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Paul Danzer on Hockey: First-place Portland limited to off-ice training in coronavirus shutdown

While all hockey activity is on hold in the Western Hockey League because of the coronavirus, players for the Winterhawks remain in Portland.

In part because of Portland's remote location, players will remain in town until further direction from the league.

One reason players are staying with their local billet families is the logistics of getting players who are from around western Canada and the United States back to Portland when the league decides to resume hockey activities, according to Winterhawks VP/GM/coach Mike Johnston.

Johnston said teams are allowed to meet and to do off-ice training during this suspension of the season.

He expects more announcements from the WHL early next week about how the league will proceed.

JOHNSTONJohnston agrees with the WHL decision to suspend play, but remains hopeful that the season — or at least the playoffs — will still take place.

The Winterhawks are atop a competitive U.S. Division, one point ahead of Everett. The Hawks had five regular-season games left when play was suspended. The WHL playoffs are scheduled to start on March 27.

"We're hoping and anticipating that the season, or at least the playoffs, will happen," Johnston said.

Johnston's message to the players was to stay healthy, hang with their billet families and avoid congregating in large groups.

On Friday, Winterhawks players who are in high school received instructions for continuing their studies during the closure of schools, as announced by Gov. Kate Brown. Winterhawks players in college already take online classes.

Johnston said he and his ice staff will focus their time on preparing for upcoming player drafts, including phone discussions with scouts. The new WHL U.S. prospects draft is scheduled for March 25. The Winterhawks have the 16th and 29th picks in the two-round draft.

This first-time draft allows teams to select 2005-born players from Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

The traditional bantam draft of 2005-born players will take place in early May. Players available for that draft are from those states and from the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan and Yukon.

Johnston called this is a unique situation and said the safety of everyone is priority one.

He has experienced shutdowns twice during NHL labor disputes. He was an assistant coach with the Vancouver Canucks during lockout that canceled the 2004-05 NHL season. That was particularly stressful, he said, because several false starts occurred when it appeared a resolution was close.

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