A deep dive into the northwest ice hockey scene


Derek Harper, Staff Reporter

The sports world looks a lot different right now due to the pandemic, and ice hockey is no exception.

With the USA-Canada border closure and local state restrictions, the Wenatchee Wild of the Junior-A British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) were forced to take a year off. 

The Portland Winterhawks of the major junior Western Hockey League (WHL) have seen some pretty large changes within their organization as well. 

Due to circumstances as a result of the pandemic, the Portland Winterhawks previous ownership had to declare bankruptcy. New ownership was officially introduced earlier this month and they’re excited to get going. However, expect a lot of excitement and enthusiasm once the pandemic is a thing of the past.

The new ownership group will be called Winterhawks Sports Group. The majority owners are Michael Kramer and Kerry Preete. In addition to the team, the group purchased the Winterhawks Skating Center in Beaverton, Oregon and all Winterhawks Junior Hockey Programs.

The WHL will be playing a 24 game season with teams staying within their division.The WHL’s U.S. Division includes the Portland Winterhawks, Tri-City Americans, Spokane Chiefs, Seattle Thunderbirds and Everett Silvertips. There won’t be any fans in attendance to start this season. 

The Wenatchee Wild is the only U.S. based team in the 18 team BCHL. With all the ongoing changes and players wanting to get as many games in as possible, teams have been loaning players to teams in other leagues. Once the team they were loaned to finish their season, players returned to the team that loaned them out if their season was still going on.

As far as a season start date for the WHL, the Portland Winterhawks play-by-play voice Nick Marek explained it’s an ongoing conversation with the local health authorities, league and teams. The board of governors have a meeting planned at the end of the month. At that time they’ll figure out what the season will look like, if allowed by health authorities in the Canadian provinces and the states of Washington and Oregon.

“I think first and foremost there’s a lot of excitement and there should be a lot of excitement with this new fan base,” Marek said. “I think the new owners are extremely willing to listen, they’re very open.”

Marek said one of the Winterhawks owners first priorities was to have a Q&A session with fans. When it comes to any level of junior hockey, fan engagement is very important.While the Wild was forced to take a year off, the front office and coaching staff are staying plenty busy.

Wenatchee Wild’s head coach Chris Clark touched on what the first order of business was when they learned they wouldn’t be able to play at all this season.

“Took some time and had to find kids that were here, we had to find all [of] them homes so that took some time,” Clark said. “Making sure they had a place to play for the rest of this year and then just turned our efforts to the 2021-22 season and doing our best to start recruiting for that team.” 

The younger players who are 18 and under returned to their midget team programs, and the Wild had to find other junior hockey teams for their 19 and 20 year olds. This included leagues such as the USA Hockey sanctioned North American Hockey League (NAHL).

However, the organization is still engaging with their fans and the community during this time without games while they prepare for the 2021-22 BCHL season.

“Yeah, I think the front office has done a great job of using this time to brainstorm how to make the product overall better,” Clark said. “Obviously the coaching staff is focused for next year and our front office I think has done a great job of doing that for the fan experience.”