Second round possible achilles heel for the Portland Winterhawks

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NBCS Northwest

Second round possible achilles heel for the Portland Winterhawks

BY STUART KEMP 

With the second round of the WHL playoffs underway, the speed of the games going by is really incredible. Now with all teams having played four games, the playoff picture for up to three of them is almost completely clear.

The Portland Winterhawks, following their split in Everett, brought the series home to the Rose City hoping to at least catch a split there, however things didn’t quite go to plan. The first game saw similar issues to the game two in Everett where the Silvertips came out strong and put the Hawks on the ropes with a 6-2 win. The Hawks had just a day to rest in between games three and four and whatever transpired in the locker room in that time off, seemed to reflect highly for the Hawks. Game four was a classic, defensive game with only a few goals, many high quality shots and the crowd of over seven thousand really into the game. Defensemen for the Hawks provided the scoring as Brenden DeJong and Henri Jokiharju got goals for Portland. The latter goal was scored with just over two minutes left in the game to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead. However, the game is sixty minutes long and in a span of less than a minute, the Hawks were hearing the buzzer and looking at the scoreboard with a 3-2 loss to the Tips and 3-1 deficit in the playoffs. The teams boarded respective buses to head to Everett for what could be the Winterhawks swan song in this year’s playoff games.

The other series have also seen some unusual activity with the Tri City Americans seemingly on fire in their run. Following a rocky end to the regular season, the Americans opened a brand new season called the playoffs and ripped through the top BC Division team in the Kelowna Rockets with just four games to knock them to the sidelines. The Americans then faced the Victoria Royals, a team that  was taken it to the limit in their first round series. The Ams didn’t care as they knocked out the Royals seemingly at ease with another four straight run. They now await the winner of Portland versus Everett.

The Eastern Conference has seen the Lethbridge Hurricanes come out swinging in their battle with the Brandon Wheat Kings. After the Hurricanes took Brandon in the first two games, the Wheat Kings battled back with a gutsy 5-4 win in game three. It was the next game where Lethbridge outlasted Brandon with a 7-4 win that has put the Alberta team within a game of the next round.

The titanic struggle between the Swift Current Broncos and Moose Jaw Warriors has been nothing short of what was expected. The two teams split in Moose Jaw and then did the same thing in Swift Current to leave the teams tied at two games each. The winner of this series will face either Lethbridge or Brandon for the Eastern Conference title.

The Portland Winterhawks WAHA group donated their half of the 50/50 pot from Tuesday’s game with over $9,000 donated to the HumboldtStrong campaign. Not to be outdone, the Portland Winterhawks Booster Club contributed over $3,000 from donations collected at the home games of the Hawks in the second round.

WHL Playoffs Round 2 – Two teams split games, two take a lead

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NBCS Northwest

WHL Playoffs Round 2 – Two teams split games, two take a lead

BY STUART KEMP

Four games each night during the weekend took place, but much of the two nights was reserved for a horrific bus crash that ended up killing fifteen people and injuring fourteen others outside the rural town of Tisdale, Saskatchewan, located east of Saskatoon … more on that in a moment.

The first night of the WHL second round saw Eastern Division teams Swift Current Broncos and Moose Jaw Warriors battle in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. The first night the Warriors led for the game before allowing Swift Current to get close before finishing the game with a 5-3 win. 

The Central vs East Division was up next with Lethbridge Hurricanes facing the Brandon Wheat Kings. The Kings had a tough night out in the first game dropping a 5-1 decision to the Canes. Jordy Bellerive and Taylor Ross each scored a pair of goals for the Hurricanes.

The Victoria Royals goaltender, Griffin Outhouse, was shellacked for seven goals by seven different scorers and Patrick Dea earned the shutout in a 7-0 win for the Tri-City Americans.

The Everett Silvertips gave up the first three goals of the game before coming back with a pair in the second to make it close, but Skyler McKenzie scored with just over one second left in the period to restore the two goal cushion and added another midway through the third period to take game one by a 5-2 score.

The second night, the news had sunk in about the horrific tragedy that has taken place the night before and all games in the WHL had all the players on each team gather together side by side in alternating fashion either at center ice or at the blue line.

NHL teams Chicago Blackhawks and Winnipeg Jets removed their nameplates and played the game with the name Broncos stitched in their place. 

Many teams donated either portions of 50/50 sales or collected donations from patrons for the people of Humboldt, Saskatchewan, home of the Humboldt Broncos and along with a GoFundMe project, is closing on five million dollars in less than two days.

It was a tough night for the second set of games as teams seemingly were preoccupied with the situation in Saskatchewan.

The Swift Current Broncos came back from the loss the previous night to shutout the Moose Jaw Warriors 4-0 with four different scorers to now tie the series at one game apiece with the series shifting to Swift Current.

The Brandon Wheat Kings scored four goals in the first two periods before a comeback by the Hurricanes. The Canes started the comeback in the middle of the second by Jordy Bellerive who also scored midway through the third and a late powerplay goal by Lethbridge tied up the contest. Late into the first overtime the Hurricanes completed the comeback with a 5-4 overtime win and a two game lead in the series. The Kings will host the next two games in Brandon.

In Victoria after smarting from a shutout, the Royals gave up the first goal less than a minute into the contest to Tri-City’s Michael Rasmussen. Just under seven minutes into the second, the Royals tied it up, only to allow Rasmussen his second of the game ten minutes later while on the powerplay. Early in the third period, Tri-City extended the lead and the game saw the Americans cap off the scoring with the hat trick goal by Rasmussen with just over a minute left in the game, Rasmussen ended the game with three goals and one assist to lead the Ams to a 4-1 win and a two games to one lead in the series with it now shifting to Kennewick, WA.

