With the WHL’s 50th anniversary season to begin on Thursday (Sept. 24), here are a few story lines that will be worth following:
1. Is this it for the Kootenay Ice in Cranbrook? In June, Ron Robison, the WHL commissioner, told Taylor Rocca of the Cranbrook Daily Townsman: “Our position is that we want to maintain our current markets where our clubs have operated, especially in the case of the Kootenay Ice who have operated in Cranbrook for many years. Our hope is we can find a way to improve the fan support to keep the franchise in Cranbrook.
“But if that doesn’t change, we’ve got to look and explore options. We continue to be very concerned about the low attendance and the challenges that the club faces.
“It’s reached a very critical stage. I think it’s something we’re going to have to determine this year. If things aren’t improving, I don’t believe ownership or the league will be in a position to continue to support the franchise remaining in Cranbrook. It’s a very critical season coming up. We need to see more support in order to get us to a position where we have confidence in the market moving forward, but at this stage, we’re very concerned about the future of the franchise.”
A warning shot, or the death knell? This season will tell the tale.
2. There are other franchises whose attendance figures will be worth watching. It’s no secret that the number of bums in the seats didn’t equate with the announced attendances in some buildings last season. These are challenging times for anyone in the entertainment business and it will be interesting to see how the league, its teams and the fans respond.
3. The Lethbridge Hurricanes, who haven’t been involved in a playoff game since the spring of 2009, brought in Peter Anholt as general manager and head coach during 2014-15. When the season ended, he came to a fork in the road that led to the hiring of Brent Kisio for his first head-coaching job. This allows Anholt to focus on his GM’s duties. This season will provide some indication as to whether Anholt took the right fork.
4. The Kamloops Blazers had a franchise record-low 14 victories in a turmoil-filled 2013-14. They brought back Don Hay as head coach last season and improved to 28 victories, but missed the playoffs for a second straight season. The only off-season change made by management was to drop ‘Kamloops’ from a logo that hadn’t changed in 30 years. The Blazers have won more than 33 games twice in the past eight seasons. Will Hay be able to get the franchise back to within reach of former glories?
5. Don Hay had coached the Vancouver Giants for 10 seasons when they let him out of the last year of his contract, allowing him to return to the Blazers. What followed for the Giants wasn’t pretty, as they went through a couple of coaches and missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. In fact, the Giants haven’t been into the second round since the spring of 2010. Now they have turned to long-time coach Lorne Molleken, who was out of hockey last season after losing his GM’s job with the Saskatoon Blades thanks to an ownership change. Will Molleken’s knowledge of the WHL help the Giants get back into the playoffs?
6. The Red Deer Rebels know that they will play in the 2016 Memorial Cup because they will be the host team. Brent Sutter, the Rebels’ owner, general manager and head coach, started making trades with the tournament in mind last season when he acquired defencemen Colton Bobyk and Nelson Nogier. How many deals will Sutter make this season as he prepares his crew for the Memorial Cup?
7. The Brandon Wheat Kings go into this season as the favourites to win it all. The team was built with this season in mind, and then made it all the way to the 2014-15 final before losing to the Kelowna Rockets. How many moves will Kelly McCrimmon, the Wheat Kings’ chief architect and head coach, make this season?
8. The Kelowna Rockets fooled many observers on Monday when they released G Jake Morrissey, 18. He was the youngest of the three goaltenders in camp — Jackson Whistle, 20, and Michael Herringer, 19, are the others — and a lot of people thought Morrissey’s age would hold him in good stead. Did the decision to go with the two older goaltenders signal that the Rockets are all-in again this season?
9. The Saskatoon Blades have undergone more changes than a new-born over the last few seasons, and we’re talking owners, management and players. They didn’t make the playoffs last season, but the Blades are just off an exhibition season in which they went 4-0-1. Is that a sign of things to come?
10. The Everett Silvertips have rolled the dice in past bantam drafts, selecting F Auston Matthews, who is playing professionally in Switzerland, and F Tyson Jost, who is with the BCHL’s Penticton Vees. Both are projected as first-round selections in the NHL’s 2016 draft. Everett won 43 games and the U.S. Division pennant last season. The Silvertips have a superb head coach in Kevin Constantine, but you have to wonder how long they can go on winning without paying a price for those missing picks?
Glenn Gumbley says:
September 24, 2015 09:23am
Keep up the good work