Portland Winterhawks making the news in the offseason

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Winterhawks

Portland Winterhawks making the news in the offseason

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With the loss in the second round of the 2017 WHL playoffs, the Portland Winterhawks went to work and have been keeping busy during the offseason. The Hawks saw overage captain from this past season, Keegan Iverson, sign an amateur tryout with the AHL Ontario Reign. The Reign, which is the farm team for the Los Angeles Kings, were impressed enough with Iverson to sign him to a regular contract for the 2017-18 season. The Hawks also saw assistant coach Oliver David, who had signed with the Hawks this past season from the Dubuque Fighting Saints where he was their assistant coach, make a deal with the Saints to return there, this time as their head coach.

The Hawks also saw a departure in the front office with Community Events Coordinator Lesley Dawson leaving the team after several successful seasons with the team. Coming in is Lesley Pfau, who is the current Director of Marketing for the Winterhawks as she takes on a larger portfolio.

The season for the Canadian Hockey League ended with the Memorial Cup. The Seattle Thunderbirds, who ended up winning the WHL Championship, had a very rough outing in the cup tournament, losing three straight games, with two being blowouts to end their season. The host team Windsor Spitfires ended up winning the Cup and once again bringing up concerns on how the cup favors host teams especially those which bow out early in the playoffs. Most would agree that the real trophy is their home league championship and that the Memorial Cup is more to be considered akin to an All-Star Game where the skill players play and those teams playing in it have loaded their teams with older players. Those teams which will dismantle the team the following year with so many overage players, lead into the “cycling system” with the team needing a couple of years to redevelop. The Portland Winterhawks have been the anomaly since 2011, with their teams not only situating well in the playoff race, but also competing close to the championship and an appearance in the Memorial Cup Tournament. The exception was the 2015-16 team which was swept in the first round of the playoffs.

Due to their strength in developing players, the Hawks have been courting those in university hockey and potential draft eligible players and landing a few. Recently, Kieffer Bellows left Boston University for the Hawks as a 19-year-old. Bellows, son of NHL great Brian Bellows, was drafted by the New York Islanders last year and the move is to strongly develop his stock. There may be others coming especially with the most recent NHL draft.

First off, four players from the current roster were picked by NHL teams. Cody Glass, projected to be a high first round selection, was selected by the new expansion team Las Vegas Golden Knights as the sixth overall selection. Later on in the first round, Henri Jokiharju who was looked at as a late first round selection by pundits, was selected at spot 29 by the Chicago Blackhawks, who had traded down the draft to get him. The sixth-round saw Brendan DeJong get called by the Columbus Blue Jackets at spot 166 and the Winnipeg Jets finished the Hawks selections with pick 198 and Skyler McKenzie.

The draft also saw a few players who were drafted in the CHL draft in previous years by the Winterhawks get drafted by NHL teams this year. Ryan Poehling (18) a Winterhawks list player, drafted by Montreal and Jake Oettinger (19) by Dallas in the first round and by the Winterhawks in the ninth round of the 2013 CHL draft have possibilities of being talked to about looking into the Winterhawks organization by their draft teams, Scott Reedy was picked by San Jose in the fourth round and Cole Guttman by Tampa Bay in the sixth round. Both Reedy and Guttman who are eighteen, have committed to their Universities for the coming season, Poeling and Oettinger ended their freshman years this season. It could be an interesting camp for the Hawks this season.

The NHL schedule has been released, meaning the WHL schedule isn’t far behind. Originally thought to be mid-June, the timeline looks to be within the next week. Teams have already leaked some details with season openers starting September 23 and 24. The preseason schedule has been released and the Hawks will once again play in the Everett Holiday Classic and the Tri-City tournament which start Labor Day weekend and conclude the following weekend. The Hawks have not announced any preseason games in Portland and have yet to announce the training camp location and dates, though a safe bet would be August 24 through 27 and with the success of last year’s run at the Memorial Coliseum, it’s a likelihood that this will continue. Space concerns at the Winterhawks skating center as well as safety issues with so many people wanting to go led the Hawks to moving the event to the Coliseum.