The Portland Winterhawks seemed to be more focused on anything but the game at hand as they gave up two goals in the first, one of which came in the first minute of play, three more in the second and one in the third which gave Patrick Bajkov a hat trick and Carter Hart the shutout in a 6-0 thrashing of the Hawks. The series now tied at one will move to Portland.

All series will resume again on Tuesday, with the all series except the Portland/ Everett series playing game four on Wednesday. That series will play game four on Thursday.

The horrific bus crash that took place on Friday afternoon is being investigated by the RCMP with the driver of the tractor trailer escaping without injury, fourteen players initially dead at the scene and fourteen players on the bus as injured, three critically. One player who had just turned twenty-one had signed a donor registry card at the same time and his body was being used to assist up to eleven lives after he was pronounced brain dead in hospital, raising the total to fifteen. The driver of the tractor trailer was initially taken into custody

On Sunday, a vigil was held in Humboldt, Saskatchewan home of the Broncos which filled the arena to capacity.

Overflow crowds moved to the curling center with the vigil streaming online. Elsewhere, vigils were held in Saskatoon at City Hall and the Art Bauer Centre in Prince Albert Saskatchewan. The names of all deceased were read at the vigil, however the RCMP had not officially announced the victims. The Premier of Saskatchewan and the Canadian Prime Minister attended, but did not speak. Don Cherry, who hosts a segment called Coaches Corner on CBC TV during hockey games also attended.

Photos including aerial ones have circulated online and show a strewn about scene with bales of peat moss which the tractor trailer truck was carrying. The truck was westbound on Highway 335 which had a stop sign to yield to traffic on Highway 35 in which the bus was traveling northbound.  There is a stand of trees on the angle to the left that has some impairment to those turning off the highway northbound. The investigation is also looking into weather and road conditions. The impact sent both vehicles a distance northbound up the highway and the bus appeared to be shredded. Among the dead were ten players ranging in age from sixteen to twenty-one, the bus driver, the head coach, assistant coach, statistician and radio broadcaster. The crash occurred at approximately 5 PM with less than thirty minutes prior to arrival in Nipawin, Saskatchewan where the Humboldt Broncos were to play game five against the Nipawin Hawks, down 3-1 in the series. Dame six was set to take place in Humboldt on Sunday, where instead a vigil was held. The vigil started at 7:30pm when puck drop would have taken place and instead a moment of silence was held. 

At this point, the SJHL has suspended operations for all teams, though the race is on for decisions on what will happen as the finals and RBC Cup which is similar to the Memorial Cup in the Canadian Hockey League are scheduled to be taking place in the coming days. The Estevan Bruins were awaiting the winner of the Hawks/ Broncos series which was scheduled to begin this coming Friday and the winner to move onto the RBC Cup. 

The GoFundMe account, which is closing in on five million dollars, was helped by large donations from several NHL teams and over sixteen thousand individual donors. The Portland Winterhawks Booster Club will be collecting donations at home games on Tuesday and Thursday with the funds going directly to Humboldt Broncos. 

It was announced at the initial press conference that an accountant and attorney will assist with the distribution of funds once collected to figure out the best way to assist those in need in this tragic situation. 

More will be announced in the coming days.

WHL 2nd round playoff preview – Local arena to close in August

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NBCS Northwest

WHL 2nd round playoff preview – Local arena to close in August

BY STUART KEMP

The Western Hockey League playoffs have run through the first round with a couple small surprises and now that group of sixteen has been dropped to just eight with ten days to play a possible seven game series. The stakes are higher now as the winners will move onto the Conference finals and eventually the WHL Final for which one team will earn a coveted spot in the Memorial Cup Tournament. It’s a tough haul where a team is lucky to repeat as Conference Champion let alone WHL Champion.

With that, let’s take a look at the eight teams in battle this round.

Starting out in the Western Conference, where once there were three teams in the BC Division competing in the first round, now there is only one. The Victoria Royals took all of their seven games against the pesky Vancouver Giants, a team that hadn’t made the playoffs let alone out of the first round since 2011. The Giants threw all they had at the Royals, but in the end, it was a strong game by goaltender Griffen Outhouse that put the Royals over the top. Now they face the one team that swept their first round series with the BC Division winners, the Kelowna Rockets. The Tri City Americans looked all of the top team that they weren’t at the end of the regular season, but came together against the Rockets in a big way. Whether Outhouse can stem the flow of the Americans or not, will be the deciding factor and chances are, if the Royals top scoring group doesn’t put up their strongest ever numbers, the Royals could be out quickly as well. Ams are rested, Royals are not and the US Division has once again proven to be the strongest overall division in the league again this year.

Prediction: Americans in five

The Portland Winterhawks had to take seven games to finish off a hard, physical Spokane Chiefs team. The Hawks first line was in its prime for the seventh game, but the other lines helped the team through the other six games. The Chiefs threw everything at the Hawks and some of it not so legal either with the officials missing several flagrant violations. Despite that, the Hawks continued to battle and eventually came away with one of the best performances in the seventh and deciding game. Cole Kehler, who had some rough outings for the Hawks in net, was as strong as one would expect a twenty-year-old goaltender to be. Kieffer Bellows, Cody Glass and Skyler McKenzie carried the Hawks in the scoring and Alex Overhardt was the go to guy for the faceoffs. 

