PORTLAND'S WHL OWNER APPLAUDS JOB DONE BY COACH, SCOUTS, PLAYERS
Bill Gallacher is the owner who brought the Portland Winterhawks from the deepest depths in their 40-year franchise history to the Memorial Cup in 2013.
The club was a laughingstock -- the Western Hockey League's worst team -- and in disarray when the Calgary oil magnate took over in 2008. Under the direction of President Doug Piper, general manager/head coach Mike Johnston and assistant coach Travis Green, within five years the Hawks became a standard by which other WHL clubs were judged.
Gallacher stood by Johnston when WHL Commissioner Ron Robison suspended the GM/coach for most of the 2012-13 season and frisked the Winterhawks of first-round draft picks for five straight years -- along with its first five draft picks in '13 -- for minor player benefit violations.
Green took over the club and led it to the WHL championship and to the Memorial Cup, North American junior hockey's version of the Stanley Cup finals.
The Hawks owner took time for an interview before a Presidents Day game against Victoria at Memorial Coliseum.
Tribune: What brings you to Portland?
Gallacher: We have a place in Scottsdale (Ariz.), which is not far away. I told Doug I was thinking of coming on the holiday, so we popped in. I always love watching the games. Just because I own the Winterhawks, doesn't mean I'm not a hockey fan like anybody else.
Tribune: How do you think it's gone for the team this season?
Gallacher: We've lost a lot of close games, but I think the coaching staff has done a wonderful job. Though we've been hamstrung by the loss of draft choices, our scouting staff continues to come up with good players. Since after Christmas, the team has played extremely well. I'm really pleased. If we can make a bit of a run here, who knows what we can do in the playoffs?
Tribune: What do you think of the job Jamie Kompon has done in the second year of his first head coaching job after many years as an NHL assistant?
Gallacher: It's not easy following Mike and Travis, who had so much success, but Jamie has adapted extremely well. He is very well thought of. He uses a different style, based more on puck possession, but we like that a lot. The scoring is more spread around, but especially after Christmas, he has had them rolling nicely. I'm proud of how he works with the players.
Tribune: How much has the loss of the draft picks hurt the franchise's talent base?
Gallacher: You can't help but say it hurt. Having said that, I cannot believe how well our scouts have done to find talent, like we always have throughout our (farm system). That's a tribute to the people we have on our staff. We have a bigger scouting staff than some NHL teams. You cannot replace that kind of talent and commitment.
Tribune: Robison was just given a five-year contract extension as WHL commissioner. Your thoughts?
Gallacher: We were supportive of it. We've had our ups and downs with the WHL at the executive level, but we'd like to think that's behind us. We've been very good partners. And I'll say this: Rob works extremely hard at what he does -- harder than a lot of guys in those kind of positions.
Tribune: Where are you on an agreement with the city over renovation of Memorial Coliseum? What do you want out of it?
Gallacher: We've put some money in there. We'd like to think the city and ourselves are on the same page in terms of ultimately wanting to do something. If we can have two venues (including the Moda Center) up to standard, it gives our fans the best experience they can have. (The coliseum) is a beautiful facility. We're going to be partners with (the city). We're supportive of doing something, and I think the city is as well, hopefully in a timely matter. I don't mean five or six years; I'm hoping to do it much sooner than that. And we will commit dollars to that.
Tribune: Is there any interest moving forward in bringing the NHL to Portland?
Gallacher: I've expressed my desire at having an NHL team at some point. It has to be the right place at the right time. We'd like that to be the next step for us. The demographics and numbers with Portland are for a more knowledgeable fan base than Nashville, a bigger draw than Buffalo. but those aren't decisions I can make. Mr. (Gary) Bettman (the NHL commissioner) and I are friends and have spoken at times. At this point, they have a lot on their docket. That doesn't mean it won't happen.
Tribune: If it happens for you, would Portland be the logical location?
Gallacher: That's hard for me to answer. My first thought is it's a logical fit with Portland. And I like the West Coast. But it depends on a whole bunch of factors.
Tribune: Have you had any negotiations with the owner of the Trail Blazers and the Moda Center, Paul Allen, regarding bringing the NHL to Portland?
Gallacher: No. No discussions with Mr. Allen.