With the nice weather happening now, it must mean it’s time for the annual Winterhawks Golf Tournament. Monday, July 24 at The Reserve in Aloha will be the site of the one day charity fundraiser. Shotgun begins at 1:30 with check in one hour earlier.

Rates include a cart, on course refreshments and a dinner where Winterhawks GM/ Coach Mike Johnston will speak about the team and the charity which is the Knight Cancer Institute at OHSU. Contact Kyle Gustafson kyleg@winterhawks.com or Paul Doherty (503) 899-7203 or email hawksgolf@winterhawks.com for more information on this always highly anticipated event.

A Guide To The Portland Winterhawks 2017 Bantam Draft

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A Guide To The Portland Winterhawks 2017 Bantam Draft

After a season filled with ups and downs, the Portland Winterhawks are looking into the promising future after an eventful 2017 Bantam Draft. Hundreds of prospects from all over Canada and the western United States hoped to make the protected list of 50 players for each WHL team, with an invite to development camps and the August training camp attended by all active players. For the first time in several years the Hawks were finally able to select a first round pick, and the rest of the team’s new prospects make up a wide variety of skills that will come in handy when they become eligible.

According to interviews leading up to the draft, Vice President/General Manager/Head Coach Mike Johnston is focused on building a roster focused on the main deficiencies Portland had this year: speed and puck handling. The 2016-2017 Hawks had a very solid offense with a strong emphasis on patient and strategic positioning; the real problem was carrying the puck through the neutral zone and pulling off the passes that enable such a playbook.

This is the last Bantam Draft to include the sanction punishments on the Winterhawks from the ruling in 2013, and though their first round pick has been forfeit every year, the organization has been able to trade for draft picks as normal. Cody Glass was the last player selected in the first round by the Winterhawks. That was in 2014, and the pick was acquired in a trade with the Calgary Hitmen.

For 2017, Portland used the first round to select Winnipeg native Seth Jarvis. The 15 year old forward nabbed 66 points this last season, and hopefully will inject some energy into the breakaway sprints that the team has needed to stay afloat in the rankings.

For the third round, the Hawks picked Ryan Helliwell from Vancouver, British Columbia at 55th over erall. The defenseman had an impressive 74 points during his last season, a real two-way player. The fourth round pick for the Winterhawks seemed to echo this ideal: Cross Hanas of Dallas, Texas is a nimble forward with an impressive backcheck and an ability to cut across the ice fast in times of need.

The fifth round pick was for a goalie, Dante Giannuzzi, which may be a very sound investment. A 90.9% save percentage and three shutouts is a great start for someone to likely be backing up Shane Farkas in a few seasons. To balance out that defense choice, the sixth round pick for Portland was another forward from Manitoba, Tyson Kozak, who posted 57 points (28 goals and 29 assists, extremely balanced play for a center) in only 36 games this last season.

The seventh round saw an uptick in offensive ranks, with forwards Robbie Fromm-Delorme from Richmond, BC and Aidan Thompson of Fort Collins, Colorado both selected. It was after the eighth round, wherein the Hawks acquired defenseman Ethan Edwards of St. Albert, Alberta, that a few trades took place. The Winterhawks picked up a ninth round pick from the Lethbridge Hurricanes–defenseman Trey Taylor–and a tenth round pick from the Spokane Chiefs, personified as forward Ethan Leyer.

Portland finished out the draft with three young forwards from the States, with Fargo native Tyler Kleven in the tenth round, and both Chase Yoder and Jackson Nieuwendyk in the eleventh.

Now, the obvious congratulations are in order for these young men, who are all taking their first steps into a larger world and one closer to careers in pro hockey. But what does this mean for the Portland Winterhawks? Well, very little in the short term. Most of these players are 14 or 15, and won’t be eligible for WHL play for a season or two. But there is a lot of raw talent acquired at once here. The rebuilding year (or years) eventually must yield some results, and it is reassuring that Coach Johnston and his very dedicated scouts are playing the long game.

A big night for those monitoring our local big leaguers

A big night for those monitoring our local big leaguers

I always try to keep track of our state-of-Oregon connections who move on to the top level of pro sports. And Sunday was big for three of them, who won games for their teams. Check it out:

Great job, guys.

