NHL lockout could help Northwest Junior hockey
By Bill Swartz
An NHL player lockout went into effect last weekend, and with no new bargaining sessions scheduled it appears the season won’t start on time.
The labor unrest could benefit junior teams like Seattle, Everett, and Vancouver skating in the Western Hockey League. Their seasons fire up this weekend.
Seattle Thunderbirds coach Steve Konowalchuk expects to see some larger crowds when his team plays in British Columbia later this month.
“Vancouver (Giants) have scheduled several home games early in the season knowing the Canucks might not be playing,” he said. “I’m sure they’ll get more fans.”
Konowalchuk added: “In Canada, they eat, sleep, and die hockey, so they need to find some games somewhere. It will be fun for our young players to experience larger crowds and be the main focus of hockey going forward for the near future.”
Hockey legend Pat Quinn, part owner of the Vancouver Giants hockey club, predicts many fans will see the speed and talent at the junior level and make the switch. Vancouver is offering cut-rate tickets in sections of Pacific Coliseum for the first several games.
There are many future NHL stars competing in Northwest junior hockey. Slovakian left winger Marek Tvrdon leads the Vancouver Giants’ attack. Seattle acquired 20-year-old promising goalie Brandon Glover from the Calgary Hitmen in the offseason.
Konowalchuk enjoyed a 15-year NHL career with the Washington Capitals and Colorado Avalanche. He believes there are four criteria young players must have to reach the highest level of the sport.
“Obviously, skating is a big part of it. Skill in shooting and passing is important. You must have hockey sense with the ability to read the play and think on your feet,” he said. “Competing means the willingness to block shots, and get into battles to win the puck.”
The 39-year-old Konowalchuk is in his second season as Seattle’s head coach. He began his playing career in a Portland Winterhawks’ sweater, which makes him the target for friendly barbs.
“I played with a few Seattle guys in the NHL, and they phoned me when I took the job and said, ‘How can you be coaching Seattle now, you traitor?’ It is a fun ribbing in the rivalry, so when I’m on the other bench now it’s easy to get on me.”
The T-Birds see plenty of the Winterhawks this weekend, opening the 2012-2013 season Friday night in Portland then skating against the same team at ShoWare Center in Kent Saturday evening.