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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 29, 2012 8:43 AM. The previous post in this blog was While you're waiting. The next post in this blog is Race of the flacks. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

What the puck? Winterhawks are in deep doo-doo.

For people who like hockey, these are dark times. Every once in a while the major league, the NHL, shoots itself in the foot with a labor dispute that shuts everything down. An entire season is lost. They're back on that kick this season, with an infamous "lockout" that could wipe out the whole campaign, which was supposed to start a couple of months ago.

For fans in smaller towns like Portland, there's been consolation in our junior league teams -- boys in their late teens playing for their own minor league cups and living a life that's somewhere between a normal teenager's and a big-time pro hockey player's. Here in Portlandia, the team is the Winterhawks, and it's been doing pretty well lately, making it to its conference tournament's final round the last two years.

The Winterhawks were dealt a harsh blow by their league, the Western Hockey League, yesterday. The Portland team was found to have violated several league rules concerning providing benefits to its players. Our buddy Dwight Jaynes reports the infractions thusly:

-- The Winterhawks signed a player in 2009 and promised flights for the player's family and a summer training program.

-- Over the last five years seven families have been provided flights two to four [times] per season based on financial need and distance from Portland.

-- Twice in the last five years the Winterhawks paid for two players to have a one-week summer training program.

-- The Winterhawks provided a cell phone for their captain for a period of three seasons.

The sentence received for these offenses is major:

The junior hockey league issued a ban from the first five rounds of the 2013 Bantam Draft and forfeiture of the team's first-round picks for four seasons after that. In addition, coach and general manager Mike Johnston has been suspended for the remainder of this season, including the postseason, and the team has been fined $200,000.

Veteran observers have told me they do not remember a penalty this severe handed down by the league. "We were shocked," Johnston said....

Not even in the early 1990s, when Swift Current Coach Graham James pleaded guilty to sexually abusing one of his players, has a WHL team been penalized this severely. Earlier this season, the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League also were nailed with a similar penalty.

It sounds pretty darn ugly. Condolences to the players, who will now be competing through a major disruption, and to the faithful Portland fans, whose hopes for a title just dimmed considerably.

Comments (7)

The punishment here clearly doesn't fit the crimes the Winterhawks are admitting to. Commentators across the league believe something far worse has happened here, but no one knows what. The league has stated there were no illegal payments nor enhanced education benefits involved. Phooey.

Something stinks here. The Hawks are slow playing this and the league doesn't seem to want the rest of the world to know what has actually happened. Crippling a franchise like this doesn't happen over a few flights and some summer Zumba classes.

The Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League -- the Southeast Conference of hockey -- won back-to-back Memorial Cup championships in 2009 and 2010 and got hit with a similar punishment in August. For those interested, The Sporting News had an illuminating article that surely applies here: http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/juniors/2012/08/10/king_on_ohl_spitfire_sanctions_tip_of_the_iceberg/

Sounds like stupid rules to rival the stupidity of the NCAA rules. Lets just play hockey....

Having attended Winterhawks games off and on for 25+ years, even attending the Memorial Cup in 1998, I'll offer some additional ideas, though none is researched. I do recognize, as Bean notes, there may well be more to this, but the WHL could not prove anything. Also, the Windsor's penalties were reduced significantly upon appeal.

2. The Hawks management/coaching staff is primarily NHL guys. I don't know what the WHL staff is like, but they may be a "kiss our ring before you move" kind of bunch, and the Hawks staff attended to business without the expected groveling.

3. Because the Hawks' staff have primarily NHL experience, they may not have staff who are experienced in the arcane WHL rules, which I would expect to be as convoluted as the NCAA's. I know that's no excuse, but it does sound like enough of the rules are vague enough that the Hawks may well win on appeal.

I expect we'll be reading about this for some time. See ya'll at the game on Friday.

Sounds like stupid rules to rival the stupidity of the NCAA rules.

Agreed. However there's also an issue of competitive balance. Not every team in the league is owned by a billionaire oilman with unlimited funds.

That said, some of the stuff in the ether suggests there's an NCAA angle to this and the league is playing the actual crime close to the vest because it has something to do with skirting NCAA eligibility. I'm not fully-versed on the ins and outs, but the gist is for some reason the WHL and CHL don't want the NCAA to see their dirty laundry.

Since my first point didn't post, and Bean sort of alluded to it - it is that this is one way the league keeps the 1% guys in line, and a competive balance within the league. Gallagher might be the richest owner in the WHL, and could be one of the richest in pro sports.

Friends...

Wow, this breaks while I am stuck in China for two weeks... Damn.

Bean and umpire are pretty much spot on. Nobody in the league gave a flying flip about the hawks in the three years prior to Bill Gallacher buying the team (which is the period where most of the draft picks came from that have led to our recent success).

Our boys are all of humble backgrounds; if the team spiffed a couple of plane tickets so that the parents could come to Portland (the MOST remote WHL city for almost our entire roster), i think its a DAMN good use of some of my season ticket cost.

Crap officiating in the 2011 finals, this, all totals up to a bunch of whiny crap.

Ask the fans in Chilliwack about the great upstanding league management, you'll get the drift.
GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR

Go big time on Seattle this weekend, boys, wish i could be there for ya.

Cheers, It's Mike in Wuxi China


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