Thursday, 7 January 2016

WHL trade deadline not all fun and games

Adam Helewka is a recent Rebels addition.
    Fans might find the WHL’s trade deadline fun, but it far from that for a lot of people associated with the league.
    This year’s deadline passes at 12 p.m. Mountain Time on Sunday, and its conclusion is often greeted with relief. As soon as the Christmas break ends, anxiety heightens on the part of the players from that point until the deadline passes. It is recognized that this short time span becomes the last chance for some clubs to bolster their rosters for a long playoff run, while other teams might be looking towards the future.
    Players that might think they are safe might get thrown into a multi-person blockbuster deal, because you often have to give up a good asset to acquire a good asset. Most of the brain trusts in the league are pretty sharp, so it is pretty hard for one club to fleece another club in a trade.
    During this lead up, players often wonder if they will have to leave friends they have made and the billet families they have gotten to know in short order to venture into a new world. That will often leave their parents and agents scrambling to help them relocate to a new centre.
    The lead up to the deadline is also hard for general managers. They often work mobile phones day and night mostly in an effort to tire kick to see what is out there. The deals result from only a small amount of the tire kicking.
    While working the phones, general managers often give up whatever short family and personal time they already have. When the deadline passes, that sacrifice no longer has to be made.
    Believe it or not, the trade deadline is often not fun for a number of the media outlets that cover the league. Most of the media outlets in WHL centres have a minimum of resources to work with. Reporters are often trying to squeeze in a trade story along with covering other local sporting events in their respective communities and satisfying the technical aspects that come with producing stories in print or broadcast.
Jake DeBrusk's addition adds to the Rebels offence.
    Trades often break at the strangest times, and reporters are often left scrambling to rework their schedules.
    The only person that seems to have any control on what goes on is Richard Doerksen, who is the WHL’s vice-president of hockey. All of the league’s trades go through Doerksen, who gives deals the final stamp of approval.
    When I interviewed for a trade deadline feature about a couple of years back, Doerksen said the only time trades can’t be made are from 11 p.m. at night to 7 a.m. in the morning, because he shuts his mobile phone off during those hours in order to sleep. He still has somewhat of a set schedule.
    During the final stretch leading up to this season’s trade deadline, the Red Deer Rebels, who will host this year’s Memorial Cup tournament, have to be viewed as the big winners so far. When action resumed after the WHL’s Christmas break on Dec. 27, 2015, the Rebels sat third overall in the 22-team league with a 23-12 mark.
    Since that time, the Rebels have swung three big deals that have bolstered their chances to enter the Memorial Cup tournament as possible WHL champions. On Dec. 27, 2015, they acquired 19-year-old winger Jake DeBrusk from the Swift Current Broncos in exchange for 18-year-old forward Lane Pederson, a first round pick in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft and a third round selection in the 2016 Bantam Draft.
Taden Rattie is caught in a scrum against the Blades.
    DeBrusk had been the face of the Broncos franchise and will likely add some strut to the Rebels lineup. He has 14 goals and 22 assists in 30 games this season.
    On Jan. 1, the Rebels acquired high-scoring overage winger Adam Helewka from the Spokane Chiefs. The Chiefs picked up overage winger Wyatt Johnson, 15-year-old prospect Eli Zummack, a second round selection in the 2016 Bantam Draft and a fifth round pick in the 2017 Bantam Draft. Helewka has 19 goals and 18 assists in 22 total games this season, while Johnson had been the Rebels captain.
    Red Deer’s third major move came on Sunday, when they picked up overage centre Luke Philp from the Kootenay Ice in exchange for overage winger Presten Kopeck, 17-year-old defencaman Ryan Pouliot, the rights to 16-year-old forward Tanner Sidaway, and a second round and a third round selection in the 2016 Bantam Draft. Kopeck was dealt a day later to the Chiefs in exchange for overage winger Riley Whittingham and a fourth round selection in the 2017 Bantam Draft.
    Philp has 13 goals and 16 assists in 22 games with the Ice, but he is still out with an ankle injury he suffered back on Nov. 21, 2015.
    In a minor move on Dec. 28, 2015, the Rebels picked up 18-year-old winger Taden Rattie from the Portland Winterhawks for a fourth round selection in the 2016 Bantam Draft. Rattie, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 190 pounds, recorded seven goals, five assists and 155 penalty minutes in 53 games at the junior A level last season with the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Whitecourt Wolverines, and he should add a physical presence.
Landon Bow was traded by the Broncos.
    The additions of DeBrusk, Helewka and a healthy Philp make the Rebels that much more of an extremely dangerous offensive team. Red Deer (28-13) hosts the Lethbridge Hurricanes (28-12) on Friday in a battle for first overall in the WHL’s Eastern Conference.
    The Rebels would benefit from having a little more depth on defence, but a running theme among scouts that watch the WHL is that this is a thin campaign when it comes to the number of good rearguards and goaltenders that are in the league. The asking price for those spots will be at a premium.
    With that in mind, the Seattle Thunderbirds were able to acquire standout overage goaltender Landon Bow from the Swift Current Broncos in exchange for 18-year-old netminder Taz Burman and overage winger Jamal Watson on Tuesday.
    A hockey family reunion was created in a Monday deal involving the Saskatoon Blades and the Brandon Wheat Kings. The Blades sent 17-year-old defenceman Schael Higson, overage rearguard Mitch Wheaton and second round selection in the 2017 Bantam Draft to the Wheat Kings for 18-year-old winger Braylon Shmyr and overage defenceman Colton Waltz.
    Waltz’s younger sister, Jerrica, is a sophomore goalie for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team.

Kennedy to get WHL Alumni Achievement Award

    On Thursday, the WHL announced that Sheldon Kennedy will be presented with the WHL Alumni Achievement Award.
    Kennedy will receive the honour in a pre-game ceremony in Swift Current before the host Broncos take on the Moose Jaw Warriors at 2 p.m. at the Credit Union i-plex. The Brandon, Man., product was a star winger for the Broncos from 1986 to 1989 and was the captain of the 1989 Memorial Cup championship Broncos squad.
    Kennedy is best remember for coming forward about how he was sexually abused by his former coach in Swift Current, Graham James. James was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in a federal prison after pleading guilty to sexual offenses against Kennedy and another player.
    Since that revelation in the 1990s, Kennedy has been an unprecedented leader in the cause of awareness and prevention of child abuse, and was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2014.
    On Friday, Kennedy will be in Swift Current as that centre launches a new initiative called “Youth Certification and Safe Places,” which is a certification and registration strategy that requires background checks for anyone that works directly with children.
    It has been good to see Kennedy and the community of Swift Current move forward in a number of positive ways in recent years.

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