In writing this article, I distance myself from the Winterhawks Booster Club that I am President of and take the role of a fan, a lover of the game of junior hockey and an angry one at that.
As a lead up to the WHL Finals in Portland, WHL Commissioner Rob Robison appeared before the local Portland media. The talk wasn't going to be focused on the two teams playing for the Ed Chynoweth Cup and the chance to play in the Memorial Cup. Instead, the focus was on the heavy sanctions handed to Portland which resulted in the loss of GM and Coach Mike Johnston from November through the end of the playoffs this season, plus a multitude of other hardships. The press conference was relatively short and limited with actual information that hadn't already been churned out and can be seen all over the internet. Had people thought there was some sort of chicanery going on, they weren't having their minds put at ease with this conference. The Winterhawks are still without Mike Johnston, they are only able to draft from rounds 6-9 this year in the Bantam Draft, and they are still on course to win the WHL Finals.
During the day of the presentation of the Scotty Munro trophy back in March, I had the chance to speak with Richard Doerkson , Vice President of Operations for the WHL about the rulebook. I said to him that there isn't a WHL rulebook online, but there is a copy of the QMJHL rules from 2010-11 on the WHL site (it's hard to find, but it's there). Mr. Doerkson seemed surprised that there was this document there. Mr. Doerkson told me the WHL uses the NHL rulebook with tweaks for the junior part of the program. It's a confidential document, but that all teams have a copy of this rulebook. I felt confused and was never given an answer as to why it is confidential. When a team gets slapped with the largest fines ever in this level of play and the league shuffles its feet as to how it arrived at the numbers and sanctions, you really have to wonder.
Portland has gotten successful because of one man, the owner, Mr. Bill Gallacher. Placing the right people in the right positions and letting them do what they do best bodes well for success. Yes it costs money, a lot of money, but you get what you pay for: successful teams and players (yes, it annoys some other smaller market teams). The league is run by owners, not an outside group which means they can manipulate the rules all they like to suit their tastes or so it seems.
There are teams all over who have given gifts to players. One team north of the border, confirmed by former players of that team, bought Armani suits for its players, another much smaller market team in the Eastern Conference gave iPads to its players for Christmas, but wasn't in violation because they asked the league. Really? They asked if they could give iPads?
When you are looking to get people to come to the league and you are hiding stuff like this, it makes it look too shady and will ultimately hurt future star players.
The Winterhawks won the WHL Scholastic Award this season, but the WHL didn't mention that the Hawks are 1 of only 2 teams in the WHL that make every player regardless of age, attend school. High school or college. In reality, only Lethbridge and Portland should be up for this award each year because of this.
With game 4 in Edmonton, the Hawks would be in the driver's seat if they were to win to secure their spot in the Memorial Cup and lead the series 3-1. It's quite possible, even the Edmonton media is giving it a very reasonable chance.
The Portland Winterhawks have collected all sorts of trophies and awards this season. Despite the suspension of Johnston and the sanctions handed down by the WHL, the Hawks are just two wins away from taking over the league by winning their Ed Chynoweth Cup . Look out, WHL, the Evil Empire will strike back. In a big way.