Winterhawks Statement on WHL Sanctions & Suspension

Today the Western Hockey League has announced disciplinary action against the Portland Winterhawks for violations related to player benefits. The WHL has forfeited the team from participating in the first five rounds of the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft and the forfeiture of the team’s first round picks in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

The WHL also announced the organization has been fined $200,000, and that General Manager & Head Coach Mike Johnston has been suspended for the remainder of the season, including the playoffs. Assistant General Manager & Assistant Coach Travis Green will assume Johnston’s duties on an interim basis.

What follows is a summary of the league’s findings, and a statement from Johnston:

The Winterhawks were found to have committed the following violations:

•       A player contract signed in 2009, involving flights for the player’s family and a summer training program
•       Over the last five years, seven families were provided flights 2-4 times per season based on financial need and their distance from Portland
•       Twice in the last five years the team paid for two players to each have a one-week summer training regimen
•       The Winterhawks provided a cell phone for its team captain for a period of three seasons

The WHL’s audit found no violations involving monetary payments made to players, their families or agents, or any violations related to the league’s educational packages.

“After fully cooperating with the league’s investigation, we were extremely surprised at the excessive nature of the sanctions, and we don’t feel they are in line with the scope of the violations we were found to have committed,” said Johnston.

“We believe that apart from recruiting trips and parents’ weekend, there is no prohibition in the rules governing flights for players’ parents, which were the majority of the infractions,” continued Johnston. “We are currently exploring our options on how we will proceed. Despite our objections, the league has made its decision, and our players will continue to pursue the goal of winning a WHL championship.”

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