Written by Stuart Kemp
If Portland was looking to have an easy way into the playoffs, the 2016-17 season has proven there is no such thing as easy. After having a long winning streak, the Winterhawks are now in the midst of a losing one, one that has reached four games thus far and has made the challenge of reaching a higher spot that much more difficult. The latest pair of games in which the Hawks were on the losing side, were against a team they were chasing up the standings in the Tri-City Americans and then against division leader Everett Silvertips.
In Kennewick, the Tri-City Americans jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead midway through the first period. It would take a pair of goals early in the second period to give the Hawks life, but a pair of goals less than a minute apart near the end the second period by the Americans, put the game pretty much out of reach.
Evan Weinger scored his second goal of the game as time was near expiration at the end of the second period to try giving the Hawks some momentum heading into the third period. Ryan Hughes scored early in the third for Portland to make the game closer, but midway through the third Austyn Playfair scored a rare goal for the Americans to restore their two-goal lead, a lead that the Americans would onto. Portland held the advantage of shots on goal 45-29, but gave up two powerplay goals to their one in the loss.
Two nights later it was a visit by Portland to Everett and a red hot goaltender in Carter Hart. Once again it was Portland leading the shots on goal, but the home team scoring first. Patrick Bajkov opened the scoring for Everett just over a minute into the game. Joachim Blichfeld scored on the powerplay to tie the game midway through the first, but Everett would add another with just over two minutes left in the first period as Dominic Zwerger scored on the powerplay. Zwerger would assist on Everett’s next two goals midway through the second and third periods and be named first star of the game. Portland ran into penalty trouble giving up six powerplay opportunities to Everett’s four and each team scored just once with the man advantage.
The Winterhawks announced prior to the game that Matt Revel, whom they had acquired from the Kamloops Blazers on the waiver wire at trade deadline had been cleared to play from injury and would play in the game against Everett.
Portland now has three games over the next four nights this coming week, all against the same team. The Vancouver Giants, who have now officially been eliminated from postseason play, will host the Hawks at the Langley Events Centre before heading down to Portland for back to back games in Veterans Memorial Coliseum on the weekend.
The standings have Everett leading the US Division, one point ahead of Seattle after the Thunderbirds got a lopsided win over the Tips and seven up on Tri-City. Portland sits eleven behind Tri-City, but remains seven ahead of Spokane. The BC Division still has the Prince George Cougars on top, five points up on Kamloops and six up on Kelowna. The only movement that Portland has a realistic shot of is in the overall conference standings where they sit seven points back of the Victoria Royals for the first wildcard spot. With ten games left for most teams on the schedule, Portland is going to need some serious help if they are hoping to move into the first wildcard spot instead of the second, at the same time needing Spokane to go on a bit of a slide to give the Hawks some breathing room. Spokane’s loss to Kelowna on Sunday left the Chiefs still nine points behind the Winterhawks with Spokane still having a game in hand.
The Western Hockey League sent a memo to all teams to temporarily suspend all direct player contact with fans following an outbreak of the mumps. The origin appears to be in the Eastern Conference and as some teams have played in other divisions and conferences since the situation arose, it was taken as a precautionary measure. So far, the illness has come as far west as Medicine Hat, but since Everett Silvertips played the Eastern Conference teams recently and they are back playing US Division teams now, it was apparent that the illness could move further west. All teams have been sanitizing locker rooms and equipment and have suspended meet and greet opportunities for the time being which includes the scheduled player appearance at Les Schwab in Portland which was scheduled for February 26th. The Burgerville player events for March 6th , which were themselves rescheduled from January due to inclement weather, are still on the schedule, though they could be postponed as well.
Ice Chips: This past weekend, over 300 rinks in the US offered Try Hockey for Free Day for kids ages 4-9. For an hour, kids donned the gear and played hockey with instructors for an hour. The event, which occurs every six months, will take place again in November. Mountain View Ice Arena in Vancouver, WA is hoping to schedule an additional event in July to coincide with their annual Rose Cup Hockey Tournament.