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

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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

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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.

Tough road lies ahead for the Portland Winterhawks

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Portland Winterhawks

Tough road lies ahead for the Portland Winterhawks

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The Portland Winterhawks were hoping this past week’s games would give them a larger spread on the Spokane Chiefs for the final playoff spot, while Spokane hoped to narrow the gap between the two teams. In the end, neither squad got the results they desired.

Portland started off with a gritty, hard fought win over the Red Deer Rebels, a team seemingly far removed from its perch as last year’s Memorial Cup hosts. The Rebels came into Portland unable to get victories against opponents in the US Division, but nearly captured one in Portland. The Hawks had held a 4-2 lead in the third, when Red Deer scored and put the Hawks on their heels for the rest of the game. The Winterhawks were able to weather a tough storm to win 4-3, but at a physical cost, one that probably affected them the rest of the weekend. With games as a home and home with the Seattle Thunderbirds, Portland knew that they were facing a team which was challenging for top spot in the US Division with the Everett Silvertips. The Tips had done well on their Eastern swing, a trip all other US Division teams had already made and with it, Everett had opened a small gap atop the division.

Portland fought valiantly in both games, at one point holding a lead in the third period. The deciding factor in the first game was defenseman Ethan Bear who provided two goals and two assists to lead the way for the Thunderbirds in the first game in a 5-3 loss in Seattle. The following night, Portland again lost the lead in the third period with just 45 seconds left to force overtime and then a shootout which Seattle scored twice to Portland’s once to take a 5-4 shootout victory.

Portland gets a relatively light schedule this week with just two games if you call facing divisional opponents ahead of you in the standings relatively light, but hits it hard the following week with four games in eight days.

The division and conference races have gotten much tighter with Prince George and Kamloops within a point of each other in the BC Division, mirroring the US Division with Everett and Seattle. Tri-City still has a very slight glimmer of hope of catching the top two US teams, but will need a lot of help, while Portland is within 4 points of the Americans with a game in hand. The Spokane Chiefs are eight points back of Portland with 13 games left on their schedule and all are against teams ahead of them in the standings who are in battles of their own. The Winterhawks will play Spokane in two of those games.

This season seems to be the toughest in figuring out who will get the playoff spots this late in the season as nine teams in the Western Conference and realistically nine teams in the Eastern Conference have a shot not only at a playoff spot, but could cause considerable movement within the division to have a more advantageous position. One thing is for certain, there doesn’t appear to be a safe playoff position yet.

Ice Chips:  Former Winterhawks broadcaster Dean “Scooter” Vrooman and recently retired NHL player Paul Gaustad, who makes Portland home, were the special guests of a Q & A event at a one-time screening of the movie Ice Guardians. The movie chronicles many former NHL players who were regarded as “enforcers” for their respective NHL teams and a more in depth look at changes to the game which have forced their style to the sidelines and a conversation about the potential elimination of fighting in the game. Having had a chance to see the movie, I would recommend it as viewing for anyone wishing to see both sides of the argument.

On Saturday, February 25th, the very popular Try Hockey for Free Day will take place at over 300 rinks across the United States for kids ages 4 to 9 who would like to have the chance to see what it’s like as a hockey player at no charge. Mountain View Ice Arena in Vancouver, WA will host their event at 9AM and the Winterhawks Skating Center in Beaverton will host theirs at 1:30PM for this one hour special presentation. Registration in advance is highly recommended as space is very limited.

A chance to meet with Winterhawks players will take place on Monday, February 26th at the Les Schwab in the Pearl District from 4 to 6PM. A handful of players to be announced will be there to sign autographs, take pictures and win some prizes.

Portland Winterhawks bounce back after brutal 7-day Canadian roadtrip

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Portland Winterhawks

Portland Winterhawks bounce back after brutal 7-day Canadian roadtrip

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Just a week ago, the Portland Winterhawks finished a brutal 7-day, 4-game,1900-mile roundtrip to three WHL Canadian cities and came away with two points courtesy of two shootout losses and a team battling the flu. A few days rest seemed to be the fix as the Hawks have now won three in a row.

