It seems nothing comes easy for the Spokane Chiefs.
If all works out well for them, they will have a new assistant coach and possibly a top newcomer in the fold when they open their Western Hockey League training camp at the end of this month.
But there are a lot of “ifs” to those scenarios.
First and foremost, the Chiefs are awaiting a ruling from the Canadian Hockey League on a dispute between the WHL and the Ontario Hockey League over which league has the right to sign 2006 National Hockey League first-round draft pick Trevor Lewis.
Lewis, 6-foot-1 and 192 pounds, is a highly regarded center from Murray, Utah. The 19-year-old was the 17th overall pick, to the Los Angeles Kings, in the June NHL entry draft.
Scouts have praised Lewis’ skating speed and scoring ability. He was a star in the U.S. Hockey League last season and had committed to play at the University of Michigan before going pro and forfeiting his U.S. college eligibility. Before all that occurred, he was placed on the Chiefs’ “protected list.”
Given that, Spokane believes it has the exclusive right to sign him to a player agreement since Utah is within the geographic territory of the WHL. The Owen Sound of the OHL disregarded that, however, signing Lewis on July 21 and holding a press conference to announce such. The dispute will need to be settled by the CHL, which is the umbrella organization for the three Canadian major-junior leagues: the WHL, OHL and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).
There is no clear process on how the matter will be settled, as the situation is unprecedented, according to WHL commissioner Ron Robison.
“We’ve never had this situation before because we’ve always been able to work these things out between leagues,” Robison said by telephone on Wednesday. “Each league has defined territory. There is a different release process in each case. In this particular case, there was no request for release. The OHL has a different interpretation.”
Spokane general manager Tim Speltz believes the underlying facts are clear.
“He’s a player on our protected list, in the WHL’s territory,” Speltz said. “There’s a process that has to be followed, since the CHL is involved, and at this point it is a WHL matter first and then a Spokane Chiefs matter second.”
Meanwhile, Spokane has interviewed at least two candidates for the assistant coaching position and one of them acknowledged Wednesday that he has met with the team.
Former Kamloops coach Mark Ferner said he interviewed with the team and is waiting to hear word from Spokane. Given his credentials, he would appear to be a front-runner for the position, but team officials have declined to identify the candidates.
Ferner was with the Blazers for parts of four seasons before being fired by the team as its head coach in December. He is a Kamloops native who played for the team, then spent 16 seasons in pro hockey – including parts of six seasons in the NHL before returning to coach for the Blazers. He is eager to get back into coaching and said he is “crossing his fingers” that things work out with the Chiefs.
“Spokane has been very good to me (in the process),” Ferner said. “We, as a family, would be glad to call Spokane home.”
The biggest obstacle to Ferner joining the team may be the immigration laws that govern the relationship between Canada and the United States. Ferner said he doesn’t have a permit to work in the U.S., but has an attorney working on that issue.
It’s just another challenge that Spokane has had to overcome as it prepares for its upcoming season.
The league held its scheduling meetings last week and the Chiefs came to the table with four weeks of dates unavailable to them because of some big conflicts with its use of the Spokane Arena: the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Jan. 14-28; the State B basketball tournament, Feb. 25 through March 3; and the NCAA basketball tournament, March 11-18.
“We’re excited about the spread of the schedule based on the limited amounts of dates we had available to us,” said Mark Miles, vice president/sales for the Chiefs.
The Chiefs will hold their annual training camp with on-ice sessions Aug. 25-26 (players report Aug. 24) and the Red-White scrimmage Aug. 27. Spokane will open its preseason play the following weekend with the Labor Day tournament in Everett. They will participate in the Tri-City tournament the following weekend and open the season on Sept. 23 at Cranbrook, British Columbia, against the Kootenay Ice – the first of four road games to open the season.
Spokane opens at home on Oct. 7 against Tri-City.
For the complete schedule, see Scoreboard, C4.
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