The Portland Winterhawks dropped a decision this past week to the Vancouver Giants that allowed the US Division leading Everett Silvertips to widen their lead over Portland. With just over a dozen games to go, Portland sits seven points back of the Tips, but has the saving grace of leading the third place Spokane Chiefs by five points, though the Chiefs hold a game in hand. The Chiefs allowed themselves breathing room with victories over the Tri-City Americans and Seattle Thunderbirds this past weekend and are just a couple of games from clinching a playoff spot.
Portland plays just once at home this week against the Kamloops Blazers, a game with implications for both clubs in that Portland needs the win to keep its hopes up on catching Everett and keeping above Spokane, while the Blazers are desperate for a last-ditch attempt at a wildcard spot, still eight points back with only a dozen games to go. This will be the Hawks last home game in February as the team will then hit the road for a pair of games against the Victoria Royals in Victoria, BC.
The Royals sit just a point back of the BC Division leader Kelowna Rockets and five points up on the Vancouver Giants. All three teams will make the first round of the playoffs unless they hit a major slide, which given their recent records, is an unlikely thing.
Portland will then travel to Kennewick for a midweek game before getting one brief sniff of home to start March. The boys will get the rough road with stops in Kennewick and Seattle, before heading straight up to Prince George for the annual doubleheader. Following the road trip, Portland will play the next four of five games at home to end the regular season and set up for the playoffs.
The rest of the WHL continues to be a dogfight as Moose Jaw finally relinquished its overall league lead as the Swift Current Broncos caught up to the Warriors in action this past weekend. Though the Warriors hold a three-game advantage over the Broncos, Moose Jaw will play two games in three nights, one against the Broncos. Regina Pats and Brandon Wheat Kings have swapped assured playoff spot versus wild card spot over the past couple of weeks and that will go right through the end of the regular season.
In the Central Division, the Medicine Hat Tigers and Lethbridge Hurricanes are just a point apart for top spot with the Red Deer Rebels and Kootenay Ice in the same assured playoff spot vs wild card spot battle as their Eastern Conference counterparts. Every win or loss will carry ramifications as the next dozen or so games for each team are played.
The Winterhawks are celebrating 100 years of hockey anniversary with two major events in February and March. Starting this Wednesday when the Hawks face the Kamloops Blazers at the Moda Center, the Portland Buckeroos will be honored at the game. Guyle (Guy) Fielder who started his career in 1948, played twenty-four years, ending his career in 1973 at age forty two. Now 87, Fielder is bringing copies of his book, “I Just Wanted to Play Hockey”, to sign, along with a DVD of old school hockey to the game. Fielder who played just two seasons with the Buckeroos, will be joined by Tom McVie (82) and Connie Madigan (83) who were legends of the ice in Portland versus Seattle rivalries from the 1950’s to 1970’s.
Saturday, March 10 will be the twentieth anniversary celebration of the 1998 Memorial Cup victory for the Winterhawks as they welcome the entire winning team to the Memorial Coliseum. The players will be signing autographs and sharing stories of the road to the championship in what should be an incredible night.
Between the Guyle Fielder event this week and the Memorial Cup winning squad, fans can expect major excitement at games over the next couple of weeks.