Underdog Winterhawks fly past Cougars, face Kelowna Friday

Underdog Winterhawks fly past Cougars, face Kelowna Friday

When the Portland Winterhawks lost Game 3 of their best-of-seven, first-round playoff series against Prince George in Memorial Coliseum last week, they looked down and out. Finished.

The loss meant they had given back a shocking series-opening win in Prince George and were trailing 2-1 in the series. And the 6-1 score in the defeat against a heavily favored team that was older, more experienced and more successful in the regular season than Portland made it seem the series was soon to end.

But as we should know by now, Mike Johnston's teams don't quit. And the Hawks didn't. They won Game 4 in Portland, climbed aboard their bus and rode 15 hours to Prince George to steal game 5 and then returned home Monday night to throttle the Cougars 4-2 and capture the first-round series. It was an incredible comeback by a young team that many thought would scuffle just to make the playoffs. This was supposed to be a rebuilding/restocking season for Portland.

But Johnston is the Wizard of the Western Hockey League, a coach who finds the kind of players he wants -- even when he has low draft choices or none at all -- and then develops them into a gritty, fast and poised team. This series was a snapshot of what the Winterhawks have accomplished during his coaching tenures in Portland.

"It was indescribable," said Portland's scrappy and talented left wing Skyler McKenzie. "It was the first time I've really been a part of a full series win and it was an incredible feeling. We just had to play fast and play as hard as we possibly could. They're a bigger team, they're more mature and they were built for the playoffs. We were the underdogs coming into the series and we knew that. We wanted to make a good impression on the league and that's what we did.

"We realized (after) Game 3 that we needed to play harder. It needed to be every single shift. Our game plan the whole game was just forecheck, forecheck, forecheck. We've played the systems the right way and we played Mike's systems and Mike Johnston is a hell of a coach. He's done wonderful things with this team. He's directed us on the right path."

And Johnston knows how to win playoff series in the WHL. As coach of the Hawks, he has won 15 playoff series and lost only four, with an overall playoff record of 69-35.

"We knew we didn't play our best in the last game up in PG," Johnston said after the Monday win. "(Goaltender) Cole Kehler got us the win in that game, to be honest. Coming back in here, we had to start playing the way we can play. And tonight I was really happy with our game. I thought from start to finish we played pretty consistent. Cole was good in goal when he had to be and tonight we played with more speed, more pace to the game. We didn't deserve the last one but I thought we definitely deserved this one."

What got into the Winterhawks after that 6-1 thrashing in Game 3?

"Our guys started to learn what playoff hockey is all about," Johnston said.  "You can't take undisciplined penalties, you've got to be careful. They're a big physical team and there was no way we were going to win that battle. If we couldn't win the physical grinding battle, we had to play with more speed and use our skill. When you win a series that is as hard for travel -- we had 15 hours up and 15 hours back -- and we had more travel because we had to start up there, I give our guys a lot of credit. For a young team, they played hard and they endured a lot. We aren't used to those 15-hour bus trips."

Next up for Portland is Kelowna, which finished just one point behind Prince George in the B.C. Division standings. The schedule for that series was released Tuesday morning:

Game 1: Friday, April 7 at Kelowna, 7:05 p.m.

Game 2: Saturday, April 8 at Kelowna, 7:05 p.m.

Game 3: Tuesday, April 11 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, 7:00 p.m.

Game 4: Wednesday, April 12 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, 7:00 p.m.

Game 5*: Friday, April 14 at Kelowna, 7:05 p.m.

Game 6*: Sunday, April 16 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, 5 :00 p.m.

Game 7*: Tuesday, April 18 at Kelowna, 7:00 p.m.

* -- if necessary.

How Don Hay ended up as an assistant with the Winterhawks

How Don Hay ended up as an assistant with the Winterhawks

Don Hay surprised a lot of hockey fans when he took a job as an assistant coach with the Portland Winterhawks last week.

Hay is the winningest head coach in Western Hockey League history, has won three Memorial Cups, two WHL Coach of the Year awards, a World Junior championship and been the head coach of the NHL Calgary Flames and Phoenix Coyotes. Hay recently announced a "retirement" from coaching, leaving the Kamloops Blazers.