Following their return to Portland, the Hawks had to face the Kamloops Blazers in a makeup game from earlier this month due to the ice storm and were looking to avenge a 4-3 shootout loss in Kamloops just four days earlier. Whatever the Hawks did to recover from the Canadian trip seemed to work and then some, as they swarmed the Kamloops net and scored four goals on thirteen shots in just the first ten minutes of the period. Under two minutes into the game Jochim Blichfeld opened the scoring for Portland which was followed just over two minutes later by a pair of goals just thirty seconds apart by Evan Weinger and Skyler McKenzie. Cody Glass would add the fourth marker for Portland and it ended Kamloops goaltender Connor Ingram’s night. Dylan Ferguson came in relief and shut down Portland for the remainder of the first period. 

Just 23 seconds into the second period, Portland’s Ryan Hughes scored to give the home side a 5-0 lead. In the second period, the Blazers made a bit of a run with two goals to cut the lead to three. The Blazers turned it on in the third with a pair of goals by Rudolph Balcers just over three minutes apart midway through the third to cut the lead to one and appeared to be on their way to tying the game. A costly hooking penalty as the Blazers looked to be closing the gap was all Cody Glass needed as he scored his second of the night on the power play to seal the win for the Hawks. The goal on the power play was the only one scored on the man advantage by either team as Kamloops held a 43-42 shots on goal advantage. 

Friday night, Portland traveled to the Everett Silvertips to face the top US Division team. A shorthanded marker by Alex Overhardt midway through the first period opened the scoring for the Hawks who carried the lead into the second period. Evan Weinger would score just over a minute into the second, before Everett’s Dominic Zwerger scored midway through the second period to make the game close. Brad Ginnell would extend Portland’s lead midway through the third and would seal it with an empty net goal by Ryan Hughes with seven seconds left in the game to give Portland a 4-1 win. Everett hammered the Hawks with shots by a 47-30 margin, but Cole Kehler was able to stop 46 of them in the win. 

The Hawks would make a long, overnight drive to Kelowna, site of the 4-1 loss just a week ago to face the Rockets. The feisty game saw 11 power play opportunities with the first two goals of the game coming via that way, one by each team and just over a minute apart. Kelowna then took advantage of some sloppy defensive play in the Hawks zone to score two goals less than a minute apart and add another early in the second period to lead by a 4-1 score. Unlike the previous meeting, that score wouldn’t hold up as Portland took advantage of Rocket’s defense breakdowns to score twice in less than a minute as Skyler McKenzie and Ryan Hughes continued to add to their scoring totals midway through the second period. Jake Gricius would capitalize on Kelowna goaltender Michael Herringer’s rebound to bang home just his fourth of the year at the midway point of the third period to tie the game at four. With just over thirty seconds left in the game, Portland coach Mike Johnston called a timeout with a faceoff in the Kelowna zone.  The puck was barely kept in the zone by Skyler McKenzie who fed a quick pass to Brendan DeJong who found Joachim Blichfeld on the doorstep and somehow the puck found its way through traffic and past a befuddled Herringer with less than four seconds left in the game. The entire Rockets bench was stunned as the final seconds ticked off the clock and the Hawks, who had lost five straight going into this past week of action, were suddenly on a three-game win streak with their 5-4 win over the Rockets. Portland went 2 for 6 on the power play, with Kelowna at 1 for 5 and shots deadlocked at 35 each.

The Hawks played the games against Everett and Kelowna without top scorer Cody Glass and defenseman Henri Jokihariu who are taking part in the NHL Top Prospects game and will most likely miss the Tuesday home game versus Everett as well due to flights back from Canada.

Portland will now play the second of two makeup games from earlier this month, against the Everett Silvertips on Tuesday which will be followed by games against Kamloops the next night, a road game in Everett on Friday before a home game against the Seattle Thunderbirds on Saturday.

The standings currently have Portland in fourth place in the US Division, nine points behind Seattle and ten behind Tri-City. More importantly, the Hawks are five points up on the Spokane Chiefs with a game in hand for the last playoff spot.

Ice Chips: The Portland Winterhawks Booster Club will be starting its annual membership drive next Saturday during the game versus Seattle. 

The Portland/ Seattle game which is set to air on CW32 will also be the annual mascot night where fans can see their favorite mascots roam the concourse of the Moda Center and watch them in action during Tom-A-Hawk’s hockey game which will take place during the second period intermission.  

