Retiring WHL Commissioner Ron Robison makes final visit to Prince Albert

Prince Albert Raiders/Mark Peterson Media. Retiring WHL Commissioner Rob Robison (centre) shakes hands with Prince Albert Raiders board of directors president/ governor Gord Broda prior to Saturday night's game against the Kelowna Rockets at the Art Hauser Centre.

After nearly a quarter century at the reigns of the WHL Commissioner’s office, Ron Robison is calling it a career.

Robison was originally named WHL Commissioner in September 2000 and has held the position ever since. Prior to his time with the WHL, Robison spent nearly 20 years working with Hockey Canada.

Robison says he is very thankful for his time as league commissioner.

“I’ve been very fortunate to be in this position this length of time. I’ve had great support from the Board of Governors my entire time. (Kelowna Rocket owner/president) Bruce Hamilton has been chairman of the board and we had really good continuity and I feel really good about where the league is at.”

During the 2000-2001 season, Robison’s first as league commissioner, the WHL had five players finish with over 250 penalty minutes including Raider defenseman Grant McNeill with 280.

Last season, Brandon Wheat Kings forward Matthew Henry led the entire league with 140 penalty minutes. Robison says the league has seen a significant increase in skill in recent years.

“I think the game has changed in a very positive way. When you look at the style of play now, it’s all about speed and skill, and the players that we’re producing are a real testament to that. I don’t believe we’ve really seen as good young talent as we have in the league now.”

Dan Near was named the incoming WHL Commissioner during a league press conference late last month. Near will join the league office on Jan. 1, 2024, and will serve in the Commissioner’s role alongside Robison before taking over the role full-time on Feb. 15.

Robison says he has been getting to know his successor since the announcement and is excited for the skills that Near will bring to the league.

“We’re getting to know Dan, and we’re really excited about him joining the league. I know he’s very excited about getting the opportunity to lead this league in the future, and we’re fortunate to have somebody of his capabilities joining the league.”

“I think his experience on the business side of the operation will be invaluable. He’s worked with the National Hockey League and with Adidas more recently, and from a merchandising, licensing perspective, along with generally moving the league in a new level from a sponsorship and marketing perspective, I think it’s going to be very helpful as well. His strength will be certainly on the business side, but I think he’s a very smart guy who’s going to quickly adapt to the environment and do a great job for us in the future.”

Parity has been a common theme in the WHL so far this season. At the time of publishing, only three points separate the third seeded Moose Jaw Warriors and seventh seeded Swift Current Broncos in the Eastern Conference.

In the Western Conference, only six points separate the top seeded Prince George Cougars from the fifth ranked Victoria Royals.

Robison says the parity shown in the league this season is a testament to the competitive balance the league strives for.

“I think we always strive for competitive balance. And when you look at the league this year, there’s really good, very competitive divisions. I look at our rivalries. I think our league is second to none. In any league, I put in North America with regard to our great rivalries we have. That really makes it competitive every night in the divisions.”

“It speaks to the prospects draft. It gives everybody an opportunity. That’s what we want, is to make sure everyone has an opportunity to win. I think just the fact that in recent years, we’ve had Swift Current and Prince Albert win our WHL championship and go on to the Memorial Cup, really validates the fact that we’ve been able to come up with the formula that works.”

When asked about his plans in retirement, Robison says he doesn’t have much set in place besides the fact he wants to spend more time with his family.

“I’m going to be slowing down for sure. I’m going to step back, and I think I’ll still be available to help the league in any way they need me. You don’t just walk away, and after all these years, you need to be able to support the league. I’m prepared to do that for sure. I think it’s about going from 100 miles an hour, maybe down to 40 or 50 miles an hour and try to spend a little bit more time with the family.”