Late 70s WHL round robins among worst playoff formats

There have been crazy playoff formats in hockey for as long as playoffs have been played. But nothing may have been as bizarre as what the Western Hockey League tried for three seasons in the late 1970s.

It was during those seasons (1977-78, 1978-79, 1979-80) that the WHL fell in love with the round-robin format as a way to try and balance out the league. Not just within the divisions, but a round-robin among division winners. In three different time zones. In a bus league. It may have made things worse.

With 12 teams in three divisions, coming up with a playoff format that worked would be a challenge anyway. The league (then called the Western Canada Hockey League) had tried a preliminary round for Central & Eastern division teams in 1976-77, the first season they had gone to three divisions after the original Edmonton Oil Kings had moved to Portland and became the Winter Hawks. But that led to the Calgary Centennials, the last-place team in the Central, sweeping the division champion Medicine Hat Tigers 4-0 and and the Central’s third-place team, the Lethbridge Broncos, ending the season of the East’s second place team, the Saskatoon Blades, 4-2.

It also had the Eastern champion Brandon Wheat Kings having to win a best-of-9 to defeat the Central’s second-place team, the Winnipeg Monarchs (5-2) while Lethbridge defeated Calgary 3-2 in a 5-game series. It made little sense, but that’s how it was. In the West, all four teams were in the playoffs, with the 2-time defending league champion New Westminster Bruins and Portland moved on after wins best-of-7 series wins over the Victoria Cougars and Kamloops Chiefs, respectively. New Westminster ended up winning their third-straight WCHL title, defeating Brandon in the finals.

Portland’s success led to more franchise moves into the United States in 1977, with the Kamloops Chiefs moving to Seattle and becoming the Breakers, and the Calgary Centennials shifting to Billings, Montana and rebranding as the Bighorns. Calgary immediately got another team, though, as the Winnipeg Monarchs moved to the Alberta city and became the Wranglers.

After this, the WCHL’s Eastern Division included Brandon, Saskatoon, Regina Pats and Flin Flon Bombers; the Central has Calgary, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and Billings; and the West had New Westminster, Victoria, Portland and Seattle. Once the divisions were settled, the 72-game league stayed in place, it was decided that a new playoff format was needed.

What was developed was a hybrid of round-robin and best-of-7 series. The first round would involve the top three teams in each division, with an intra-divisional round-robin taking place. It was practically a mini-season, as each team would play 8 games (4 home, 4 away) against the other two division opponents. That meant playing an extra 4 games against each division rival. One team would be eliminated after each round-robin, and the two remaining teams in each division would play a best-of-7 division final.

That meant two teams would be playing an extra 8 games, and as many as 11, against a single division rival just to get out of their division and make the league semifinals. Then the playoff format got stranger.

The three division winners would then play another round-robin in the league semifinal. Each team would play each other twice, once at home and once away, for an extra four games. The two teams with the best record would then advance to the best-of-7 league final.

If it looked good on paper, the round-robin was borderline insane in practice, as the 1978 WCHL playoffs showed. In the divisional round-robin, all three division winners were the teams eliminated. Brandon was done in the Eastern despite having an identical 4-4 record as Flin Flon and Regina. Lethbridge was eliminated in the Central despite having the same 3-5 record as Medicine Hat (Billings went 6-2). Portland crashed out of the West with a 1-7 record, with New Westminster (7-1) and Victoria (4-4) moving on.

Then came the division finals, which saw Billings sweep past Medicine Hat, with Flin Flon and New Westminster needing just 5 games to defeat Regina and Victoria. Easy enough.

But this is where the format became a bit insane.

It’s 940 miles from New Westminster to Billings, and 1,307 miles from New Westminster to Flin Flon. The distance from Billings to Flin Flon is 860 miles. All three cities are in different time zones. The WCHL was, and as the WHL still is, a bus league. This meant that the WCHL Semifinal, being a round-robin, would see all three teams traveling a huge amount of miles to play just two games at the Bruins’ Queens Park Arena, two games at the METRA in Billings (now Rimrock Auto Arena) and two games at Flin Flon’s Whitney Forum.

All of that travel, and it only served to eliminate Flin Flon (0-4) from the playoffs, while New Westminster (3-1) and Billings (3-1) advanced to the final. At least for that final, the extensive travel would be expected, as it had been since the WCHL expanded into British Columbia in 1970.

The 1978 WCHL Final would make history on 2 fronts. Billings became the first US-based team to make the playoff final of a Canadian major junior hockey league, while New Westminster won their fourth-straight WCHL title (immediately followed by their second-straight Memorial Cup). But the major problems that the round-robin created were exposed. So, the renamed WHL did it again.

The format stayed the same for the 1978-79 season, with the only league change being a new Edmonton Oil Kings, having moved to the Alberta capital from Flin Flon but staying in the Eastern Division. With Brandon and Portland being massively dominant teams during the season (the Wheat Kings went 58-5-9, the Winter Hawks 49-10-15), the divisional round robin could have been a disaster for both. But they dominated those much like the season, while Billings failed to advance despite winning the Central.

Brandon and Portland both won their division finals, but while the Wheaties swept past Saskatoon, the Hawks had to survive a 7-game series with Victoria to move on (yes, New Westminster’s reign as champions ended in the divisional round robin). Lethbridge had to go 7 games to defeat Calgary to make get out of the Central.

Once again, the final round robin (WHL Semifinals) featured a large amount of travel. The distance from Portland to Lethbridge is 724 miles, while Portland to Brandon is 1,334 miles. Lethbridge to Brandon is 612 miles, far and away the shortest distance in the league semis over the two years of the format. All three cities, as in 1978, were in different time zones. So, of course it was the Broncos being knocked out with an 0-4 record, while Brandon (3-1) and Portland (3-1) moved into the WHL final, won by the Wheat Kings in six games.

Changes were coming in 1979-80, as the WHL combined the Eastern and Central divisions into a single 8-team Eastern Division after the “new” Edmonton Oil Kings moved to Great Falls, Montana and became the Americans (and lasted only 28 games). That new division would reverse the format used the last two seasons, with the top 6 teams playing in best-of-7 series to start the playoffs, with the three winners moving into a round robin (4 games, 2 home & 2 away) to eliminate one team before the division final. The format stayed the same in the West, with the top three teams playing a round robin (8 games, 4 home & 4 away) and the top two teams from that advancing to the division final. With only 2 division playoff winners, there was no need for a round robin WHL semifinal, so that was scrapped and a regular best-of-7 final took place (Regina won the 1980 WHL title, defeating Victoria 4-1).