Portland Winterhawks net goose egg on the road

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Portland Winterhawks net goose egg on the road

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With rosters now firmly set as the teams get ready for the stretch run toward the playoffs, the Portland Winterhawks have less than thirty games to make up ground against higher divisional opponents and to keep those teams beneath them from nipping at their heels.

With the weather issues in Portland over the past two weeks, the team’s rescheduled games come at a time when they have had to hit one of the bigger and longer road trips of the season. Coming along for the ride has been the flu, which has hit several teams at once including the Hawks and its grip occurred with the team on the road.

Right at the tail end of trade deadline, the Hawks picked up two twenty-year-old players in Shaun Dosanjh from Lethbridge and, on the waiver wire, Matt Revel from Kamloops, who is currently on the injured list and not expected to be able to play before late February. The Hawks also brought in Ty Westgard who had played with Victoria just two games due to injury after making a deal with the Royals two months back for his playing rights.  With recently signed Shane Farkas out ill, Ethan Middendorf was brought in as an emergency backup for the road trip, but did not play in the four-game set.

Following in the footsteps of the team were 41 faithful of the Portland Winterhawks Booster Club on their annual Canadian excursion with the hopes of helping to give the boys a little taste of home and support.

Portland first traveled far north to Prince George, where despite leading 3-1 going into the third period, three unanswered goals gave the Cougars a 4-3 win in game one. The next night it was goals being traded back and forth until the end of the third period and subsequent overtime that solved nothing. A shootout finally broke the tie and the WHL leading Prince George ended with a 6-5 win over the Hawks.

Two night later, the Hawks skated into the Sandamn Centre in Kamloops, BC on Literacy Night, a night where the Booster Club helped “Heap the Honda” to fill it with books for the literacy project. Over 100 books were turned into the campaign by the Booster Club, which earned a mention in the WHL roundup with Greg Drinnan in Kamloops. The Hawks were as strong to the task as they could be despite a depleted lineup giving up the first two goals of the game. They were not going down without a fight, however, as they battled back to tie the game twice and send the game into extra time. Once again, it was a shootout that would be the Achilles heel for the Hawks as they would drop their third straight game by a 4-3 decision.

With the last game of the trip in front of them, the tired and road weary team limped into Kelowna, only to put up their biggest battle of the four games. The Hawks gave up an early goal, but battled hard against the Rockets time and time again, giving Rockets goaltender Michael Herringer some of the toughest saves of the game. Finally tying the game late into the second period, the Hawks looked to capitalize multiple times in the third period, However, it was the Rockets who got the puck luck with three goals including an empty net goal that would send the Hawks home winless in the four-game set with a 4-1 win.

The Hawks would have no time to dwell on the losses as the they loaded the bus and traveled overnight back to Portland with a much-needed day off to recover as they looked to regain some measure of revenge against the Kamloops Blazers in a makeup game before looking to a weekend pair with Everett and Kelowna on the road. Portland will end the month with the home game versus Everett as the second of two rescheduled games. 

Due to the rescheduled games and weather issues, the Burgerville meet and greet scheduled for this week in Gresham and Lloyd Center was postponed with a date to be determined in the next two months. 

Ice Chips: The Portland Winterhawks Booster Club ended its membership campaign with nearly 500 members on board for this season and announced its membership drive will begin in early February. Details on the membership drive and the Booster Club can be found here.

Portland Winterhawks keeping pace in the playoff hunt- sign two players, trade one

Portland Winterhawks keeping pace in the playoff hunt- sign two players, trade one

Written be Stuart Kemp

The Portland Winterhawks hit a bit of a downward spiral leading into the holiday break. After grabbing three solid wins at home, the team dropped three of four games on the road. The team then went on the short holiday break with two players, Joachim Blichfeld for Denmark and Caleb Jones for USA heading to Toronto and Montreal for the World Junior Championships. Several WHL teams would be without players for the tournament that would extend into the new year. 

Portland’s return post-Christmas saw them split pairs of games with Tri-City and Seattle which would leave Portland one point ahead of Seattle and seven ahead of Spokane in the US Division. Portland currently sits seven points back of Tri-City and thirteen behind Everett with just over half the regular season completed. With the teams still relatively close together, the Winterhawks are fighting for every point they can get and still have the bulk of their games against division opponents for the remainder of the season. Of their next four home games, three are against US Division opponents and one versus a BC Division opponent which is in a dogfight with its next lowest point total team. 

