CALGARY, AB. -- Officials from the Western Hockey League have fined the Portland Winterhawks for what they're calling a "series of player benefit violations" and have suspended the coach/general manager for the rest of the season.
Officials, who made the announcement Wednesday, said the violations took place during the the past four seasons.
League officials determined the Winterhawks 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.
Winterhawks coach/GM Mike Johnston, who is now suspended for the remainder of the season, said the Winterhawks had fully cooperated with the league’s investigation and that the Winterhawks "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.”
Johnston also went on to say that besides recruiting trips and parents’ weekend, there is no WHL prohibition in the rules governing flights for players’ parents, which accounted for the majority of the violations.
“We are currently exploring our options on how we will proceed," Johnston said. "Despite our objections, the league has made its decision, and our players will continue to pursue the goal of winning a WHL championship.”
WHL Commissioner Ron Robison said all teams in the WHL know the league rules and will face "significant consequences" if they are found to be in violation.
“WHL Clubs are required to fully disclose all commitments they make to a player in the WHL Standard Player Agreement," Robison said. "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.”
Along with the suspension of Johnston for the remainder of the season, the league fined the Winterhawks $200,000 and took away a series of draft picks, reaching all the way to 2017.
Winterhawks officials said Assistant General Manager/Assistant Coach Travis Green will assume Johnston’s duties on an interim basis.