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WHL Commissioner: Winterhawks massive punishment reflects “unprecedented number of violations”

Nov 29, 2012, 11:25 PM EDT

Photograph by: Don Healy, Regina Leader-Post Photograph by: Don Healy, Regina Leader-Post

On Wednesday the WHL Portland Winterhawks were hammered by the league for a “series of player benefit violations which have occurred over the past four seasons.”

Portland won’t be allowed to make a selection in the first five rounds of the 2013 bantam draft and they will forfeit their first-round picks in the following four drafts.

On top of that the organization has been fined $200,000 and GM/head coach Mike Johnston has been suspended for the rest of the 2012-13 campaign, including the playoffs.

Johnston said that he was “extremely surprised at the excessive nature of the sanctions,” but WHL commissioner Ron Robison defended the league’s decision in a statement released Thursday.

The WHL asked PricewaterhouseCoopers to launch an independent investigation into the Winterhawks after the league learned that the team had contravened WHL Regulations by agreeing to an undisclosed player agreement. PricewaterhouseCoopers determined that there were 54 violations with 14 players over the past five seasons.

“We believe the sanctions are not excessive given the repeated and systemic nature of the violations,” Robison said. “The independent investigation discovered an unprecedented number of violations.

“It is the responsibility of each WHL Club and General Manager to be fully aware of the WHL Regulations and to be in compliance at all times. These sanctions are necessary in order to protect the overall welfare and integrity of our League and to preserve a level playing field for all of our member Clubs and our players.”

The Winterhawks claim the violations included providing flights for family members of their players, giving their team captain a cell phone, and paying for two players’ one-week summer training regimen twice in the last five years.

(Photo courtesy of Don Healy, Regina Leader-Post)

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