Thursday, November 29, 2012

This "crime" asks too many questions of it's punishment

(Portland Winterhawks)
I have never hidden my feelings about the Portland Winterhawks and won't even try here. If not for the Winterhawks there is no Prospect Park as the Winterhawks opened doors for me that I had no way of knowing how to.

I am a huge fan of Mike Johnson the currently suspended General Manager and Coach of the Winterhawks. The job that Johnson has done (along with Travis Green, Matt Bardsley and the scouts) in rebuilding the Winterhawks from the ashes of horrible ownership should be the textbook for how to run a franchise.

So when the word came out that the Winterhawks had be hit with disciplinary action and sanctions for what the WHL called "for a series of violations of the WHL Regulations." I admit that my first reaction was one of shock as I could not picture the Winterhawks breaking the rules.

I have an advantage that most fans don't have which is I have gotten to know several folks who work for the Winterhawks. They are hard working people who take great pride in what they do but more importantly they are people of integrity.

So of course the first question you want to ask is what did they do? But the WHL does not mention what exactly that the Winterhawks did to break the rules and that really bothers me.

Were the violations involving 1 player or 30 players? Has it been an ongoing activity or just previous years? The WHL did not offer any specific violations but they made very sure that it had nothing to do with what would be considered major violations.

"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.”

Portland got slammed hard by the WHL:

WHL Commissioner Ron Robison has suspended the Portland Winterhawks from participating in the first five rounds of the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft and the forfeiture of their first round selections in the 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 WHL Bantam Drafts. Should the first round selection in 2014 not be available due to a conditional trade, Portland will surrender their second and third round picks in the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft. The WHL also announced the Portland Winterhawks have been fined $200,000 and Winterhawks General Manager and Head Coach Mike Johnston has been suspended for the balance of the 2012-13 season, including the 2013 WHL Playoffs.

It is bad enough that we have all these "violations" but because there is not one single detail offered by the WHL that all of a sudden rumors and snide remarks are flying everywhere. I am not going to repeat any of them mainly because I do know that Portland never needed to bribe Nino Niederreiter to come to Portland, they did not need to bribe Sven Bartschi or Oliver Bjorkstrand and Seth Jones came to Portland because HIS FAMILY felt that Portland offered him the best place to continue his hockey development.

I get to meet the prospects, their parents and their billets (the people the players live with during the season) and I can tell you from 9 years experience that Portland doesn't pay under the table. Given what I have seen from the Winterhawks under the ownership of Bill Gallacher; Gallacher and Doug Piper (President of the Winterhawks) are hockey people and the integrity of the game is very important to them.

So what did the Winterhawks do? That answer came from the Winterhawks themselves in a statement responding to the WHL's findings.

If these are all that the Winterhawks are guilty of then the WHL needs to address specifically why they are violations.

• A player contract signed in 2009, involving flights for the player’s family and a summer training program

As someone who has flown out of Portland's airport to Canada it is super expensive flying from Portland to Saskatoon as compared to flying into JFK. Not every family in the hockey world is rich and if flying mom and dad to come see their son play is a violation then something is very wrong.

People hockey is perhaps the most expensive sport to play and not every kid is going to have the money to attend a summer camp until he is drafted (that is if he is drafted).

• Over the last five years, seven families were provided flights 2-4 times per season based on financial need and their distance from Portland

Go back to that Orbitiz website and plug in any flight from Portland to Western Canada or even Europe. Hockey is no different from any other sport as it offers a chance for someone to make a better life for themselves and their families.

Teams hold family events during the season as we the hockey world sometimes forget that we are talking about 16-20 year old kids. If this is a violation then this is a rule that very much requires changing.

• Twice in the last five years the team paid for two players to each have a one-week summer training regimen

In today's hockey world the off-season has disappeared as you have basically 2 seasons; the playing season which needs no explanation and the training season where players have to put in the work to get ready for the next season.

If this is a violation then this too is an area that needs to be addressed. I would love for someone to explain to me how this is an unfair benefit.

• The Winterhawks provided a cell phone for its team captain for a period of three seasons

This one really just gets me as this is more of a common sense idea than anything else. For starters, it gives the players (especially the younger ones) a way to talk to their team leader or he to them.

The team captain is in a way a unpaid de facto team employee making sure his teammates attend meetings, public appearances or team related functions. This shouldn't even be any kind of an issue.

Please I beg someone to tell me why this is any kind of violation. I have to ask the question: If not for the nonsense from the "CHLPA" would we have seen this action take place?

Is Portland being made the scapegoat so the CHL leagues can show that they are always vigilant and will punish rule breakers. The OHL had the Windsor Spitfires, now the WHL has the Winterhawks so all that is left is for the QMJHL to find their team to punish.

If these are the kind of violations that the Portland Winterhawks are guilty of then as I have been saying to anyone who will listen; if I had a son wanting to play hockey then I would send him to play for the Winterhawks in a heartbeat.

Scott Sepich had a good take on the situation over at Buzzing the Net

Game Action

It was the battle of brothers in Kootenay as older brother Griffin Reinhart (NYI 2012 1st) and his Edmonton Oil Kings took on younger brother Sam Reinhart and his Kootenay Ice. Give the round to the kid brother as he led a 3 goal comeback in the 3rd period to help his team earn a 5-4 shootout win.

Big brother Griffin was scoreless and a -2 for the game while Michael St. Croix (NYR 2011 4th) was held to a secondary assist for his 35th point on the season 14-21-35.

In Erie, once again Adam Pelech (NYI 2012 3rd) and his Erie Otter came up short in a one goal game losing in overtime 4-3 to the Plymouth Whalers. Pelech had a primary assist on Erie's 2nd goal of the game for his 22nd point of the season (4-18-22).

The Niagara IceDogs dug themselves a 3-0 hole that this time there was no miracle comeback as they lost to the Belleville Bulls 6-2. Mitchell Theoret (NYI 2011 7th) tied a career high with his 12th goal of the season and added a secondary assist to improve his numbers to 12-16-28.

Ryan Strome (NYI 2011 1st) had a primary assist on Niagara's first goal of the game to extend his scoring streak to 12 games (8-23-31) and bring his OHL leading totals to 17-35-52. Jesse Graham (NYI 2012 6th) was scoreless in this one and a -1.

Loic Leduc (NYI 2012 4th)
and his Cape Breton Screaming Eagles gave up 4 goals in the game's first 18 minutes and never recovered dropping a 5-2 decision to the Chicoutimi Saguenéens. It was the 5th straight loss for the Screaming Eagles as Leduc was -1 on 2 shots and 1 hit.

And finally

Lost in all of the hoopla was a well written piece by BTN's Kelly Friesen on a player who one might consider a version of Sean Avery (don't say that to him though) in Charles Inglis of the Kamloops Blazers.

The best way to describe this piece is to "don't listen to everything you here on the web."

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