The Kelowna Rockets stymie the Portland Winterhawks

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Portland Winterhawks

The Kelowna Rockets stymie the Portland Winterhawks

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The second round of the WHL playoffs has proven to be a perilous one for the Portland Winterhawks. The Kelowna Rockets have solidified their lead to 3-1 with a severely stinging victory in Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Amid lots of physical animosity on the ice, the Rockets proved Wednesday night that they may be the most intimidating team from the BC Division without sacrificing their puck handling and passing finesse.

The 7-2 score tells the story, too. Kelowna’s goals were spread out from the first two minutes of the game to the last two minutes, and from five different players. By contrast, both of Portland’s goals didn’t come until halfway through the third period.

Though the stats don’t look like it, Portland goalie Cole Kehler has actually been quite solid with the wrist shots coming at him on the ice, but the shots to the crossbar have been escaping and scoring over his shoulders consistently all week. It could be slow hands, or it could be just a case of too many shots on goal for one man to take. Either way, Kehler was relieved by Shane Farkas for the third period, and the Rockets persisted in scoring one more for good measure.

The real cause of death for the Hawks was the ludicrous 16 penalties adding up to 64 PIM, including one on a Kelowna breakaway that gave Nick Merkley a penalty shot that eluded Kehler. That goal, along with Portland fans’ skeptical response to the call, was the emotional rock bottom of the night. As if that weren’t enough, penalties from the previous game–and from both teams–continued to haunt Portland.

Game 3 saw the Winterhawks lose two of their highest scoring forwards, Evan Weinger and Alex Overhardt, to suspensions. Meanwhile, Skyler McKenzie was injured. That’s a sizeable chunk of the Portland offense right there, and all three were off the ice for Game 4 when offensive intensity was needed most. The suspensions were the result of what the WHL calls “supplemental discipline,” in which the opposing team submits a video clip of an incident after the game is over, looking for reparation. This is typically reserved for situations that resulted in injuries. League official Richard Doerksen reviewed Weinger and Overhardt’s actions, in which Erik Gardiner and Braydyn Chizen of the Rockets were both injured, and doled out the punishments hours before Game 4 started. Weinger was assessed two minutes for cross-checking initially, while Overhardt had no penalty called.

The same process was used for Kelowna’s Cal Foote when he elbowed McKenzie in the head and gave him a concussion that same night. As of Thursday night, Foote’s suspension has been finalized as three games, likely sitting him out for the rest of the series. Weinger got two games, so he will also be missing from Game 5. Overhardt got one game and so is now eligible again.

Doerksen was called upon again after Game 4 concluded, with Carson Twarynski checking Portland team captain Keegan Iverson from behind late in the third. The hit started some post-whistle shoving matches, and Twarynski was assessed a five-minute major on the spot, including game misconduct. After review, he was also slapped with a suspension that is still listed as “TBD” for length of his sentence. As Iverson was not injured, it’s possible Twarynski could get a more lenient punishment.

There’s something to be said about the lack of self control on the part of players in this series, but more obvious is the lack of control referees have had over the games. Fans can point fingers for the entire off-season if it makes them feel better, but the bottom line going into a desperate situation for Game 5 is that the Winterhawks are at a further disadvantage, and they have seemed outmatched all week in general. Forcing a Game 6 is necessary for Portland to stay on the bracket, and the three-game streak that vanquished the Prince George Cougars proved that the Hawks are capable of great things when their backs are against the wall. But can lightning strike twice for this team amid this depletion of the ranks? We will find out tonight in the VMC.

Portland Winterhawks fail to get off launchpad versus Rockets

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Winterhawks

Portland Winterhawks fail to get off launchpad versus Rockets

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As the rounds go deeper, so does the competition and the Portland Winterhawks found that out as they faced the Kelowna Rockets in the first two games of the series in Kelowna. The Rockets had previously dispatched the Kamloops Blazers in six games, despite stellar goaltending in the Blazers net. The Winterhawks, coming off an impressive upset series win over the Prince George Cougars, knew that they had some retribution owed to the Rockets who took the regular season series 3-1. The first two periods were scoreless despite the Rockets having a lopsided lead in shots on goal. What shots the Hawks were able to get in those first two games in the first period, were perimeter shots as the Rockets punished the younger smaller Hawk forwards.

