For the first time in more than two decades, the Western Hockey League held its annual general meeting in Kelowna — site of the 2020 Memorial Cup.
The WHL usually holds its AGM in much bigger cities, such as Calgary or Las Vegas. This year, however, a decision was made to host it in B.C.’s Southern Interior.
The AGM wrapped up Wednesday, but other league meetings will take place until Friday. Approximately 160 league officials and team representatives are in town for the meetings.
Several items were discussed at the AGM, including the Memorial Cup, next season’s scheduling and, for the first time in recent memory, how the rulebook will go untouched for 2019-20.
“We’re in a good position on the ice because we didn’t have any rule changes,” said WHL commissioner Ron Robison.
“That’s not to say we don’t continue to challenge ourselves on everything that’s developing. Whether it’s at our level or the NHL level, we’re partners with the NHL and we’ll follow any new developments that come up there.”
Robison added, “we’re very satisfied with the quality of the game on the ice.”
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With Kelowna hosting the Memorial Cup in 11 months’ time, Robison said he’s looking forward to being in the Okanagan in May.
“It just seems like yesterday we had one of the most fabulous experiences anyone could ask for here in 2004,” said Robison, referring to when Kelowna hosted and won the four-team tournament 15 years ago.
“It really set a new standard for the Memorial Cup. Halifax (2019) was a wonderful experience; the building was sold out every night. There’s only 6,000 seats here in Kelowna, and the hope is we’re going to have two WHL teams in the final.”
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At the 2019 Memorial Cup in Halifax, the WHL champion Prince Albert Raiders went 0-3 and were quickly bounced from the tournament.
The Raiders defeated the Vancouver Giants in Game 7, in overtime, on Tuesday, May 14.
Three days later, on May 17, the Memorial Cup began, giving Prince Albert little time to recuperate from their grueling WHL title run. Halifax defeated Prince Albert 4-1 in the opening game.
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By comparison, the OHL wrapped up its playoffs on May 12, while the QMJHL playoffs ended May 11.
Asked if the WHL will be adjusting its playoff schedule, Robison was noncommittal.
He said Prince Albert “didn’t want to go seven games in that series. They were a dominant team all year; give Vancouver credit, they pushed them to seven.
“And it does affect it, with travel. To play that opening game, it was a tough position to put Prince Albert in, without question. I think they just didn’t really recover throughout the entire tournament. And that made an impact, for sure.
“The advantage we’re going to have next year is both teams are going to playing in our own region,” he continued, adding “our two teams will be ready to go.”
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Last season, the WHL cut down its regular-season schedule, trimming four games to 68 from 72.
Robison called it a good move, stating “we play in a league that requires significant travel. We need time for schooling, we need time for recovery, more time for practice, more time to work on their games generally.
“It’s led to a more compact schedule in the weekends — about 70-plus per cent of our games are now on weekends. I think that’s great for the players, I think it’s great for the fans.
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The WHL also announced a minor division alignment shift, with the Kootenay Ice moving to Winnipeg from Cranbrook, B.C.
The Ice will now play in the East Division, with the Swift Current Broncos moving to the Central Division from the East Division.
Robison also said the league has no room for expansion, and that “22 teams is probably a few too many teams, quite frankly. The 20-team level was where we were quite satisified, but, because of the opportunity to move into markets, like Edmonton and Victoria and now Winnipeg, we have an ideal footprint within Western Canada.
“We’re really well positioned moving forward.”
Regarding a class-action lawsuit against the CHL, which contends players were paid less than minimum wage, Robison had no comment, saying “that matter is being handled by legal counsel.”
In other news, the WHL announced its 60-game pre-season schedule.