BY STUART KEMP
One of the toughest schedules for the Portland Winterhawks happened at a time where the team was desperate to get some distance between the bottom of the division and in the hunt to be in the mix for a playoff spot. The Hawks are nearing the halfway point of the season and have had some solid successes, but needed a breakout to get them back in the fold.
To do that this week, the Hawks would play four games in five nights, two of those games to take place mere hours between them, add in some travel and the recipe could have been disaster.
The team traveled to Spokane for a weeknight game against the Chiefs, a team that has had mixed results and was looking like the Hawks were in trying to find the momentum to get out of the cellar and into contention. Power play goals by Cody Glass and Ryan Hughes within the first seven minutes of the contest was all Portland needed as they held Spokane off the scoresheet until the last couple minutes of the game when Keanu Yamamoto finally got one past Cole Kelher in the net for the Hawks. Portland outshot the Chiefs 40-35 and converted on 2 of 3 power play chances while keeping Spokane from scoring on its two power play opportunities.
With the team traveling back home that night, they would have a day’s rest before boarding the bus and heading to Kennewick, WA and a battle with the Tri-City Americans, a team that had won the last few games against Portland by one goal or two if you add in a couple of empty net chances. The Americans have been a stronger team this season, but have had mixed results in the past ten games and were looking to keep well ahead of a resurging Seattle Thunderbirds team. Things looked rough for Portland as they surrendered a goal to Vladislav Lukin just 11 seconds into the contest. Portland kept charging back and like the Spokane game where goals came in pairs, the Hawks Evan Weinger and Colton Veloso scored just over a minute apart to put the visitors up by a goal. The second period saw pairs again with 2 goals just over a minute apart early in the second period as Henri Jokiharju and Skyler McKenzie increased the lead to three goals and sent Tri-City Americans coach Mike Williamson into shutting down the momentum by calling his timeout. That break seemed to stem the tide through the period and carried through into period three when Tri-City came within two goals as Michael Rasmussen scored the Americans only power play goal of the game. With just over two minutes left in the game and the Americans pulling Evan Sarthou for an extra attacker, Joachim Blichfeld notched his 10th of the season into the empty net. Portland went 0 for 2 on the power play, Tri-City their lone power play marker coming on four chances. Portland led the shots on goal 36 to 28 as Winterhawks goaltender Michael Bullion notched another win under his belt.
Things would get interesting as the near four-hour drive put the Hawks into town just after midnight and they would be back on the ice just over 12 hours later. The opposition was the Kootenay Ice, a team that had to play the night prior as well going with a 4-3 loss in overtime, meaning that the Ice would get about the same amount of rest as the Hawks. It seemed Kootenay was out to play though, as the Hawks, despite their 20-11 shots advantage in the first period, were down two goals as Vince Loschiavo and Dallas Hines on the power play scored midway through the first period. Midway through the second period, the Ice’s leading scorer Zak Zborosky notched his 21st of the year to put the home team down by three. The Ice then fell into serious penalty trouble with five straight calls between late in the first period and the end of the game and gave up two power play goals late in each of the second and third periods to Keegan Iverson and Henri Jokiharju. The Hawks continued to press in the final two minutes, but couldn’t notch the third one past Payton Lee and fell by a 3-2 margin. The Hawks went 2 for 8 on the power play while allowing 1 goal on 3 chances for the Ice. Portland blitzed the Ice in shots by a 57 to 24 margin.
Portland would have very little time to regroup as they would then host the top team in the WHL to date, the Medicine Hat Tigers. The Tigers had run the first two games on the Western US swing in Everett and Seattle with losses, 4-3 in Everett and then a 7-1 blasting by the Seattle Thunderbirds. The team coming into Portland wasn’t met with a great reception as the Hawks picked up a goal from Skyler McKenzie just over five minutes in and added another by Keegan Iverson midway through the period before Portland would add a third goal just two minutes later as Evan Weinger converted on the power play and Shaun Clouston, coach of the Tigers, would call his team’s timeout. The break gave the Tigers a quick jump just eight seconds later as David Quennville and Mason Shaw late in the period replied for Medicine Hat. Portland increased its lead midway through the second as Ryan Hughes scored, but John Dahlstrom replied on the power play for Medicine Hat and Cody Glass would add an insurance goal just past the midway point of the third period to seal it up for the Winterhawks. Both teams went 1 for 3 on the power play and the Tigers would hold a 46-41 shots on goal advantage in the game.
With the 5-3 win over the Tigers, Portland moved into a virtual three-way tie for fifth place in the Western Conference, but fall back to eighth place due to both Seattle Thunderbirds and Kelowna Rockets holding games in hand advantage over the Hawks. Portland is now three points behind Tri-City for second place in the US Division and has given them a run of 8-1-1 in their past ten games. Portland has also seen some scoring touch as their 117 goals in 30 games puts them third overall for goals for in the WHL.
Portland now takes most of the week off from games as they don’t play again until this Friday when the play a pair of home games, the first against the Victoria Royals and then teddy bear toss night on Saturday versus the Everett Silvertips. Both games will be held at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Following the two home games, Portland hits the road for four games in five nights in Victoria, Vancouver and ending in Everett, their last game prior to the Christmas break and the halfway point of the Winterhawks season.
Ice Chips: The Portland Winterhawks experimented with a time change on Saturday game where the Trail Blazers would play at home with the Hawks starting their game at 2pm to avoid issues with the parking garage. Initial feelings were that fans would attend the games whether the Trail Blazers played at home that night or not and decisions are still being made as to whether the remaining 2pm games in January and March would happen at those times or revert to the original start time, especially the March 4th game which sees back to back games with Vancouver Giants Friday, March 3rd at 7pm and then 2pm on Saturday, March 4th.
The Portland Winterhawks Booster Club will be collecting new and gently used blankets, coats, sweaters, gloves and other warm items as part of their annual “Keeping Portland Warm Night” on Saturday, January 7th at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum which will benefit the Portland Police Bureau Sunshine Division.