Everyone will agree that midweek games always prove to be the toughest to get up for. Between school and the fact that there is still at least two or three days before the school week is over, teams will either come out firing, or will fall flat and with the season rapidly coming to a close, every point is crucial.
First up this week was the US Division leading Everett Silvertips. With a relatively strong lead atop the division, the Portland Winterhawks were going to have to figure out a way to get goals on a stingy defense and lights out goaltending. The game featured no scoring in the first two periods as the Hawks put twenty-five shots on Carter Hart with Everett replying with just fifteen.
Over half of the third period would elapse before Portland finally got on the board with a powerplay goal by Kieffer Bellows. Two minutes later would add his second of the night to tighten the screws. Skyler McKenzie would cap the scoring with an empty net goal to give the Hawks a 3-0 shutout. Portland got the only powerplay goal on the combined ten powerplay opportunities in the game.
The weekend brought home and home games with the Tri-City Americans who, like the Hawks, have had moderate success over their past ten games. In Kennewick, Tri-City opened the scoring early, but Portland rebounded midway through the first and while the score remained tied at the end of the period, the Hawks held a decisive advantage in shots. Portland continued its dominance on the shot clock with Skyler McKenzie scoring the only powerplay goal of the game but couldn’t take advantage of the lead as they instead gave up two goals in the frame to give Tri-City a 3-2 lead after two periods.
The third period, though, was mostly all Tri-City. Thought Reece Newkirk was able to score his second of the game midway through the third period, the Americans took control of the shot clock and late in the third period, exploded for three goals including an empty net goal to blow past the Hawks 6-3. The Hawks held Tri-City off the scoresheet on their six man advantage opportunities and outshot the Americans 42-29, but breakdowns in the defensive zone gave the Americans all the firepower they needed.
Less than twenty-four hours late the two teams would meet in Portland and the Hawks looked to even things up, but started things off giving Tri-City the first goal of the game on the powerplay. Kieffer Bellows would tie the game up midway through the period while on the man advantage. Ryan Hughes would add a goal for Portland late in the first period and would keep the score that way until midway through the third period when Bellows would add his second of the game and despite a late Tri-City goal, the Hawks hung on for the 3-2 win. Portland lobbed 39 shots on the Tri-City net, while Tri-City countered with 31 shots and both teams scored once on the combined nine powerplays.
With the two wins, Portland moved within five points of the US Division leading Everett Silvertips with a game in hand, while Tri-City remains five points back of Portland with two games in hand on the Hawks.
Portland plays four games over five nights this week with three at home against Victoria, Tri-City and Seattle, plus one on the road in Seattle, which could give Portland some much needed breathing space with both Spokane and Seattle who are both within four games of Portland. As the season reaches the three-quarter mark, the races are drawing exceptionally tight in all divisions.
Out east, the Moose Jaw Warriors still hold the lead, but Swift Current is just five points back with the other teams fighting for the scraps. The Central Division continues to be the weakest with Medicine Hat Tigers holding a slim lead over Lethbridge, with the surprisingly strong Kootenay Ice following within striking distance. The BC Division is deadlocked between Kelowna, Victoria, and a close run by the Vancouver Giants. While it is getting closer to the final curtain for several teams in this year’s regular season, those teams will be the majority of opposition in the stretch run.
Ice Chips: Sunday, February 11 will see the Winterhawks vs the Seattle Thunderbirds in the annual Daylight Classic Game at the Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum at 5pm. The curtains will come down and the game will be played in natural light conditions as long as possible. Because of it being a later start than previous daylight games, there won’t be any of the shadows on the ice that have caused delays since the daylight games started several years ago.
The Portland Winterhawks Booster Club kicked off its annual Membership Drive for the 2018-19 season this week, debuting its new lapel pin and offering all who sign up through the end of the playoffs, the chance to win a team signed stick. The membership drive will occur at all home games and select viewing parties until the Winterhawks playoff run ends. The Booster Club is also holding its nominations for the board this next weekend and elections in March.