For some, the wait has been unbearable, for others, it’s been a nonstop ride. Following the exit in the second round of the Portland Winterhawks, the team went on a searching mission to build back the legacy the team had going for it for nearly six seasons.
Fans will have a chance over the next four days, to see prospects and current players scrimmage in two sets of games in the afternoon through Saturday with a final pair of scrimmages taking place Sunday morning. Due to renovations at the Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum, the event will take place at the Moda Center. Tickets, which are available through www.winterhawks.com are $6 per day in a format known as the Neely Cup. Named for standout Winterhawk and NHL alumni Cam Neely, the teams which are as equally divided as possible will compete against each other for the rights to call them champion. Similar to regular season, teams will be awarded points for a win and the top teams will compete on Sunday for the cup which the last two teams will compete for third overall.
With tremendous recruiting and design, the Hawks took top spot or near top spot from 2010 to 2016 and made many teams cringe when they were the opposition. Developing stars like Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Johansen, Seth Jones and now a new crop which includes Brendan Liepsic, Nic Petan and soon to include Cody Glass with his sixth overall selection in the 2017 NHL draft and Henri Jokiharju picked up 29th overall by Chicago in the first round, show the Hawks are looking to the future.
In the offseason, Assistant Coach Oliver David gained the opportunity to return to Dubuque and take over the head coaching reigns for the Fighting Saints. Recently, the Hawks found an assistant coach whose resume is a mile long of experience. Danny Flynn, who has been involved in coaching in both the OHL and QMJHL for over twenty years, brings championship experience. His teams have appeared in six Memorial Cup tournaments, most recently being last season with the St John SeaDogs of the QMJHL. Adding to this, he has also been an assistant coach with both the New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres of the NHL and will bring a wealth of knowledge for when current Head Coach, General Manager and Vice President of the Portland Winterhawks Mike Johnston is involved with other team dealings and meetings and needs to assume bench control.
The Winterhawks also returned a familiar face to Portland in recently retired NHL star Paul Gaustad. Paul was named an Assistant Coach in Player Development. His role will be that of working with the forwards on ice and organizing development plans for players on the fifty-man protected list. Paul’s name is associated with the Paul Gaustad Fitness Award, which is given out at the end of the Winterhawks training camp to the player with the highest fitness testing result.
The Hawks look to be in strong shape this season with twenty year old spots (those born in 1997) to be fought for by Alex Overhardt, Colton Veloso, Keoni Texiera and Evan Weinger. The maximum allowed per team is three to be firmed up by mid-October. Goaltender Cole Kehler, who was also born in 1997, is classified as a “late birthday”, meaning that he is listed as nineteen years of age at the start of the season and will turn twenty during the season in this case, December 2017. A player can continue in the CHL until the year they turn 21, which would be next season during the season for Kehler,
Shane Farkas, who came to the team during the trade deadline and appeared in several games, looks to be in solidly for a spot which means that Ethan Middendorf, who spent the majority of his season with the Vancouver Rangers of the Western States Hockey League, will be hard pressed to crack the lineup. The Rangers, who operated out of Mountain View Ice Arena last season, merged with the West Sound Warriors in Bremerton, Washington to play there this coming season.
Players who have departed the team from last year due to age are Keegan Iverson, who signed a pro deal with the Ontario Reign which are affiliated with the Los Angeles Kings, Matt Revel and Shaun Dosanjh, who came to the Hawks at trade deadline and look to be headed to University hockey. Caleb Jones, who was drafted and signed by the Edmonton Oilers, will most likely report to their AHL farm team this year which leaves the Hawks in great shape this year, having lost the fewest impact players.
Following the completion of the Neely Cup, there will be a free event for the public as the Toyota Fan Fest brings the players, fun activities and more to the promenade of the Rose Quarter starting at noon on Sunday. The Portland Winterhawks Booster Club will also be in attendance promoting upcoming trips, membership and more.
While the Winterhawks can claim to be in solid position for the upcoming season, the same cannot be said for teams up north. Both the Seattle Thunderbirds and Everett Silvertips are losing some key players in their lineup, and in the case of the Thunderbirds, their coach as well. Former Portland Winterhawk star Steve Konowalchuk, who came to the Thunderbirds as their head coach, has taken an assignment as an assistant coach with the Anaheim Ducks.
In other US Division news, the Spokane Chiefs added an assistant coach as well when former Portland Winterhawk Adam Deadmarsh signed on with the team. Deadmarsh, who was forced to retire early due to concussion issues in the 2011-12 season, will bolster a Chiefs bench and add credibility with the departure last year of long time general manager Tim Speltz.
The Tri-City Americans seem to be relatively solid for this season, but also suffered some loses of key players in the offseason.
Many are predicting the Hawks to be atop the US Division standings with Seattle having the toughest time making the playoffs as they rebuild. Spokane may be a tougher challenge this season, but they are a relative unknown in consistency and Everett and Tri-City may be the ones battling for that last playoff spot.
Following training camps, teams will start to play in “tournament games” to test lines, players and get a feel for gelling a team. The teams will do this for the next two weeks with regular season games starting in the third week of September. Portland will show off its team at home for the first time on September 30 versus Seattle.
Ice Chips: While no firm venues have been announced, the team has made some changes to its start times. Saturday games at home will now start at 6pm to avoid any conflict with Trail Blazers games and other potential later start events at the Moda Center. A schedule change in January with a game originally set as Monday, January 22 versus Brandon Wheat Kings, will now be played on Sunday, January 21. Currently, no game is listed or appears to be available with the very popular Daylight Game.