The Western Hockey League has come down hard on part-time White Rock resident Mike Johnston and his Portland Winterhawks after a string of league infractions.
Last Wednesday, the WHL fined the club $200,000, took away nine bantam draft picks – including first rounders from 2013 until 2017 – and suspended Johnston, the team’s coach/general manager, for the remainder of the season.
According to a news release from the Winterhawks, the infractions for which the team was punished included: paying for flights for players’ family members to attend games; paying for certain players’ off-season training programs; and providing a cellphone for the team’s captain for a period of three seasons.
The Winterhawks never fully disclosed any of those financial commitments to the league, according to WHL commissioner Ron Robison.
A day after the initial release, the WHL issued another one, stating that the team had made 54 violations involving 14 players over a five-year span.
Johnston, who lived on the Peninsula full-time while serving as an associate coach with the Vancouver Canucks, has been with the Winterhawks organization since the 2008/09 season.
After leaving the Canucks, he was an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Kings before taking the job in Portland. He has also been involved in the Hockey Canada skills academy currently running in South Surrey high schools.
On Wednesday, he expressed surprise at the league’s actions.
“After fully co-operating 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,” he said in the release.
“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. 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.”
After the league’s second statement detailed the more than 50 infractions, the Winterhawks later issued a response, “encouraging more transparency in this process.