VANCOUVER — Portland Winterhawks general manager-head coach Mike Johnston has been suspended by the Western Hockey League for the remainder of the season plus playoffs for what the league calls “multiple player benefit violations.”
In addition to Johnston's suspension, the league also fined the Winterhawks $200,000 and stripped them of nine bantam draft picks, including five first-round selections from 2013-2017. The other picks forfeited were rounds 2-5 in the 2013 draft.
“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,” commissioner Ron Robison said Wednesday in a statement. “All WHL clubs understand they are required to fully comply and respect our league regulations or they will face significant consequences.”
The Winterhhawks quickly issued a statement of their own indicating the violations involved flights for families to see their sons' play, paying for one-week summer training programs and providing a cell phone to the team captain.
“After fully cooperating with the league’s investigation, we were extremely surprised at the excessive nature of the sanctions and we don’t feel they are in line with the scope of the violations we were found to have committed,” said Johnston, who will be replaced by former NHL player Travis Green on an interim basis.
“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. We are currently exploring our options on how we will proceed. Despite our objections, the league has made its decision and our players will continue to pursue the goal of winning a WHL championship.”
Johnston took over the Winterhawks early in the 2008-09 season, turning them into a league powerhouse within two years. They reached the WHL final in each of the last two seasons and are currently 20-4-1-0.
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