In an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Northwest, Hay talked about the opportunity to coach in Portland under old friend Mike Johnston and his responsibilities on the staff.

See the video above

What happened in Kamloops that led to Don Hay joining the Winterhawks

What happened in Kamloops that led to Don Hay joining the Winterhawks

Don Hay surprised a lot of hockey fans when he took a job as an assistant coach with the Portland Winterhawks last week.

Hay is the winningest head coach in Western Hockey League history, has won three Memorial Cups, two WHL Coach of the Year awards, a World Junior championship and been the head coach of the NHL Calgary Flames and Phoenix Coyotes. Hay recently announced a "retirement" from coaching, leaving the Kamloops Blazers.

In an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Northwest, Hay talked about the opportunity to coach in Portland under old friend Mike Johnston and his responsibilities on the staff.

See the video above

Winterhawks add Don Hay as an assistant coach

Winterhawks add Don Hay as an assistant coach

The Portland Winterhawks announced Monday afternoon that they've added one of the greatest coaches in Western Hockey League history to their staff.

Don Hay, the WHL's career head-coaching leader with 750 wins, won 3 Memorial Cup Championships with the Kamloops Blazers and Vancouver Giants, has two WHL Coach of the Year Awards, a Gold Medal in the 1995 World Juniors, and NHL Head Coaching roles with Phoenix and Calgary. During the 2017-18 season while coachig at Kamloops, Hay set a WHL record, surpassing longtime Portland Coach Ken Hodge to become the leagues winningest Coach with 750 wins in his career.

He will join head coach Mike Johnston's staff as an assistant coach.

"We are thrilled to add a coach of Don's caliber to our staff.  He will bring not only experience in the league but also a history of winning. When I first approached Don about the idea I wasn't sure what his reaction would be, but he was both interested and excited. (Associate head coach) Kyle (Gustafson) and I have always had a good rapport with Don and feel he will definitely be a great addition to our group," said Johnston, who also serves as the team's vice president and general manager.

“I’m excited to work with the Portland Winterhawks organization. I’m looking forward to working with Mike and Kyle and the rest of their staff. It’s a great opportunity to continue to learn and add my experience to the coaching staff,” said Hay in the team's news release.

 

WHL Final Set, US Represented

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USATI

WHL Final Set, US Represented

BY 

It’s a tough order to get a US Division team into the WHL Finals with only five of twenty-two possible, but the US Division was strong once again this year. They knocked out the BC teams in record fashion which led to a matchup with almost as much distance across the league as possible. 

The Everett Silvertips punched their ticket with a tough 6-5 overtime win over the Tri City Americans in Kennewick, WA. The Tips held a 2-1 lead after one period with both teams scoring on the powerplay, the Tips coming late in the period. The second period was all Americans with two goals, one of which came by the way of the powerplay and followed up with two more midway through the third period to take what appeared to be a commanding 5-2 lead. However, Everett scored just over a minute later and banged home two more a minute apart with six minutes left in the game to force overtime. 

The Americans took a costly tripping penalty just under five minutes into the overtime which set the stage for Kevin Davis’ second of the night just over a minute into the powerplay, to get the come from behind 6-5 overtime win and a trip for the first time ever to the WHL Finals.

The Swift Current Broncos, long thought by many to be the favorites in the WHL Finals, had an easier time with the Lethbridge Hurricanes. The Canes led the game after the first period with a goal late in the first period, but five straight by the Broncos, one on the powerplay, one short-handed and one in the empty net were all they needed to take game six by a 5-1 margin. 

Thus the stage was set for two powerhouses and what should be a tight matchup with it going close to the distance. The first two games were held in the sold out Credit Union iPlex in Swift Current and game one set the tone for showing just how evenly matched the two teams were. Three goals and five penalties in the game between the two teams with one goal on the powerplay and a final of 2-1 in favor of the Everett Silvertips. 

