CALGARY, Alberta — The Western Hockey League announced today a series of unprecedented punishments against the Portland Winterhawks -- including suspending general manager/head coach Mike Johnston for the rest of the regular season and the playoffs -- because of improper player benefits.
The investigation of the past four seasons also resulted in the club being fined $200,000, banning the Winterhawks from participating in the first five rounds of the 2013 WHL bantam draft and the forfeiture of their first round selections in the 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 WHL bantam drafts.
"All WHL Clubs understand they are required to fully comply and respect our League Regulations or they will face significant consequences," WHL Commissioner Ron Robison said in a news release. "WHL Clubs are required to fully disclose all commitments they make to a player in the WHL Standard Player Agreement. Our independent investigation in this case revealed there were multiple violations over an extended period for player benefits that are not permitted under WHL Regulations and were not disclosed to the WHL. It should also be noted through the course of the investigation there was no evidence of any payments or enhanced education benefits provided to players that would be contrary to WHL Regulations as previous media reports indicated."
This season, the Winterhawks have the league's second best record of 20-4-1 (41 points), one point behind the Kamloops Blazers (20-6-1-1). The Tri-City Americans trail Portland by seven points in the U.S. Division.
Last season, Portland swept the Americans in the Western Conference final before losing in the WHL finals to the Edmonton Oil Kings, a series that went seven games.
The league office concluded the release by noting that will not make any further public comments regarding the investigation or the discipline.