by STUART KEMP
With 11 players either drafted by NHL teams or invited to NHL Training Camps, the Portland Winterhawks certainly have the largest contingent representing the Western Hockey League. Forwards Ryan Hughes and Alex Overhardt head to the Nashville Predators, defenseman Henri Jokiharju will head to the Chicago Blackhawks, forward Skyler McKenzie and goaltender Cole Kehler will take in Winnipeg Jets camp, forward Joachim Blichfeld heads down I-5 to San Jose to be with the Sharks, forward Evan Weinger will take part in the Los Angeles Kings camp, defenseman Brendan DeJong will attend Carolina Hurricanes camp, forward Kiefer Bellows will attend NY Islanders camp, and the newest addition to the NHL, the Las Vegas Golden Knights, will introduce their sixth overall draft pick, forward Cody Glass, along with defenseman Keoni Texeira.
The Hawks, meanwhile, will be hard at work trying to assess who will remain on their roster when they start the regular season in just over two weeks. Among the decisions will be the glut of overage players on their roster. Goaltender Cole Kehler is in a battle for the job with two netminders still on the list – Shane Farkas, whom the team picked up at trade deadline last season, and Evan Fradette, who is just sixteen years of age. Ethan Middendorf, who was off and on the roster last season and spent the majority of the season with the Vancouver, WA Rangers of the Western States Hockey League, has been dropped from the roster altogether, though he is still on the protected list. On the defensive side, Keoni Texeira is the only overage player who is in battles with the defense roster spot and is probably the safest to be on the opening night roster unless the Golden Knights in the NHL sign him to a deal and place him in their farm system.
The forwards situation is the most stressful with Alex Overhardt and Evan Weinger having invites to NHL camps and Colton Veloso, who wasn’t given an invite to a camp, but provided the best reason for being on the roster with a strong Winterhawks camp and preseason tournament games. With teams having to pare down to just three overage players by mid-October, the phones are sure to be buzzing from teams who may be in the market for strong players from the Winterhawks system.
The Hawks, in addition to Ethan Middendorf, removed defenseman Darren Gisti and forward Easton Easterson from the roster which left them with nineteen forwards, ten defensemen and three goaltenders for thirty-two players. The roster will have to undergo close to nine more reductions before the final rosters are set. Teams are only allowed to carry three overage players on their firm roster. Currently, the Winterhawks have five players listed as overage on their roster.
The players that were on the roster, with the exception of Cody Glass who was attending a camp in Toronto, Ontario, took part in the annual “tournaments” in Everett and Kennewick. Portland faced off against Spokane, Tri-City and Everett in the Everett tournament, winning one and losing two in regulation. In Kennewick, they won all three games as they played Spokane, Kootenay and Red Deer. It’s tough to call these games tournaments as teams don’t play round robin games, instead looking to matches that assist their teams to get better assessment of players.
With the Hawks done in preseason games, they will spend the next week making final cuts, looking for homes for players that won’t be on the roster for the time being to keep tabs on their progress and gearing up for their first regular season game on Saturday, September 23 in Everett versus the Silvertips.
Three people left the Winterhawks organization at the end of the season. Kevin Williams, who was in charge of game night operations, was replaced by Yinka Omolayole, who was working with Community Events for the past two seasons. Lesley Dawson, who was in charge of Community Events, was replaced by Leslie Pfau as the new Director of Marketing and Events and Piper Criscola who will manage Public Relations and Community Engagement. Both new additions were long time employees of Entercom Media and bring that experience to the squad.
One question still to be resolved is that of game broadcasts. The latest departure may have more significant impacts to both the team and how it airs games. Todd Vrooman, son of long time broadcaster Dean “Scooter” Vrooman, left the team in July, though it wasn’t announced until just a short time ago. Todd had been the current voice of the Winterhawks for the past six seasons as well as involved heavily in the podcasts and Hawkey Talk, which was a weekly Monday night show on KPAM 860AM, the same home for airing Winterhawks games. Todd had also been involved with Winterhawks programs in schools and other events which took a great deal of what little free time he had left.
Ron Callan, who hosted the Monday night Hawkey Talk, acknowledged that he has not been contacted for resuming the show this season and no mention has been made by the Winterhawks as to a replacement for Vrooman, which could mean that Andy Kemper will handle home game details, but nothing has been announced for away games. The Hawks floated the livestream broadcast via their app on phones before which received mixed reviews and would certainly eliminate those who rely on radio for broadcasts to hear their team on the road.
While nothing has yet been announced, with so little time before the season begins, chances are that the Portland Winterhawks will be the only team in the Western Hockey League without a radio broadcast. Jeremy Imig, who has been instrumental in helping get games on the air with CW 32 the past couple of seasons, may be pressed into action to get broadcasts out on a larger scale. To date, no announcement has been made on televised games this season.