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.