The Winterhawks made a trade ahead of the January 10th trade deadline by dealing 19 year old goaltender Michael Bullion to the Medicine Hat Tigers for a seventh round draft choice in the 2017 draft. Bullion had a few starts and some great games for Portland, but it became apparent in the past month that Cole Kehler had won the starting job and Bullion was going to have to fill in as a backup. Bullion’s move to Medicine Hat gives him competition with Nick Schneider and rookie Duncan McGovern for better playing time and with Medicine Hat, puts Bullion with the top team in the Central Division. Ethan Middendorf, who was listed on the Winterhawks roster early this season has played consistently for the Vancouver Rangers of the United States Hockey League and attended a most recent game of the Portland Winterhawks. It has been reported that Middendorf is not on the Winterhawks protected list, but their prospect list and this has allowed the Hawks to sign two additional players, one which will appear on their roster immediately.

Immediately following the Christmas break, Portland signed forward Reece Newkirk who, at 15 years old, will remain with his midget hockey club in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. The Hawks also signed goaltender Shane Farkas (17) who was drafted by the Lethbridge Hurricanes, buts whose rights were traded to Portland earlier this season. With the move of Bullion, Farkas will serve as a backup to Cole Kehler. Farkas was just recently announced as player of the week in the BCHL stopping 76 of 78 shots in two games and compiling a 12-7-0 record with one shutout this season with the West Side Warriors in Kelowna, BC.

Portland has a relatively light schedule in January owing to their having played more games overall than their US Division counterparts, but will play 10 games during the month, the majority against higher tiered teams in the US and BC Divisions, six of those games on the road and only four at home. One of those games, January 7th versus Everett at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, has had a time switch. Originally listed as a 2pm start, that game plus the one on Saturday, March 4th versus Vancouver Giants at the Coliseum, have been moved to a 6pm start time. Tickets originally sold for those games will be honored.

Ice Chips:  The Portland Winterhawks Booster Club will hold their annual Keeping Portland Warm Night on Saturday, January 7th to benefit the Portland Police Bureau Sunshine Division. Fans attending this game are asked to bring new or gently used blankets, coats, sweaters, sweatshirts, gloves and new socks to be given to those in need. In previous years, the event has filled at least ten 55 gallon drums with much needed items to benefit the Sunshine Division’s outreach programs. With the expected record cold temperatures over the next weeks, the need is greater than ever.

Portland Winterhawks, near the halfway point of the regular season, continue to fight for a playoff spot

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PDX Winterhawks

Portland Winterhawks, near the halfway point of the regular season, continue to fight for a playoff spot

BY  

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.

Portland Winterhawks soar like eagles during turkey days

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Portland Winterhawks soar like eagles during turkey days

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Heading into the Thanksgiving weekend, the Portland Winterhawks were facing strong competition with three games over five nights, two with BC Division teams and one with a Central Division team, all solidly ranked in their respective divisions.

After Portland’s drubbing of the Calgary Hitmen and subsequent overtime loss to the Lethbridge Hurricanes, the Hawks would battle the Edmonton Oil Kings from the Central Division, a team that they were familiar with during their heyday a few years back as the two teams tussled over the WHL Championship. These days, while both teams are still strong, they are in a bit of a rebuild phase and desperate for any points they can get. The Winterhawks would grab the lead when Cody Glass opened the scoring near the midway point of the first period. Portland would surrender the lead due to a pair of penalties, but regain it when Glass scored his second of the night. Late in the second period, Ryan Hughes would pad the Hawks lead and Keoni Texeira would add an insurance goal early in the third to put the game out of reach. Edmonton would score a late goal in the third, but would drop the 4-2 decision to the Winterhawks. Portland’s power play was unable to convert on any of its five power plays and stopped five of six Edmonton man advantage opportunities. Portland outshot the Oil Kings by a 40-24 margin.

Two days later it was the Daylight Classic game with the curtains open in the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the Winterhawks would play host to the Victoria Royals. Portland started the game strong with an early goal by Lane Gilliss and held that lead through the midway mark of the first period when Victoria’s leading scorer Matthew Phillips got one past Winterhawks starter Cole Kehler. The Hawks would find themselves back on top late in the first when Skyler McKenzie scored his 14th of the season. An early penalty to start the second period by Victoria led to an early goal by Colton Veloso just a minute into the period to put the Hawks up by two. Regan Nagy scored for Victoria midway through the third period, but were not able to get any closer. With the Royal goaltender out for an extra attacker, Skyler McKenzie ended the night with an empty net goal to finish the game with a 4-2 score. Portland picked up a goal on seven power plays, while Victoria picked up one goal on six chances on the power play. Portland took the advantage in shots on goal 43-35.