Game two in Swift Current started out very well for Everett as they piled on three goals in fourteen minutes in the first period to take a commanding lead. The Broncos started chipping away in the second with one goal and scored another midway through the third to close the gap. After pulling goaltender Stuart Skinner for the extra attacker, they completed the comeback with just over ninety seconds to play and sent the game to overtime. Close to the midway mark, Giorgio Estaphan, whom the Broncos had acquired at trade deadline from the Hurricanes, knocked off his former team with the overtime marker which sent the Bronco faithful into euphoria. 

Games three and four now head to Everett and game five set for Swift Current at the end of the week. This is the only series where teams have the option of flying and with a twenty plus hour drive distance between them, it is safe to say that wasn’t even an option.

The Portland Winterhawks finished their week with the Bantam Draft for 2018. This year, the Hawks had all their draft choices in place, the first time since 2013 when they had heavy sanctions imposed.

Leading up to the draft, the Hawks made a trade.  The Hawks traded a conditional pick in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft in exchange for 1998-born defenseman Jared Freadrich. With 196 games under his belt, the overage defenseman is expected to plug a major hole in the Hawks defensive core with Keoni Texeira and potentially Henri Jokiharju gone from the Hawks for the upcoming season. 

Eleven players were selected by the Hawks with four defensemen, six forwards and one goaltender who will all come to camp this year before being re-assigned to respective junior teams. Training camp for the Hawks is set for late August with the first regular season game coming up on Saturday, September 22, 2018.

The Cinderella season of the Nipawan Hawks continues down three games to two in the Avanet Cup and a spot in the RBC Cup which will have a US team in the mix with the Wenatchee Wild coming in after winning their series. 

Three down and one to go – Portland Winterhawks won’t make the show

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NBCS Northwest

Three down and one to go – Portland Winterhawks won’t make the show

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.

Second round possible achilles heel for the Portland Winterhawks

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NBCS Northwest

Second round possible achilles heel for the Portland Winterhawks

BY STUART KEMP 

With the second round of the WHL playoffs underway, the speed of the games going by is really incredible. Now with all teams having played four games, the playoff picture for up to three of them is almost completely clear.

The Portland Winterhawks, following their split in Everett, brought the series home to the Rose City hoping to at least catch a split there, however things didn’t quite go to plan. The first game saw similar issues to the game two in Everett where the Silvertips came out strong and put the Hawks on the ropes with a 6-2 win. The Hawks had just a day to rest in between games three and four and whatever transpired in the locker room in that time off, seemed to reflect highly for the Hawks. Game four was a classic, defensive game with only a few goals, many high quality shots and the crowd of over seven thousand really into the game. Defensemen for the Hawks provided the scoring as Brenden DeJong and Henri Jokiharju got goals for Portland. The latter goal was scored with just over two minutes left in the game to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead. However, the game is sixty minutes long and in a span of less than a minute, the Hawks were hearing the buzzer and looking at the scoreboard with a 3-2 loss to the Tips and 3-1 deficit in the playoffs. The teams boarded respective buses to head to Everett for what could be the Winterhawks swan song in this year’s playoff games.

The other series have also seen some unusual activity with the Tri City Americans seemingly on fire in their run. Following a rocky end to the regular season, the Americans opened a brand new season called the playoffs and ripped through the top BC Division team in the Kelowna Rockets with just four games to knock them to the sidelines. The Americans then faced the Victoria Royals, a team that  was taken it to the limit in their first round series. The Ams didn’t care as they knocked out the Royals seemingly at ease with another four straight run. They now await the winner of Portland versus Everett.

The Eastern Conference has seen the Lethbridge Hurricanes come out swinging in their battle with the Brandon Wheat Kings. After the Hurricanes took Brandon in the first two games, the Wheat Kings battled back with a gutsy 5-4 win in game three. It was the next game where Lethbridge outlasted Brandon with a 7-4 win that has put the Alberta team within a game of the next round.

The titanic struggle between the Swift Current Broncos and Moose Jaw Warriors has been nothing short of what was expected. The two teams split in Moose Jaw and then did the same thing in Swift Current to leave the teams tied at two games each. The winner of this series will face either Lethbridge or Brandon for the Eastern Conference title.

