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.

Portland Winterhawks fortify their playoff position, size up likely foes

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Portland Winterhawks

Portland Winterhawks fortify their playoff position, size up likely foes

BY 

The comeback has been swift and opportune for the Portland Winterhawks, having nabbed seven wins from their last eight games and clinched a berth in the WHL playoffs. At this point, with only two back-to-back games left to close out the regular season play, the team’s focus has certainly shifted toward keeping the coveted third slot in the US Division and preparing for battle against their round 1 nemesis. Going off the stats right now, anything is still possible.

Portland currently has 82 points, far below the US Division leaders, the Seattle Thunderbirds at 96 and the Everett Silvertips at 95 points. Meanwhile, the recently rebutted Tri-City Americans trail with 79 points from the bottom wild card slot. It looks like a bridge too far, but Tri-City has three more games, while the Hawks have only two. Potentially, the season could end with these scores swapped, but that would depend ironically on the performance of the Spokane Chiefs, who have already been eliminated.

The Americans face Spokane twice this weekend, and then the Winterhawks will close the season against the Chiefs on Sunday night. Tri-City’s last two games against Spokane have been big 5-1 blowouts, though those were before the jaw-dropping losing streak that buried the team into the wildcard positions. It’s more than possible for them to pick it up and capitalize on Spokane’s lackadaisical defense of late, but I would be surprised if the Americans could pull off two wins in two nights against the Chiefs at the rate they have been playing.

Portland should be able to handle Spokane. The Hawks won two of their last three matchups with the Chiefs, though one came down to a shootout. Portland’s ups and downs during the regular season can be traced back to a few very hard losses against Spokane this year. The real hurdle this weekend for Portland is going to be Seattle. The Thunderbirds boast the best record in the Western Conference, and have beaten the Winterhawks in four out of five recent matchups with scores above five goals every time. On paper, they are merely the better team. The most likely scenario is that Portland will beat Spokane, but not Seattle. Meanwhile, it’s hard to say regarding Tri-City, but I’m predicting one win and two losses for them.

If I am right, the Winterhawks should start setting sights on the Everett Silvertips as the most likely round 1 rival. Abilities and offensive awareness are very evenly matched between these two, but the real testiment to Everett’s better record is their GA stats. The Tips have only 159 goals against them for the season, by far the lowest in the WHL. Their defensive pairs are formidable, and their bench is deep. And while Portland has found an offensive stride lately, Cole Kehler has been carrying most of the load on defense, with backchecks into the defensive zone taking way too long and a staggering amount of passing and rebounds being allowed from their opposition.

Playoffs begin March 24, and Winterhawks fans should be celebrating the late-season resurgence. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, that the playoff bracket is a tough pill to swallow.

Portland Winterhawks on four-game skid, need help for postseason play

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Portland Winterhawks on four-game skid, need help for postseason play

Written by Stuart Kemp

If Portland was looking to have an easy way into the playoffs, the 2016-17 season has proven there is no such thing as easy. After having a long winning streak, the Winterhawks are now in the midst of a losing one, one that has reached four games thus far and has made the challenge of reaching a higher spot that much more difficult. The latest pair of games in which the Hawks were on the losing side, were against a team they were chasing up the standings in the Tri-City Americans and then against division leader Everett Silvertips. 

In Kennewick, the Tri-City Americans jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead midway through the first period. It would take a pair of goals early in the second period to give the Hawks life, but a pair of goals less than a minute apart near the end the second period by the Americans, put the game pretty much out of reach.

Evan Weinger scored his second goal of the game as time was near expiration at the end of the second period to try giving the Hawks some momentum heading into the third period. Ryan Hughes scored early in the third for Portland to make the game closer, but midway through the third Austyn Playfair scored a rare goal for the Americans to restore their two-goal lead, a lead that the Americans would onto. Portland held the advantage of shots on goal 45-29, but gave up two powerplay goals to their one in the loss.

Two nights later it was a visit by Portland to Everett and a red hot goaltender in Carter Hart. Once again it was Portland leading the shots on goal, but the home team scoring first. Patrick Bajkov opened the scoring for Everett just over a minute into the game. Joachim Blichfeld scored on the powerplay to tie the game midway through the first, but Everett would add another with just over two minutes left in the first period as Dominic Zwerger scored on the powerplay. Zwerger would assist on Everett’s next two goals midway through the second and third periods and be named first star of the game. Portland ran into penalty trouble giving up six powerplay opportunities to Everett’s four and each team scored just once with the man advantage.

