (and the WHL's assertion that Portland did not pay players under the table or provide extra education benefits), the subsequent statement issued by the Winterhawks with the intent of clarifying their misdeeds seems to have raised more questions than it answered.

    Confusion centers specifically around the context of the airfare the team provided to the families of as many as eight players over the last four seasons.  The team's statement doesn't say whether those flights were given to players who had already signed a WHL contract, or if they were offered as an enticement to sign with the Hawks.

    The distinction is important, because the latter interpretation suggests a recruiting advantage that could have netted the Winterhawks a certain number of players they otherwise wouldn't have signed. (see UPDATE below)

    Portland, geographically, is an outpost in the WHL, as it's further from the Canadian border than any other CHL team. Despite being a big city with a major international airport, getting there can be difficult and expensive for some folks that live within the WHL's territory. It's also likely that a travel arrangement would greatly benefit European players, as distance has always been an obstacle to bringing such players to the CHL.

    Now-suspended Portland head coach/GM Mike Johnston told the Oregonian's Paul Buker today that he was cooperative with the league as far as any financial matters, and added that the team is pursuing appeal options:

    Johnston said the WHL "came in and went over our books'' a few weeks ago, "to make sure we had not paid a player, an agent, or a parent.'' He said the Hawks made no attempt to hide expenses for airline tickets. (The Oregonian)

    The idea that the Winterhawks would want to help far-flung parents of their players come to Portland to see their kid play is far from offensive. And if it was just that -- helping families of already current players with their travel expenses -- then today's punishment is unnecessarily severe.

    But, if these flights were in fact used as a recruiting tool (especially with the European stars the Hawks have featured recently), then the sanctions are more in line with the allegations.

    Read More »from What’s next for the Portland Winterhawks?
  • (via sportslogos.net)It appears Dean Millard's multiple sources were correct from earlier this month concerning recruitment violations on the part of the Portland Winterhawks. The Western Hockey League came down hard on the U.S. Division club Wednesday for "a series of player benefit violations which have occurred over the past four seasons"

    The Winterhawks will lose nine draft picks, including five first-rounders. Coach-GM Mike Johnston has been suspended for the balance of the 2012-2013 season and playoffs.

    On top of that, they were fined $200,000.

    Suffice to say, the WHL found something they didn't like taking place in Portland, and hammered them for it:

    "All WHL Clubs understand they are required to fully comply and respect our League Regulations or they will face significant consequences," stated WHL Commissioner Ron Robison.  "WHL Clubs are required to fully disclose all commitments they make to a player in the WHL Standard Player Agreement.  Our independent investigation in this case revealed there were multiple violations over an extended period for player benefits that are not permitted under WHL Regulations and were not disclosed to the WHL.  It should also be noted through the course of the investigation there was no evidence of any payments or enhanced education benefits provided to players that would be contrary to WHL Regulations as previous media reports indicated."

    So, there's that. Considering the WHL released in its statement saying that the player benefit violations took place over four years, it would be tough to pin this penalty on their recruitment of one player. The Winterhawks are one of the "have" teams in the WHL, having gone to the WHL Championship series two consecutive seasons. Of course, assuming Portland is the only team in the league that sees success off of bending the rules to their advantage is absurd.

    Read More »from WHL drops hammer on Portland Winterhawks for rules violations

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