Against the Everett Silvertips, the Hawks won the overall season series, but just barely. The last two games for the Hawks against the Tips were shutouts, Everett won their first round series against the Seattle Thunderbirds by a 4-1 margin, but won’t get that easy a ride for the Hawks. The two teams match up well with solid goaltending and snipers on both sides. Everett’s addition of Garrett Pilon from the Kamloops Blazers at trade deadline put the focus onto scoring for a team that relied on a more defensive approach and mistakes from the other team for their points. The Tips will have their hands full with a potent offense and relying on Carter Hart to be the savior in net. Hart has had issues in Portland where he has been unable to dethrone the Hawks.

Prediction: Hawks in six

The Eastern Conference has its two strongest teams battling each other in the second round. It’s a shame too as the reward should be the meeting following knocking out the lower teams, however in the hybrid playoff matchups, this is not the case. It’s the Scotty Munro Champions Moose Jaw Warriors against the second strongest team in the WHL this season in the Swift Current Broncos. The Broncos loaded up their team at trade deadline as did the Warriors to a lesser extent and the battle is one for the ages. The Broncos and Warriors both had to play the full seven game series, the Warriors against the lowest seeded team in the Prince Albert Raiders and the Broncos against the Memorial Cup hosts Regina Pats. Both had high scoring games for and against in their series and bring solid goaltending and high powered offense. While the Warriors hold the honor of the best overall regular season record, this is playoffs and things change dramatically.

Prediction: Swift Current in seven

The other match in the conference will see the Lethbridge Hurricanes hosting the Brandon Wheat Kings. Though the Kings hold a better record, because they were in the powerhouse Eastern Conference with Moose Jaw and Swift Current, they were unlucky not to have caught up to the Regina Pats. Because they were a wildcard contender, the Wheat Kings won’t get home ice advantage in any series this year. The Canes were in a very weak Central Division this season, though they looked very strong against the Red Deer Rebels who were the only team in this season’s playoffs with a losing regular season record. The Hurricanes took their series in five games, while Brandon needed six to win theirs against the top Central Division team in the Medicine Hat Tigers. Unlike the first round, the Wheat Kings will actually play home games at home in Brandon, Manitoba and that should add more momentum.

Prediction: Wheat Kings in six

Local area news in Vancouver, Washington comes as both a bitter disappointment and knowledge of the inevitable. Ten years ago, City Bible Church purchased the twin rinks in Vancouver known as the Mountain View Ice Arena. Immediately, the church dug out the west rink and built a church and other facilities in the space with knowledge that they would look to build on at some point with the date uncertain. On April 2, Mountain View Ice Arena released a statement that the arena will close for business effective August 31, 2018. The last line of the statement read that they were looking in the interim of alternatives for the skating community in the Vancouver Metro area. The rink is the only one in the Vancouver, Washington area and the closure comes as the hockey and skating worlds are increasing in popularity.  Currently, the only other public ice sheets are the Winterhawks Skating Center in Beaverton, Sherwood Ice Arena in Sherwood, Oregon and Lloyd Center rink which is well short of regulation with its remodel four years ago.

City Bible Church is looking to build an athletic center which will open before its school that it has been planning to build since taking over the arena space ten years ago.

The arena itself was built in 1998 on SE Mill Plain Boulevard and SE Olympia Avenue with two rinks, one facing east/west, the other north/south. The north/south rink was demolished in 2006.

And then there were eight – Portland Winterhawks among game seven winners

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NBCS Northwest

And then there were eight – Portland Winterhawks among game seven winners

BY STUART KEMP 

It wasn’t supposed to be this tough in the first round was it? Four of eight series ended up going the full seven game run and in the end, those that were stronger in points at the end of the season, won their respective series. Even then, those final games were anything but a lock.

In the east, the Moose Jaw Warriors finally eliminated the Prince Albert Raiders, a team that gave the Warriors the toughest test over seven games. Most had thought that the Warriors would slam the door in four, maybe five games, but taking it to seven, was a real accomplishment for the Raiders. In game seven, the Raiders scored the first two goals in just over five minutes, but the Warriors rallied with two goals just over twenty seconds apart to tie the game. The Raiders regained the lead just over four minutes later and held until late in the second period where the game became all tied up. Midway through the third period, the Warriors took their first lead. The Raiders returned the game to tied status on a shorthanded marker, but the party was short-lived as twenty seconds later, the Warriors took back the lead and the win 5-4.

The Swift Current Broncos were given quite the scare by the Regina Pats in their series as their final game played out in Speedy Creek. The Pats scored early in the first which was countered by the Broncos midway through the period. The Broncos added two more goals in the second before the Pats added their second of the game, but it wasn’t enough as the Swift Current Broncos defeated the Memorial Cup hosts Regina Pats 3-2 and will face off against the Warriors in the second round.

The other matchup has the Lethbridge Hurricanes hosting the Brandon Wheat Kings. The Wheat Kings actually had a better regular season record, but because of the WHL Playoff hybrid system, because the Wheat Kings came in as a wildcard spot and the Hurricanes were a seeded team in the division, the advantage of home ice goes to the Canes.

Winners of these two series will face each other for the Eastern Division title.

In the west, the Victoria Royals and Vancouver Giants squared off in an early afternoon battle. The Royals scored once in the first and two more in the second period before Vancouver scored their first goal. The Royals then added another to restore their two goal lead. Two more goals by the Giants late in the second period, put the game within reach, but the Royals clamped down to hang on for the 4-3 win. 

