WHL Commisinoer Ron Robison stopped by Game 3 of the first round series between the Seattle Thunderbirds and Everett Silvertips and covered a wide range of topics from across the WHL.
Forefront on that minds of fans in the WHL and the Pacific Northwest has been the recent decision made down in Salem, Oregon regarding the testimony of a couple players including Everett Silvertips and Edmonton Oil Kings former star Tyler Maxwell, who stated that he had been forced to play on a broken kneecap.
Maxwell testified to the Oregon State Committee on Workforce and appeared to be instrumental in the Portland Winterhawks not obtaining a minimum-wage exemption.
Robison addressed the allegations made by Maxwell and former Seattle Thunderbird and Kelowna Rocket James McEwan. He relayed that Maxwell and McEwan’s statements caught the league off guard. McEwan claimed that after being in may fights in the WHL and pursuing a professional career in hockey, his scholarship money was gone and he had to pay for his own treatments.
“I can’t comment on the details obviously,” Robison said. “We were surprised because those players actually represented us at different events and spoke highly about their experiences in the Western Hockey League. We were disappointed and surprised but obviously concerned at the same time. We have launched this independent review to see what exactly took place.”
Robison is keeping close tabs on the investigation and relayed that the league will be making a statement about the findings. Of note is the fact that neither Maxwell nor McEwan played for a WHL team in Oregon, where the hearing took place.
“We will make a statement once that review has concluded. We have to go through that process and will make a statement once it has concluded,” Robison said on Tuesday night.
According to Robison, the WHL member clubs involved have been very forthcoming of what happened.
“They have all been very cooperative. First of all, we set the standard for a long history of the quality of player experience. We are the number one supplier of players to the National Hockey League. The tremendous scholarship program has set records this year. The support for our players has never been better. We also continue working at improving. So our view of it is whatever those challenges or areas of concerns are, we are going to be aggressive at addressing.”
Robison still holds out hope for obtaining exemption status in Oregon State, like they have been able to get in many other areas that the WHL operates in.
“We look at our success in Washington State and the other Western Provinces, with the exception of Alberta, are all in exemption status. We expect that we will get there at some point. It’s not just about Western Hockey League teams, but also about amateur sports. Making sure that there is a clarification to the standards. We think that this decision and its ability to reflect broadly on amateur sports is very important.”
Another topic that came up was about whether the WHL has had any talks about moving the draft year for their Bantam Draft back a year, to match up with the Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Those leagues have their players drafted at 15, while the WHL’s players are drafted at 14.
“We have no plans to change. We haven’t discussed that and we think that our Bantam Draft has worked extremely well. We are unique as a league that covers a very broad territory. We have franchises throughout Western Canada and through the Pacific Northwest. There are major adjustments that players have to make – their families have to move and they have to adjust to different schools and moving to locations where there are different jurisdictions and so forth. That combined with the fact that I think you need to understand where your plan is as far as your young players and the next stages of their development.”
While the Bantam Draft age has not made the WHL concerned, the amount of trades made this past trade deadline has. Robison stated that the WHL is in talks to not allow players at a certain age to be traded.
“We are looking at that very seriously. We were concerned about the level of trade activity this year. We will be coming out soon with a decision. We want to make sure that these players are not concerned about that at that age and we are focusing on restricting moving players at a younger age.”
Robison also addressed the current playoff format that saw a team in the Saskatoon Blades that missed the playoffs despite finishing with 74 points – the sixth most in the Eastern Conference.
“We really feel like this is the best format and it works really well for our league. First of all, when you consider the travel demands on our players, we want to really have those games in the first round in the division, because travel is limited. At the same time, it helps with your rivalries. You have a great example here of one of the best rivalries in the league. If you look throughout our league in each division, we have some great rivalries. Why not get that competition level really up high in the playoffs and see how it goes from there. There’s pros and cons but generally speaking this format makes a lot of sense for our league.”
A topic that came up, especially come playoff time, when the former media partner in Shaw TV usually is covering a series for each round of the playoffs, was whether the WHL is working on replacing them.
“We would love to. We need to get more broadcasts out there. We have a national broadcast partner in Sportsnet that has been tremendous for us in Canada and we have a local partner here in the Pacific Northwest. Replacing Shaw is a big priority for us though. We need to get games out there for our fans and parents. “
The WHL does stream their game through Neulion as part of a pay-per-view service. Neulion Inc. was recently bought out by Endeavor for about 250 Million dollars. Robison does not believe this will impact the streaming service the WHL airs every game on.
“We do not believe it will. We have had some discussions on what that would look like but we expect that that service will be maintained.”
DUBNetwork would like to thank the commissioner for making himself available for some questions during his very busy schedule.