WHL’s OPEN ICE HIT-Hawks/Rockets Deal

By Tom Hoffert

WHL’s OPEN ICE HIT-Hawks/Rockets Deal

In a deal that will probably leave a very bad taste in some Portland Winter Hawk fans’ mouths, the Hawks dealt popular defenseman Jesse Ferguson and Kevin Young to the Kelowna Rockets for defensive prospect Richie Regehr. Hello Portland fans (and I’m one of them), this is professional ice hockey. You did not lose your first born. You did not see Brenden Morrow traded for a bag of pucks and a used mouthpiece. What happened today was simply the constant motion of Western Hockey League.

Let us put this day of active trading into perspective. Portland General Manager Ken Hodge and Head Coach Mike Williamson made a decision to trade two talented men in exchange for a promising young, but not inexperienced, player. Of the three players, none have been drafted by a NHL team, exposing that their talents may be attractive to WHL teams, but not necessarily commanding high-level prospect status. On the other hand, each of the three have either been given a NHL free-agent tryout or have been in contact with a NHL team official regarding their future, thus warranting scouting respect. In the case of Kevin Young, you have an undersized rear-guard who has a tremendous knack for holding the puck in the offensive zone. Consequently, Young is also very injury prone and not always sound in his defensive end. Studying Jesse Ferguson, we find a high-scoring overage defenseman with tremendous puck-moving ability. However, Ferguson can be non-existent in his defensive end, utilizing his speed to break up plays rather than tight checking or physical force. Subsequently, Richie Regehr enters loyalty-driven Portland needing a new start to his career.

Most will be quick to point out the obvious recognition of the Regehr name in the journals of WHL history. Richie’s older brother is, of course, stud Calgary defenseman and former Kamloops Blazer Robyn Regehr. While Robyn will be remembered as one of the toughest stay-at-home defenseman to play in the WHL during the late 1990s, Richie is being given an excellent opportunity to showcase his own style of play in Portland. The most unfair situation for Richie would be for the Hawk fans to expect him to play to the level his brother did while in the WHL. Former NHL 1st Round Draft Pick Robyn was never under 200lbs while playing a major role in the WHL, while 18 year old Richie will report to Portland at a lack-luster 6’0”, 180lbs. His game is not based on physical domination and punishment like Robyn’s game was, but it may develop to be just as valuable. With the franchise’s future in mind, the true reason for this trade may become more apparent. The Hawks are well stocked on talented defenseman. Unfortunately, the overload in talent, especially in 19 year olds, has resulted in some of the younger boys not getting the playing time necessary to develop into WHL-caliber players. In addition, by opening up an overage position on the roster, the Hawks management may be able to garner the skills of a talented over-ager near the mid-January trade deadline.

Highly regarded around the league for his tremendous skills in player swapping, GM Ken Hodge again pulled the trigger on a deal that will cause fans brief unhappiness, yet may prove to be the action that unites a Winter Hawk dressing room or anchors the blueline for three more years. Hodge states, “Obviously, we do not underestimate the contributions that Jesse and Kevin made to our hockey club last season and to our great start this season, but this deal is very important to us and our future. We think we have a quality character person coming into our lineup and it gives us a brighter looking future. As far as this season goes, we feel confident that Richie will step right in and make a positive impact. We also will be able to open up more ice time for player like Braydon Coburn, Patrick Wellar, and Jon Weigum, who we feel need to get on the ice more to become better players for us.”

The bottom line is both Kevin Young and Jesse Ferguson were character players who will be sincerely missed in Portland. Both displayed a type of personality and goofiness that was very appealing to Hawk fans, often making fans laugh at their antics and cheer for their hard work. Now fans must put their best foot forward to welcome prospect Richie Regehr into this same tight Winter Hawks family, trusting the organization’s commitment to excellence, demonstrated in Portland for the last 26 years! But if you just can’t seem to let it go . . . smile . . . because the Kelowna Rockets will be in Portland in just over a week and you know Fergie and Younger will come out firing.

In my on-going coverage of this year’s toughest WHL customer, Medicine Hat Tiger’s Ryan Olynyk is now up to 128 PIM in 19 games, including 18 fighting majors!!! You’ve got to love this kid. Watch for my interview with Olynyk appearing early next week.

Please feel free to email me with any comments or questions. Until next time . . . Keep your head up and Drop the Gloves!

-Tom Hoffert
WHL Writer