Thought of as a rebuilding year for the Portland Winterhawks, not much stock was put into the team especially when Mike Johnston went with an all youth squad to start the season. Only Keegan Iverson was an overage player on the team and the team went even younger between the pipes with the trade of nineteen-year-old Michael Bullion to Medicine Hat Tigers for Shane Farkas who is just seventeen. Their main goaltender was eighteen and acquired in the offseason from the Kamloops Blazers who saw little worth in him in favor of Conor Ingram. It was hoped that some goal production would come from Cody Glass and Skyler McKenzie, but both had come on of weak seasons withe the Hawks, barely a blip on the scoring screen.
In the end, those who wrote off the Hawks early were seriously reconsidering their positions as the Hawks compiled a very respectable record with 40 wins and leading scorers Cody Glass with 94 points and Skyler McKenzie with 84 who gave Portland their eighth straight playoff run. Again, the pundits looked at the opposition of the BC Division leading Prince George Cougars and figured the Hawks would be out early.
Even I, in writing about the Hawks this season, looked at the Cougars and felt that the long road might be too much for the youth oriented Hawks and gave them six games. However, it was the Hawks with grit, determination and a willingness to fight the odds that emerged with a six-game playoff fight in their favor, shocking the Cougars in Portland in game six to advance to the second round.
Cole Kehler, who had been the backstop in the Cougars series, was about to get the ultimate test from the Kelowna Rockets, a team who also needed six games to get rid of the Kamloops Blazers in an Okanagan battle. The Hawks gave up too much real estate to Kelowna from the get go and the Rockets used every bit of their power to roll past the Hawks and appear to head for a sweep. However, the Hawks had given back a little of the Rockets heavy medicine in game two in Kelowna and looked to provide Portland fans something to look forward to in game three. The Hawks did just that, pounding the Rockets at will in a 4-2 win. The win proved to be the most costly for the Hawks, with a little expense to the Rockets as well. Skyler McKenzie who scored the final goal for the Hawks in game three, was viciously elbowed by Cal Foote who received a three game suspension, one which will have a game carry over to the next round as the suspension hadn’t concluded when the series ended. McKenzie, with concussion protocol, would not appear in any games past game three. The Rockets demanded supplemental discipline on Alex Overhardt and Evan Weinger for hits causing injury to players who didn’t appear in the following games. Overhardt was assessed one game, Weinger two and the loss was too much for the Hawks to overcome.
Game four started like the previous game with the Hawks on defensive mode right away and the Rockets waltzed away with a 7-2 win and another suspension. Carsen Twaryniski’s major for boarding on Keegan Iverson which touched off a violent last few minutes of game four netted him only a one game suspension, most likely due to Iverson’s resiliency in coming back to play in game five. It was the Hawks though who scrapped heard in the first period in Kelowna. With many rushes and no goals to show for it, time would work against the Hawks on opportunities. With three goals on the powerplay in the first by Kelowna, many wrote off the series right then. The Hawks battled back though in the second with Joachim Blichfled and two minutes later by Matt Revel while the Hawks were shorthanded to give the Hawks life in the game. However the major dagger in the heart was the nine penalties assessed to the Hawks, which in two situations, put the Hawks two men down. The Rockets with just four infractions took full advantage with a total of four powerplay goals, one late in the third period, a regular strength goal and an empty net goal to hand the Hawks a 6-2 loss.
In the end, the Kelowna Rockets put class ahead of themselves, by announcing the three stars as all the twenty-year-old players of the Portland Winterhawks. Shaun Dosanjh, Matt Revel and Keegan Iverson came out for their final bow at Kelowna’s Prospera Place to thunderous applause from all the viewing parties back in Portland, Oregon. The Winterhawks headed back to Portland to arrange final exit interviews and within the week the majority of the players would head home to prepare for an offseason that will turn into regular season in less than five months.
This week, Cody Glass was announced as being added to Canada’s Under 18 camp for World Juniors and there should be more announcements in the coming weeks on other players.
The rest of the WHL continues to grind down to the final four as the Seattle Thunderbirds steamrolled the Everett Silvertips in just four games and move on the face the Kelowna Rockets for the right to get a shot at the WHL Championship. Their series is scheduled to start Friday and Saturday in Kent, WA Out east, it’s going to take seven games for the Medicine Hat Tigers and the Lethbridge Hurricanes, following the Tigers strong win on Sunday and the Regina Pats who came from a three games to one deficit will force a game seven in Regina against the Swift Current Broncos. The Broncos stirred up the hornet’s nest with successive wins in overtime games against the Pats while Regina was able to earn a couple lopsided wins and a close one as well to force the tiebreaker. Their final game will occur on Monday with the next round between their winner and the Tigers starting in a matter of a couple of days following the completion of these two series.
Ice Chips: The Portland Winterhawks Booster Club and the Portland Winterhawks will co- Grand Marshal the 82nd Avenue Parade of Roses on Saturday, April 29 starting at 9am from Eastport Plaza. The Booster Club was the Community Spirit winners over the past three years. The Booster Club is continuing its membership drive through the end of the Memorial Cup in late May. Those who sign up with the club by sending in a membership form downloaded from http://www.pwhbc.com/membership.html with dues will have their name entered into a drawing with one lucky member winning a Skyler McKenzie game used stick signed by the entire team.