The Royals will now host the Tri-City Americans who dispatched the Kelowna Rockets in four games straight during the first round.

The Us Division already had the Everett Silvertips in the second round by virtue of their five game knockoff of the Seattle Thunderbirds, but it was the final pairing that needed to settle their game seven to create the next matchup.

The Portland Winterhawks came out of Portland with a loss which put the Spokane Chiefs within a game of tying the series as the series headed north. The Chiefs seemingly had everything to gain and Portland, nothing to lose and it showed with a less than stellar 5-2 loss to the Chiefs. The score was almost flattering to Portland, whose passing, defense and all other aspects of their game, looked about as bad as it could be and only heroics at times by goaltender Cole Kehler kept the game from being laughable. Thus, the series was tied and was headed to Portland for game seven.

The Chiefs elected to travel through the night and camp out in Portland, but the Hawks only traveled just over 2 hours to Kennewick, setting up shop there and arrived in Portland a couple hours prior to the warmups. The rest may have been the difference as the two teams hit the ice at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum for game seven. The Hawks and Chiefs battled early with neither side unable to gain much of an advantage. It wasn’t until a powerplay where Cody Glass redirected a point shot by Henri Jokiharju past Dawson Weatherill, that the Portland crowd erupted. The score stayed as a one goal margin until midway through the second period when Hudson Elyniuk tied the game for the Chiefs. Late in the second period, Kieffer Bellows blasted a shot from the right point past Weatherill to restore the lead. The look and celebration by Bellows was clear that this goal was huge. 

The battle continued through the third period with the game getting much more physical and with it, several questionable non calls by the officiating crew. Finally, a vicious crosscheck by the Chiefs’ overage Zach Fischer proved to be the costliest for the game. On the ensuing powerplay Skyler McKenzie capped off hard work by Kieffer Bellows and Cody Glass to score the finishing goal and a 3-1 win for the Hawks on home ice to take the series four games to three. 

The Hawks will now start the next series on the road this Friday and Saturday as they take on US Division Champions Everett Silvertips in what should be a thrilling set. The Hawks will get their first taste of home ice on April 10 and 12th. The home games for Portland will take place in the Coliseum on Tuesday and the Moda Center on Thursday. The remaining games if needed will be in Everett Friday the 13th, Portland on Sunday and if needed, in Everett on Tuesday, April 17. The venues for the remaining Portland games are to be determined. 

Winners of these two series will meet for the Western Conference Championship which will start on Friday, April 20.

Portland Winterhawks look to top the division, but falls in final two games – Playoffs up next

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NBCS Northwest

Portland Winterhawks look to top the division, but falls in final two games – Playoffs up next

BY STUART KEMP 

Prior to the weekend games, the Portland Winterhawks looked at a four-point separation between them and the Everett Silvertips with three games remaining in their schedule compared to the two of the Everett Silvertips. The Hawks started with a thumping of the Seattle Thunderbirds 8-3 with Cody Glass collecting a hat trick and in the process, his 100th point of the season. With that win, the Hawks moved within two points and had two games to win while Everett could only lose one. The season tiebreaker would be wins and season series between the teams, which Portland held advantages on.

Saturday night came and the Everett Silvertips scored a close 4-3 win over Victoria, which kept the Hawks four points back as the Hawks faced the Seattle Thunderbirds. Portland came out flat and Seattle, ornery from the previous night’s drubbing, took the Hawks to task. The penalty-filled contest saw the Thunderbirds score three times in the first two periods and not until midway in the third with Henri Jokiharju scoring, did the Hawks seem to show much life. However, two goals two minutes apart late in the contest, sealed the Hawks fate as the Thunderbirds won the game 5-1. 

Victoria, sensing no need of battle, literally rolled over as they dropped an 8-1 decision to Everett in Victoria before a shocked sellout in the Save On Foods Memorial Arena. That win by Everett stopped any chance of Portland catching the Tips and would have to settle for second place in the US Division.

The final games of the regular season were meaningless in the positions of the divisions, but the Hawks had one card to play which would affect them in future rounds. A match against the Spokane Chiefs would end the Winterhawks regular season and points gained from this game would move the Hawks up overall in the Western Conference, a situation that would give more home advantage games as the playoffs progressed.

The Hawks started giving up the first goal of the game midway through the first period, but came on strong in the second with three goals and adding a fourth early in the third period to take what appeared to be a commanding lead. The Hawks would give up a powerplay goal midway through the third, followed by another just thirty seconds later to make it a single goal game. The Hawks were called on two consecutive boarding calls, the second of which led to a controversial goal. During the Spokane powerplay, it appeared that a high stick had deflected the puck past Shane Farkas, but a review seemingly upheld the goal after a lengthy delay. With the goal, Spokane tied the game and sent it to overtime. The extra period settled nothing and the game went to a shootout. Four Hawks were unsuccessful in scoring during the shootout while Spokane was able to get one on their fourth attempt. The goal gave the Chiefs a 5-4 win to end the regular season. With the single point earned in the game, the Winterhawks end the season with 94 points, one ahead of Kelowna Rockets which give them second place overall in the Western Conference.

The points will only be effective for seeding in the second round and rounds after as the hybrid system is in place for the first round. Top seeds in each division are ranked one, two on points and face the eighth and seventh seeds respectively. Mid-division teams will face each other in the first round. The second round will then reseed the teams based on points from the regular season.

