The bad news for the Portland Winterhawks and their fans Wednesday was that the Western Hockey League has canceled the remaining games of its regular season.
The good news, though, is that the young Winterhawks have capped off the abbreviated season by being declared the winners of the WHL’s U.S. Division and, even better, winners of the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy as regular-season champions, with the best record in the entire league.
The WHL is still holding out hope of holding its playoffs if the COVID-19 pandemic subsides and conditions allow.
Mike Johnston, the team’s head coach, vice president and general manager, admitted that it has been a surprising season for a young team not expected to contend this season.
“To be honest, it was,” Johnston said. “We thought at Christmas we wanted to see where we would be, in the running, and we were kind of surprised at that time we were holding that top position in the league.
“We decided at the trade deadline not to make any moves -- one of the first years we didn’t make any moves, for the simple reason that we liked our team. They were over-performing. And I thought they deserved to make a run with it.
“Also, we knew going forward that we had a phenomenal team coming back next year and the following year so we didn’t want to tinker with that. Most teams in our position did make moves and acquired players, but even with that, we still held on right to the end.
“It’s amazing. This is only the third time we’ve had the best overall record and we’ve had a lot of good teams.”
The Hawks were loaded with youngsters this season. They will have two big-time losses next season, in goalie Joel Hofer and captain and star defenseman Johnny Ludvig. Both could be headed for professional hockey next season.
But all of the team’s offensive firepower should return.
“In the future, you’re looking at a real nice team for next year and the year after,” Johnston said, “A team that should be one of the strongest in the league.
“Our core players will be back. Two years ago, we had four 16-year-olds in our lineup and this year we had three. A third of our team was 16- and 17-years-old this year.”
The star of that group will be a player, Seth Jarvis, who is expected to be a high pick in the NHL draft this year. As a 17-year-old, he had 42 goals and 56 assists in just 58 games.
Indeed, a franchise that has had so much success under Johnston seems to be on the same road again.