The Western Hockey League on Thursday released a statement detailing penalties it handed out to the Portland Winterhawks the day before.
The penalties, for "player benefit violations," included the suspension of coach/general manager Mike Johnston for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs, the forfeiture of their first five picks in the 2013 WHL draft and first-round picks 2014-17, and a team fine of $200,000.
Thursday's statement read: "After the WHL became aware that the Portland Winterhawks had entered into an undisclosed player agreement which contravened WHL Regulations, the WHL commissioned international accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct an independent investigation to determine whether there were any additional benefits extended to players during the past five seasons. The independent investigation identified 54 violations involving 14 players which have occurred over the past five seasons.
"The violations all relate to providing players with benefits not permitted under WHL Regulations. The violations include additional parent travel, off-season training and other benefits. These additional benefits, which were not disclosed to the WHL, are strictly prohibited under WHL Regulations.
"All WHL Clubs and General Managers are required to fully disclose to the WHL all benefits provided to players and to ensure their Club is fully aware of and in compliance with WHL Regulations at all times."
League commissioner Ron Robison added: ???We believe the sanctions are not excessive given the repeated and systemic nature of the violations. The independent investigation discovered an unprecedented number of violations. It is the responsibility of each WHL Club and General Manager to be fully aware of the WHL Regulations and to be in compliance at all times. These sanctions are necessary in order to protect the overall welfare and integrity of our League and to preserve a level playing field for all of our member Clubs and our players."
The Winterhawks said Thursday they "do not dispute these allegations, which are consistent with the statement the team made [Wednesday]."
That statement said the violations included flights for players' families, paying for summer training, and providing a cell phone to the team captain.
"The WHL is counting each flight, training session and phone as an individual infraction, adding up to 54," the team said on its website. "The league???s findings are consistent with the team???s statement [Wednesday], and the Winterhawks are encouraging more transparency in this process."
The sanctions include forfeiture of at least nine draft picks through 2017, including five in 2013.
After the penalties were announced Wednesday, Johnston told the Winterhawks' website, "After fully cooperating with the league???s investigation, we were extremely surprised at the excessive nature of the sanctions, and we don't feel they are in line with the scope of the violations we were found to have committed."
The Winterhawks have several top prospects for the 2013 NHL Draft, including defenseman Seth Jones, center Nicolas Petan and right wing Oliver Bjorkstrand. The team enters the weekend with 16 wins in its past 17 games, and a 20-4-1 record that leaves it one point behind the Kamloops Blazers for the most in the league.