Winter Hawks Go Out in Style

by Steve, March 25th, 2008

I caught the final Winter Hawks game last Sunday, and it was a doozy. The Hawks won on an unbelievable behind-the-back move by Matt Schmermund in the shootout.

This was almost enough to make me forget, for just a moment, that the Hawks were finishing one of the worst seasons in the history of the WHL, and that the threat of relocating the franchise is hanging like a pall over Hawkey Town.

Bombastic principal owner Jim Goldsmith bluffs that he’s looking at rinks within 60 miles for potential relocation if he can’t renegotiate his lease. (Of course, anybody that knows anything about hockey in the region knows there is nothing within 60 miles.)

So Goldsmith, under orders from the league to renegotiate, appears to be playing a game of high-stakes chicken with the Trailblazers, the lessor.

The best hope for the Winter Hawks would be a new owner group, one that knows hockey, knows the region, and knows how to negotiate. Short of that, Goldsmith’s best hope might be if the city, which owns the Memorial Coliseum, steps in to twist the Trailblazers’ arm to enter into lease renegotiation talks.

If neither of these two things happen, I’m afraid Schmermund’s move last Sunday may end up being our last look at Canadian major junior hockey in a city with a rich hockey history.

That would really suck.

There are no Autograph Lines in Heaven

by Steve, March 3rd, 2008

I admit it… I’m a bad hockey fan. It’s usually about this time of year that I realize I haven’t seen a hockey game, in person or on TV, for a month or more. Then I look up and realize that all the local teams are finishing up their seasons.

The Jaguars were swept three games to none in the first round of the NORPAC playoffs Thursday, Friday and Saturday last week. PSU finished their season last month.

So, having realized the local season is slipping away, I went to see the Winter Hawks take on the Kelowna Rockets last night at the ol’ Memorial Coliseum. Not having seen the Hawks for over a month, I was cautiously optimistic that I’d see some improvements in both the team and the presentation of the game.

I was sadly disappointed.

On the ice, the team continues to struggle getting the puck out of their own zone (it doesn’t help the the defensive corps has been plagued by injuries), and they continue to have a very hard time establishing offense. The Hawks ended up losing 2-1, but were out-shot 37-17. Their lone goal came late in the third period on a power play with the goalie pulled.

Off ice, the “replay screens,” the jumbo center-hung video screens, were on the fritz for the first period. For the second period, they were on, but only showing graphics — no video. In the second intermission, they tried to bring up some video to show a live interview with Christian author Karen Kingsbury.

It turns out it was “Faith Night,” but no amount of praying could get the big screens to work. When they did work, earlier in the season, they were pretty harsh. Very bright, but pretty low resolution, and the picture was very jerky due to ancient analog video equipment feeding the digital screens through analog-to-digital (A/D) conversion.

Last night this was so bad, it looked like they sent the video feed over Skype to Russia and back. The frame eventually just froze on an unflattering view of Kingsbury and her interviewer from the local Christian radio station. Kingsbury was saying something about how her fans are her friends, and “there are no autograph lines in heaven.” The whole thing completely broke down, and they just blanked the screens for the third period.

This is pretty symbolic of how far this franchise has fallen under the leadership of Jim Goldberg, a self-proclaimed “winner” who’s turned in two of the worst seasons in the history of the Western Hockey League. Things have gotten so bad, the league calls the situation in Portland the top priority of the WHL, and has mandated that Goldberg replace himself as Director of Hockey Operations.

Hopefully there are no New York City barkeeps buying major junior hockey teams in heaven, either.

The good news last night was that I was surprised to learn that the Oregon High School Hockey League was having their championship game immediately following the Winter Hawks game, and I stuck around for three exciting periods of co-ed high school hockey, followed by a five minute overtime and a three-round shootout. The PIL (Portland) took the shoot-out to beat the Pacific (Southwest suburbs) team 3-2.

