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Outdoor hockey in the Park? Maybe

On Sports


Tackling a variety of subjects as we move through another sports week.

• Sponsorship remains in limbo, but it appears Portland’s annual LPGA tournament will be staged Aug. 28-31 at Columbia Edgewater Country Club.

“We are on the LPGA schedule and are definitely planning on having a tournament,” says long-time director Tom Maletis of Tournament Golf Foundation. “We’ve talked to the LPGA and to Columbia-Edgewater, and all systems are go.”

Safeway has been the title sponsor since 1996, but the grocery company cut back its financial commitment last season and hasn’t yet signed on for this season. Last week’s announcement that Safeway’s national corporation is up for sale has further impeded negotiations.

“That’s thrown a wrench into it,” Maletis says. “We expect to still have further talks. We don’t know the extent of what Safeway’s involvement will be, but we’re hoping they’ll remain a big piece of the sponsorship.”

There are ongoing discussions with other sponsors, too, Maletis says.

“New potential sponsors and existing sponsors,” he says. “We want to finalize things as soon as possible.”

Maletis says it is possible that a title sponsor won’t be signed and the event will be known as the “Portland Classic,” a title it hasn’t carried since back in 1976.

It’s also possible that the LPGA will provide financial assistance to carry on the tournament.

“We have to find out where we are on our end and come up with a (financial) plan,” Maletis says.

Portland and the Kraft Nabisco Championships at Rancho Mirage, Calif., are each in its 43rd year as the longest-standing tournaments on the LPGA Tour. It would be a shame to see the Portland tourney — one of the premier sporting events in the state each year — go by the wayside.

Maletis says there is no deadline for a sponsorship decision, “but time is of the essence,” he says. “It’s of the best interest of everyone to figure out as soon as possible what we’re

doing.”

• I blinked and missed the Winter Olympics. What happened?

Seriously, Sochi went by rather quickly. Best thing about it — no bombings, no casualties, no major incidents.

TV ratings were down 13 percent from four years earlier in Vancouver. I didn’t see much to knock my socks off, but I’ve never been a Winter Olympics fan. Much more interested in the Summer Games.

• I did watch some hockey, including Canada’s stunning 3-2 overtime victory over the United States for women’s gold. One of the Canadian stars was forward Rebecca Johnston, 24, niece of Winterhawks’ general manager/coach Mike Johnston.

Rebecca — daughter of Mike’s younger brother, Bob — had the assist on the game-

tying goal in the gold-medal game and was a key player for Canada throughout the Olympics.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Mike Johnston says. “Rebecca was on the (2010 Olympic) team but was a young kid then. She had a big role in the tournament this year.”

Bob Johnston has six children — three boys and three girls. Five of them earned hockey scholarships to U.S. colleges. Three of them, including Rebecca, attended Cornell. One went to Harvard, one went to Colgate. No academic slouches there. “It’s amazing,” Mike says with a laugh. “I don’t know how they did it.”

Johnston watched the gold-medal game with his players prior to practice at the Winterhawks Skating Center in Beaverton. “We have a lot of American kids, so the loyalties were divided,” he says.

As much as the Canadians came through in the clutch, the Americans choked down the stretch.

“I watched both benches late in the game,” Johnston says. Players on “the Canadian bench seemed focused and calm. (Players on) the American bench looked anxious and a bit nervous. Canada got a little luck when the goalie was pulled and (the U.S.) shot bounced off the post, but that’s part of hockey.”

Rebecca Johnston, who lives in London, Ontario, and just graduated from Cornell, “probably will play a couple of more Olympics,” her uncle guesses.

• Mike Johnston’s attention is on having his team in prime condition entering the Western Hockey League playoffs. The fans and, to an extent, his players have their eyes on a pair of WHL record win streaks — 22 in a single season (Estevan Bruins, 1967) and 24 in overlapping seasons (Victoria Cougars, 1981).

Johnston wants to limit attention on the streaks as much as possible.

“We haven’t talked about them,” he says. “If Nic Petan’s focus is on scoring goals so he can win the (league) scoring title, you don’t score. If you focus too much on stats or streaks, you’re not focusing on the task at hand. Records or wins will come. We have games at Spokane and Seattle this weekend we have to be worried about. That’s where our focus is, one game at a time.”

Johnston admits that, if the Hawks go into their March 7 home date vs. Seattle with 23 wins, the Victoria Cougars’ record will become a topic of conversation. Not until then.

“Before we beat Vancouver (on Feb. 15) to break the franchise record, we talked about it,” he says. “If we get to that point again (against Seattle), we’ll use it as some motivation.”

• The Hawks have been using 6-3, 225-pound Corbin Boes in goal in place of regular goaltender Brendan Burke, who has been laid up the past three weeks with mononucleosis. In Burke’s place, the 20-year-old Boes — acquired for insurance in a trade with Lethbridge on Jan. 9 — has come up big, going 11-0.

Burke is back at practice and feeling much better.

“We’ll see how his energy level is,” Johnston says. “We’ll make a decision on his status as he progresses.”