It was the second period in both games this past weekend where the Rockets would score. The first game saw the Rockets bang home three goals in a span of just under two minutes and add a fourth late in the period on the powerplay to seemingly walk away with the game. Brad Ginnell and Cody Glass on the powerplay would counter for the Hawks with the only goals of the third period, but could never catch up despite having a powerplay for nearly the last two minutes of the game. The shots on goal of 54-29 showed the Rockets domination in the first two periods as the Hawks could only muster low single digits in the first two periods, but actually owned the shot lead in the third by a 17-11 margin. The powerplay scores were even at one apiece, with four given to Kelowna and five for Portland in game one.

Game two showed the same non-goal first period, but the Hawks had managed to trim the deficit of shots on goal to just three in the first period. Again the second period seemed to be the unraveling as the Rockets scored twice, with one of those on the powerplay just over two minutes apart, before the midway point of the frame to own a solid two goal lead. The Hawks responded late in the second period with Joachim Blichfeld scoring off a quick Colton Veloso pass to bring the game closer on the scoresheet. It was penalties that hurt the Hawks, giving Kelowna seven powerplays to just three of their own that would hurt the visitors. Though the Hawks gave up just one powerplay goal on those seven chances, losing that much ice time to man advantages made it nearly impossible to counter the Rockets relentless attack.

The third period seemed to appear to be a Hawks turning point as they forced the Rockets back several times to their end, but just having no puck luck. On at least four rushes, the puck would sail just past the crease of Kelowna goaltender Michael Herringer or get close to the line and the Rockets would pile on Hawks players at the side of the net to prevent any further threat. James Hilsendager scored for the Rockets with just over five minutes left to put the Rockets up by two and Nick Merkley added two empty net goals with a Ryan Hughes Portland goal sandwiched in between those to leave the score at 5-2 for Kelowna. The Hawks were closer in shots with a 43-25 deficit, but it was the powerplays at 7-3 for Kelowna that made it a tougher than ever battle.

The two teams now head to Portland with games three and four set for Tuesday and Wednesday night at Veterans Memorial Coliseum as the Hawks need to get at least a split for the series to go back to Kelowna on Friday.

The other three series have taken on some interesting tones. With the return of Matthew Barzal to the Seattle Thunderbirds lineup and continued strong goaltending by Carl Stankowski, the Everett Silvertips find themselves in an 0-2 deficit with the series heading to Seattle for the next two games. The close, one goal games, have put the Thunderbirds within reach of the Western Conference final for the second straight year.

In the East, the Regina Pats lost their first playoff game this season in a 3-1 loss to Swift Current Broncos in Regina, but roared back with a 6-2 mashing of the Broncos a night later. The same two teams will square off in Swift Current this week. The Medicine Hat Tigers took the first game against the Lethbridge Hurricanes with a 4-0 shutout, but saw the Canes came back in a seesaw battle. With the game tied at four, the Canes exploded for three goals in the third to take a 7-4 win in Medicine Hat. The teams will resume in Lethbridge on Tuesday.

The Portland Winterhawks size up a new adversary for round 2

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The Portland Winterhawks size up a new adversary for round 2

WRITTEN BY KYLE MARTINAK 

After an incredible comeback resulting in a Game 6 upset, the Portland Winterhawks are headed for round two of the WHL playoffs. The next adversary is the Kelowna Rockets, and despite soundly defeating the Prince George Cougars–the leading team in the BC Division–this may be the most difficult week of the postseason for the Hawks.

Kelowna finished their regular season with 9-1-0-0 in the last ten games, trailing Prince George by only one point for the division lead. And with a rigorous first round against their biggest rivals the Kamloops Blazers behind them, the Rockets have shown some serious lasting power. It’s likely that Portland has spent the break in between series to pause and reflect on what will be needed to keep up with Kelowna.

In general, Kelowna is a more physically intimidating team and the Winterhawks should expect some aggressive hits along the boards. This could work to the Portland advantage, however, as the Rockets are also from a division with a tendency to breed more penalty minutes. Their 87 penalty minutes within the playoffs outweighs Portland’s 74, which is already abnormally high for the US Division, where the average is closer to 54 minutes at this point.