The Winter Hawks have three more home games this season, including Friday, March 7 against Everett, Saturday, March 8 against Seattle, and Sunday, March 16 against Spokane. The March 8 game will feature a Memorial Cup anniversary celebration with appearances from 1983 and 1998 championship team members and Dean “Scooter” Vrooman, the erstwhile voice of the Hawks, as master of ceremonies.

No Love for the Winter Hawks at the City Club

by Steve, February 29th, 2008

Is Portland a sports city? That was the question put to Portland Trail Blazers president Larry Miller and Beavers and Timbers owner Merritt Paulson by Oregonian columnist Steve Duin at the City Club’s Friday Forum today.

I was well-prepared to not hear the words “Winter Hawks” mentioned, and I planned to ask a question of Larry Miller in regards to the Hawks’ lease. The Trail Blazers manage the Hawks’ home arena, the city-owned Memorial Coliseum, and have been so far unwilling to entertain renegotiating the lease.

Western Hockey League Commissioner Ron Robison calls the Hawks’ lease with the Trail Blazers the worst in the league. The current Winter Hawks ownership group, headed up by bombastic New York City barkeep Jim Goldsmith, doesn’t seem to be taking a constructive approach to renegotiations.

While the Winter Hawks were not mentioned at the forum (the word “hockey” was uttered once), the Memorial Coliseum did come up, when Steve Duin asked Larry Miller about the Blazers’ Rose Quarter redevelopment plans. Though not stated explicitly, the venerable old glass palace seems to be considered more of a hindrance than an asset.

When club member question time came, I was a little slow getting to the line, and questions were cut off before I got to the mic. Here’s what I planned to say.

Thirty years before the NBA was founded, the Portland Rosebuds were the first US-based hockey team to play for the Stanley Cup in 1916. Though they lost to Montreal, the name of our city is engraved on the cup. In 1976, Portland became the first US city to get a Western Hockey League franchise, the Portland Winter Hawks. Today, that team has what is described by the WHL commissioner as the worst lease in the League. If it means the team will otherwise have to leave Portland, would the Trail Blazers be willing to renegotiate the Winter Hawks’ lease?

I didn’t get my answer today, but we will find out soon enough. WHL commish Robison says the team must renegotiate the Memorial Coliseum lease, or they’ll have to move. The ball, as usual, is in the Trail Blazers’ court.

Update: If you want to hear them not talk about hockey for an hour, the meeting is broadcast on OPB radio tonight at 7pm. It is also rebroadcast on various cable TV outlets, and audio is available online for a couple weeks. See the City Club for more information (scroll down).

More Brilliance from the Winter Hawks Owners

by Steve, February 26th, 2008

Principal owner Jim Goldsmith has announced in the press that longtime General Manager Ken Hodge will be reassigned, and a new G.M. will be hired.

One small problem… this is news to Hodge.

The Tribune article by Jason Vondersmith also reveals that there is a dispute about payment for the purchase of the team.

Kudos to Hodge for hanging in there. With any luck, he’ll outlast these bozos, the league (or another ownership group) will take over the team, and we’ll get back to stability in Hawkey Town.

Trouble in Hawkey Town

by Steve, February 21st, 2008

Rumors have been swirling around town about the sad, sad state of the Winter Hawks, and the league seems to be taking notice.

Kamploops (B.C.) Daily News sports editor Greg Drinnan reports that the WHL is reviewing the situation.

The most serious rumors are about player treatment, and the team refusing to pay for surgery of an injured player. It is also rumored that the team is delinquent in paying for hockey sticks, and players are having to buy their own.

At this point the best thing might be for the league to take over the team, and try to right the ship. It’s bad enough having the worst record in the league since the 1989-90 Victoria Cougars. If you aren’t taking care of your players, you’ve got no place running a major junior hockey team.