That was it for round-robins for a number of years, thankfully, and it didn’t come back until the 1985-86 season. That’s when the WHL somehow decided it would be a good idea to have the top 6 teams in the Eastern Division be in a single round robin, playing 10 games to eliminate two teams. The top four would them play a best-of-5 division semifinal, then the two winners would play a best-of-7 division final (the West had its top 4 teams playing best-of-9 series at the time…yes, best-of-9). The league final was a “normal” best-of-7.

While that was it for the Eastern Division, the round-robin would emerge one more time to cause havoc. For the 1994-95 playoffs, the format was used in the West Division, with two groups of three teams playing each other in a 4-game set. One team was eliminated from each group, with the other four playing a best-of-7 division semifinal. Kamloops (3-1) & Portland (3-1) eliminated Seattle (0-4) from one group, while Spokane (3-1) and Tri-City (2-2) ended the season for Tacoma (1-3). Just like in 1986, the round-robin was done after one year. This time, it would never come back.

It was also the end of the Rockets’ run in Tacoma, as the team moved to Kelowna for 1995-96. Just like Flin Flon 17 years earlier, the last loss at home also meant the end of the city’s WHL history.

After 1995, that was all for the round robin format in the WHL. While the league kept experimenting with playoff formats (including byes for the 1st round, or a top 1st round winner), never has the round robin come back. Even with the huge growth of the league, expanding up to 22 teams, an attempt at a round-robin return never was proposed.

Currently, the WHL’s playoff format has 16 of the 22 teams advancing, using a system exactly like the National Hockey League system (top 3 teams from each division plus two conference wild card teams). It’s not the best, but it’s what the league has stayed with for a number of years. It’s brought stability to the WHL playoffs, something not known for a long time in the league.

And it will never be as bad as the round-robins from 1978-80. Not even close.

(Photo of Queen’s Park Arena in New Westminster, BC, home of the New Westminster Bruins from 1971-81 [became Kamloops Blazers] and from 1983-88 [now Tri-City Americans]. Photo by the author, taken in 2017.)


Hansen’s ignorance of the NHL derailed his Seattle arena dream


With 2018 finally here, the Seattle arena saga seems to have a final chapter in sight. But it’s fascinating to look back and see the mistakes Chris Hansen made that led to his SoDo plans turning to dust.

The biggest mistake of all, as it turned out, was that Hansen’s tunnel vision prevented him from seeing the true picture of the national sports landscape as it related to Seattle. That tunnel vision, which was solely focused on the NBA, ignored the reality that it was the NHL who most wanted to be in the Emerald City. In the end, it was a hockey-centric KeyArena rebuild that killed any hope for Hansen’s arena to be built, no matter how stubborn he remains.

Think about this: since Hansen’s initial Seattle arena proposal, purposely called Sonics Arena, there were four NHL-centric arena proposals made for Tukwila, Bellevue, the south end of Boeing Field and the Oak View Group’s Seattle Center/KeyArena plan. That doesn’t include AEG’s plans for KeyArena (which was shelved when they believed the deck was stacked in OVG’s favor) and Don Levin’s Bellevue Arena plan that was being evaluated a year before Hansen started his SoDo push.

That there was so much interest in bringing the NHL to Seattle, while Hansen was focusing solely on the NBA, should have been a clue to him. Apparently, it wasn’t.

That Hansen was showing himself as anti-hockey was clear from the beginning. The first renderings for his arena that included an “oh, by the way” plan for hockey that somehow didn’t include player benches or penalty boxes raised eyebrows among local hockey fans. His lackluster efforts to maybe…possibly…if he had to…try and change the NBA-specific Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the city of Seattle was lackluster, if that.

When prospective NHL owners tried to negotiate with Hansen for use of the SoDo arena, it turned into an exercise of frustration. Whenever Hansen would say something about hockey, it was always in a tone that he wasn’t interested in having anything to do with the sport. The Sonics were his focus. He was going to bring back the Sonics. That was always the pitch.

Of course, others made mistakes along the way. Then-mayor Mike McGinn and the Seattle City Council should have been more forceful in making Hansen add the NHL to his MOU when that was being created in 2012. But they were as much starstruck with Hansen at that time as former mayor Ed Murray was with Tim Leiweke and his KeyArena plans five years later.

Yes, there was the opposition from the Port of Seattle, the Seattle Times and others that also played a role, and eventually a big one. But they could have been easily pushed to the side years ago if the SoDo Arena MOU included the NHL as well as the NBA. They became a big factor when, looking back in hindsight, the MOU had already been exposed as the major flaw of the deal.

There are a couple of what-ifs in this, as well. What if Hansen was able to steal the Kings from Sacramento in the same way Clay Bennett stole the Sonics from Seattle? What if Steve Ballmer stayed in Hansen’s group and not bought the Clippers? Maybe the arena is being built right now, and the drama of the past two years doesn’t happen.

But what we also know is this: if Hansen’s MOU was for the NBA and NHL from the beginning, there’s no doubt the arena is not only built in SoDo, but it might be close to finished right now. Seattle would also have its long-awaited NHL team, whether being a relocated team or an expansion team alongside Las Vegas (which always seemed like the NHL’s plan). That Hansen somehow couldn’t, or wouldn’t, see that possibility was the fatal flaw in his SoDo plans.

That fatal flaw was the one exploited by Leiweke and OVG. They understood that the NHL badly wanted to be in Seattle, and with Leiweke’s connections within the league, they knew what it would take to accelerate the expansion process. The arena issue was always at the forefront, because thanks to Barry Ackerley and mid-1990s Seattle leadership, KeyArena became a horrific place for hockey after its rebuild. That Ray Bartoszek’s proposed Tukwila arena was even considered a serious possibility showed how much the NHL wanted to be in the Seattle area, but not in the current KeyArena.

It also showed that the NHL knew trying to work with Hansen was useless. Even Victor Coleman’s attempts to negotiate with Hansen in 2015, with NHL expansion in the balance, were fruitless. The only thing standing between Seattle and an NHL team was Hansen, and as long as his NBA-only MOU was still in force, nothing was going to happen.