So the Hawks might get some advantage from the power play. Every little bit helps. But the staggering counterargument to that is Kelowna’s impeccable special teams. At home, the Rockets have an impressive 82.6 percent success rate on penalty kills, which is at 93.8 percent within the confines of the playoffs. With games 1 and 2 in Kelowna, it might be wise for the Winterhawks to nix attempts to draw a penalty and just focus on staying upright.

Another must for Portland to keep up with their latest adversary: Dillon Dube needs to be shut down. The 18 year old forward is capable of tremendous breakaway and short timer goals, and the Winterhawks are vulnerable with their scrambled, unkempt back checks and chaotic positioning in their defensive zone. Dube also has plenty of power play goals under his belt this season, which should encourage the scrappiest of Portland players to keep things clean and stay out of trouble.

This would be more than enough to put Dube on the “most wanted” list heading into this weekend, but the really remarkable aspects of his game are his playmaking abilities; in the 2016-2017 regular season, the Alberta native had 20 goals and 35 assists. He’s offensively dangerous even without the puck, and he is more focused on the game score than his own stats.

Winterhawks fans will likely feel more comfortable with this matchup once the series transfers back to Portland for games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Wednesday, but in the meantime the Winterhawks have a trial-by-fire to attend. The WHL playoffs are a time of year where hard work and perseverance are rewarded with more work to do. Let’s all hope there is still some gas in the tank.

Portland Winterhawks advance by taming the Cougars

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Portland Winterhawks

Portland Winterhawks advance by taming the Cougars

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It appeared at the outset that the Portland Winterhawks would have more than their work cut out for them when they took on the Prince George Cougars in round one of the WHL playoffs. The Cougars had just won the BC Division Championship, were within a hair of being the Western Conference Division leaders, had their most ever wins as a franchise and were hosting a playoff series for the first time in seventeen years. Someone obviously didn’t tell the Portland Winterhawks all of this.

In six games, the Cougars found defeat, one that occurred with Portland winning the last three games straight, two at home and one on the road to advance to the second round. It wasn’t easy as the Hawks would find out in games two and three. After winning game one by a 4 to 2 margin in Prince George, the Hawks got hammered 5 to 1 in Cougar country and then follow up with a 6-1 drubbing in Portland a couple nights later. In both games, Shane Farkas was called in to replace Cole Kehler in the Portland net, where he stopped all shots he faced. Unlike regular season games where goals mean the world, they only focus on each individual game, a message Vice President, General Manager and Coach Mike Johnston would reiterate to his players as they looked to rebound in game four. Cole Kehler had been Johnston’s starter and even with the two lopsided losses, he would run with Kehler through the series.

With an opportunity for a split at home, the Hawks started off giving the visitors the advantage on the scoreboard, but never gave up hope; they would find ways to eat at the lead and finally Matt Revel with a pair of goals, helped to knot the series at two with a 5-4 win. The teams then headed back to Prince George with thoughts on their minds that the series was indeed winnable. However, like so many of the games even during the regular season, the Hawks gave up the opening goal of the game. That goal, just over a minute into the game, electrified the nearly sold out crowd and the Hawks could have as easily packed it in to face the inevitable at home.

Something seemed to resonate within the team as they found a way to claw back with goals by Brad Ginnell and Joachim Blichfeld to take the lead at the end of the first and carry through the second period of play. In the third, the Hawks turned it up by adding their third goal, also by Blichfeld and the Cougars were now the ones reeling. Two goals by the Cougars just three minutes apart, midway through the third period, put the home squad on an even keel and the Hawks had to once again find a way to recover. Ryan Hughes would carry that weight just over a minute later with a goal that seemed to spark big life into the Hawks and a late goal by Cody Glass that seemed to fool everyone especially Ty Edmonds in the Prince George net, put the Hawks on a winning track in the series, now up 3-2. Cole Kehler, the one feeling the pressure to perform from the last two disappointing losses, was named the game’s first star.