Arena Sighting

by Steve, November 25th, 2007

salead.jpgI’ve been selling More Hockey Less War t-shirts for over a year now, and I know they’ve been worn in rinks all around the globe. But I had my first sighting at the Memorial Coliseum (other than my own) last night at the Winter Hawks’ Teddy Bear Toss. Here’s a shout out to the nice woman in section 13 wearing her black t-shirt with the classic stenciled logo. I was wearing my 148th Overseas Battalion sweatshirt, and she noticed and gave me a nice wave.

Seeing a random stranger wearing a t-shirt I designed gave me an unexpected thrill. I’m glad the irony (and the pure, unadulterated truth embodied in what at first appears to be a contradiction) is appreciated by others enough that they’d spend upwards of $30 to order one of my shirts.

Since the price of these things is so high, and the pittance I make off them isn’t good for much (except buying shirts for me and my crew), I decided to drop the prices as far as I can on the classic design More Hockey Less War T-shirt. (Cafe Press sets relatively high base prices — $18.99-$19.99 for basic dark t-shirts — and shop keepers make money by adding markup to that price.)

From now until I can be bothered to change it back (could be weeks, months or years) I’m selling these for $20.99. That’s a dollar or two above cost, depending on whether it’s men’s or women’s, enough to (hopefully) cover the cost of the Cafe Press shop. They’re still not cheap, but they’re probably as cheap as you’ll get a dark t-shirt at any Cafe Press shop.

Looking for Hockey?

by Steve, November 18th, 2007

My latest post on Metroblogging Portland is all about hockey in Portland, focusing on the Jaguars, Winter Hawks, and the history of the game in the Rose City. (Did you know the first US team to play for the Stanley Cup was the Portland Rosebuds, in 1916?)

A Quiet Weekend in Hawkey Town

by Steve, November 1st, 2007

The Portland Winter Hawks (2-13-0-0) got off the bus in Medicine Hat, Alberta this morning, and got right on the ice for practice after a 940 mile overnight bus trip from Portland. They’ve got a brutal three-in-three against Medicine Hat (12-3-2-0) tomorrow night, Lethbridge (9-7-1-1) Saturday and Kootenay (7-10-2-0) Sunday.

Hopefully the Hawks can overcome bus legs, gain some confidence, and pick up a few points on this 1,772 mile central swing.

The Jaguars are off this weekend, and back in action November 10 and 11 against Seattle at Valley.

The Portland State University Vikings are on the road to the Tri Cities for three-in-three this weekend. One game against Columbia Basin and two games against Walla Walla.

I’ve saved the ugly news for last: The Fort Vancouver Pioneers have ended their season early, due to a conflict with their league over transportation. I kind of wondered how they were going to manage the travel, given most (all?) of the other teams were in B.C. And I had doubts about how well organized the WHA was. Now we know. I’m not sure what the future holds for the Pios, since I believe some of their front office guys earned lifetime bans from USA Hockey. The WHA, an independent league, may have been their last best hope for continuing as a hockey club.

So it goes.

Portland Through the Eyes of a Saskatonian

by Steve, October 26th, 2007

Met a little girl, her name was June
A little bit south of Saskatoon

— Sonny James
Saskatoon StarPhoenix reporter Cory Wolfe got on the bus with the Saskatoon Blades for their ten day, five game road trip a lot south and west of Saskatoon, through the US Division of the Western Hockey League. The trip included a stop in Portland this week, the southern most city in the league. He’s posting a diary of his trip on the StarPhoenix Web site.

It’s very interesting in a number of ways. First, it’s a behind-the-scenes look at life on the road for these student athletes, who not only play their junior careers away from home in most cases, but also endure a grueling 72 game schedule with at least one lengthy road trip each season. (It’s 1,200 miles from Saskatoon to Portland. The Brandon Wheat Kings, who are here this weekend, are traveling 1,500 miles from home ice.)

It’s also interesting to see our city, our team and our aging facility (Memorial Coliseum) through the eyes of a visitor.

After a 3-1 loss to Tri-City in Kennewick, Wash. on Saturday night, Wolfe and team rode the bus through the Columbia River Gorge to Portland.