With that momentum, Portland surged into the next game against the top rated team in the WHL and Canadian Hockey League in the Prince George Cougars. The Cougars had left Prince George on Wednesday to travel to Everett to face the Silvertips on Saturday evening and then to Portland for the Sunday matinee. The Cougars had lost to the Tips 3-0 and obviously were looking to get some points back on the board against the Winterhawks.

However, it was Portland that would open the scoring after a breakdown in the Cougars end and Joachim Blichfeld would make no mistake snapping the puck past Nick McBride. Then successive power plays for Prince George would end up resulting in their first goal as recently acquired Brendan Ghule would score on the tail end of a double minor penalty assessed to Keegan Iverson. The Cougars would heavily outshoot the Hawks 18-7 in that period. In the second, Henri Jokiharju would score an unassisted goal, followed by Cody Glass on a Hawks power play, midway through the second period. Just over three minutes later, Colby McAulbey would score for the Cougars and then add his second of the game midway through the third period to tie the game. Just over two minutes later, Brad Ginnell and Brendan De Jong would add goals for Portland to build up a 5-3 lead. The Cougars pulled Nick McBride with less than two minutes remaining in the period and another flurry in the Hawks zone was weathered by Portland who twice attempted a shot on the empty net from within their zone. The first resulted in an icing call, while the second tucked itself inside the left post of the Cougar net as Keoni Texeira notched his seventh of the year to put the win in the Winterhawks column with the final a 6-3 decision.  Portland was outshot 42 to 33 in the contest. Portland went 1 for 3 on the power play and held Prince George to just one goal on five chances.

With the wins, Portland stays well in the hunt in the US Division keeping pace with Spokane Chiefs and Seattle Thunderbirds and seven points out of second place. In its last six games, Portland has won 5 and lost 1 in overtime after losing the four previous games in the last ten. Now that over a third of the season has passed, the tightness in the divisions has started to really emerge and no team can consider any game an easy night.

Portland will face that in the upcoming week as they head to Spokane on Wednesday for their first road game since early November. Sleep will be tough for the Hawks as they play the night game on Friday in Kennewick, WA  and travel home to Portland immediately following, with a game just under 12 hours later against the Kootenay Ice. The Hawks will end the three games in three days with another afternoon game against the Medicine Hat Tigers. Should the Hawks perform well in these games and capture the majority of the points, the Hawks would look by most teams, to being in strong playoff contention for this season.

Saturday’s game against the Kootenay Ice will be a 2pm start at Veterans Memorial Coliseum with fans asked to bring a new, unwrapped toy for the Fox 12 Oregon Toy Drive while Sunday’s game is a special Fred Meyer Family Night with discount vouchers available through Fred Meyer stores. Just over a week later, the Hawks will host their annual Teddy Bear Toss where fans are encouraged to bring bears and other stuffed plush to the game to toss on the ice when the Winterhawks score their first goal.

Hawks sign defensemen Nick Cicek and Darren Gisti

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Winterhawks

Hawks sign defensemen Nick Cicek and Darren Gisti

The Portland Winterhawks have announced the signings of defensemen Nick Cicek and Darren Gisti.

Cicek, in his 16-year-old season, was the Hawks’ seventh round pick in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft. He played last season for the Winnipeg Monarchs of the Winnipeg City Midget League (WCML) and posted 11 goals and 25 assists for 36 points in 35 games.

Gisti, in his 17-year-old season, was added to the Hawks’ protected list in August. He also played in the WCML last season with the Winnipeg Hawks, and he totaled 18 goals and 17 assists for 35 points in 30 games. He is playing this season for the Dauphin Kings of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.

“Nick and Darren both had impressive performances in training camp and in the Neely Cup, and we look forward to them advancing their careers with the Winterhawks in the years to come,” said Portland Winterhawks Vice President, General Manager & Head Coach Mike Johnston.

Winterhawks season tickets and packages are on sale now, visit winterhawks.com for full details on pricing and availability.