WHL Notebook: Veterans move on to pro ranks once junior season completed

Dave Leaderhouse
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Now that the Western Hockey League playoffs are deep into the second round, more and more players are finding new homes after their junior season comes to an end. The Prince Albert Raiders, for example, have Josh Morrissey with the St. John’s Ice Caps of the American Hockey League while Collin Valcourt is in Abbotsford and Graeme Craig is down in Oklahoma City. The Regina Pats have said good-bye to Morgan Klimchuk (Abbotsford) and Kyle Burroughs (Bridgeport Sound) while the Everett Silvertips also have a trio of players in the professional ranks – Mirco Mueller (Worcester), Joshua Winquist (Oklahoma City) and Jujhar Khaira (Oklahoma City). Tri-City goaltender Eric Comrie is also with the St. John’s Ice Caps and Jesse Zgraggen of the Pats has signed a pro deal to play in Switzerland next year. There are many others who have, or will, move on as teams get eliminated leaving a number of positions open on WHL rosters for next year.

While the Saskatoon Blades didn’t have any players to get attention from the professional level – former Raider defenceman MacKenzie Johnston being the lone exception as he is in Tulsa for the rest of the season – the storied franchise wasted little time in turning a new page as both head coach David Struch and long-time general manager Lorne Molleken were relieved of their duties immediately following the regular season. The Blades have brought in former NHL general manager Craig Button to help find replacements for those roles…The Brandon Wheat Kings received a scare in their first-round sweep of the Regina Pats when scoring star Jayce Hawryluk collapsed following the third game of the series. Hawryluk, who had just netted three goals in the Wheat Kings’ win, was taken to hospital for observation, but was released the next day. It is believed he suffered from dehydration and he was in the line-up when Brandon eliminated Regina with a fourth straight win.

The feel-good story of the last month in the WHL has to be the display of sportsmanship shown by the Calgary Hitmen when the team emptied the bench to shake Kootenay Ice forward Tim Bozon’s hand following a ceremonial face-off prior to a first-round playoff game in Cranbrook. Bozon had been hospitalized for almost a month with meningitis and was making his first public appearance following his release from a Saskatoon hospital. Bozon, who had been in a coma for most of his stay in the hospital, looked frail, but was visibly surprised by the show of support from the rival Hitmen players. Bozon is back home in Switzerland continuing to recover from the illness, but his dilemma took another twist when it was discovered that the health insurance purchased by the Kamloops Blazers and later transferred to Kootenay when he was traded there earlier in the year, expired on Mar. 13 leaving a mountain of medical bills on the table. It is unclear how or who will cover those costs, but there is talk that the league will increase coverage in the future to avoid a similar situation.

Last year when the Everett Silvertips just squeaked into the post-season as the eighth seed in the Western Conference they boldly told fans that if they didn’t finish in at least sixth place this year all season-ticket holders would get a $100 credit for their renewals for the following season. The Silvertips finished in a tie with the Seattle Thunderbirds for fifth place to avoid the costly venture, but now they have renewed the claim that if they don’t finish in fourth place or higher next year, season-ticket holders can expect a $100 deduction on the renewal for the 2015-16 campaign…A total of 53 WHL players have made the final Central Scouting list of draft eligible players for the upcoming NHL entry draft in Philadelphia with Kootenay Ice forward Sam Reinhart leading the way in third place followed closely by Prince Albert’s Leon Draisaitl at No. 4. Draisaitl, the league’s player of the month for March, fell from second place in the mid-season rankings, despite having 19 points in his final eight games to help the Raiders get into a tie-breaker situation to qualify for the playoffs. Reid Gardiner of the Raiders moved up 11 spots to sit 29th overall among North American skaters.

Information for the WHL Notebook is gathered from submissions by the WHL Writer’s Group.


Organizations: Western Hockey League, American Hockey League, NHL Calgary Hitmen Brandon Wheat Kings Saskatoon hospital Seattle Thunderbirds Prince Albert North American

Geographic location: Oklahoma City, Abbotsford, Switzerland Worcester Tri-City Tulsa Cranbrook Philadelphia WHL Writer

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