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

Seattle is selling hockey tickets the way Starbucks sells coffee

Seattle is selling hockey tickets the way Starbucks sells coffee

So all of a sudden, Seattle is a hockey town? Seriously?

I must admit, I'm shocked. Deposits for season tickets for a potential NHL expansion team were taken for the first time Thursday at 10 a.m. online and in just 12 minutes 10,000 commitments -- at either $1,000 or $500 -- were recorded.  That crashed the system, but within an hour, it's been said that 25,000 commitments were received.

It took the latest NHL expansion franchise, in Las Vegas, about six weeks to sell 10,000 season tickets. Of course, ultimately the tickets are going to cost a whole lot more than those deposits and refunds will be given to those who aren't serious buyers or who aren't satisifed with ticket locations. And of course, there won't actually be 25,000 season tickets available. The renovated Key Arena won't be that big. To an extent, this was more a test of hockey interest in Seattle than it was an actual ticket sale. And to a greater degree, it was a publicity stunt.

I'm hearing it was done to help the team acquire a list of possible ticket buyers because the expansion team is going to be granted to Seattle as soon as next week. We shall see.

All I know is what I've heard from my friends in and around the NHL -- league commissioner Gary Bettman is nuts about getting a team in Seattle, even though Portland has been a better hockey town than Seattle for only about the last 50 years. You can talk about the professional WHL and the Buckaroos vs. the Totems or the junior WHL with the Winterhawks vs. the Thunderbirds.

In fact, I think I've figured out how all those ticket deposits came in so fast.

About half of them probably came from Portland.

The Portland Winterhawks size up a new adversary for round 2


The Portland Winterhawks size up a new adversary for round 2


After an incredible comeback resulting in a Game 6 upset, the Portland Winterhawks are headed for round two of the WHL playoffs. The next adversary is the Kelowna Rockets, and despite soundly defeating the Prince George Cougars–the leading team in the BC Division–this may be the most difficult week of the postseason for the Hawks.

Kelowna finished their regular season with 9-1-0-0 in the last ten games, trailing Prince George by only one point for the division lead. And with a rigorous first round against their biggest rivals the Kamloops Blazers behind them, the Rockets have shown some serious lasting power. It’s likely that Portland has spent the break in between series to pause and reflect on what will be needed to keep up with Kelowna.

In general, Kelowna is a more physically intimidating team and the Winterhawks should expect some aggressive hits along the boards. This could work to the Portland advantage, however, as the Rockets are also from a division with a tendency to breed more penalty minutes. Their 87 penalty minutes within the playoffs outweighs Portland’s 74, which is already abnormally high for the US Division, where the average is closer to 54 minutes at this point.

So the Hawks might get some advantage from the power play. Every little bit helps. But the staggering counterargument to that is Kelowna’s impeccable special teams. At home, the Rockets have an impressive 82.6 percent success rate on penalty kills, which is at 93.8 percent within the confines of the playoffs. With games 1 and 2 in Kelowna, it might be wise for the Winterhawks to nix attempts to draw a penalty and just focus on staying upright.

Another must for Portland to keep up with their latest adversary: Dillon Dube needs to be shut down. The 18 year old forward is capable of tremendous breakaway and short timer goals, and the Winterhawks are vulnerable with their scrambled, unkempt back checks and chaotic positioning in their defensive zone. Dube also has plenty of power play goals under his belt this season, which should encourage the scrappiest of Portland players to keep things clean and stay out of trouble.

This would be more than enough to put Dube on the “most wanted” list heading into this weekend, but the really remarkable aspects of his game are his playmaking abilities; in the 2016-2017 regular season, the Alberta native had 20 goals and 35 assists. He’s offensively dangerous even without the puck, and he is more focused on the game score than his own stats.

Winterhawks fans will likely feel more comfortable with this matchup once the series transfers back to Portland for games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Wednesday, but in the meantime the Winterhawks have a trial-by-fire to attend. The WHL playoffs are a time of year where hard work and perseverance are rewarded with more work to do. Let’s all hope there is still some gas in the tank.

Portland Winterhawks on four-game skid, need help for postseason play


Portland Winterhawks on four-game skid, need help for postseason play

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.

Portland Winterhawks keeping pace in the playoff hunt- sign two players, trade one

Portland Winterhawks keeping pace in the playoff hunt- sign two players, trade one

Written be Stuart Kemp

The Portland Winterhawks hit a bit of a downward spiral leading into the holiday break. After grabbing three solid wins at home, the team dropped three of four games on the road. The team then went on the short holiday break with two players, Joachim Blichfeld for Denmark and Caleb Jones for USA heading to Toronto and Montreal for the World Junior Championships. Several WHL teams would be without players for the tournament that would extend into the new year. 

