Just as quickly as the Portland Winterhawks were running with all their main players back, disaster struck with the injury bug. Cody Glass (Lower Body) and Kieffer Bellows (Upper Body), along with Ryan Hughes (Illness), all went down within a game of each other as the team looked to a four game in five-night test.
Starting with the Victoria Royals, the Hawks would be without Bellows, but still had Glass and Hughes in the lineup, but would keep pace with the Royals in the first two periods as the teams were tied at two. It was two goals in a span of less than a minute apart, midway through the third period, that the Hawks simply couldn’t come back from. Special teams worked in the Hawks favor though as they scored their goals on the powerplay while shutting down the Royals on three tries. The shots were close as well with just a three shot difference favoring Victoria.
With a day break in between, the Hawks would next get a visit from the Swift Current Broncos, currently on a tear in the East Division and trying to keep pace with the Moose Jaw Warriors, who seem to be the favorites to claim the Scotty Munro trophy. Swift Current started off early in the first with one of their big trades from Lethbridge in Giorgio Estaphan scoring to give the Broncos the lead. Skyler McKenzie replied for Portland late in the period to knot the game. Colby Sissons gave Swift Current the lead back in the second, but Alex Overhardt replied late in the period to keep the teams tied. A pair of goals, one coming early and one midway through the third period put the Speedy Creek team ahead to stay and despite pulling Cole Kehler and capitalizing on one opportunity, the second time wasn’t as fortunate as another former Hawk in Tanner Nagel, bagged an empty net goal with four seconds left in the game to put the visitors up 5-3. Both teams scored once on the three tries each on the powerplay and shots favored Portland 37- 29. It was the first game without Bellows, Glass and Hughes and despite this, they threw everything at the opposition, only to come away without anything for their efforts.
Portland had no time to waste as they boarded a bus for the six-hour drive north to Langley, BC and a battle with the re-surging Vancouver Giants. The Giants, unbeaten in January, were ready to give Portland a playoff battle. With just four powerplays in the game with the advantage to Vancouver and shots 31-27 favoring Vancouver, the battle was between two goaltenders. David Tendeck for Vancouver and Shane Farkas, making a rare start for Portland, dazzled the crowd in Langley with near impossible stops as the two teams battled through scoreless first and second periods. It would take until midway through the third period before the game’s first goal came. Ty Kolle took a pass from behind the net by Keoni Texeira and fired it over the shoulder of Tendeck to give Portland the only goal they really needed. Late in the contest with Tendeck out for the extra attacker, Mason Mannek finished off the Giants with a spinning backhand shot while being heavily draped by a Vancouver defender to give Portland the cushion and Shane Farkas his first ever career shutout.
Less than twenty-four hours later, Portland was back on the ice at the Moda Center with the Brandon Wheat Kings. The Wheaties had lost to Everett 4-0 the night before and seemed to have the jump that the Hawks lacked. Former Portland Winterhawk Evan Weinger picked up the game’s first two goals and Ty Lewis added another late in the first period to give Brandon what appeared to be an insurmountable lead. You had to think that something happened in the locker room during the intermission as the Hawks stormed out in the second period with goals by Joachim Blichfeld and Brendan DeJong just over a minute apart and one by Lane Gilliss midway through the second that suddenly had the score tied going into the third period. Some tough saves by Cole Kehler back between the pipes for Portland, seemed to give the Hawks that added boost. While on their fourth powerplay of the night, Alex Overhardt scored his twelfth goal of the season and heroics by the Hawks defense and goaltending the rest of the way, gave the Hawks their second straight win. Brandon scored once on their single powerplay and only gave up the one goal on five Portland chances, but that was the one which broke the deadlock and kept the Hawks pacing with the Everett Silvertips for tops in the US Division. Hughes returned to the lineup for this game with Bellows and Glass still on the mend.
Portland now plays the three games in as many nights against the same team. The Kamloops Blazers will host the Hawks on Friday and Saturday with a brutal turnaround game on Sunday in Portland. Just nineteen hours will separate those two games with nine of those hours spent on a bus traveling from Kamloops to Portland.