After a promising start to the second season for the World Hockey Association’s (WHA) Junior West Hockey League, the league is again on rocky ground with the sudden departure of one of its two new expansions teams.
Last week the Fort Vancouver Pioneers, based in Vancouver, Washington, announced plans to cease operations for the 2007-2008 season. According to the team’s website, the WHA “failed to fulfill the agreed upon transportation agreement made when the Pioneers joined the league. Confirmed correspondence to the Pioneers has failed to materialize and in the best interest of our players the management of the Pioneers had no choice but to end the season.”
The team is now working to place its players with other Junior B teams throughout the U.S.
This was not the first controversy to chase the Pioneers. Last year, when they won the Northern Pacific Hockey League championship, they were accused of paying their players. The allegation was never proven, and the Pioneers cut their ties with the league.
The Pioneers were sitting in first place in the WHA standings when they announced their decision to pull out of the season.
According to a posting on the WHA website, www.officialwha.com , the Pioneers were suspended after refusing to attend a game in Lillooet against the Vancouver Whalers. This was the second time that the Pioneers had missed a game, after missing a game against the Squamish Cougars in the second week of the league.
“This last show of defiance is not only treasonous but undeniably damaging to the WHA, fans in Lillooet, B.C., the Whalers players, and their own Pioneer players,” according to a statement from the league. “Their actions defy all logic and comprehension and is certainly not fair to their own Pioneer players who they’ve used as a pawn in this sophomoric stunt.
“The WHA has not or did not charge Expansion Fees nor monthly League fees to the Pioneers when they joined the WHA, and we feel that this was more than fair and just compensation, enough to allow them to get prepared for the season ahead of them.
“The League was advised as early as week 2 that the Pioneers were having difficulty in their transportation budget, but the WHA could not fathom why, as early as week 2, the Pioneers had exhausted or were close to eclipsing their overall budget for the season.
“Asking for help is one issue, but to slam the brakes on your own Team, the players’ parents and the WHA and all of its players and coaches is unforgivable.”
According to the WHA, the Pioneers may also have had issues with insurance, as they have yet to see the team’s proof of insurance.
The league is continuing. The decision to withdraw has left the Squamish Cougars in first place overall with 10 wins and three losses, four points ahead of the Lumby Fighting Saints. The Oliver Jets are third with 14 points.