Game six in Portland seemed vastly different. Portland came out strong and kept pace with the strong, physical play of the Cougars and though not scoring in the first, seemed to have the better-quality shots on net as the teams remained scoreless after 20 minutes. The second period was all Hawks as they dominated the scoreboard and the shots, outshooting the Cougars 22-9. Colton Veloso opened the scoring on a play that took several minutes to review, just over five minutes into the frame. It seemed that the Cougars were still reeling from the call as just under two minutes later it was Joachim Blichfeld who padded the lead. Just under five minutes later, while on the powerplay, Alex Overhardt seemed to be the one to deflate the Cougars bubble as the Hawks were now up by three as the second period ended. Prince George would get the shutout erased as Kody McDonald scored unassisted, but just over a minute later, Keegan Iverson netted his third of the playoffs to put the Hawks back up by three. The Cougars peppered shots on Kehler and with just over two minutes left, Colby McAuley scored to get the visitors within two. Time was running out as the Hawks sensed victory and shut the door on any more scoring by the Cougars.

In the end, the Portland Winterhawks scored a 4-2 win at home, a series they would win 4-2 and for numerology lovers, the Hawks would do it in this game with 42 shots. Prince George would end with 37 and a one for two on the powerplay, with the Hawks generating one goal on five powerplay attempts. Cole Kehler once again got the first star as he kept the Hawks in the hunt all game long and giving the home side their first taste of the second-round playoffs since 2015.

Almost all the matches are set for the second round as all teams, but one, have completed series. Kelowna Rockets defeated Kamloops Blazers in six games and will get Portland in round two. Seattle Thunderbirds will face Everett Silvertips following Seattle’s four game stomping of Tri-City Americans, with Everett scoring four goals to two over Victoria Royals. The Silvertips had a record game versus the Royals in game six as it took the regulation time plus four and a half overtimes to finally score a 3-2 win. That game ranks as the longest ever in the Canadian Hockey League history.

Out east, Regina Pats walked through Calgary Hitmen in four games and will face Swift Current Broncos after the team from Speedy Creek eked out Moose Jaw Warriors in seven games. The Medicine Hat Tigers will face either Lethbridge Hurricanes or Red Deer Rebels as these two teams battle in game seven on Tuesday night. All series in the second round are expected to start either Friday or Saturday with most teams’ games three and four looking to be Tuesday and Wednesday April 11 and 12. The WHL will start announcing dates within the coming day.

Underdog Winterhawks fly past Cougars, face Kelowna Friday

Underdog Winterhawks fly past Cougars, face Kelowna Friday

When the Portland Winterhawks lost Game 3 of their best-of-seven, first-round playoff series against Prince George in Memorial Coliseum last week, they looked down and out. Finished.

The loss meant they had given back a shocking series-opening win in Prince George and were trailing 2-1 in the series. And the 6-1 score in the defeat against a heavily favored team that was older, more experienced and more successful in the regular season than Portland made it seem the series was soon to end.

But as we should know by now, Mike Johnston's teams don't quit. And the Hawks didn't. They won Game 4 in Portland, climbed aboard their bus and rode 15 hours to Prince George to steal game 5 and then returned home Monday night to throttle the Cougars 4-2 and capture the first-round series. It was an incredible comeback by a young team that many thought would scuffle just to make the playoffs. This was supposed to be a rebuilding/restocking season for Portland.

But Johnston is the Wizard of the Western Hockey League, a coach who finds the kind of players he wants -- even when he has low draft choices or none at all -- and then develops them into a gritty, fast and poised team. This series was a snapshot of what the Winterhawks have accomplished during his coaching tenures in Portland.

"It was indescribable," said Portland's scrappy and talented left wing Skyler McKenzie. "It was the first time I've really been a part of a full series win and it was an incredible feeling. We just had to play fast and play as hard as we possibly could. They're a bigger team, they're more mature and they were built for the playoffs. We were the underdogs coming into the series and we knew that. We wanted to make a good impression on the league and that's what we did.

"We realized (after) Game 3 that we needed to play harder. It needed to be every single shift. Our game plan the whole game was just forecheck, forecheck, forecheck. We've played the systems the right way and we played Mike's systems and Mike Johnston is a hell of a coach. He's done wonderful things with this team. He's directed us on the right path."