The Portland Winterhawks WAHA group donated their half of the 50/50 pot from Tuesday’s game with over $9,000 donated to the HumboldtStrong campaign. Not to be outdone, the Portland Winterhawks Booster Club contributed over $3,000 from donations collected at the home games of the Hawks in the second round.

WHL Playoffs Round 2 – Two teams split games, two take a lead

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NBCS Northwest

WHL Playoffs Round 2 – Two teams split games, two take a lead

BY STUART KEMP

Four games each night during the weekend took place, but much of the two nights was reserved for a horrific bus crash that ended up killing fifteen people and injuring fourteen others outside the rural town of Tisdale, Saskatchewan, located east of Saskatoon … more on that in a moment.

The first night of the WHL second round saw Eastern Division teams Swift Current Broncos and Moose Jaw Warriors battle in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. The first night the Warriors led for the game before allowing Swift Current to get close before finishing the game with a 5-3 win. 

The Central vs East Division was up next with Lethbridge Hurricanes facing the Brandon Wheat Kings. The Kings had a tough night out in the first game dropping a 5-1 decision to the Canes. Jordy Bellerive and Taylor Ross each scored a pair of goals for the Hurricanes.

The Victoria Royals goaltender, Griffin Outhouse, was shellacked for seven goals by seven different scorers and Patrick Dea earned the shutout in a 7-0 win for the Tri-City Americans.

The Everett Silvertips gave up the first three goals of the game before coming back with a pair in the second to make it close, but Skyler McKenzie scored with just over one second left in the period to restore the two goal cushion and added another midway through the third period to take game one by a 5-2 score.

The second night, the news had sunk in about the horrific tragedy that has taken place the night before and all games in the WHL had all the players on each team gather together side by side in alternating fashion either at center ice or at the blue line.

NHL teams Chicago Blackhawks and Winnipeg Jets removed their nameplates and played the game with the name Broncos stitched in their place. 

Many teams donated either portions of 50/50 sales or collected donations from patrons for the people of Humboldt, Saskatchewan, home of the Humboldt Broncos and along with a GoFundMe project, is closing on five million dollars in less than two days.

It was a tough night for the second set of games as teams seemingly were preoccupied with the situation in Saskatchewan.

The Swift Current Broncos came back from the loss the previous night to shutout the Moose Jaw Warriors 4-0 with four different scorers to now tie the series at one game apiece with the series shifting to Swift Current.

The Brandon Wheat Kings scored four goals in the first two periods before a comeback by the Hurricanes. The Canes started the comeback in the middle of the second by Jordy Bellerive who also scored midway through the third and a late powerplay goal by Lethbridge tied up the contest. Late into the first overtime the Hurricanes completed the comeback with a 5-4 overtime win and a two game lead in the series. The Kings will host the next two games in Brandon.

In Victoria after smarting from a shutout, the Royals gave up the first goal less than a minute into the contest to Tri-City’s Michael Rasmussen. Just under seven minutes into the second, the Royals tied it up, only to allow Rasmussen his second of the game ten minutes later while on the powerplay. Early in the third period, Tri-City extended the lead and the game saw the Americans cap off the scoring with the hat trick goal by Rasmussen with just over a minute left in the game, Rasmussen ended the game with three goals and one assist to lead the Ams to a 4-1 win and a two games to one lead in the series with it now shifting to Kennewick, WA.

The Portland Winterhawks seemed to be more focused on anything but the game at hand as they gave up two goals in the first, one of which came in the first minute of play, three more in the second and one in the third which gave Patrick Bajkov a hat trick and Carter Hart the shutout in a 6-0 thrashing of the Hawks. The series now tied at one will move to Portland.

All series will resume again on Tuesday, with the all series except the Portland/ Everett series playing game four on Wednesday. That series will play game four on Thursday.

The horrific bus crash that took place on Friday afternoon is being investigated by the RCMP with the driver of the tractor trailer escaping without injury, fourteen players initially dead at the scene and fourteen players on the bus as injured, three critically. One player who had just turned twenty-one had signed a donor registry card at the same time and his body was being used to assist up to eleven lives after he was pronounced brain dead in hospital, raising the total to fifteen. The driver of the tractor trailer was initially taken into custody

On Sunday, a vigil was held in Humboldt, Saskatchewan home of the Broncos which filled the arena to capacity.

