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Kamloops hockey team bans local sportswriter

Hockey or the hometown paper? It's a choice sports fans in Kamloops may soon have to make after a local sportswriter found himself in the penalty box for his critical coverage of the city's junior team.

Just before Christmas, the general manager of the Western Hockey League's Kamloops Blazers, Craig Bonner, hand delivered a three-page letter to the offices of The Kamloops Daily News. It informed the paper that reporter Gregg Drinnan - who has covered the team for 10 years - would no longer be allowed to interview team staff, coaches or players.

Mr. Drinnan's sin?

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"The letter begins by making reference to, quote, unquote, negative reporting on the Blazers," said Daily News editor Mel Rothenburger. "Although it doesn't get specific at all about exactly what there is in his coverage of the team that causes them concern, but basically it says that his coverage is harming the franchise."

So far, the team is keeping mum on the issue. Mr. Bonner did not return several requests for comment.

Mr. Drinnan is still an accredited WHL reporter and the ban appears to violate the league's media policy, which says teams must make players and coaches available to reporters before and after every game.

"So it seems kind of strange that the league would have a policy and neither the league, nor the team involved, have any inclination to follow the policy," Mr. Rothenburger said.

However, league commissioner Ron Robison has decided to try to referee a resolution to the dispute, scheduling a meeting with representatives from both sides for Jan. 11.

The league's director of communications, Cory Flett, said Mr. Robison will not be commenting publicly on the matter until after the meeting.

Mr. Rothenburger said he is willing to discuss the Blazers' concerns, but there is a principle at stake and he stands behind his reporter.

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"I think it's important that the media remain independent in the way that we approach coverage," he said. "We do need to be fair and balanced in our coverage and I think we've been doing that. Gregg is a very knowledgeable sportswriter and from time to time he offers criticism of the performance of the team and the organization. I think that's pretty much fair ball in sports writing."

The ban was levied a day after a column by Mr. Drinnen appeared in The Daily News with the headline, Curses! Blazers Season Isn't Looking Good. In it, Mr. Drinnen takes the team's management to task for the Blazers' poor on-ice performance and declining attendance.

The team has fallen on hard times since winning three Memorial Cups as Canada's top major junior team in the 1990s. In 2007, the team was bought by businessman Tom Gagliardi and four NHLers who played for the Blazers as teenagers - Mark Recchi, Shane Doan, Darryl Sydor and Jarome Iginla. Their aim was to restore the team to glory.

Since then, however, the team has had a losing record, and it is now on its fourth head coach in four years.

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