It was D-Day as in roster decisiveness day for the teams in the Western Hockey League as rosters get frozen for the season and the final day to ensure teams have only three overage players. With that news, as expected, the Portland Winterhawks made the decision to part with forward Evan Weinger, but were able to make a deal with the Brandon Wheat Kings to obtain a third round bantam draft pick in 2018. Weinger had been a solid goal producer for the Hawks and was seen as most marketable outside the franchise. For the Wheat Kings, an injury to one of their overage players allowed them the chance to get Weinger. If and when their injured player returns, the Wheat Kings would have two weeks to pare down their roster to three overage players. As this is a draft pick trade, chances are slim that Weinger would be forced to moved elsewhere.
The Hawks also learned that defenseman Brendan DeJong, who had assessed a cross check major penalty in Sunday’s game versus Spokane, was suspended for three games. DeJong would miss the Tuesday tilt with the Chiefs as well as both contests at home versus Kelowna.
As that deadline passed, the Hawks had to gear up for their fourth game in five nights and third in five nights against the Spokane Chiefs. Fatigue had to play a role in the game which was played before a sparsely attended Memorial Coliseum. The 2,621 announced fans in attendance were treated to some very physical play, some of which resulted in injury and what will most likely be yet more reviews from the WHL offices on conduct.
The Hawks opened the scoring when Kieffer Bellows’ shot appeared to bounce off a Spokane player past helpless goaltender Dawson Weatherill to give the Hawks the only goal they needed. Right after the goal, Spokane’s Rykr Cole drilled Ryan Hughes in the Portland zone, which sent Hughes to the ice in immense discomfort. After struggling to get up, he was finally assisted off the ice with limited ability to put any weight on his legs. The subsequent major penalty for boarding and game misconduct did not help the Hawks in any goal scoring and the score remained 1-0 at the end of the first period.
Midway through the second period, and while shorthanded, Alex Overhardt broke free and beat Weatherill to put the Hawks up by two. With just over five minutes left in the third period, Brad Ginnell closed out the scoring with another laser past Weatherill. Cole Kehler went the distance for Portland stopping 43 Spokane shots for his first shutout of the season while Weatherill took the loss with 37 saves on 40 Portland shots. Special teams on the powerplay were fruitless on both sides, Spokane 0 for 5 and Portland 0 for 2.
It was also announced that the Canadian Hockey League had selected Cole Kehler as their Vaughn Goaltender of the Week. His two game victories over Spokane on Friday and Sunday gave him a combined 1.50 goals against average and a .945 save percentage.
The Hawks now sit in first place, three points ahead of the Seattle Thunderbirds, who picked up a pair of one goal wins in extra time and a shootout and four up on Spokane. The twelve points in seven games put them two behind the top two WHL teams Victoria Royals and Swift Current Broncos, with both of those teams yet to suffer a regular season loss after seven games.
Portland now plays a lighter schedule for the remainder of October with two games at home against Kelowna Rockets, followed by a pair of games in Kelowna the following weekend and then two home games nearly a week apart with the Moose Jaw Warriors making their lone appearance in Portland on October 24 and then Everett Silvertips hit the Rose City on Sunday, October 29.
Ice Chips: This coming Saturday’s game is known as Hawktoberfest with beer tastings by Belmont Station Brewery, which will take place on the western concourse of the Memorial Coliseum during the game. The Winterhawks also announced their Toyota Family Day with players reaching out to a dozen local Portland Metro and Southwest Washington Toyota dealers. One family will be chosen to represent the Toyota Hockey Family. Last year’s family won a year’s lease on a Toyota truck.