The WHL, which prides itself on being the best junior hockey league in the world, has made great strides in the past 48 years.
But there are still days that leave you shaking your head and wondering what the heck they were thinking.
The league held its highly anticipated bantam draft lottery on Wednesday, with the Brandon Wheat Kings beating the odds to win the right to pick first overall for the first time in the history of the draft.
But you would have never known it by watching the league’s live video feed of the lottery, and there was no mention of that critical fact in the WHL’s official press release, which stated: “A Saskatoon Blades ball was drawn, meaning Saskatoon moves up two spots in the first round of the draft and will select first overall.”
Great news for Blades fans. Of course, it was completely confusing, utterly misleading and grossly inaccurate.
Yes, on a day when the league spotlight should have shone brightly on the Wheat Kings organization, there was nary a mention that Brandon will in fact have the No.1 pick in the May 1 bantam draft, after swapping first-round selections with Saskatoon as part of the Brenden Walker trade made two years ago.
Just days before the draft lottery, WHL vice-president Richard Doerksen confirmed to me that Brandon would wind up with either the No.1, No.3 or No.4 pick — with a 19 per cent chance of picking first overall. But in the league’s official press release and on Wednesday’s live videocast — as he held up the winning ball — Doerksen never bothered to share this critical detail with fans, media, parents or players.
One simple sentence confirming the trade would have set the record straight. Instead, in one of its biggest blunders in years, the league’s publicly stated position was that the coveted first overall pick belonged to the Blades. On Thursday, the league finally corrected itself, confirming on its website that the Wheat Kings had in fact hit the jackpot in the draft lottery.
Unfortunately, the WHL’s gaffe kept the Wheat Kings organization from fully cashing in on priceless publicity. Yes, the ball may have dropped for Brandon in the lottery, but it was the league that completely dropped the ball on this one.
PLAYOFFS: A gruelling February schedule — including a punishing stretch of eight games in only 12 nights — clearly took a toll on the Wheat Kings, with the resulting rash of injuries likely costing them any realistic chance of finishing first in the East Division. But if they weren’t going to win the division title, finishing seventh in the Eastern Conference was the next best thing for the Wheat Kings, giving them a first-round playoff matchup with the Regina Pats. Yes, the Pats do hold home-ice advantage in the best-of-seven series that begins Saturday night in Regina, but Brandon won there last weekend and took five of the eight games in the regular-season series. And with four key Pats players — goal-scoring leader Dyson Stevenson (broken hand), captain Kyle Burroughs, starting netminder Daniel Wapple and veteran defenceman Colby Williams — all nursing injuries going into the playoffs, the Wheat Kings may actually be in better shape at this point. My fearless prediction? The Wheat Kings win in six, clinching the series in Dauphin, of all places.
OVERSEAS: Former Wheat Kings coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk is in Hungary serving as an assistant coach with Canada’s team in the world under-18 women’s hockey championship in Budapest. Canada opens the eight-team tournament on Sunday against Japan ... Virden’s Olympic pairs skaters Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers are also heading back overseas to represent Canada in the world figure skating championships in Saitama, Japan. Lawrence and Swiegers skate their short program on Wednesday and their free skate on Thursday ... Former Skate Brandon member Lee Chandler of Boissevain heads to Courmayeur, Italy with eight-time national champion Nexxice synchronized skating team to compete in the world championships on April 4-5. Based in Burlington, Ont., Nexxice won the silver medal at worlds last year.