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.