The final playoff matches have been announced with some series starting on Thursday and the latest start will be the Saturday start for the Winterhawks and Spokane due to conflicts on buildings. The schedule has Portland hosting Saturday and Sunday at Veterans Memorial Coliseum before the series switches to Spokane for games three and four at the Veterans Memorial Arena on Wednesday and Thursday. Game five through seven if needed would be March 31 in Portland, April 2 in Spokane and April 3 in Portland with games in the coliseum.

In the Western Conference, the Everett Silvertips will host the Seattle Thunderbirds, and the Kelowna Rockets will take on the Tri-City Americans. Portland and Spokane will square off against each other, while Victoria Royals host Vancouver Giants.

The Eastern Conference will see the Moose Jaw Warriors get Prince Albert Raiders, Medicine Hat Tigers versus the Brandon Wheat Kings, Swift Current take on Regina Pats, and Lethbridge Hurricanes battles the Red Deer Rebels.

Predictions: In the West, Everett, Portland and Kelowna should take their series fairly easily, the Victoria and Vancouver series is a toss-up and could see the Giants move on to the second round, if the Royals don’t get tighter sooner. 

The Eastern Conference should see Moose Jaw, Swift Current take their series, the upsets, if one could call them that, would be Brandon due to a very weak Central Division and Red Deer who always seems to have a strong playoff type team. The second round will be more interesting overall with some of the closest matchups and parity among teams seen in many years

Ice Chips: Prior to the game versus Spokane, the Winterhawks awards were presented. Mason Mannek took Scholastic Award as well as Rookie of the Year, Skyler McKenzie took the Booster Club Memorial Most Popular Player Award as well as the Leadership, Character, Heart and Soul Team Award, Henri Jokiharju captured Best Defenseman honors, Cody Glass took Top Scorer and Team MVP and Conor MacEachern was named Sportsmanship and Ability winner. 

WHL Playoff Dates Set, But All The Matchups Are Not

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NBCS Northwest

WHL Playoff Dates Set, But All The Matchups Are Not

BY STUART KEMP

Just when you thought three or four games wouldn’t make much of a difference at the end of the season, you haven’t taken a good look at the 2017-18 season as the final games wind down.

The Everett Silvertips opened the door for the Portland Winterhawks in the quest to be the US Division Champions with a loss to the Tri-City Americans 4-2 this week. That loss left the Silvertips with just two games remaining to Portland’s three and a schedule that may just take this down to the wire. Portland has remaining games against the Seattle Thunderbirds, a team that Portland has fared well in the season series with and the Spokane Chiefs, which the Hawks have also done well against. Everett on the other hand, has its next two games against the Victoria Royals, a team that is clinging to hope that it can catch the Kelowna Rockets for the BC Division title. Unlike the Hawks’ six point possibility, Victoria has just two games or four point possibility and gives a game in hand to the Rockets. The Royals are within a point of keeping second place all to themselves if Vancouver Giants lose another game or Victoria wins a game. 

Portland added to its list of hardware in the awards department with Cole Kehler getting the nod for WHL Goaltender of the Week. Kehler, who won both games in Prince George and followed up with a shutout against the Everett Silvertips, garnered his second such award this season. 

The other playoff spots in the US Division are pretty much set with Spokane unable to catch Portland following a loss to the Seattle Thunderbirds this week and the Thunderbirds are five points back of the Tri-City Americans with just three games left to attempt to make up ground, though it is highly unlikely. 

The Eastern Conference finally set its eighth seed with the Prince Albert Raiders getting into the first round of the playoffs with a loss by Saskatoon Blades to the Brandon Wheat Kings. The Kings will need a miracle if they hope to catch Regina Pats for third in the Eastern Division as they sit three points back with two games each remaining. 

The Moose Jaw Warriors captured their first ever Scotty Munro trophy for best overall record after a shootout win over the Prince Albert Raiders this week, the same game which gave the Raiders the single point they needed to eliminate the Saskatoon Blades from post season competition. The Warriors who joined the WHL in 1984, have only made it to the WHL Finals once and round three once, are picked to be one of the favorites to compete for the WHL title this season. 

Speaking of the Blades, it’s another rough year for them. They have gone five straight years of missing the playoffs following the disastrous 2012-13 season where they hosted the Memorial Cup, lost in the first round of the playoffs and then had to wait six weeks for the Memorial Cup Tournament, a series in which they had a rough go at and also drew poorly at the gate leading to a loss of almost one million dollars. 

The Winterhawks announced the playoff start dates as being Saturday, March 24 and Sunday, March 25, both games taking place at Veterans Memorial Coliseum to avoid congestion with the Trail Blazers at the Moda Center and comedian Trevor Noah. The opponent is still to be determined with two possible scenarios. Either Portland moves up to the top spot in which case they will face Seattle Thunderbirds or remain in second place and face the Spokane Chiefs. 

Americans ground Hawks, who then trip Tips… But in the end maybe it doesn’t matter

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NBCS Northwest

Americans ground Hawks, who then trip Tips… But in the end maybe it doesn’t matter

BY STUART KEMP 

Following a return to home ice after the pair of wins versus the Prince George Cougars, the Portland Winterhawks were set to host the Tri-City Americans and pay homage to the legends of local hockey. The 1998 Memorial Cup Champions, twenty years after their historic win, were honored at center ice with all but a few present to witness the incredible ovation. The ceremony, lasting nearly a half hour, included a tip of the hat to Tri-City Americans head coach Mike Williamson, himself a former player of the Winterhawks and the Portland Assistant Coach at that time of the Cup win. That seemed to spark the Americans a great deal in the contest. Having been shutout twice in the past two meetings by the Hawks by a total score of 14-0, the Ams weren’t about to let starting Portland goaltender Shane Farkas get off on an easy night.