That is a big reason why the NHL supported the Leiweke/OVG proposal for rebuilding KeyArena into an NHL-ready arena by 2020. Finally, Seattle would have an acceptable hockey arena. That Leiweke put together an ownership group that was known to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the NHL for years was a bonus. The speed that the NHL approved a tentative expansion team for Seattle, a few days after the City Council approved OVG’s arena plans, showed this.

It should have also shown Hansen just how wrong he has been over the years with his NBA-centric vision. But, seeing his response after the council’s approval of the KeyArena MOU, Hansen still has no clue. The stubbornness he shows that he hasn’t learned from this experience, and that he won’t learn.

In the long run, Hansen’s dream of bringing back the Sonics will die, too, because the NBA will see the new arena at Seattle Center and go there, with a team owned by a group Leiweke has put together that was able to afford the likely $1 billion-plus that an expansion team will cost. Everything Hansen will have done, all the money he had spent, will end up being wasted, if it hasn’t been already.

That will be because of Chris Hansen’s own ignorance of the national pro sports landscape, his ambivalence and/or dislike of hockey, and his NBA tunnel vision. He’ll likely never claim a loss, but eventually Hansen will become a footnote in the crazy history of Seattle’s arenas.

(Photo of KeyArena from Wikimedia Commons user Cliff)

Options limited for any WHL return to Nanaimo


The arena rumblings are happening again in Nanaimo, and while the Western Hockey League would love to return to the Vancouver Island city, options are very limited.

In particular, the WHL’s fallback strategy of expansion to prevent relocation is likely not an option this time around, as 22 teams is likely the upper limit that the league can handle.

Nanaimo’s most recent move on the arena front is a study that highlights two possible locations for a new events center, one that would hold 5,200-5,700 for hockey and up to 8,000 for concerts and other major events. However, the cost, between $63-$82 million, has city officials hesitant to move forward unless they have a commitment from a WHL team to move to the city, and a financial investment from that team in the arena to ensure they wouldn’t be tempted to move away after a few seasons. That, so far, hasn’t happened.

The WHL has wanted a team in Nanaimo since the league returned to Victoria in 2011. One major reason is saving on travel costs, as a Victoria-Nanaimo weekend can be cheaper than a two-game series in Victoria or, on some major travel weekends, even a single game in Victoria. That Nanaimo is the biggest Canadian market west of Manitoba without a WHL team also plays into the league’s interest in the city.

It has been 34 years since the WHL played its single season in Nanaimo. The Islanders played in the fairly-new Frank Crane Arena for 1982-83 after moving to Vancouver Island from Billings, Montana. But the building was too small, as was fan interest, and the team moved on to New Westminster, becoming the second incarnation of the Bruins for four seasons. The team is now the Tri-City Americans, playing their 30th season in Kennewick this year.

Ironically, the Tri-City franchise and its turbulent past play a direct role in the future of the WHL in Nanaimo. Two of the league’s most recent expansion teams, the Vancouver Giants and Chilliwack Bruins, came into existence because the league wanted to prevent the then-owners of the Americans from moving the team into those cities, but wanted teams in those Lower Mainland markets.

In fact, the WHL’s last four expansion teams came about to prevent franchise shifts. The Everett Silvertips were born after an attempt to move the Seattle Thunderbirds north, and the third edition of the Edmonton Oil Kings came into being so that the Oilers would stop trying to buy teams for the purpose of moving them to Edmonton.

Putting teams in Vancouver, Everett, Chilliwack and Edmonton means the WHL now has 22 teams, two more than the Ontario and Quebec leagues. There’s a belief that the WHL has reached its limit on how many teams it can have, simply because the talent pool in western Canada is getting smaller, and teams often have to battle the NCAA for American players. That the NCAA will accept players from Junior A leagues (like the British Columbia Hockey League and Alberta Junior Hockey League) but not the WHL, OHL or QMJHL also cuts into the talent pool, as players in the BCHL and AJHL are looking as much for NCAA scholarships as a shot at the pros.

This puts the WHL in a tough spot. They can’t expand to Nanaimo, but yet the city won’t likely commit to a new arena unless they are guaranteed a WHL team. Plus, there has been no known local ownership group in Nanaimo looking for a team; relocation, with established owners, looks to be the likely path for the league returning to Nanaimo.

Any new WHL team in Nanaimo would likely have to play in Frank Crane Arena for at least a couple of seasons while the new arena is built. The former home of the WHL Islanders is still busy, being the home of the BCHL’s Clippers and just having gone through a needed remodel a few years ago. It seats about 2,400, with standing room likely moving it towards 3,000. Good for a BCHL team, but nowhere near good enough for the WHL in a market like Nanaimo.

Back to the talent pool for a moment…if that wasn’t an issue, could the WHL expand to 24 teams? Possibly. There have been rumblings that the owners of the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets and AHL’s Manitoba Moose have looked at possibly trying to add a WHL team to its portfolio. There’s been talk of a WHL-ready arena being built in Lloydminster, Alberta that would hold 7,500. Newish arenas in Penticton, BC and Wenatchee, WA would be tempting to an owner, and both are among the best drawing teams in the BCHL. The move of the Vancouver Giants to suburban Langley eliminated any thoughts, for the time being, of either Abbotsford and Chilliwack being mentioned for a WHL team.

But if relocation is needed to get a team to Nanaimo (or any other market looking for a WHL team), the talk usually centers on the Kootenay Ice. The Cranbrook, BC based team has been at the bottom of WHL attendance for a number of seasons, is at the bottom of attendance this season, and ownership has had the team up for sale for years. There was a report of a Cranbrook-based group looking to buy the team in October, but nothing has come of it.  But as long as they are struggling, and for sale, the Ice will be at the top of the list of WHL teams most likely to move. But, as mentioned earlier, unless they and/or the WHL give a financial commitment to a new arena, a move to Nanaimo is nowhere in their future.

Are there any others? Swift Current and Prince Albert aren’t going anywhere despite of small attendance because they are community owned. The Lethbridge Hurricanes, seemingly on the brink a couple of years ago, have righted the ship & look to be out of trouble for now. New ownership has revitalized the Prince George Cougars, and they’re drawing their biggest crowds in over a decade.

