WHL NOTEBOOK

The new era of Portland Winter Hawks hockey couldn’t have begun any better.

The sale of the team was finalized last Tuesday, and not only have new owner Bill Gallagher and his people said all the right things, the struggling Winter Hawks welcomed the new regime with a victory.

“I bought the Portland Winter Hawks because you have a world-class organization with unbelievable hockey fans,” Gallagher told the Portland Tribune. “Opportunities like this come up very rarely. I wouldn’t envision changing any of that. All I want to do is turn it around and get it headed in the right direction — what I expect we should do and what fans deserve.”

As expected, Gallagher brought in new people to handle hockey operations. Mike Johnston, former assistant coach of the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings, was named the team’s general manager and head coach, displacing Ken Hodge and Rich Kromm, respectively. Hodge was retained as a consultant, while Kromm was offered reassignment within the organization.

Johnston said the new regime is committed to changing the culture that was created during the two-plus years under the previous ownership group, led by Jim Goldsmith. Under Goldsmith’s watch the Winter Hawks were the league’s laughing stock, going 29-116-3-3.

“It starts at the top, both with a financial and (overall) commitment to make sure everything from education to billets to medical … everything’s taken care of,” Johnston told the Tribune. “When those fell by the wayside, it hurt recruitment and it wasn’t an attraction to come here. In this league, everything’s about drafting, recruiting, getting good players.”

In their first game after the official change of ownership, Portland won 4-1 at Tri-City last Friday. That victory made Portland 3-12.

And although the Winter Hawks still find themselves in the WHL’s cellar, for the first time in years there’s hope it won’t remain that way long.

Around the WHL: The Regina Pats are making noise about relocation. Pats general manager Brent Parker told the Regina Leader-Post that the team is considering its options because of lease issues with the Brandt Centre. Penticton and Victoria, both in B.C., were listed as potential destinations for the Pats, who have been in Regina since 1917. … Kelowna received a boost when 20-year-old defenseman Tysen Dowzak, feared lost to the pro ranks, was reassigned to the Rockets from the ECHL’s Charlotte Checkers. … Tri-City, short on defense, acquired 19-year-old defenseman Scott Maetche from Calgary in exchange for a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2009 bantam draft. … Chilliwack acquired 18-year-old defenseman Alexander Grill-Donovan from Brandon in exchange for a conditional sixth-round pick. … Prince George forward Dana Tyrell was named the WHL Player of the Week. Tyrell had three goals and four assists as the Cougars split two games. … Vancouver defenseman Jonathon Blum was named the WHL Player of the Month for September/October. Blum had four goals, 10 assists and was a plus-20 in 10 games.

League leaders: Points — Jamie Benn (Kelowna) 32; goals — Benn 18; assists — Casey Pierro-Zabotel (Vancouver) 21; penalty minutes — Devon LeBlanc (Seattle), Ian Schultz (Calgary), Brayden McNabb (Kootenay) 53; wins — Braden Holtby (Saskatoon) 10; goals against average — Jamie Tucker (Vancouver) 1.34; save percentage — Dustin Tokarski (Spokane) .951.

Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog: http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog

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