Portland’s return post-Christmas saw them split pairs of games with Tri-City and Seattle which would leave Portland one point ahead of Seattle and seven ahead of Spokane in the US Division. Portland currently sits seven points back of Tri-City and thirteen behind Everett with just over half the regular season completed. With the teams still relatively close together, the Winterhawks are fighting for every point they can get and still have the bulk of their games against division opponents for the remainder of the season. Of their next four home games, three are against US Division opponents and one versus a BC Division opponent which is in a dogfight with its next lowest point total team. 

The Winterhawks made a trade ahead of the January 10th trade deadline by dealing 19 year old goaltender Michael Bullion to the Medicine Hat Tigers for a seventh round draft choice in the 2017 draft. Bullion had a few starts and some great games for Portland, but it became apparent in the past month that Cole Kehler had won the starting job and Bullion was going to have to fill in as a backup. Bullion’s move to Medicine Hat gives him competition with Nick Schneider and rookie Duncan McGovern for better playing time and with Medicine Hat, puts Bullion with the top team in the Central Division. Ethan Middendorf, who was listed on the Winterhawks roster early this season has played consistently for the Vancouver Rangers of the United States Hockey League and attended a most recent game of the Portland Winterhawks. It has been reported that Middendorf is not on the Winterhawks protected list, but their prospect list and this has allowed the Hawks to sign two additional players, one which will appear on their roster immediately.

Immediately following the Christmas break, Portland signed forward Reece Newkirk who, at 15 years old, will remain with his midget hockey club in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. The Hawks also signed goaltender Shane Farkas (17) who was drafted by the Lethbridge Hurricanes, buts whose rights were traded to Portland earlier this season. With the move of Bullion, Farkas will serve as a backup to Cole Kehler. Farkas was just recently announced as player of the week in the BCHL stopping 76 of 78 shots in two games and compiling a 12-7-0 record with one shutout this season with the West Side Warriors in Kelowna, BC.

Portland has a relatively light schedule in January owing to their having played more games overall than their US Division counterparts, but will play 10 games during the month, the majority against higher tiered teams in the US and BC Divisions, six of those games on the road and only four at home. One of those games, January 7th versus Everett at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, has had a time switch. Originally listed as a 2pm start, that game plus the one on Saturday, March 4th versus Vancouver Giants at the Coliseum, have been moved to a 6pm start time. Tickets originally sold for those games will be honored.

Ice Chips:  The Portland Winterhawks Booster Club will hold their annual Keeping Portland Warm Night on Saturday, January 7th to benefit the Portland Police Bureau Sunshine Division. Fans attending this game are asked to bring new or gently used blankets, coats, sweaters, sweatshirts, gloves and new socks to be given to those in need. In previous years, the event has filled at least ten 55 gallon drums with much needed items to benefit the Sunshine Division’s outreach programs. With the expected record cold temperatures over the next weeks, the need is greater than ever.

Mike Johnston is watching "a little bit" of the Stanley Cup Final

Mike Johnston is watching "a little bit" of the Stanley Cup Final

Mike Johnston is in a very uncomfortable position. Fired on Dec. 12 as the coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, he's sitting at home watching that team play in the Stanley Cup final against the San Jose Sharks. Well, he's watching "a little bit."

Prior to the final, he was heavily invested in watching the playoffs but focused his attention mostly on the Western Conference and the Sharks, whom he scouted and analyzed for But Wednesday night marks Game 2 of the Final, with the Pens up a game. Will he watch?

He admits the situation is painful and says he's watching "a little bit of it."

Is he rooting for Pittsburgh? Yes. In a complicated way.

"I think more individually than anything," he said. "I really enjoyed coaching with that group. There are some great, great kids there."

It's not quite the same team that Johnston coached early in the season.

"They have made some really good moves in the last couple of months," he said. "Adding the two defensemen and four forwards -- that's worked out well."

Johnston has been put in the position of his departure becoming the lynchpin of the Penguins' success. Headlines like "Penguins midseason coaching changes yield results" have been common in Pittsburgh, as you might expect. But the Pens were just two points out of the playoff picture when he was fired and didn't really take off under new coach Mike Sullivan until about a month before the end of the season.

Johnston says he doesn't "pay much attention" to the negativity surrounding his tenure. He says there were "an accumulation of things" that led to his departure and he doesn't seem bitter. He's signed on for another run as the coach and general manager of the Winterhawks and has plenty of work to do there to get that team back to a position of power.

As for the Stanley Cup final, he said he will be watching. At least "a little bit."