WHL season to focus on players first as Kelowna gets set to play Kamloops

In opening press conference, the league goes over changes for the coming season

The WHL held a conference call Wednesday to kick off its season

WHL Commissioner Ron Robison officially launched the 2016-17 WHL regular season on Wednesday as the  WHL enters its 51st season with 22 WHL clubs across Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest begin their quest to hoist the Ed Chynoweth Cup as WHL Champions.

Here are a few things to watch for coming up this WHL season.

•WHL on Shaw

The WHL on Shaw returns to broadcast games across Shaw TV’s Western Canadian network. Friday’s contest in Vancouver will kick off with a 30 minute season preview beginning at 7 p.m. while the Rockets will appear on Shaw three times in the first half of the season: A home game on Oct. 26 vs. Victoria and road games Nov. 22 at Victoria and Dec. 17 from Calgary.

•Marquee Games

In addition to Friday and Sunday’s games on the WHL on Shaw, three games hold special significance on the WHL’s opening weekend.

Saturday in Brandon, the Wheat Kings will not only raise their third WHL Championship banner (and first since 1996), but the club will also celebrate the franchise’s 50th season during a special pre-game ceremony.

Also on Saturday, the first hockey game will be played in Rogers Place as the Edmonton Oil Kings are set to welcome the Red Deer Rebels in front of a sell-out crowd of 18,102.

•WHL Continuing to Put Players First

Robison highlighted the emphasis the league and its 22 member clubs continue to place on developing players from both a hockey and educational standpoint during Wednesday’s media conference call.

“The reason we are the number-one destination for young prospects is because we not only deliver a world-class development opportunity for our players at the highest level in the system and a fully-guaranteed WHL scholarship that meets the needs of every graduating player, but also because we deliver the best possible environment off the ice for the players to develop into highly-successful people,” commented Robison.

This season, the WHL has further enhanced the WHL Players First support services program through a partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association which will bring its Talk Today program to all 22 WHL member Clubs. Talk Today is a proven and important mental health initiative that will help WHL players and team staff identify and address mental health issues.

•WHL Scholarship Program Breaking Records

After awarding a League-record of over 350 WHL Scholarships last year, the WHL is poised to challenge that record again in 2016-17 as more WHL graduates continue to choose to access their fully-guaranteed WHL Scholarship packages.

Every player who plays in the WHL is eligible to receive the WHL Scholarship. For every season a player plays in the WHL, they receive a guaranteed, full-year WHL Scholarship including tuition, textbooks and compulsory fees to a post-secondary institution of their choice.

•New Playing Rule and Rule Interpretation for 2016-17

The WHL has clarified the rule regarding pucks off players’ skates which enter the net this season. The clarification states that, unless the puck is in the goal crease, a puck that enters the net off of a player’s skate shall be ruled a goal. This will eliminate the need for a decision by the referee and/or video goal judge as to whether it was a distinct kicking motion or not.

The WHL has also implemented hybrid icing this season which has been successfully introduced at both the National Hockey League (NHL) and International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) levels.

The WHL has also added new video replay systems, provided by Hawk-Eye Innovations, in all WHL arenas this season. Hawk-Eye, also the supplier of video replay technology to the NHL and Major League Baseball, will provide WHL Video Goal Judges with improved capabilities for all video review situations.