Masha Scheele Photo
There was no shortage of excitement during the three-day road trip to Meadow Lake for the Hinton Timberwolves.
The trip left a lot to talk about – including an ugly incident between a Meadow Lake Mustangs fan and the Timberwolves bench, a series of player suspensions and, ultimately, the cancellation of Sunday’s game after Meadow Lake dropped out of the Western States Hockey League effective Jan. 26.
Meadow Lake Now reported in a Jan. 27 story that the announcement was made to the team on Jan. 25. The story quoted general manager Glen Winkler as cited high travel costs, low player turnout at games, occasional fan temperament and challenges among factors leading to the team’s demise.
“We did our best and we had a lot of support from the community and regretfully, this model did not work,” he told Meadow Lake Now.
WSHL president Ron White said the league was aware that Meadow Lake was facing challenges, but said that communication about the decision to fold was limited to an email that announced the Jan. 26 game was cancelled and that the franchise was done.
“The ownership group, I guess, just decided not to continue,” White said in a Jan. 28 phone interview.
White said the league is working to both find teams for Mustangs players who have paid fees for the year and also adapt the remaining schedule without Meadow Lake in the mix.
“We are hoping to have it worked out by end of day today – we’ll see. We are about halfway done right now, but the second half will be a little tougher to solve. We are making progress though,” White said, adding that the league is focused on making adjustments for the 2019-2020 season right now, but that 2020-2021 is in the back of their mind as well.
“With Meadow Lake gone it’s one less team, but we are already working with several interested groups for next season. That’s just not our priority right now this week.”
Hinton had four remaining games scheduled with the Meadow Lake Mustangs – Feb. 15, 16, 28 & 29 – all at home at the Dr. Duncan Murray Recreation Centre. Those four games, plus the one road game cancelled Jan. 26, will all be included in the revised schedule.
These was no league schedule update as of The Hinton Voice press deadline, but there are still home games scheduled Jan. 31 against the Cold Lake Hornets and Feb. 2 against the Edson Aeros.
White also said that there will be no league discipline for Timberwolves head coach Jeff Richards or the other coaching staff as a result of an incident involving a fan during the Jan. 24 game to open the weekend.
Video shows the tail end of the incident where Richards is seen swinging a stick at the fan, which had gone under the netting and over the glass to reach into the Timberwolves bench.
White said the league had reviewed video posted to social media, and also coverage from the cameras broadcasting the game.
“We’ve looked at this from a few different angles and it’s apparent the fan crossed the line into the bench area – that can’t happen,” said White, who added that while Richards’ response to the fan wasn’t ideal, it wasn’t unjustified.
“It’s obviously an incident you don’t want to see in your league. From our perspective it was an action of self defence with somebody reaching into their bench. There’s no league suspension for the coach, Jeff Richards.”
Not to be lost in all that hoopla were a pair of important wins Friday and Saturday for the Timberwolves.
Hinton won 12-6 to open the weekend and followed that with an 8-2 win on Saturday. The wins improved the Timberwolves record to 26-5-0-1 and kept them in second place and within striking distance of first-place Edson in the Provincial Division.
Also not to be overlooked was that Timberwolves forward Jamahl Eakett continued his relentless scoring pace this season and also move into second on the WSHL’s all-time scoring list with 138 career goals.
Eakett has 51 goals and 50 assists in just 29 games sol far this year and his 101 combined points is 23 better than second place Shane Gilbert of the Ogden Mustangs.
Hinton’s game against Cold Lake has a puck drop of 8 pm on Jan. 31 and the afternoon content on Feb. 2 against Edson starts at 2 pm. Check out hintontimberwolvesjuniora.com for updates.