If there’s a wild card, it might be the Vancouver Giants. Yes, they just moved to Langley after playing in the Pacific Coliseum (the former home of the Canucks) for their first 15 seasons. But they are having their worst season ever, so far, in average attendance. Part of that may be the smaller building in Langley, but averaging just about 3,800 in a 5,276-seat arena likely wasn’t what they were looking for. In comparison, their worst-season for attendance at the Coliseum was 2003-04, when they averaged 4,956 per game. Last year, they were drawing 5,169 per game in the Coliseum, and that probably does look worse in a 16,000-seat arena (even with the upper level curtained off) than 3,800 does in a 5,276 seat building. The Giants have time, but if the crowds keep getting smaller in Langley, then some hard questions have to be asked.

(If you’re curious, Langley’s BCHL team, the Rivermen, average just 635 fans a game so far this season after having to accommodate the Giants and move from the Langley Events Centre to the much, much smaller George Preston Recreation Centre [formerly the Langley Civic Centre]. That’s 4th worst in the BCHL.)

The Giants’ move to Langley also effectively blocked any WHL team from considering Abbotsford, with its 7,000-seat arena still seeking a main tenant since the AHL’s Heat moved, or Chilliwack, where the BCHL’s Chiefs play in the arena that was enlarged for the WHL’s Bruins. Ironically, the original Chilliwack Chiefs moved to Langley when the Bruins moved into the Prospera Centre, and the new Chiefs moved in when the Bruins moved to Victoria to become the Royals in 2011 (and blocking a likely move by the AHL to put a team in the BC capital to couple up with Abbotsford…it all feels like a circle, doesn’t it?).

It was the Victoria Royals that got the WHL interested in Nanaimo again. Arena talk has gone on for a few years, and it’s taken a long while to even get to the point where a study has taken place. But the slow pace of the arena process, plus the city’s insistence that the WHL and/or a new Nanaimo team have a financial stake in the arena, ensures that it will still be a long time before the league returns. Both sides will want guarantees, and that means long negotiations are still ahead.

However, with 22 teams and expansion likely not viable, it may be the only way for the WHL to get back to Nanaimo. Patience, for the league and for those in Nanaimo, will still be needed.

(Photo of Nanaimo, BC by Ken Walker, via Wikimedia Commons)

Before the Thorns, Portland had a Power surge


Once upon a time, a women’s professional sports team in Portland was capturing the imagination of the city, drawing big crowds and had become the flagship team for a league struggling in many other areas.

These days, that would be the Portland Thorns. But before the Thorns, there was the Portland Power, and many of the same aspects that make the Thorns special were seen in the brief, but spectacular, few seasons that the Power existed.

In the annuls of Portland sports history, the Power would make for an interesting chapter. They were only in existence between 1996-98, just over two seasons. But what they did in those seasons was wake up a fanbase not really served by the NBA’s Trail Blazers, WHL’s Winterhawks or PCL’s Beavers.

Because the fanbase that is celebrated at Thorns games, including the large number of young girls, a big part of the region’s lesbian community and area families, were the fanbase of the Power. They hooked on to the team from Day 1, and didn’t let up until the American Basketball League folded at the end of 1998.

Those Power teams were fun to watch, as well, especially after Lin Dunn took over as head coach midway through the 1996-97 season. There was fantastic talent on the Power, with ex-Tennessee star Michelle Marciniak running the show from the point, former UCLA star Natalie Williams controlling the paint, local legend Katy Steding shooting threes and Lisa Harrison working the perimeter.

Though the Power missed the playoffs their first season, attendance was already building. Crowds of between 7-8,000 were not uncommon in Memorial Coliseum, and they were an enthusiastic group during the bad times and when Dunn started to build for 1997-98.

The 1997-98 season was one to remember, and I admit a bit of bias on this. I was the home radio producer for the Power that season, handling duties for play-by-play voice Kevin Toon (who also was the media relations director for the Power the first two seasons). The Power added Delisha Milton and Sylvia Crawley to the team, and they went on to win the ABL Western Conference that season with a 27-17 record. The fun in the Coliseum that season was amazing, as the Power were far and away the biggest drawing home team in the ABL. They even approached 10,000 on a few nights as the team stayed in first place.

The memories of that season are still vivid to me. For that season, Williams may have been the best all-around center in the women’s game (yes, I’m including Lisa Leslie in that). Marciniak was the crowd favorite with her hard-nosed play, ability to control the game and willingness to get in the face of an opposing player if she needed. Steding continued her high level of play in front of her hometown fans, and Milton added a spark that seemed to start runs as needed.

Then, of course, there was Lin Dunn. Few coaches in Portland history ever had the impact, or could be as entertaining, as Dunn. I often had to turn down the crowd mike when she’d go after a ref or got upset with a bad play. Her yell of “MICHELLE!!!” when trying to get Marciniak’s attention would echo though the Coliseum, even when the big crowds were cranking up the noise. Those of us on press row, and even players on the bench, would often have Lin Dunn sound-alike contests. Heck, Dunn herself would chime in on those on occasion, just to loosen things up. On occasion, she’d give a thumbs up, a wavy hand or a thumbs down to the fans behind the bench who tried to mimic her vocal style.

The type of crowd seen at Power games was different than what Portland had seen, as well. The number of girls’ basketball teams who would come out, dressed proudly in team gear, and filling sections of the Coliseum was often quite large. They would line up around the court for autographs with Power players after games, and players like Williams, Marciniak, Steding and Harrison were as big to the girls in the Portland metro area as any of the Blazers. That ticket prices were reasonable and it was a “family atmosphere: also added to the appeal of the team.

Power games were also a big occasion for Portland’s LGBTQ community, especially lesbians. It was no secret that a number of Power season ticket holders were lesbian couples, and the Power were the first team that they felt like they could call their own. They were comfortable being themselves at Power games, and they every night was a big occasion. The recent Willamette Week article that called Portland Thorns’ games the city’s biggest LGBTQ cocktail party and biggest lesbian bar in the city…well, that was a Portland Power game in 1996-98. They were some of the team’s biggest fans, and their passion for the team and the game was on full display. In a sense, the Power gave a glimpse to what we would see with the Thorns years later.

The Power lost to Long Beach in the conference finals that season, but all seemed to be set for a title run in the 1998-99 ABL season. Outside of Columbus, who had won the first two ABL titles (coached by Brian Alger, one of the best women’s pro basketball coaches of all time), no team in the league was as stable as Portland.

