BY Stuart Kemp
As Portland prepared to travel the round-trip loop to Prince George, they were met with three pieces of big news. Cody Glass was named as a First Team All Star for the Western Conference in the WHL and that was followed by Cole Kehler being awarded the WHL Goaltender of the Week, his second honor this season. Within a day, he was also named CHL Goaltender of the week which is his first this season. Mike Johnston was also named Coach of the Year, in a bit of irony as it wasn’t his highest winning season and it follows the years of dark clouds held over him over the player support situations in 2012 where he was forced out of the coaching spot for the remainder of the regular season and had to watch his team from the stands during their time competing for the 2013 Memorial Cup.
With the awards in tow, the Winterhawks headed to Prince George for a pair of games before heading back to the Rose City for games three and four. In the early going of game one, Prince George held a strong advantage in shots and play as they used a great deal of physical strength to try to wear down the visitors. However, it was the Hawks Brendan De Jong who opened the scoring on the powerplay just over four minutes in with a blistering shot from the right point. The Hawks would carry the lead to near the end of the period when Jared Berthune answered for Prince George on a powerplay. Just under a minute later, Sklyer McKenzie found the open twine to give the Hawks the lead heading into intermission. Keegan Iverson would add to the total just over three minutes into the second period while on yet another powerplay and the Hawks would carry a 3-1 lead into the third. Prince George made it interesting very early in the third when Jesse Harkins was left out front to score for the Cougars, reducing the lead to just one. With time running down and the Cougars having their sixth attacker out, the Hawks continually made it difficult for the Cougars to get set up in the Hawks zone and finally Colton Veloso was set free into the Cougars zone where he drifted the puck into the empty net to secure the Hawks 4-2 win. The Hawks outshot the Cougars 35-25 and scored twice on five powerplay attempts, while the Cougars went one for three on the man advantage.
With a day off in between for the Telus Cup Midget Tournament in Prince George, the two teams went back it on Sunday. The cougars, stinging from their loss on Friday, took it to the Hawks on as the Cougars scored five straight goals, by four different scorers before the Hawks could get their only goal, which occurred on the powerplay. The Winterhawks outshot the Cougars 41-36 and both teams went one for four on the powerplay. The Hawks were physically in a battle with 86 minutes in penalties being called and a whole lot more that should have been called in the game. Though the game goes as a 5-1 loss for the Hawks, they did earn a split, always important when having to return home and the advantage now going to the Hawks in terms of leveling the home ice advantage.
The Winterhawks will now play at least a five game series with games three and four taking place at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Wednesday and Thursday and game five now in Prince George on Saturday April 1st which means both teams will leave Portland following the Thursday game for the 14 hour trek back to the CN Centre. Game six, if necessary will go Monday in Portland which would require both teams leaving Prince George immediately following game five. If the series were to go to the maximum seven games, the two teams will have traveled just under 4,400 miles in ten days as the series is scheduled as 2-2-1-1-1, instead of the 2-3-2 series that Portland requested.
The other teams around the WHL are battling it out for the first round and most are going per most pundits’ thoughts. The Everett Silvertips won game one, but lost game two against the Victoria Royals and head to Victoria for the next pair. Seattle won two straight at home against Tri-City, which puts the Americans backs against the wall in that they need at minimum a split or better still, two convincing victories at home to keep their series alive. Kelowna powered through Kamloops in the initial two games in the Okanagan which now heads back to Kamloops. Out east, the Scotty Munro champions Regina Pats have certainly looked the part in their pair of wins against the Calgary Hitmen with the series shifting back to Cowtown for the next two. Medicine Hat has steamrolled the Brandon Wheat Kings in the first two games at home and looks to have a lock on the series as it heads back to Brandon for the next two games. What makes it tougher for Brandon is that they must play in a different arena, two hours due north in Dauphin Manitoba in a rink that seats just a third of the fans that the Keystone Centre does in Brandon due to building conflicts. The Red Deer vs Lethbridge and Swift Current versus Moose Jaw series are knotted at one apiece as they series now shift for games three and four.