BY STUART KEMP
Playoffs can bring out the best in some teams and for three teams that best was what eliminated them.
The Tri-City Americans had already claimed a spot in the Western Conference Final and were awaiting the winner of the Everett Silvertips versus Portland Winterhawks and they wouldn’t wait long. The Tips and Hawks battled one day after a heartbreaking loss by Portland at home and the Hawks found themselves on the ropes down 3-1 in the series. The two teams battled to a scoreless draw in the first period and it took until the midway point of the game before the first goal was scored. For the Hawks it was the start of a rough night as the Everett Silvertips Jake Christiansen scored from the point past a screen Cole Kehler. That goal held through the remainder of the period.
Early in the third period, Riley Sutter fished out a puck that Kehler thought he had under control and tucked it under Kehler into the net to put the Tips up by two. Four minutes later it was Gianni Fairbrother who scored and the defence was on for the Tips. The Hawks, looking for any spark, pulled Kehler with just over four minutes left in the game, but Christiansen had other plans as he stripped the Hawks puck carrier and fired into the empty net. From there, it was all Carter Hart in net for the Silvertips, stopping all 34 Portland shots for the shutout and a 4-0 win. The Silvertips win the series 4-1 and host Tri-City Americans on Friday with the winner heading to the WHL Final and the Chynoweth Cup.
Right after the game, Winterhawks defenseman Dennis Cholowski reported to the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League. Cholowski, who was acquired from the Prince George Cougars at trade deadline, is a possible call-up by the Detroit Red Wings for next season and is past a longshot to return to Portland as at best, he would return as an overage player. The Hawks also said goodbye to Keoni Texeira, Cole Kehler and Alex Overhardt as they have maxed out in age. The Hawks will also look to pare down a few players from the roster who were nineteen this season and would appear as overage players next season. These players include Conor MacEachern, Skyler McKenzie, Brendan DeJong. Joschim Blichfeld, Kieffer Bellows and Connor Barley who was picked up from Kootenay but had spent the past three seasons in Selkirk, Manitoba. Barley played in three games during the Hawks playoffs as a call up to replace Lucas MacKenzie who was out with an injury. Expect Bellows to be called up to the pros this season and possibly Blichfeld to an AHL team which would leave the Hawks with three regular overage players, subject to trades or other reasons.
The Eastern Conference matchups also took place with the Lethbridge Hurricanes coming out on top of the Brandon Wheat Kings by a 3-0 score. The Canes who appeared to be sellers at trade deadline including their top goaltender to the Swift Current Broncos, found ways to hold the fort against first the Red Deer Rebels and now the Wheat Kings as they await the winner of the Swift Current Broncos and Moose Jaw Warriors.
The Broncos/ Warriors series was close to ending in six games as the Broncos built up a 2-0 lead after scoring midway through the second period and then early in the third period as Swift Current kept Moose Jaw to very low shot totals in the first two periods. The sixty-minute game idea came into play and instead of folding like other teams when the chips were down, the Warriors fought back. Three minutes after the second Swift Current goal, Moose Jaw scored their first and then five minutes later, scored their second of the game to tie it up as both teams battled for the remainder of the period. Both Brody Wilms for the Warriors and Stuart Skinner for the Broncos found ways to keep their respective squads in the game. To overtime the two teams went and settled nothing in the first extra twenty-minute session, despite the Broncos having a powerplay. The teams headed to the second overtime period and again were unable to break the deadlock. In the third overtime, the Broncos took a penalty just forty-four seconds into the frame. That penalty proved costly as Jayden Halbgewachs, top scorer in the WHL during the regular season, made the comeback complete for the Warriors as they escape Swift Current with a 3-2 win in triple overtime despite being outshot 60-38 in the game. This sets up a showdown in Moose Jaw with the winner going to the Eastern Conference final.
Ice Chips: Over $3000 was raised by the Portland Winterhawks Booster Club for the #HumboldtStrong campaign following a horrific bus crash involving the Humboldt Broncos team bus which was on the way to game five in Nipawin to face the Hawks. Originally announced was that fourteen had been killed in the accident, but one passed a couple of days later and now a sixteenth victim has passed with the death of the team trainer who was the only female on the bus. With the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League having to make a decision on the status of the playoffs, they elected to match the Nipawin Hawks and Estavan Bruins for the SJHL Championship in honor of the Broncos with the winner facing the Manitoba League champion for the right to play in the RBC Cup in Chilliwack, BC in mid-May. That series is currently tied at one game each with the series headed to Estavan, Saskatchewan. Meanwhile, the GoFundMe account set up for the Broncos has reached over eleven and a half million dollars and has spun off two other GoFundMe accounts, one for the deceased coach Darcy Haugen and one to build a scholarship in honor of the Broncos. Both of those have reached their initial goals as well.