And Johnston knows how to win playoff series in the WHL. As coach of the Hawks, he has won 15 playoff series and lost only four, with an overall playoff record of 69-35.

"We knew we didn't play our best in the last game up in PG," Johnston said after the Monday win. "(Goaltender) Cole Kehler got us the win in that game, to be honest. Coming back in here, we had to start playing the way we can play. And tonight I was really happy with our game. I thought from start to finish we played pretty consistent. Cole was good in goal when he had to be and tonight we played with more speed, more pace to the game. We didn't deserve the last one but I thought we definitely deserved this one."

What got into the Winterhawks after that 6-1 thrashing in Game 3?

"Our guys started to learn what playoff hockey is all about," Johnston said.  "You can't take undisciplined penalties, you've got to be careful. They're a big physical team and there was no way we were going to win that battle. If we couldn't win the physical grinding battle, we had to play with more speed and use our skill. When you win a series that is as hard for travel -- we had 15 hours up and 15 hours back -- and we had more travel because we had to start up there, I give our guys a lot of credit. For a young team, they played hard and they endured a lot. We aren't used to those 15-hour bus trips."

Next up for Portland is Kelowna, which finished just one point behind Prince George in the B.C. Division standings. The schedule for that series was released Tuesday morning:

Game 1: Friday, April 7 at Kelowna, 7:05 p.m.

Game 2: Saturday, April 8 at Kelowna, 7:05 p.m.

Game 3: Tuesday, April 11 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, 7:00 p.m.

Game 4: Wednesday, April 12 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, 7:00 p.m.

Game 5*: Friday, April 14 at Kelowna, 7:05 p.m.

Game 6*: Sunday, April 16 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, 5 :00 p.m.

Game 7*: Tuesday, April 18 at Kelowna, 7:00 p.m.

* -- if necessary.

Portland Winterhawks split in opening first round games

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Portland Winterhawks

Portland Winterhawks split in opening first round games

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As Portland prepared to travel the round-trip loop to Prince George, they were met with three pieces of big news. Cody Glass was named as a First Team All Star for the Western Conference in the WHL and that was followed by Cole Kehler being awarded the WHL Goaltender of the Week, his second honor this season. Within a day, he was also named CHL Goaltender of the week which is his first this season. Mike Johnston was also named Coach of the Year, in a bit of irony as it wasn’t his highest winning season and it follows the years of dark clouds held over him over the player support situations in 2012 where he was forced out of the coaching spot for the remainder of the regular season and had to watch his team from the stands during their time competing for the 2013 Memorial Cup.

With the awards in tow, the Winterhawks headed to Prince George for a pair of games before heading back to the Rose City for games three and four. In the early going of game one, Prince George held a strong advantage in shots and play as they used a great deal of physical strength to try to wear down the visitors. However, it was the Hawks Brendan De Jong who opened the scoring on the powerplay just over four minutes in with a blistering shot from the right point. The Hawks would carry the lead to near the end of the period when Jared Berthune answered for Prince George on a powerplay. Just under a minute later, Sklyer McKenzie found the open twine to give the Hawks the lead heading into intermission. Keegan Iverson would add to the total just over three minutes into the second period while on yet another powerplay and the Hawks would carry a 3-1 lead into the third. Prince George made it interesting very early in the third when Jesse Harkins was left out front to score for the Cougars, reducing the lead to just one. With time running down and the Cougars having their sixth attacker out, the Hawks continually made it difficult for the Cougars to get set up in the Hawks zone and finally Colton Veloso was set free into the Cougars zone where he drifted the puck into the empty net to secure the Hawks 4-2 win. The Hawks outshot the Cougars 35-25 and scored twice on five powerplay attempts, while the Cougars went one for three on the man advantage.

With a day off in between for the Telus Cup Midget Tournament in Prince George, the two teams went back it on Sunday. The cougars, stinging from their loss on Friday, took it to the Hawks on as the Cougars scored five straight goals, by four different scorers before the Hawks could get their only goal, which occurred on the powerplay. The Winterhawks outshot the Cougars 41-36 and both teams went one for four on the powerplay. The Hawks were physically in a battle with 86 minutes in penalties being called and a whole lot more that should have been called in the game. Though the game goes as a 5-1 loss for the Hawks, they did earn a split, always important when having to return home and the advantage now going to the Hawks in terms of leveling the home ice advantage.