Overflow crowds moved to the curling center with the vigil streaming online. Elsewhere, vigils were held in Saskatoon at City Hall and the Art Bauer Centre in Prince Albert Saskatchewan. The names of all deceased were read at the vigil, however the RCMP had not officially announced the victims. The Premier of Saskatchewan and the Canadian Prime Minister attended, but did not speak. Don Cherry, who hosts a segment called Coaches Corner on CBC TV during hockey games also attended.

Photos including aerial ones have circulated online and show a strewn about scene with bales of peat moss which the tractor trailer truck was carrying. The truck was westbound on Highway 335 which had a stop sign to yield to traffic on Highway 35 in which the bus was traveling northbound.  There is a stand of trees on the angle to the left that has some impairment to those turning off the highway northbound. The investigation is also looking into weather and road conditions. The impact sent both vehicles a distance northbound up the highway and the bus appeared to be shredded. Among the dead were ten players ranging in age from sixteen to twenty-one, the bus driver, the head coach, assistant coach, statistician and radio broadcaster. The crash occurred at approximately 5 PM with less than thirty minutes prior to arrival in Nipawin, Saskatchewan where the Humboldt Broncos were to play game five against the Nipawin Hawks, down 3-1 in the series. Dame six was set to take place in Humboldt on Sunday, where instead a vigil was held. The vigil started at 7:30pm when puck drop would have taken place and instead a moment of silence was held. 

At this point, the SJHL has suspended operations for all teams, though the race is on for decisions on what will happen as the finals and RBC Cup which is similar to the Memorial Cup in the Canadian Hockey League are scheduled to be taking place in the coming days. The Estevan Bruins were awaiting the winner of the Hawks/ Broncos series which was scheduled to begin this coming Friday and the winner to move onto the RBC Cup. 

The GoFundMe account, which is closing in on five million dollars, was helped by large donations from several NHL teams and over sixteen thousand individual donors. The Portland Winterhawks Booster Club will be collecting donations at home games on Tuesday and Thursday with the funds going directly to Humboldt Broncos. 

It was announced at the initial press conference that an accountant and attorney will assist with the distribution of funds once collected to figure out the best way to assist those in need in this tragic situation. 

More will be announced in the coming days.

WHL 2nd round playoff preview – Local arena to close in August

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NBCS Northwest

WHL 2nd round playoff preview – Local arena to close in August

BY STUART KEMP

The Western Hockey League playoffs have run through the first round with a couple small surprises and now that group of sixteen has been dropped to just eight with ten days to play a possible seven game series. The stakes are higher now as the winners will move onto the Conference finals and eventually the WHL Final for which one team will earn a coveted spot in the Memorial Cup Tournament. It’s a tough haul where a team is lucky to repeat as Conference Champion let alone WHL Champion.

With that, let’s take a look at the eight teams in battle this round.

Starting out in the Western Conference, where once there were three teams in the BC Division competing in the first round, now there is only one. The Victoria Royals took all of their seven games against the pesky Vancouver Giants, a team that hadn’t made the playoffs let alone out of the first round since 2011. The Giants threw all they had at the Royals, but in the end, it was a strong game by goaltender Griffen Outhouse that put the Royals over the top. Now they face the one team that swept their first round series with the BC Division winners, the Kelowna Rockets. The Tri City Americans looked all of the top team that they weren’t at the end of the regular season, but came together against the Rockets in a big way. Whether Outhouse can stem the flow of the Americans or not, will be the deciding factor and chances are, if the Royals top scoring group doesn’t put up their strongest ever numbers, the Royals could be out quickly as well. Ams are rested, Royals are not and the US Division has once again proven to be the strongest overall division in the league again this year.

Prediction: Americans in five

The Portland Winterhawks had to take seven games to finish off a hard, physical Spokane Chiefs team. The Hawks first line was in its prime for the seventh game, but the other lines helped the team through the other six games. The Chiefs threw everything at the Hawks and some of it not so legal either with the officials missing several flagrant violations. Despite that, the Hawks continued to battle and eventually came away with one of the best performances in the seventh and deciding game. Cole Kehler, who had some rough outings for the Hawks in net, was as strong as one would expect a twenty-year-old goaltender to be. Kieffer Bellows, Cody Glass and Skyler McKenzie carried the Hawks in the scoring and Alex Overhardt was the go to guy for the faceoffs. 