Late in the first period, the Americans scored twice, once on the powerplay to lead 2-0 at the end of one. Alex Overhardt pocketed a goal for the home squad less than thirty seconds into the second frame, but the Americans replied before the midway mark of the second period to restore the two-goal lead. A goal early in the third period by Tri-City on the powerplay, followed by a goal just over three minutes later, spelled the end for Portland’s Shane Farkas who stopped 18 of 23 shots in the game. Cole Kehler came in relief to stymie the Americans on their five shots they got on him. There was a brief spark midway through the third period as Joachim Blichfeld pulled the Hawks within three, but Tri-City ended the scoring with an empty net goal as Portland tried to run six attackers with just under three minutes remaining. The 6-2 final left the Hawks six points back of Everett, but the Spokane Chiefs, who lost in a shootout to Vancouver Giants, picked up just a single point, leaving them five back of the Hawks.

What could have been a showdown for Portland and Everett for first place the following night, ended up being one where the Winterhawks looked to see if there was still life in their quest for first in the US Division. The somewhat scrappy play seemed to sense a playoff battle in the midst and both teams played one of the more defensive matches in their season series. The Hawks opened the scoring on a rebound shot by Brendan DeJong midway through the first period. For the next forty minutes, both teams traded shots and gloves without a single goal registered. It would take until just past the midway point of the third period, when Henri Jokiharju scored on the powerplay to give the Hawks a bit more breathing room. The Hawks took a penalty late in the third which resulted in Everett pulling their goaltender for a sixth attacker, but even the six on four matchup wasn’t enough to see any pucks get past Cole Kehler who added another shutout to his total for the season and the Hawks took a 2-0 win.

The Hawks win, pulled them within four points of Everett with both squads having three games left to play. The idle Spokane Chiefs dropped to seven points back with four games left. If Spokane loses another game or is able to garner just a single point in any game, they will remain in third place giving Portland home ice in the series with Spokane. In fact, home ice will not really play into the series with Portland and Spokane due to the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament running at the arena where the Chiefs play on the scheduled playoff nights. 

Regardless, Portland will open the series on Friday, March 23 and Saturday, March 24 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum due the Moda Center being used for the Trail Blazers and a comedian on those days. The only change that could happen in the mix is if Portland overtakes Everett for first in the US Division in which case the Hawks will then most likely face the Seattle Thunderbirds who sit five points back of Tri-City with four games left on the schedule. The current matches will see Everett vs Seattle, Kelowna vs Tri-City, Portland vs Spokane and Victoria vs Vancouver. The Eastern Conference is almost settled with Moose Jaw virtually assured of the Scotty Munro trophy with a five point lead over Swift Current in the Eastern Division. The uncertain battles are with Regina and Brandon who are separated by three points in the battle for third place and Prince Albert and Saskatoon who are separated by seven points with four games each remaining. Current matches for the Eastern Conference would see Moose Jaw vs Prince Albert, Medicine Hat vs Brandon, Swift Current vs Regina and Lethbridge vs Red Deer. 

The winners of these series’ would then move onto the second round where the teams would be re-seeded according to the points earned in the regular season.

The next games for the Hawks will be a three game in three-night US Division battle with a home and home series with Seattle, followed by their final regular season home game against the Spokane Chiefs, with both home games taking place at the Moda Center. The game versus the Chiefs will be delayed for several minutes as the teams hands out its annual awards, including the Portland Winterhawk Booster Club Memorial Trophy for Most Popular Player as voted by the Booster Club Membership.

Portland Winterhawks Grind It First And Then Grind Up The Cougars

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NBCS Northwest

Portland Winterhawks Grind It First And Then Grind Up The Cougars

BY STUART KEMP 

Two games up north in the frozen city of Prince George were hoping to provide a warm welcome for the Portland Winterhawks as they looked to make the playoff race a great deal tighter. The Prince George Cougars, already eliminated from the postseason, looked to be the spoilers in the Hawks bid. The first game saw a much tighter game for the Hawks than they might have originally suspected. 

The Hawks picked up two goals in the first period from Joachim Blichfeld and Reece Newkirk and appeared to be heading for victory lane. Late in the second period, the Cougars scored two goals in less than thirty seconds to tie up the game and send the Hawks reeling to the dressing room, trying to figure out how to turn back the rage of the cats. 

The break seemed to initially work for the Hawks as Skyler McKenzie scored early in the third period to restore the lead, following an assist by former Cougar Dennis Cholowski. However, it was a former Winterhawk in Illijah Colina, whom the Hawks had traded along with Connor Bowie to the Cougars for Cholowski, that showed his former teammates that he was the real deal and the score suddenly became knotted with three quarters of a period to go. The Cougars desperate for everything, did all they could to stymie the Hawks firepower.