But there were issues beyond the control of the Power that would seal its doom. The first was the league itself, which always seemed to operate on shoestring and emphasized national sponsorships over local money. While the Power had no problems getting local sponsors, the often-haphazard decisions coming from league staff was a big issue with other teams in the league. The crew in the Power offices often had to scramble when a decision from the ABL would come out with no notice to the teams, sometimes on game nights.

Another issue was the “other league”, the WNBA. The battle between the ABL and the WNBA was fierce and cutthroat, and because Nike was based in the Portland suburb of Beaverton, Power games often were a battleground for player recruitment. It wasn’t unusual for Lisa Leslie to sit behind the visiting team’s bench, talking to players before and after games trying to get them to jump to the WNBA. That the ABL was Reebok league added to this, as Leslie was Nike’s main client in women’s basketball at that time.

(No, I can’t say whether Leslie was trying to recruit players for Nike, because I don’t know, but she was recruiting for the WNBA.)

Each league had its strong points. The ABL had most of the best players in women’s basketball and played during “basketball season”, between November and April. The WNBA had the money because of the backing of the NBA and because of its summer schedule, players could play overseas for more money in the fall and spring, and players could make more money overseas than in the ABL.

Then there was the lack of support from other teams in Portland. The Trail Blazers couldn’t openly support the Power because of the NBA-WNBA connection, but members of the Blazers would show up at Power games on occasion. Otherwise, support from the Blazers’ staff was more tepid, at best.

The Portland Winterhawks didn’t like the presence of the Power at all, because they lost possible home dates in the Coliseum (the Hawks couldn’t get more than a few dates in the Rose Garden in those days, as opposed to the big presence they have in the big arena now) and that the Power outdrew the Hawks on a number of occasions. The Power were seen as a threat to the Winterhawks’ position as the number two team in Portland to some in the Hawks office, and rarely did I see Hawks staff any grumpier than when they were playing in the Garden on the same night the Power were in the Coliseum. If they bragged about their Memorial Cup win to anyone, it was to those connected with the Power, because it gave some in the Hawks’ staff a feeling of superiority over the Power.

It wasn’t to last, of course. By time the 1998-99 season had started, Marciniak was in Long Beach, as was Williams for a brief time. But when the Long Beach team folded, Williams was assigned back to Portland. While the Power was still drawing big crowds, it felt like the ABL itself was doomed. I was still with the team, but was assigned to running the Coliseum scoreboard because the new radio play-by-play broadcaster didn’t want me as producer and the new media relations director wasn’t sure what to do with me. Games were still fun, but dealing with the league wasn’t.

It all came to a crashing end three days before Christmas in 1998, when the ABL announced the entire league was going out of business. It was done by press release, so many of the Power players and staff didn’t have prior notice of the collapse (I found out by listening to the radio, not from anyone with the Power). Just like that, the Power was gone, but they made an impact on the city and its fans that is still looked back on by some with a smile.

The WNBA did put a team in Portland, as the Fire played for three seasons starting in 2000. But the Fire never drew the crowds that the Power did, with some fans blaming the WNBA as much for the Power’s demise as the ABL itself and thus not supporting the new team. While Crawley and Marciniak returned to Portland to play for the Fire, and college sensation Jackie Stiles being a big league a draw, the Fire never matched the passion that the Power did. Despite an attempt by a local group (which included Clyde Drexler) to purchase the Fire, Paul Allen and the Trail Blazers (who owned and operated the team) folded the team after the 2002 season. For women’s pro sports in Portland, that was the end until the Thorns started up in 2013.

It wouldn’t be surprising if many fans of a certain age at Thorns games were also regulars at Power games. Much of the passion we see now at Providence Park for Portland’s NWSL team was seen at Memorial Coliseum for Portland’s ABL team. In a league structure, the Power was much like to the unstable ABL as the Thorns are now to the NWSL. The big difference, of course, is that there’s no real national competition for players for NWSL clubs like the WNBA was to the ABL.

But, for a brief time in the 1990s, there was excitement for women’s professional sports in Portland. Their time was short, but the Power gave us a glimpse of how fun women’s professional sports could be, and how passionate the fans could be for that. I believe they laid the groundwork for what we would see with the Thorns, and should be remembered as such.

The Portland Power was more than a footnote in Portland sports history. They were groundbreakers.

(Photo is the Portland Power logo from a shirt the author still owns from his time working with the team.)

Mixed fortunes for OHL, QMJHL moves into US markets over the years


While the success of US-based teams in the Western Hockey League is long-standing, it took a while for the concept to take hold in the two eastern major junior hockey leagues.

The Ontario Hockey League has been in the US for over 25 years, though stability of their teams has been questioned at times. The experience for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, though, hasn’t been good, with instability being the norm.

Amazingly, it was the QMJHL that was the second major junior hockey league that expanded into the US. But, as with most decisions in the Q in the 1980s, it wasn’t well thought out.

They went into New York in 1984, but the expansion Plattsburgh Pioneers didn’t last long. They were hampered by numerous issues, including a lack of stable finances, no expansion draft to stock the team, a decision from the QMJHL office that forbid them from having any Quebec-born players (or any other player within the Q’s player base) on their roster and the league not allowing Plattsburgh to recruit anywhere in the US outside of specific areas of the northeast US. After going winless in 17 games (0-16-1), along with a home arena that opened late (thus playing at Plattsburgh State’s arena to start), the Pioneers folded. Some consider the team to be the worse in major junior hockey history, but they probably were doomed from the start, with no help from the league.

It was 1990 that the Ontario Hockey League finally secured a base in the US. It made sense that Detroit would be the place, as Peter Karmanos’ Detroit Compuware Ambassadors jumped into the OHL. After failing to move the Windsor Spitfires across the river, Karmanos sold that team and moved the Ambassadors’ top team from the North American Hockey League into the OHL. After two seasons in Cobo Arena, they changed their name, moved next door to Joe Louis Arena and more success came.

The Jr. Red Wings became the first US-based OHL team to win the league title in 1995, when they also made the Memorial Cup Final (losing to the WHL champs and tourney hosts, Kamloops Blazers). But numerous disputes with the NHL’s Red Wings, including a failed bid to purchase the team, led to the team being forced out of Joe Louis Arena. Karmanos would eventually rename the team the Detroit Whalers, after his newly purchased Hartford Whalers, and they moved to the Detroit suburbs of Oak Hill and Auburn Hills (playing in The Palace of Auburn Hills, the home of the NBA Pistons, for a time). Eventually he would settle the team in the western suburb of Plymouth, where the Whalers would stay for 18 years.