The Winterhawks will now play at least a five game series with games three and four taking place at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Wednesday and Thursday and game five now in Prince George on Saturday April 1st which means both teams will leave Portland following the Thursday game for the 14 hour trek back to the CN Centre. Game six, if necessary will go Monday in Portland which would require both teams leaving Prince George immediately following game five. If the series were to go to the maximum seven games, the two teams will have traveled just under 4,400 miles in ten days as the series is scheduled as 2-2-1-1-1, instead of the 2-3-2 series that Portland requested.

The other teams around the WHL are battling it out for the first round and most are going per most pundits’ thoughts. The Everett Silvertips won game one, but lost game two against the Victoria Royals and head to Victoria for the next pair. Seattle won two straight at home against Tri-City, which puts the Americans backs against the wall in that they need at minimum a split or better still, two convincing victories at home to keep their series alive. Kelowna powered through Kamloops in the initial two games in the Okanagan which now heads back to Kamloops. Out east, the Scotty Munro champions Regina Pats have certainly looked the part in their pair of wins against the Calgary Hitmen with the series shifting back to Cowtown for the next two. Medicine Hat has steamrolled the Brandon Wheat Kings in the first two games at home and looks to have a lock on the series as it heads back to Brandon for the next two games. What makes it tougher for Brandon is that they must play in a different arena, two hours due north in Dauphin Manitoba in a rink that seats just a third of the fans that the Keystone Centre does in Brandon due to building conflicts. The Red Deer vs Lethbridge and Swift Current versus Moose Jaw series are knotted at one apiece as they series now shift for games three and four.

Portland Winterhawks Vs. Prince George Cougars – Round 1 Preview

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Winterhawks

Portland Winterhawks Vs. Prince George Cougars – Round 1 Preview

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The WHL playoffs are locked in place, and the Portland Winterhawks are on the way to northern British Columbia for a long, tense weekend against the Prince George Cougars. Predictions and speculation brackets, including our own Stuart Kemp, have the Cougars sweeping the Hawks in six games and laying them dormant until autumn, especially given the disappointing performance against the Spokane Chiefs this last Sunday.

With a 45-21-3-3 record, the Cougars are not the highest rated team in the Western Conference. The Hawks could have ended up facing the Everett Silvertips, who have a nearly 70 percent win rate. What might be a bigger deciding factor could be the travel. Passage up through BC to Prince George and the inevitable trip back here to Portland will take a toll on players looking to recuperate and adjust.

Looking at the last few Winterhawks games as a reference, I believe Prince George is beatable, but the team presents some specific obstacles that the Hawks have a tendency to trip over.

For starters, the Cougars have left wing Jesse Gabrielle. He has a plus-minus of 17 and is the fifth highest shorthand goal scorer in the league. He can be dangerous in the high slot area against Portland. Spokane snagged a myriad of turnovers from the Winterhawks last Sunday, many of them in the neutral zone. If Prince George gets a similar chance it will spell doom for a less-prepared Shane Farkas if he gets a turn in the goal.

Speaking of goalies, Ty Edmonds will likely become the ongoing offensive problem for the Hawks for the duration of round 1.  The Winnipeg native has a 0 .916 save percentage, and his GAA is a 2.48 for the regular season in Prince George. If that season closer against Spokane is any indication, a sharp goalie can derail Portland shooters indefinitely unless they start commanding the puck in the offensive zone and pass more decisively.

Beyond all of this, there are recent matchups off which to go for predictions. Prince George is the much better team on paper, but the Winterhawks beat them recently on March 8 by outlasting them. Late in the third period is when Portland comes alive, and that might be what it takes to stay alive to see round 2 of the bracket.

The Cougars will come to Portland for games 3 and 4 on Wednesday and Thursday. Tickets are still available at www.winterhawks.com but if you are looking to catch the away games, there are viewing parties happening at the Sports Look Bar and Grill in Hillsboro, the Oregon City Ice House, and several Buffalo Wild Wings locations in the metro area.