WHL slams Portland for violations; club fined, coach banned, bantam draft picks forfeited
The Portland Winterhawks, one of the most potent teams in the Western Hockey League and a conference rival of the Victoria Royals, have been handed the league’s version of the death penalty.
The league says the Winterhawks, who are 20-4-1 and lead the U.S. Division, have been guilty of “player benefit violations” over the past four years.
The Winterhawks have been fined $200,000 and GM and head coach Mike Johnston has been suspended for the rest of the 2012-13 season, including the playoffs. Additionally, the Winterhawks cannot select a player in the first five rounds of the 2013 WHL bantam draft and also forfeit their first-round selections in the 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 bantam drafts.
The latter sanction is particularly devastating since WHL clubs rely on their first-round bantam picks to eventually develop into impact players.
“All WHL clubs understand they are required to fully comply and respect our league regulations or they will face significant consequences,” said WHL commissioner Ron Robison, in a statement.
“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.”
The Winterhawks — who swept the Royals by 6-2 scores in back-to-back games Nov. 2-3 in Portland and who play in Victoria on March 10 and 12 — issued a statement saying assistant GM and assistant coach Travis Green will take over Johnston’s duties on an interim basis.
The club said in its statement that it was found to have provided a cellphone to its captain for three seasons; to have twice paid for two players to have week-long summer training regimens; providing seven families flights to Portland two to four times per season over the past five years, based on financial need; and to having signed a player contract in 2009 that involved flights for the player’s family and a summer training program.
“After fully co-operating 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, in the Winterhawks’ statement.
“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.”
Royals president Dave Dakers said he had no comment about the situation and directed all inquiries to the league.
Victoria GM Cameron Hope is in his first season in the WHL after seven seasons with the New York Rangers management team from 2004 to 2011 as
vice-president of hockey administration, research, development and, since 2007, assistant GM.
“I’m the new GM in the league and I’ve read through them [regulations] . . . the league takes it seriously,” said Hope, adding he did not know anything about the Portland situation and could not comment on it.
ICE CHIPS: The Royals (13-12-1) are in Prince George on Friday and Saturday to take on the Cougars (9-12-4) . . . The Winterhawks are ranked No. 3 in this week’s BMO Canadian Hockey League Mastercard top-10 poll behind the Quebec League’s Halifax Mooseheads (21-3-1) and WHL’s Kamloops Blazers (20-6-2) . . . Other WHL teams ranked are the ninth-rated Calgary Hitmen (17-5-3), while the Edmonton Oil Kings (16-5-4) and Spokane Chiefs (17-7-1) receive honourable mention.
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