VANCOUVER - Vancouver Giants majority owner Ron Toigo called the Portland Winterhawks situation “an unfortunate one” for the Western Hockey League but emphasized there are consequences for rule-breakers.
The Winterhawks were slapped hard by the league Wednesday as GM-coach Mike Johnston was suspended for the remainder of the season plus playoffs, the team was fined $200,000 and ordered to forfeit nine bantam draft picks, including five first-round selections. WHL commissioner Ron Robison cited multiple player-benefit violations when he issued his ruling.
The league issued further clarification Thursday, explaining there were 54 violations involving 14 players during a five-year period. The league also said the firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers conducted an independent investigation.
“I think it's a sad day for both the league and Portland Winterhawks when it gets to this point,” Toigo commented Thursday during a media gathering to promote Saturday's Trevor Linden Night at Pacific Coliseum. “There are rules we all live by and operate by and when you don't, there are consequences for it. Everybody abides by them for the mostpart and when it doesn't happen, consequences are levied by the league. This probably, definitely, tops them all.”
Toigo explained that he could speak generally on the topic but wasn't permitted by the league to delve into specifics. The Winterhawks claimed the worst of their violations was providing flights for players families. They also admitted to paying for summer training programs for two players and to providing a cell phone for the team captain for three years.
Johnston, a former Vancouver Canuck assistant coach, did not return messages Thursday but the Winterhawks issued a statement Thursday night in which they did not dispute the number of violations.
“They are consistent with the statement the team made yesterday,” it said. “The WHL is counting each flight, training session and phone as an individual infraction, adding up to 54... The Winterhawks are encouraging more transparency in this process.”
Toigo the investigation and its findings were conducted in proper fashion.
“This was not something that was done in a vacuum,” Toigo said. “It isn't something Ron Robison did half-heartedly. The process was very sound. It was done by professional agencies and the data was there for Ron to make his call. It was very significant in his opinion and, as a result, he levied what he felt was just.”
In his statement Thursday, Robison said: “We believe the sanctions are not excessive given the repeated and systemic nature of the violations. The independent investigation discovered an unprecedented number of violations. It is the responsibility of each WHL club and general manager to be fully aware of the WHL regulations and to be in compliance at all times.”
Toigo has been a league governor for 20 years. He owned the Tri-City Americans prior to starting the expansion Giants in 2001-02. He explained the current rules are in place to protect the small-market franchises.
“The league has to be set up in such a way that Moose Jaw and Swift Current have just as much a chance as Vancouver, Portland and Calgary,” Toigo said. “The group in Portland did a good job bringing that franchise back to life and it's unfortunate it has come to this. I imagine they are going to go through the appeal process (to the Board of Governors) so I don't think this story is over now by any means.”
Toigo conceded he is anxious for the day it will be over.
“I know the sooner this is behind everybody, and the league gets back to business-as-usual, the better it is for everybody,” he concluded.
The Giants, meanwhile, are back on the ice Friday night in Everett where they will meet the Silvertips. Vancouver has lost five in a row, the last two by identical 2-1 scores.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun