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All the recent talk about a flood of major-junior players starting their seasons in a western Canadian junior A league hit a roadblock this week.
Sources told the Free Press Friday the WHL has decided it will not be releasing roster players to play in the MJHL, Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, Alberta Junior Hockey League or B.C. Hockey League to start 2020-21.
The MJHL, which received approval earlier this week to start its season on Oct. 9, had generated interest from a number of WHLers looking for a place to play, including Portland Winterhawks star Seth Jarvis.
Jarvis, whose MJHL playing rights belong to Steinbach, discussed the possibility of a temporary placement with Pistons GM and head coach Paul Dyck before deciding against it. Jarvis came to the conclusion that playing six weeks in the MJHL followed by a full season in the WHL was too much.
The WHL has targeted Dec. 4 for a return to play with a mid-November opening for training camp.
While WHL regulars have been ruled out for games (some flexibility may be allowed if a player wants to train with a Junior A team), it’s a different matter for those considered affiliate players.
For instance, forward Matt Savoie of the Winnipeg Ice played 22 games as an affiliate and another 22 games with the Rink Academy’s under-18 prep team in 2020-21.
In theory, the 16-year-old from St. Albert, Alta., could opt to play at the under-18 level again or with the AJHL’s Sherwood Park Crusaders where his 18-year-old brother, Carter, was second in league scoring with 99 points in 54 games last season.
Carter, whose WHL rights are also owned by the Ice, has commited to attend the University of Denver.
Matt Savoie could also choose to continue to skate with his training group in the Edmonton area before reporting to Winnipeg.
Newly hired OCN GM and head coach Billy Keane admits one concern for MJHL clubs is the possibility that adding a temporary player could disrupt a team’s season.
But will he consider adding WHL-affiliated players?
"Absolutely, we already had a couple of guys talking to us," said Keane from The Pas on Friday. "I’m curious about it but can see in a sense we have to be careful about it. You’ve also got to sell some tickets and if you have some quality local kids who want to be part of your program, it’s worth considering."
FILLING THE VOID: The Winnipeg Blues have filled a vacancy created when head coach Gord Burnett left the club earlier this summer for a post as an assistant coach with the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors.
Blues GM Taras McEwen, who has previous coaching experience in the Prairie Junior Hockey League and SJHL, will also behind the Winnipeg bench in 2020-21.
McEwen, 29, joined the Kootenay Ice as its manager of scouting in 2016.
"I am extremely excited to step into the position as head coach," he said in a release. "It’s a great opportunity to work hand in hand with a young group of players who want to make it to the next level."
The club also announced that Zach Heisinger, 24, will be McEwen’s assistant.
STAYING CLOSE TO HOME: A likely scenario for the WHL’s eventual return to competition involves intra-divisional play, at least until restrictions could be relaxed enough to allow games outside the division.
Garry Davidson, GM of the U.S. Division’s Everett Silvertips, admits it may be the best solution.
"I’m supportive of that but on the other hand, we’re not going to be able to play games until we can put some people in our buildings," said Davidson, referring to commissioner Ron Robison’s edict the league needs 50 per cent capacity in its arenas.
"Right now in the state of Washington and I think Oregon’s the same, I mean, there’s just no ability to draw crowds right now. And I think that’s the same on all the provinces."
FEAR THE KRAKEN? Davidson doesn’t believe the arrival of the NHL expansion Kraken will be a negative for the Silvertips or the Seattle Thunderbirds. Everett is a 30-minute drive north of Seattle while the T-Birds play in Kent, Wash., 25 minutes south.
"I see the glass here being half full, not half empty," said Davidson. "I think it’s gonna profile our game to another level. There’ll be more buildings open up, more surfaces, including the three the Kraken are gonna have in their facility. So I think it’s gonna be a win win. I think we have a good following, Seattle has a good following...
"I think also what both of our franchises have done is we’ve managed to sell our product as an entertainment evening and affordable entertainment. There’s no question I think our fans are going to be excited to go watch an NHL game, particularly when some of our alumni are playing."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
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