The next OHL team in the US was the Erie Otters. The Pennsylvania city came into the OHL in 1996, when the Niagara Falls Thunder moved to the city. They have had mixed success on the ice, capped by winning the OHL title in 2002, a finals appearance in 2015 and recent success spurred by the arrival of Connor McDavid in 2012.

However, the McDavid years in Erie almost didn’t happen. Legal issues between Otters ownership and a subsidiary of the Edmonton Oilers, that supposedly was to lead to a sale and move of the team to Hamilton, Ontario, led to a massive financial drain on the team. The Otters’ owner, Sherry Bassin, filed for bankruptcy in 2015, but eventually were sold to a new ownership group that was committed to keeping the team in Erie. The legal issues seem to be behind the team, and the Otters can once again strive for stability.

Saginaw came into the OHL in 2002 when the North Bay Centennials were moved there and were renamed the Saginaw Spirit. While the team regularly makes the playoffs, they’ve only made the OHL quarterfinals three times. The team has had steady attendance in recent years, though 2015-16 was the worst season the team has had in the stands. That might change with the help of a new rival that arrived in 2015.

Those would be the Flint Firebirds, which moved from Plymouth after Karmanos sold the team. But it was a very long first season, to say the least. The club’s new owner, Rolf Nelsen, fired the coaching staff on two occasions (supposedly for not playing his son enough), each time leading to a player revolt. After the second coaching clearout, the OHL took over the team, suspended Nelsen and worked to bring a sense of normalcy to the team. Eventually, Nelsen was suspended for five seasons, and could be forced to sell the team if he tries to get involved in hockey operations again during that time. But things have stabilized for now in Flint, and with the emergence of the new/old rivalry with Saginaw, the Firebirds have a chance to gain a foothold on the Michigan hockey scene.

As for the QMJHL, they tried one more time to go into the US. In 2003, the Sherbrooke Castors moved to Lewiston, Maine, and became the Lewiston MAINEiacs. Their home, the Androscoggin Bank Colisée, was more known as the site of the legendary second Ali-Liston fight, but the MAINEiacs were there for eight seasons. The highlight was in 2007, when they became the first American team to win the QMJHL title. They lost in the Memorial Cup tiebreaker game, but making it to Vancouver was the peak. But the team always struggled to work financially in central Maine, even with the title run.

For years afterward, the MAINEiacs were the subject of numerous relocation rumors, with one relocation attempt to the Montréal suburb of Boisbriand stopped by another QMJHL team, the short-lived Montréal Junior. Talks with other cities failed, and in 2011 the QMJHL ended up buying the team. After the league bought the MAINEiacs, it disbanded the club. A year later, the team was back in Sherbrooke, beginning new life as the Phoenix, and the Q was once again the only major junior league without a US-based club.

Any future growth for the OHL and QMJHL in the US may be tied to cities losing their AHL teams. Binghamton is close enough for an OHL owner to consider (ironically, they’re likely losing their AHL team to Belleville, Ontario, which just lost its OHL team last season), but whether fans would accept a junior team after losing a longtime AHL franchise is questionable. Unless an owner wants to return to suburban Detroit or put a team in western New York, there may not be many options for more US teams in the OHL.

As for the QMJHL, the options are even fewer. One might look at Portland, Maine, as they just lost their AHL team and could be a rival for Saint John. Otherwise, any other locations that the Q could even consider already have college teams, which is the main competition for players for the three junior leagues.

The one thing going for the three leagues is that the main US junior league, the USHL, is mostly in markets that are too far away to ever be considered competition for cities. The exception may be Youngstown, which would be a natural rival for Erie and is well separated from the rest of the USHL.  But whether the OHL would want to go into Ohio, or go as far south as Youngstown, is not known.

Mixed success would be the best way to describe the efforts of the OHL in the US, while failure could be the word for the QMJHL’s forays south of the border. While the WHL is light years ahead in history and stability in the US, at least the OHL has Erie, Saginaw & Flint to continue to build their presence on the American side of the border. It would be surprising, however, if the Q ever goes back to the US to place a team because of its subpar history in Plattsburgh and Lewiston.

Maybe in the future, both leagues may look to the US to put a team. Right now, don’t count on it.

(The article on the history of US-based teams in the Western Hockey League can be found here)

(Photo of Flint Firebirds player Vili Saarijärvi by “Jfvoll” from Wikimedia Commons, used via Creative Commons license)


US teams in WHL vital, thriving 40 years after Portland made junior hockey history


Forty years ago this summer, a moment that forever changed the hockey world in North America, especially junior hockey, took place.

The moment that Brian Shaw announced that he was moving the Edmonton Oil Kings to Portland, where they would become the Winterhawks, shook the hockey landscape. The team had been struggling as the WHA’s Edmonton Oilers became more popular, and it was decided that a move was needed to get the club back on track.

After being blocked from moving to Vancouver by the New Westminster Bruins, and taking into account coach Ken Hodge’s preference to move the team to Spokane, Shaw decided that Portland and its Memorial Coliseum was the place to be. Thus, Canadian major junior hockey set up shop in the United States, and it’s never left.

(Kamloops sportswriter Gregg Drinnan posted a story by longtime Winterhawks broadcaster Dean Vrooman on how the move transpired that’s well worth your time.)

It took a few years, but Portland hockey fans, used to the professional game and the highly successful Buckaroos, eventually took the Hawks into their hearts. It was the 1978-79 season, when the Hawks lost just 10 regular season games, that was the turning point in the franchise. Portland finally got past the Bruins in the playoffs and pushed a legendary Brandon Wheat Kings team, who lost only five games in the regular season, to six games in the WHL Finals. Where small crowds were mostly the norm the first couple of years in Memorial Coliseum (prompting one politician to try and force the Hawks to move to the considerably smaller Jantzen Beach Ice Arena), they picked up during that season.

But by then, Shaw’s move to Portland already had major impacts on the league and on Canadian major junior hockey. The year after the Oil Kings moved to Portland, the Kamloops Chiefs packed up for Seattle and became the Breakers, while the Calgary Centennials shifted to Billings, Montana and became the Bighorns. The league even changed its name, going from the Western Canada Hockey League to the Western Hockey League, the name of the old professional circuit that fans in Canada and the United States loved in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s.

