The Portland Winterhawks, who were hammered by the Western Hockey League this week for violating a series of recruiting regulations, have an extraordinarily large number of sympathizers.
Red Deer Rebels owner/president/GM/head coach Brent Sutter is not among them.
“There’s not too much too say on it. What the league has handed down are sanctions put in place for violations of our WHL regulations,” said Sutter. “By the sanctions that were put in place, I think it’s very clear what our league is about.”
For the record, the Winterhawks were fined $200,000 and suspended from the first five rounds of the 2013 bantam draft. In addition, the club will forfeit its first-round bantam draft selections from 2014 to 2017 inclusive and will lose GM/head coach Mike Johnston to suspension for the remainder of the current campaign.
The Portland infractions included providing airfare for players’ families, paying for summer training programs and providing cell phones for team captains.
“You have to have everyone on the same page,” said Sutter. “You can’t have teams doing things that the league doesn’t allow. At the end of the day, even with players getting cell phones, you’re paying the players. We’re amateur hockey, still.”
The Winterhawks were more than somewhat taken aback by the league-imposed penalties. Team president Doug Piper said the club was “dumbfounded” by the WHL’s decision.
Portland is exploring the possibility of appealing the penalties, but an appeal might lead to even more severe sanctions. Who’s to say that some league governors felt the Winterhawks got off too easily and would be only too happy to impose even more punishment on the franchise?
Long-term, the Winterhawks will be — to put it mildly — negatively-influenced by the WHL sanctions. Short-term, they’ll be OK as one of the league’s better teams, and will be guided by assistant GM/coach Travis Green for the remainder of the season.
“Obviously every assistant coach wants to be a head coach,” Green told the Oregonian. “In a perfect world, though, this is not the way I want to be a head coach. I’m excited, but I’m disappointed about what happened.”
Green said he doesn’t expect any changes in the mindset of the team.
“I’m not coming in here trying to say, ‘how do we fix this?’ The style of hockey we play has been the same since the first day we got here. Fast skating, hard playing, a team that competes and that’s what I’ll demand.
“Our expectations are high here. It’s not about making the playoffs, it’s not about winning a round in the playoffs, it’s about winning the WHL championship.”
Meanwhile, the WHL head office released a statement on Thursday that further clarified its position on the sanctions imposed on the Portland franchise.
“We believe the sanctions are not excessive given the repeated and systemic nature of the violations,” stated WHL commissioner Ron Robison. “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. These sanctions are necessary in order to protect the overall welfare and integrity of our league and to preserve a level playing field for all of our member clubs and our players.”
l Former Kootenay Ice head coach Kris Knoblauch is back in business as the bench boss of the OHL Erie Otters.
Knoblauch, a Red Deer Rebels forward for parts of two seasons in the late ‘90s and the head coach of the 2010-11 WHL champion Ice, replaces Robbie Ftorek as the Otters head coach.
Ftorek, who was a head coach in the NHL for six years, was in his sixth season as head coach of the Otters. He led the Otters to their third-best win total in franchise history with a 40-win campaign during the 2010-2011 season but the club is currently sitting 19th in the 20-team OHL with a 7-15-2-3 record.