• June Jones suffered through a 5-7 season at Southern Methodist, but the Grant High and Portland State grad thinks it would have been a different story had not senior quarterback Garrett Gilbert been lost to a knee injury for the final two games. The Mustangs, who had won four of their previous five games, lost 34-0 to Houston and 17-13 to Central Florida and failed to make a bowl appearance for the first time since 2008.

“If Garrett hadn’t gotten hurt, I think we’d have won seven and then won a bowl game,” Jones says.

The 6-4, 225-pound Gilbert wasn’t invited to the NFL combine. Jones says he will shine at SMU’s pro day on March 28.

“His workout is really going to be something for the scouts,” Jones says. “He is grossly underrated as an NFL prospect. If you look at his last four games of 2012 and any of the ones he played in this year, I think his grade would be the highest in the country. It’s unreal he wasn’t invited to the combine.”

Jones will have five quarterback candidates at August training camp, including three veterans — 6-0, 195-pound junior Connor Preston, 6-3, 205-pound sophomore Neal Burcham and 6-2, 205-pound sophomore Colney Cassell.

“Burcham is a little ahead of everybody,” Jones says. “He’s going to be a really good player. Cassell (from Yakima, Wash.) has a tremendous arm. Preston will be in the thick of things, too.”

SMU’s two incoming freshmen are in-state recruits — 6-4, 220-pound Jordan Severt from Austin and 5-11, 185-pound Darrell Colbert from Houston.

“Severt was considered the best player in Texas last year,” Jones says. “Colbert reminds me of Russell Wilson. You know he can run, and he can really throw, too.”

Despite a recruiting class ranked No. 98 by Rivals.com, Jones considers it “the best class we’ve had. We recruited heavily in the O and D lines. I knew we’d get the skill guys to come.”

Jones, 61, recently signed a contract that extension through 2018. He thinks the Mustangs will be much better this fall. He’s enjoying coaching as much as ever.

“I don’t see stopping what I’m doing,” he says. “I feel like I’m 20 years old still, though my body says no sometimes. I’m still doing all the things I’ve

done. I love to be around our student-athletes. We have a lot more to accomplish here, and we’re going to get it done.”

• The proliferation of NHL outdoor games leads to the question: Could one be staged at Portland’s Providence Park?

It could. And there have been casual discussions about the possibilities between Timbers COO Mike Golub — the point man for Peregrine Sports LLC, which operates Providence Park — and Winterhawks president Doug Piper.

Golub — once chief marketing officer for the NHL’s New York Rangers — likes the idea, especially since the Timbers are off in December and January when an outdoor hockey game at PP would fit.

“It’s expensive to cover the (FieldTurf) and put down ice,” Golub says. “But we’re looking to get creative. We’d entertain a serious conversation. It’s not inconceivable. It would be a very interesting undertaking.”

PP could accommodate a crowd of more than 20,000 for hockey.

“It would be a cool attraction,” Piper says. “It’s feasible from a logistics perspective. What I’m not sure about is the economics. (The ice surface) would have to stay up two to three weeks and we’d have to do a bunch of events — public skating, perhaps some other things — to make it pencil out financially. We would love to do it, though.”

n Oregon State will appeal pitcher Ben Wetzler’s 11-game suspension to the NCAA’s

Student-Athlete Reinstatement Committee.

“We understand the soonest it will be heard is Thursday,” says Steve Clark, OSU’s vice president/university relations and marketing. “We would hope there would be an immediate decision.”

Best-case scenario is that Wetzler — now eligible to return to duty for Sunday’s final game of the fourth-ranked Beavers’ four-game homestand with Wright State — would be cleared to throw as early as Friday’s series opener. A double-header is scheduled for Saturday.

“We think it’s important to establish that we’re opposed to the ruling,” Clark says. “We’d like (the suspension) to be as short as possible to give (coach) Pat Casey the options he deserves.”

I’m not holding my breath, given the NCAA’s history of NCAA sentences, but I applaud Oregon State’s support of its maligned senior hurler.

• The Timbers, incidentally, are not trying to kick Portland State football out of Providence Park, the recent flap over the painting of football lines on the turf notwithstanding. The Vikings are entering the final year of a lease with Peregrine to use PP for their home games.

“We like those guys,” Golub says. “We want them to succeed. It’s in our best interest to have them succeed. They’ve played here for many years, but we would like to see them do more at the gate.

“We hope they can figure out a way to revive the program.”

• Providence Park is one of four Major League Soccer venues with artificial turf, joining Seattle, Vancouver and New England. While MLS pushes natural turf with its franchises, the Timbers are satisfied with what they have. The FieldTurf surface was replaced recently.

“Due to our weather, the sun patterns and the amount of use the field gets, we don’t feel grass can work,” Golub says. “Our turf is terrific. All the top teams have come in and given us good reviews. We’ll continue to replace it on a regular basis.”

• At least one coach of considerable repute stands up for Jim Boeheim over the veteran Syracuse coach’s recent meltdown at the end of the Orange’s loss to Duke over the block/charge rule. “I don’t blame Jim,” Southern Methodist coach Larry Brown says. “Coaching makes you do funny things.”

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