2:10 a.m. Bus arrives at Portland’s Memorial Coliseum. Players unload their bags and leave their gear to dry overnight. Blades forward Ondrej Fiala, who played in this building plenty as a member of the Everett Silvertips, points out the arena’s quirks: tiny benches and springy boards.

On a two-day layover in Portland, Wolfe and crew ate twice at the Portland City Grill, and appreciated the view. They made a trip to Lloyd Center, where they got a few chuckles about the ice rink there and the general lack of knowledge they discovered in the locals.

2:38 p.m.: The hotel shuttle delivers the elders – coaches, trainers, etc. – to the Lloyd Center shopping mall. The complex features a skating rink with boards but no glass. Curling rings are painted on the ice surface.

“Do people actually curl here?” I ask a guy in a nearby kiosk.

“Yeah,” he says enthusiastically.

“But the ice isn’t even pebbled,” I reply. “Curling ice has to be pebbled so the rocks will slide.”

His smile drops. I don’t think he knows what I’m talking about.

“Well,” he says after a pause, “I think it’s just a bunch of guys who come early in the morning to get away from their wives.”


4:05 p.m.: Blades trainer Graham (Spike) Watt feigns giddiness when he sees the Zamboni resurfacing the mall’s skating rink. Even though we’ve witnessed this routine thousands of times before, we sidle up to the boards and watch. Beside us, a retired couple really is in awe of this magical machine.

“I’ve seen them on TV,” says the woman, “but I didn’t know what they did, so I asked the driver. I didn’t know if they polished it or put water on it.”

We play dumb.

“So what DOES it do?” I ask.

“It sprays water on it and then it freezes!” she says as if she’s discovered the Caramilk secret.

“Ohhhh,” I reply. “Crazy!”

Nice read Cory!

His most recent entry as of this writing was last night from Everett, Wash.: “10:53 p.m.: Bedtime. Tomorrow we check out. Then it’s on to Seattle for a game, followed by a 20-hour bus ride home…”

Think about that. Twenty hours on a bus after nine days on the road.

(Thanks to “lionshockey8” on the Oregon Live Winter Hawks Forum for the tip.)

Portland Weekend Hockey Roundup

by Steve, October 26th, 2007

Let’s start off with the newest game in town: the Portland State University Vikings have their inaugural home game tonight and another game tomorrow night, both against the University of Puget Sound at Mountain View Ice Arena in Vancouver Wash. I’m not sure if Portland has ever had college club hockey before, so this is kind of cool. I know a few of these guys from stick time at Valley, so here’s a big shout out to them. Go James! Go Steve! Go Head Butt! Go Vikings! Admission is just $5, so “Get off yer butts and cheer,” as my high school principal once yelled at the nerd squad at a pep rally. But I digress.

The River City Jaguars take their show on the road to Medford this weekend for three games against the Rogue Valley Wranglers. The Jags are the winningest team in Portland, with a 10-4 record. You’ve gotta hope things don’t get too out of hand against the NPHL expansion Wranglers, who have yet to manage a win. The Jags are back in town November 10.

The Jaguars are on a roll this year, led by five skaters with at least one point a game: Rudy Pino (15-7-22), Spencer Murphy (10-8-18), Nick Guzman (6-10-16), Kevin Nighbert (6-7-13), and Everett Mayers (4-9-13).

The WHA league-leading Fort Vancouver Pioneers (7-1-0) are on the road in B.C., for a pair of games against an evidently non-league team in Lillooet. (The WHA site is woefully lacking in information.) The Pios are back in town the weekend of November 2.

Last but not least, the Winter Hawks (2-10-0-0) have a tough three-in-three schedule this weekend, starting with a game in Kennewick, Wash. tonight against the first-place Tri-City Americans (11-3-0-0). They’re back home Saturday, taking on Eastern Conference Brandon (7-5-0-1), and Sunday against a very strong looking second-place Spokane (9-2-1-1). The Hawks got their first home win of the season last Sunday against Saskatoon (3-9-1-0).