The Hawks nearly doubling of shots on goal became frustrating as time and time again, the puck rang off a crossbar or post and the score remained tied. It took the utility line of Layne Gilliss, Jake Gricius and Ty Kolle to finally stick the dagger in the heart of the Cougars with a late third period goal. Despite the Cougars pulling goaltender Taylor Gauthier for the sixth attacker, they were unable to tie the game, but also prevented the Hawks from scoring the empty net goal. Cole Kehler returned between the pipes to get the victory for the Hawks, who also saw Spokane Chiefs drop a decision to Victoria which gave the Hawks a six-point lead over the Chiefs for second place in the US Division.

The following night, the two teams battled again with the same two netminders, but far from the same result. The Cougars started off the night with a goal just over two minutes into the game by Connor Bowie, marking his first ever career goal and showing a bit of the stuff that made many Portland fans fall in love with his on-ice work. The Cougars would see that lead erased six minutes later with a laser shot that blew the goaltender’s water bottle from the top of the net to the rink glass. The Hawks then blew the game wide open with a pair of goals by Skyler McKenzie one on the powerplay and one short-handed and a goal by Lucas MacKenzie to give the Hawks a three goal lead.

Just over two minutes into the third period, Layne Gilliss snuck the puck short side and two minutes later it was Kieffer Bellows who added to the Hawks lead which chased starting goaltender Taylor Gauthier from the net. Gauthier gave up six goals on thirty-one shots before being replaced by Isaiah DiLaura. 

Late in the third period, Skyler McKenzie completed the hat trick, this time with the team at regular strength to complete the game as a 7-1 mauling of the Cougars. With the win, Portland moves within four points of first place Everett with both teams having five games left to play. The Spokane Chiefs who dropped their first game to the Victoria Royals, came back to win the second game and remain six points back of the Hawks while having a game in hand on both Everett and Portland. 

Six teams have now claimed playoff spots in the Western Conference with Tri-City and Seattle within a win of claiming the last two wild card spots which they can do on Friday, or see Kamloops Blazers lose to the Kelowna Rockets who are still clinging to first place in the BC Division. 

Out east, only four teams have assured themselves of playoff berths. Moose Jaw Warriors and Swift Current Broncos passed the century mark in points with the two teams within a point of each other and a few games left to play. The lower spots remain undecided with Brandon and Regina within three points of each other. Regina currently holds third in the Eastern Division, but Brandon, who holds the first wildcard spot could easily flip that with a small streak of their own. The Prince Albert Raiders and Saskatoon Blades are in a fight themselves for the second wildcard spot which the Raiders currently own. Based on mathematical scenarios all four teams could be in reverse order by the time the regular season is over.

It’s playoff hockey time and the air is thick with excitement as the final two weekends of games are upon us.

ICE CHIPS: Saturday will feature a tribute to the Portland Winterhawks’ last Memorial Cup winning team as many members of the 1998 team will appear at Veterans Memorial Coliseum for an induction ceremony and special autograph session during the first period intermission. The game, which is being played against the Tri-City Americans, will feature Mike Williamson, current coach of the Americans and the former assistant coach of the Portland Winterhawks 1998 Memorial Cup run. 

Portland Winterhawks Play Deja Vu Weeks But Pick Up Another Shutout And Two Awards

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NBCS Northwest

Portland Winterhawks Play Deja Vu Weeks But Pick Up Another Shutout And Two Awards

BY STUART KEMP

It was a deja vu week for the Portland Winterhawks as they battled to maintain their place in the US Division standings and, at the same time, see if they have enough to give a serious challenge to the division leading Everett Silvertips.

After blowing out the Tri-City Americans 9-0 a week ago, the Hawks came home to play three games in as many nights, all against lower US Division opponents. The Hawks had a rough home game in the week prior, but then went on to do well in two road games and that is exactly what happened into this week.

The Hawks found themselves in trouble against the Seattle Thunderbirds at home as the Thunderbirds were looking to gain some ground on the Tri-City Americans in hopes of removing themselves from the bottom of the US Division.

Seattle’s Zack Andrusiak opened the scoring in the first period which was countered by Ty Kolle, leaving the teams deadlocked at one apiece. Two goals early in the second, one scored by and the other assisted by Andrusiak put the T-Birds up again. The Hawks would come on strong in the third period with goals by Cody Glass on the powerplay, Joachim Blichfeld and Ryan Hughes to take the lead. Less than three minutes after the Hughes goal, Noah Philp scored to send the game into overtime. When that disn’t settle anything, the two teams took to the shootout. The first three rounds saw each team score one which then sent the shootout into sudden death where first goal versus first miss would determine the winner. Portland was unable to score on their shot, Seattle did and the Thunderbirds walked away with a bitter 5-4 win. Cole Kehler took the loss in one of the toughest nights of his Winterhawks career.

Just one night later and with many fans in tow, the Hawks went to Kennewick to attempt the same magic of a week ago. Shane Farkas was given the assignment in net for the Hawks where he last shutout the Americans. The Hawks struck early and often against a shaken Americans team. Two goals by Cody Glass, two by Layne Gilliss and a single by Kieffer Bellows, along with a pair of assists, was all the Hawks needed and then some as they shutout the Americans again, this time by a 5-0 score. The Hawks continued dominance over the Americans was evident throughout the night as the Hawks chased starting goaltender Beck Warm from the net in the middle of the second period, only to have Patrick Dea come in relief to an onslaught of shots himself. The only excitement for Americans fans came in the second intermission where Rusty won his second race in two years in the Dachshund Doggie Dash Race.