Against the Everett Silvertips, the Hawks won the overall season series, but just barely. The last two games for the Hawks against the Tips were shutouts, Everett won their first round series against the Seattle Thunderbirds by a 4-1 margin, but won’t get that easy a ride for the Hawks. The two teams match up well with solid goaltending and snipers on both sides. Everett’s addition of Garrett Pilon from the Kamloops Blazers at trade deadline put the focus onto scoring for a team that relied on a more defensive approach and mistakes from the other team for their points. The Tips will have their hands full with a potent offense and relying on Carter Hart to be the savior in net. Hart has had issues in Portland where he has been unable to dethrone the Hawks.

Prediction: Hawks in six

The Eastern Conference has its two strongest teams battling each other in the second round. It’s a shame too as the reward should be the meeting following knocking out the lower teams, however in the hybrid playoff matchups, this is not the case. It’s the Scotty Munro Champions Moose Jaw Warriors against the second strongest team in the WHL this season in the Swift Current Broncos. The Broncos loaded up their team at trade deadline as did the Warriors to a lesser extent and the battle is one for the ages. The Broncos and Warriors both had to play the full seven game series, the Warriors against the lowest seeded team in the Prince Albert Raiders and the Broncos against the Memorial Cup hosts Regina Pats. Both had high scoring games for and against in their series and bring solid goaltending and high powered offense. While the Warriors hold the honor of the best overall regular season record, this is playoffs and things change dramatically.

Prediction: Swift Current in seven

The other match in the conference will see the Lethbridge Hurricanes hosting the Brandon Wheat Kings. Though the Kings hold a better record, because they were in the powerhouse Eastern Conference with Moose Jaw and Swift Current, they were unlucky not to have caught up to the Regina Pats. Because they were a wildcard contender, the Wheat Kings won’t get home ice advantage in any series this year. The Canes were in a very weak Central Division this season, though they looked very strong against the Red Deer Rebels who were the only team in this season’s playoffs with a losing regular season record. The Hurricanes took their series in five games, while Brandon needed six to win theirs against the top Central Division team in the Medicine Hat Tigers. Unlike the first round, the Wheat Kings will actually play home games at home in Brandon, Manitoba and that should add more momentum.

Prediction: Wheat Kings in six

Local area news in Vancouver, Washington comes as both a bitter disappointment and knowledge of the inevitable. Ten years ago, City Bible Church purchased the twin rinks in Vancouver known as the Mountain View Ice Arena. Immediately, the church dug out the west rink and built a church and other facilities in the space with knowledge that they would look to build on at some point with the date uncertain. On April 2, Mountain View Ice Arena released a statement that the arena will close for business effective August 31, 2018. The last line of the statement read that they were looking in the interim of alternatives for the skating community in the Vancouver Metro area. The rink is the only one in the Vancouver, Washington area and the closure comes as the hockey and skating worlds are increasing in popularity.  Currently, the only other public ice sheets are the Winterhawks Skating Center in Beaverton, Sherwood Ice Arena in Sherwood, Oregon and Lloyd Center rink which is well short of regulation with its remodel four years ago.

City Bible Church is looking to build an athletic center which will open before its school that it has been planning to build since taking over the arena space ten years ago.

The arena itself was built in 1998 on SE Mill Plain Boulevard and SE Olympia Avenue with two rinks, one facing east/west, the other north/south. The north/south rink was demolished in 2006.

And then there were eight – Portland Winterhawks among game seven winners

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NBCS Northwest

And then there were eight – Portland Winterhawks among game seven winners

BY STUART KEMP 

It wasn’t supposed to be this tough in the first round was it? Four of eight series ended up going the full seven game run and in the end, those that were stronger in points at the end of the season, won their respective series. Even then, those final games were anything but a lock.