The Winterhawks announced prior to the game that Matt Revel, whom they had acquired from the Kamloops Blazers on the waiver wire at trade deadline had been cleared to play from injury and would play in the game against Everett. 

Portland now has three games over the next four nights this coming week, all against the same team. The Vancouver Giants, who have now officially been eliminated from postseason play, will host the Hawks at the Langley Events Centre before heading down to Portland for back to back games in Veterans Memorial Coliseum on the weekend.

The standings have Everett leading the US Division, one point ahead of Seattle after the Thunderbirds got a lopsided win over the Tips and seven up on Tri-City. Portland sits eleven behind Tri-City, but remains seven ahead of Spokane. The BC Division still has the Prince George Cougars on top, five points up on Kamloops and six up on Kelowna. The only movement that Portland has a realistic shot of is in the overall conference standings where they sit seven points back of the Victoria Royals for the first wildcard spot. With ten games left for most teams on the schedule, Portland is going to need some serious help if they are hoping to move into the first wildcard spot instead of the second, at the same time needing Spokane to go on a bit of a slide to give the Hawks some breathing room. Spokane’s loss to Kelowna on Sunday left the Chiefs still nine points behind the Winterhawks with Spokane still having a game in hand. 

The Western Hockey League sent a memo to all teams to temporarily suspend all direct player contact with fans following an outbreak of the mumps. The origin appears to be in the Eastern Conference and as some teams have played in other divisions and conferences since the situation arose, it was taken as a precautionary measure. So far, the illness has come as far west as Medicine Hat, but since Everett Silvertips played the Eastern Conference teams recently and they are back playing US Division teams now, it was apparent that the illness could move further west. All teams have been sanitizing locker rooms and equipment and have suspended meet and greet opportunities for the time being which includes the scheduled player appearance at Les Schwab in Portland which was scheduled for February 26th. The Burgerville player events for March 6th , which were themselves rescheduled from January due to inclement weather, are still on the schedule, though they could be postponed as well.

Ice Chips: This past weekend, over 300 rinks in the US offered Try Hockey for Free Day for kids ages 4-9. For an hour, kids donned the gear and played hockey with instructors for an hour. The event, which occurs every six months, will take place again in November. Mountain View Ice Arena in Vancouver, WA is hoping to schedule an additional event in July to coincide with their annual Rose Cup Hockey Tournament.

Portland Winterhawks go down fighting this week

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Portland Winterhawks

Portland Winterhawks go down fighting this week

BY 

While maybe not drastic enough to be considered a reversal of fortune, the last week of play has been a rough one for the Portland Winterhawks. There are less than a dozen games left in the regular season, and it isn’t enough that the team is losing but rather that the wrong rivals are winning at the same rate. If this decline continues, the rebuilding year might come to a premature end.

Last week saw the return of team captain Keegan Iverson to the roster after a month on the injured list, and it appeared to invigorate the backcheck skating and defensive posture of his fellow forwards. That Thursday’s game saw the Hawks beat the Kamloops Blazers 4-0 with only one bout for the penalty killing unit, and goaltender Cole Kehler was sufficiently supported to snag a 41-save shutout.

Unfortunately, the momentum was not maintained and the Hawks have had three straight defeats, two of which are significant blows to their playoff hopes. The Seattle Thunderbirds have left the Winterhawks in the dust with a 13-point lead in the rankings and the Tri-City Americans have also emerged as the dark horse contender for the third playoff slot with 75 points to Portland’s 68. The real frustration comes from watching great goaltenders like Kehler and rookie Shane Farkas have to suffer so many more shots on goal than they needed. The little mistakes have started to add up as well, with Portland giving up six powerplay conversions to Seattle in one game. As much as the Hawks need defensive cohesion for skaters, there is a serious issue with consistency in between the pipes. One night, 45 saves. The next game, choppy performances and a failure to hustle.

Credit should be given when it is due: Seattle and Tri-City have gotten serious. Play-offs serious. The Americans have won their last four games, and the Hawks have had trouble with them all season. Seattle, meanwhile, has a knack for drawing penalties during crunchtime and has stepped up their standard for two-way, aggressive play in the last two months.

Headed into March, Portland must hope that the sudden rise of the Americans has not stabilized the US Division rankings too rigidly. If so, Portland is stuck vying for that top wildcard position, which has quite a few suitors like the Vancouver Giants, who shall be the bane of next week as the adversaries of a three-time series. Every game counts from here on in, including games that Portland players aren’t even in.