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BY PAUL DANZER/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Team presidentPiper says it's just a case of getting 'control'

Among some internet domain names recently registered by the Winterhawks were five that include reference to the National Hockey League and Portland.

But the decision to take control of domain names such as apparently was a defensive move rather than an indication that Portland's Western Hockey League team is chasing an NHL team.

"We're not making any play for anything like that," Winterhawks President Doug Piper says. "We just thought it might be a good idea for us to control that because there's lots of talk about people getting a hold of (domains and using) them in a wrong way."

The website was the first to wonder if the web domain registrations meant something was stirring in Portland. It's easy to understand such speculation.

Since the Moda Center was built, Portland's name has been floated as a possible relocation city each time one of the NHL's franchises experiences turbulence (and Arizona, Calgary and Ottawa have some level of arena or attendance challenge).

The Moda Center is a terrific venue for hockey. And Winterhawks owner Bill Gallacher has expressed interest in someday owning an NHL team.

The success of the Vegas expansion team this season and the pending approval of Seattle as an expansion city, likely to start play in 2020, eventually might make Portland more interesting to the NHL.

But as long as Paul Allen controls the Moda Center, odds remain against the NHL landing there to compete with his Trail Blazers for dollars from fans and corporate sponsors.

So, as with the current MLB-to-Portland buzz, let's keep our excitement in check — at least until has content other than a "Website coming soon" message. 

Still, it's fun to dream. As Vegas proved this season, as soon as it arrives, a NHL team will have a better chance of holding a championship parade in Portland than will the Trail Blazers.

n There currently are no plans for further upgrades to Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Improvements made for last November's PK80 college basketball tournament — including the new video screens — benefited the Winterhawks.

If at some point city government decides to make a long-term investment in the coliseum, the Winterhawks might be partners on such a project. But according to Piper, there are no big plans on the horizon.

"If ever the city wanted to talk again about a major upgrade, a real remodel on a massive scale, we would want to talk about it and participate in it if it makes sense," Piper says. "We're just waiting to see how the city feels about it. I know they are talking about the best long-term plans. We're ready and willing to participate if that's the way they decide to go with their building."

n The Winterhawks still hope to move forward soon with plans to build an ice facility in Beaverton. The club has an agreement with the Tualatin Hills Parks and Recreation District to build and operate a facility with two ice sheets at Southwest 158th Avenue and Walker Road.

The club was shooting to have the facility open by fall 2019. But when it came time to seek bids for the project, costs came in much higher than the $15 million price tag the Winterhawks had anticipated — a price Piper says was based off costs of ice facilities in the Midwest they studied.

Piper remains optimistic the facility can be built without too many delays — and with two ice sheets. Cutting the project to a single ice sheet would cut only about 12 percent off of construction costs, according to Piper, who pointed to the demand for ice time and the revenue side of the equation as arguments for sticking with the plan to have two rinks.

"We've found some really cool ideas in the last few weeks," Piper says. "So we're kind of back on track to feeling like we can get this thing done for the kind of money that makes sense. We're also feeling like there's ways we can build a little faster than we originally thought. So we think we might not be that far off the original schedule."

n The Winterhawks have no plans to try again to get the Oregon Legislature to pass a law declaring their players are amateurs. The states of Washington and Michigan and several Canadian provinces have passed laws in recent years specifying that major junior hockey players are amateurs.

In February, the Winterhawks and the WHL pushed for passage of a similar law in Oregon, but the bill never made it to a vote in the Legislature after unions opposed it.

Piper says the bill was meant to clarify the status of amateur hockey players in Oregon. That it failed to pass won't change how the team operates — paying players a stipend to cover room and board.

"We've been operating legally as amateur athletes for 40 years," Piper says. "The only reason we took that step is it was a little bit ambiguous, and we wanted to clarify it on the books. It was really more of a league initiative than it was ours." 

n If they have not done so by the time you read this, the Winterhawks will soon announce changes to their scouting department.

Matt Bardsley, who started with the Winterhawks as a scout in 1999 and since 2013 was Portland's assistant general manager, last month was hired as the Kamloops Blazers as general manager. In addition to a vacancy atop the club's scouting department, Bardsley's move means the team needs a new head of its ticketing department to replace Stacy Bardsley, Matt's wife.

Hawks defenseman Henri Jokiharju very well may be headed for professional hockey next season, after signing his entry-level NHL contract with the Chicago Blackhawks.

The agreement to the three-year contract comes as no surprise, as the 18-year-old from Finland was the Blackhawks' first-round selection in the 2017 NHL draft (29th overall) — hosted by Chicago.

If Jokiharju (who turns 19 on Sunday) was a North American, odds would be higher he returns to Portland. Players younger than 20 who don't make the NHL — which Jokiharju will be given a chance to do so — must go back to junior hockey.

But Jokiharju will have the option of playing in a pro league in Europe if he does not make the Blackhawks — and Chicago likely will want him to gain experience against older players if that's an option.

Nothing is for certain. But the Winterhawks will select two players during the Canadian Hockey League import draft on June 28 with the expectation that Jokiharju and 20-year-old San Jose Sharks prospect Joachim Blichfeld will be playing pro hockey in 2018-19.

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