With that victory under their belt, the Hawks headed home to gather clothes for the long-distance travel and headed to Kent for the return battle with Seattle at the ShoWare Center which aired on local area television. The Hawks had barely hit the ice before the goals started flying. Just over a minute in, Kieffer Bellows put his team on the scoresheet which was followed by Jake Gricius and Cody Glass. In just over ten minutes the Hawks had built up a 3-0 lead and Seattle immediately called a timeout to settle the troops. Seattle finally got on the board late in the first period with Mike MacLean scoring only his second goal of the season to break Shane Farkas’ shutout string of the equivalent of three games.  The Hawks weren’t done yet as early in the second period, Kieffer Bellows added a pair of goals to give him the hat trick and the Hawks what appeared to be an insurmountable lead. Nolan Volcan picked up Seattle’s second goal of the game to cut the margin to a three-goal lead. In the third period, the Hawks broke down a bit, allowing Nolan Volcan and Zack Andrusiak to score midway through the period to make it a one goal game. Time was winding down and the Thunderbirds made the gamble on pulling their goaltender for the extra attacker. Despite pressure in the Hawks end, Ryan Hughes was able to free the puck and send it down the ice into the empty net to give the Hawks a bit of breathing space. Seattle once again tried to pull their goaltender, but he was caught before he got to the bench and a sailing shot by Brendan DeJong floated past a diving Liam Hughes into the empty net for the Hawks final goal and a 7-4 victory. Both teams scored once on each of their three powerplays and Portland outshot Seattle 38 – 36.

Right after the game, the Winterhawks headed north as they will face the Prince George Cougars in the annual doubleheader in the Spruce Capital. Following the two weekday games, the team will have a short turnaround before a pair of games at home on the weekend.

The Western Hockey League announced that Cody Glass was named WHL Player of the Week after recording ten points in four games during the past week. The Hawks also got another mention with the announcement that Shane Farkas was named WHL Goaltender of the Week after posting three win, including the two shutouts against Tri-City and a strong performance in another victory against Seattle in the always tough to play in ShoWare Center. It is Farkas’ first such award and comes as the Hawks gear up for four games this week, two against the Prince George Cougars in the annual, nearly twenty-hour trek, followed by the drive home to play the Tri-City Americans who will certainly look for revenge in the pair of losses where they were outscored 14-0 and another battle with Seattle. 

The Hawks will then play two games at home with a road game to Seattle sandwiched in between to close the regular season.

Should the Hawks emerge victorious in all or most of the games, they will close the gap considerably with the Everett Silvertips, who lead the Hawks by eight points, but give up two games in hand to Portland which could make the final weekend of play one for the ages.

Portland Winterhawks Silence Americans With Blowout In Kennewick

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USA Today Images

Portland Winterhawks Silence Americans With Blowout In Kennewick

BY STUART KEMP

Following a hard fought back to back series with the Victoria Royals in Canada, the Portland Winterhawks had little time to rest before they were back on the road Tuesday night in Kennewick, Washington. The Tri-City Americans played host to a Hawks team that needed to explode out of the gate at some point, especially with the high-octane offense they possess. Against the Royals, scoring was limited to just a couple of players, but the four lines rolling for Portland were looking to get on the scoresheet.

After a solid pair of games in Victoria, goaltender Shane Farkas picked up his third straight start against Tri-City. The Hawks potent offense wasted little time in showing their stuff as just over two minutes into the game Ryan Hughes scored the Hawks only powerplay goal of the game with an assist from Joachim Blichfeld. Just over a minute later, Keoni Texeira scored his ninth of the season and that would be the insurance goal for the Hawks. The team was not done as the Blichfeld / Hughes duo got on the scoresheet again with Blichfeld’s twenty-first of the season to end the period up by three.

The second period saw the Hawks open it up further with a pair of goals by Kieffer Bellows and goals by Brendan DeJong and Ryan Hughes to give the Hawks a seven-goal lead. 

Goals by Cody Glass and Reece Newkirk rounded out the scoring as the Portland Winterhawks blanked the Tri-City Americans 9-0. Ryan Hughes’ five-point night with two goals and three assists, Kieffer Bellows with a pair of goals and Shane Farkas with his second shutout of the season, a 37 save effort, combined to give the Hawks complete dominance. Portland outshot the Americans 42-37 and held the Americans scoreless on seven powerplays while scoring once on three powerplays of their own. 

The win put Portland three points ahead of the Spokane Chiefs and seven points behind the Everett Silvertips, still with two games in hand on the Tips. With the loss by Tri-City, the Spokane Chiefs notched a guaranteed playoff spot.

Portland will play US Division teams Seattle Thunderbirds in a home and home series this coming weekend with a Tri-City Americans road game sandwiched in between. 

The rest of the WHL continues to be muddied as the Moose Jaw Warriors were caught once again by the Swift Current Broncos for the rights to be called Scotty Munro Champions for best overall WHL record. The Broncos defeated the hapless Calgary Hitmen, while the Warriors dropped a decision to the Lethbridge Hurricanes leaving both the Broncos and Warriors five points back of the century mark, but with the Warriors holding a two-game advantage on Speedy Creek. 

The upcoming weekend games will most likely give the top teams in the WHL a better view of where their final placements will be, as most of the battles are inter-divisional and will leave most teams with less than six games remaining. The wildcard battle in the Western Conference is virtually settled with Tri-City and Seattle competing for the spots after leaving Kamloops and Prince George a reasonable enough distance behind. The Eastern Conference is still very murky as just three teams can lay claim to postseason presence with two teams still battling for home ice advantage in round one and four looking to wildcard versus guaranteed postseason position.