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.