There was some early success outside of Portland. Billings was the first US-based team to make the playoff finals of a Canadian major junior hockey league, losing to New Westminster in the 1978 WHL Finals. Seattle was able to revive the long-time rivalry with Portland, giving the WHL another set of must-follow dates on the schedule.

It was also a badly needed move for the league, giving the then-Western Canada Hockey League a fourth team west of the Rocky Mountains, joining New Westminster, Victoria and (at that time) Kamloops in the West Division. The WCHL, mainly a Prairies-based league, was able to expand its footprint into new areas that also brought in needed revenue.

Of course, the move into the US was filled with ups and downs for the WHL. A second edition of the Edmonton Oil Kings moved to Great Falls, Montana in 1979 and became the Americans. Even with a new Four Seasons Arena to play in, that team lasted just 29 games before folding, but resurfaced the following season as the Spokane Flyers. The Flyers lasted a bit longer, making it through one season before folding 26 games into its second, the 1981-82 season. The Billings Bighorns lasted five seasons before moving to Nanaimo, BC, having never recaptured the great success of their first season.

Seattle, playing in the old Seattle Center Arena, struggled to break into the mindset of the fans who were still coming off of the disappointment of the failed move of the Totems from the old pro WHL into the NHL, and always seemed to be financially behind the rest of the league (leading to the infamous trade of Tom Martin to Victoria for a used team bus).

In the meantime, Portland was still creating history. The Winterhawks became the first US-based team to win a major junior hockey league title in 1982, when they beat the Regina Pats in the final, and thus became the first American team to compete for the Memorial Cup. While they came up short in Hull, Quebec, the experience led Shaw, still running the team, to propose something that would, again, shake junior hockey.

First, Shaw wanted Portland to host the Memorial Cup tournament in 1983, taking the event into the US for the first time. Second, after seeing the small crowds that attended the 1982 event in Hull that involved Portland, Kitchener (OHL) and Sherbrooke (QMJHL), he proposed that the host team also be a part of the tournament, expanding it to four teams and eliminating the double round-robin format before the final game. Both ideas were approved, and the 1983 Memorial Cup made history. That the Hawks, who had lost to Lethbridge in the WHL Finals, ended up winning the Memorial Cup added to the historic nature of the event, as they became the first American team to win junior hockey’s biggest prize. They also hosted in 1986, but didn’t make the final (the OHL’s Guelph Platers won the Cup).

The success of Portland and Seattle ended up offsetting the failures in Great Falls, Billings and Spokane for the WHL, and soon teams were moving back south of the border. The Kelowna Wings, after three seasons in tiny Memorial Arena, moved to Spokane and became the Chiefs. Unlike the last time the WHL was in the eastern Washington city, there was no successful senior amateur team to compete with (Spokane won four Allan Cups between 1970-80), and the Chiefs gained a foothold. After a few tricky years at the beginning, the Chiefs eventually became a major success, winning the Memorial Cup in 1991 and 2008 while hosting in 1998. Spokane holds the honor of being the last US city to host a Memorial Cup, and it was won by another American side, the Winterhawks.

Spokane’s success led to another move into the US market for the WHL, as the second version of the New Westminster Bruins (formerly the Billings Bighorns and Nanaimo Islanders) moved to southeastern Washington and became the Tri-City Americans. While the first 20 seasons were tricky at times, with move threats happening on occasion (WHL expansion to Vancouver and Chilliwack was a direct result of the league blocking owners from moving the Ams to those cities), ownership has stabilized and the team has become a success. The Spokane-Tri-City rivalry has also become one of the core rivalries of the WHL, with sellouts common for their games.

After a while, Seattle finally became more stable. After an ownership change, the team changed its name from Breakers to Thunderbirds in 1985, tapping into a bit of the Totems look. They finally started drawing consistently large crowds to the Arena, to the point that they started playing some games in the much-larger Seattle Center Coliseum, which hadn’t seen hockey since the Totems died over a decade earlier. They even hosted the Memorial Cup in 1992 at the Coliseum, a major accomplishment considering the crazy early history of the team.

However, the WHL wanted to add a second team in western Washington, as well. The first attempt was in Tacoma, where a natural rivalry with nearby Seattle would be set up. However, the Tacoma Dome was oversized and horrible for hockey, and after four seasons the Rockets moved to Kelowna, setting up a very successful run in the BC city in its second WHL attempt. If Tacoma had a smaller arena, maybe the Rockets would have succeeded, but we’ll never know.

The WHL eventually got another team in the Puget Sound region. There was a threat to move the Thunderbirds from Seattle’s KeyArena (which, after a basketball-centric remodel, became barely usable for hockey) to a new arena in Everett, 30 miles to the north. In the end, the T-Birds were sold, stayed in KeyArena for a few more years (before moving to a new arena in suburban Kent), and the former owner got an expansion team in Everett. The Silvertips made history by making the WHL Finals in their first season, and have established a solid fan base since.

Success came to all five teams now in the US Division. Portland and Spokane have both won the Memorial Cup twice, the only American teams to do so. Seattle has been to the league final twice, including last season. Everett and Tri-City have both been to the league finals, as well, while the US Division is often seen as the toughest division in the WHL.

What’s the future of US-based teams in the WHL? The five teams in the US Division (Everett, Portland, Seattle, Spokane, Tri-City) have all become very successful and are staying put for a long time. Even with the league tending to not include the American teams in promotions and special events, those five are among the healthiest teams in the league. They’ve done it on their own, and the WHL wouldn’t be the same, or as healthy, without them.

Are there American cities that could be future sites for a WHL team? There have been occasional mentions of Wenatchee as a possible future team location. They have a fairly-new 4,500-seat arena and have drawn very well for its current junior team, the Wenatchee Wild (which moved up to the BCHL last season and immediately had the best home attendance in the league). Billings still has Rimrock Arena, the same 10,000-seat arena that the Bighorns played in many years ago. But at this point, Billings is too far out of the way from the rest of the league to ever be considered seriously again. No other American city even gets in the discussion now.

While once upon a time places like Boise and Anchorage (who now have ECHL teams) were discussed, the current reality is that the WHL doesn’t have many places south of the border where they could expand, mainly because cities of decent size are too far from the border and would be tough to get to in a bus league.

But that they were even discussed at one point shows how vital the American teams are to the WHL. While Brian Shaw was seen as maybe a bit crazy when he got the league to approve the Oil Kings’ move to Portland in 1976, hindsight shows that it was a moment of genius. It gave junior hockey new areas to grow in and showed the hockey world that the Northwest was still a hotbed for the sport.

