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.