In the east, the Moose Jaw Warriors finally eliminated the Prince Albert Raiders, a team that gave the Warriors the toughest test over seven games. Most had thought that the Warriors would slam the door in four, maybe five games, but taking it to seven, was a real accomplishment for the Raiders. In game seven, the Raiders scored the first two goals in just over five minutes, but the Warriors rallied with two goals just over twenty seconds apart to tie the game. The Raiders regained the lead just over four minutes later and held until late in the second period where the game became all tied up. Midway through the third period, the Warriors took their first lead. The Raiders returned the game to tied status on a shorthanded marker, but the party was short-lived as twenty seconds later, the Warriors took back the lead and the win 5-4.

The Swift Current Broncos were given quite the scare by the Regina Pats in their series as their final game played out in Speedy Creek. The Pats scored early in the first which was countered by the Broncos midway through the period. The Broncos added two more goals in the second before the Pats added their second of the game, but it wasn’t enough as the Swift Current Broncos defeated the Memorial Cup hosts Regina Pats 3-2 and will face off against the Warriors in the second round.

The other matchup has the Lethbridge Hurricanes hosting the Brandon Wheat Kings. The Wheat Kings actually had a better regular season record, but because of the WHL Playoff hybrid system, because the Wheat Kings came in as a wildcard spot and the Hurricanes were a seeded team in the division, the advantage of home ice goes to the Canes.

Winners of these two series will face each other for the Eastern Division title.

In the west, the Victoria Royals and Vancouver Giants squared off in an early afternoon battle. The Royals scored once in the first and two more in the second period before Vancouver scored their first goal. The Royals then added another to restore their two goal lead. Two more goals by the Giants late in the second period, put the game within reach, but the Royals clamped down to hang on for the 4-3 win. 

The Royals will now host the Tri-City Americans who dispatched the Kelowna Rockets in four games straight during the first round.

The Us Division already had the Everett Silvertips in the second round by virtue of their five game knockoff of the Seattle Thunderbirds, but it was the final pairing that needed to settle their game seven to create the next matchup.

The Portland Winterhawks came out of Portland with a loss which put the Spokane Chiefs within a game of tying the series as the series headed north. The Chiefs seemingly had everything to gain and Portland, nothing to lose and it showed with a less than stellar 5-2 loss to the Chiefs. The score was almost flattering to Portland, whose passing, defense and all other aspects of their game, looked about as bad as it could be and only heroics at times by goaltender Cole Kehler kept the game from being laughable. Thus, the series was tied and was headed to Portland for game seven.

The Chiefs elected to travel through the night and camp out in Portland, but the Hawks only traveled just over 2 hours to Kennewick, setting up shop there and arrived in Portland a couple hours prior to the warmups. The rest may have been the difference as the two teams hit the ice at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum for game seven. The Hawks and Chiefs battled early with neither side unable to gain much of an advantage. It wasn’t until a powerplay where Cody Glass redirected a point shot by Henri Jokiharju past Dawson Weatherill, that the Portland crowd erupted. The score stayed as a one goal margin until midway through the second period when Hudson Elyniuk tied the game for the Chiefs. Late in the second period, Kieffer Bellows blasted a shot from the right point past Weatherill to restore the lead. The look and celebration by Bellows was clear that this goal was huge. 

The battle continued through the third period with the game getting much more physical and with it, several questionable non calls by the officiating crew. Finally, a vicious crosscheck by the Chiefs’ overage Zach Fischer proved to be the costliest for the game. On the ensuing powerplay Skyler McKenzie capped off hard work by Kieffer Bellows and Cody Glass to score the finishing goal and a 3-1 win for the Hawks on home ice to take the series four games to three. 

The Hawks will now start the next series on the road this Friday and Saturday as they take on US Division Champions Everett Silvertips in what should be a thrilling set. The Hawks will get their first taste of home ice on April 10 and 12th. The home games for Portland will take place in the Coliseum on Tuesday and the Moda Center on Thursday. The remaining games if needed will be in Everett Friday the 13th, Portland on Sunday and if needed, in Everett on Tuesday, April 17. The venues for the remaining Portland games are to be determined. 

Winners of these two series will meet for the Western Conference Championship which will start on Friday, April 20.