All one needs to do is go to a game in Everett, Portland, Spokane, Kent (Seattle) or Kennewick (Tri-City) to see that.

(Photo: Portland Winterhawks’ Daniel Johnston, 19 January 2009, by K.C. Gale from Wikimedia Commons)

Why Everett should host the 2020 Memorial Cup, if the WHL allows it


After an ultra-successful Memorial Cup in Red Deer, Alberta, the Western Hockey League has a couple of years to determine where the 2020 tournament will be played.

The WHL’s turn was originally supposed to come up in 2019. But with the Memorial Cup Centennial taking place in 2018, the Canadian Hockey League has opened up bidding to all teams in its three leagues for that year.

With the Ontario Hockey League hosting in 2017 in Windsor, that means the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s turn has been pushed back to 2019, and the next WHL-hosted Memorial Cup (if it doesn’t get the 2018 tourney) will be in 2020.

So it will be a few years. But in that time, the league and its top brass will have to answer a couple of important questions.

Will they allow all interested cities who are interested in hosting to actually bid? Or will they prevent from even bidding a city that not only should be on the short list, but should be the top choice to host the 2020 Memorial Cup?

The city in question is Everett, home of the WHL’s Silvertips. It has everything the WHL and the Canadian Hockey League (the umbrella organization that oversees the WHL, Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) can ever hope for. With a recently-built downtown arena, a new headquarters hotel soon to be completed, plenty of space for all events connected with Cup Week, numerous hotels within a short distance from the arena, a large population base, rabid fans who love the ‘Tips and easy access for fans of numerous other WHL teams, Everett should be a no-brainer to host.

It’s also a market that has never hosted the Memorial Cup, a fact that we were reminded of constantly with Red Deer, which was the first Alberta city in 42 years to host the Memorial Cup tournament. Yes, Seattle hosted in 1992, but as many in Snohomish County will quickly tell you, Everett is nothing like Seattle.

On any level, Everett should be the leading candidate to host the 2020 Memorial Cup. Some might even call the city an obvious choice to host.

But there are obstacles that would prevent Everett from hosting. Those obstacles? The Western Hockey League, Commissioner Ron Robison and the league office.

While it’s never been officially stated, a belief among many fans of the WHL’s US Division teams is that the league either discourages, or outright forbids, any of the American clubs from bidding on the Memorial Cup. Everett, Portland, Spokane and Tri-City have all expressed interest in hosting the Cup in recent cycles, but they never even made the short list.

It’s not like any of the cities have hosted in recent years. Portland last hosted the Cup in 1986, while Seattle hosted in 1992 and Spokane in 1998. While once upon a time American teams were hosting on a semi-regular basis (mainly because the WHL/CHL knew big crowds were guaranteed), they aren’t even invited to the conversation anymore.

There are some issues with the cities. Spokane and the Chiefs may be seen as hosting too recently. The lack of a headquarters hotel and conference center in Kent, near the ShoWare Center, would hurt the Thunderbirds. Tri-Cities may be seen as a bit too remote and the state of the Toyota Center would be an issue. And, of course, the relationship between Robison/WHL and the Portland Winterhawks is probably best described as “chilly”. Everett has none of those issues.

Granted, part of the reason might be the CHL, who may worry about their sponsors. But since about half of the tournament sponsors are just Canadian subsidiaries of US-based companies (including MasterCard, which has its name on the tournament itself), that shouldn’t be a major issue. With the heavy TV exposure the tournament gets in Canada anyway, the sponsors will see their names mentioned many times.

Some of that sponsor worry might be with WHL officials, as well. But the league, while very aggressive in sponsor deals and promotions for its Canadian teams, rarely does the same for the five south of the border. Often, those teams are on their own with promotions and contests. If there’s a contest pushed by the WHL that allows residents of Washington and Oregon to be a part of it, it almost feels like a miracle.

But there’s also a sense that the WHL almost takes the 5 US teams for granted. When Robison ventures south of the border, there’s a feeling of, “Oh, hey, he remembers us!” The last time he acted like he cared about the teams was when he testified to the Washington Legislature that the league and its four teams in the state should be exempt from minimum wage laws (and threatened to move the teams if they had to pay the players a minimum wage).

If the WHL won’t let Everett bid, where would the 2020 Memorial Cup go? The favorite might be Victoria, where a newish arena and a British Columbia market that has never hosted may greatly tempt the league. It may also be a “thank you” for allowing the WHL to move the Chilliwack Bruins to Victoria, therefore beating the American Hockey League in putting a team in the BC capital.

If not Victoria, then the WHL might look at Kamloops, the host of the 1995 tourney. The city is used to hosting big events, including this year’s Women’s World Ice Hockey Championships. They could also consider Moose Jaw, now with its 4,500-seat Mosaic Place. If location compared to the rest of the league isn’t an issue, maybe Prince George and its 6,000-seat CN Centre may have a shot.

But none of those cities have what Everett has. Xfinity Arena is downtown, holds almost 9,000 for hockey and comes with a large conference center and a second rink attached. A new hotel, large enough to be a headquarters hotel for the Cup, will be finished a few blocks away from the arena by 2017. Numerous hotels are located a short distance from the arena, whether within walking distance or a short drive away (Lynnwood, Mukilteo, Tulalip, Marysville and other Everett neighborhoods). Downtown Everett has plenty of restaurants and shops to keep fans busy and full all week.

Everett is also the seat of Snohomish County, which has almost 800,000 residents. It’s also easy driving distance in a region that houses millions of residents along the Cascadia corridor from Portland to Vancouver, and is an easy drive from Spokane, Tri-Cities and Kelowna. A ferry ride connects Victoria and Vancouver Island fans to Anacortes or Tsawwassen, followed by an easy drive to Everett.

In short, there’s no legitimate reason the WHL should prevent Everett and the Silvertips from not just bidding on the 2020 Memorial Cup, but from hosting the tournament itself. If the city and team don’t even show up as a finalist, then the WHL’s entire bidding process should be seen as a sham.

Then again, that would require a belief that the Robison and the WHL actually cares about their US Division teams. This, to many fans of the five American teams, would be seen as a major stretch.

(Photo of Xfinity Arena from author’s Twitter page: @rmarcham)