It started with Cole Kehler being passed over for WHL Goaltender of the Week, an honor that he’s won twice already this season that gave him more determination for this week. The Portland Winterhawks did gain some good news in the CHL poll as they bumped Swift Current Broncos down a spot to take fifth overall and remain one of only three teams to make the poll consecutively since the start of the season.
There was only one game for the Portland Winterhawks this week as they get ready to be away from Portland for nearly two weeks on the annual Central Swing. The six games to be played over nine nights will do one of two things. Either the Hawks will run away with the division more in hand than ever, or will be having to see the other teams nipping at their heels. The Hawks seem more poised than ever for the first conclusion as they rattled off their sixth straight win.
The Regina Pats, hosts of the 2017 Memorial Cup, haven’t found much love from teams as the hosts this year and have fallen to fourth place in the Eastern Division as they started their US Division swing with a match against the Portland Winterhawks. In what could be a possible Memorial Cup tournament matchup, the two teams struggled at times to make a watchable game.
Both teams at many times fought the puck, had errant passes or had tough battles to try to free themselves from the zone. But during all of that, there were a few goals, and by few, four would be the final total. Less than four minutes into the game, Cody Glass found himself all alone in the slot and put the puck five hole between the legs of Regina goaltender Tyler Brown. Regina would tie the game on a goal by their star player, Sam Steel, who fired a shot past Kehler as he was being heavily screened in front of the net. Kehler, would not let that deter him as he went the distance in goal without allowing another one past him. Sklyer McKenzie would look to the powerplay for his goal twelve minutes into the first period which would stand as the winner.
The two teams remained scoreless through the second period and until fourteen seconds left in the period, when Kieffer Bellows on the tail end of a long shift, rumbled down the ice to pocket the empty net goal. That goal made up for the one chance he missed on earlier in the game. With just over seven minutes gone in the third period, Bellows was hauled down as he attempted to shoot. This led to a penalty shot where Bellows was unable to get his best shot attempt and Tyler Brown steered it aside. Brown would stop 28 of 30 shots, while Portland’s Cole Kehler sizzled on 27 saves of the 28 shots fired his way and was rewarded with the third star of the game. That star was certainly earned during a flurry of activity when he made three successive stops including a diving glove as the Pats had a look at the open net.
Portland seemed very disciplined in the game, allowing just one powerplay to the Pats which they killed off, to Regina giving up a goal on three Portland powerplays. With the win, Portland has 30 points after 15 wins in just 19 games played. The second place US Division Tri-City Americans, after a blowout loss to Victoria, sit two points back, but give two games in hand to the Hawks. Spokane Chiefs rank third, five points back of the Hawks, but have played three more games. Seattle, which has played two more games than Portland and Everett who has played five more, sit eight points back of the US Division leader.
Portland trails Moose Jaw and Victoria for the overall WHL lead, but has played four to five fewer games. The winning percentage though for the Hawks is the best in the WHL. The goals for, 86, is fourth overall in the league, but their 47 against is 15 fewer than any other team. Cole Kehler ranks second in the WHL for save percentage to Everett’s Carter Hart who has played six fewer games. Kehler will play most of the games on the swing, but expect Shane Farkas to get in some action as he hasn’t played since October 21 where he was tagged for seven goals in a loss the Kelowna Rockets in Kelowna, BC.
As the Hawks hit the swing, there is only one team on the swing tour with a better than .500 record, the Medicine Hat Tigers who the Hawks will play last. All these teams will be looking to test their mettle against the juggernaut from Oregon. All US Division teams came back from their swings with healthy wins and Portland will be the last US Division team to travel to Alberta and Southeast British Columbia during the regular season.
The Portland Winterhawks will return to play eight games in two weeks through the first half of December which will start with the annual Toy Drive at the Moda Center on Sunday December 3 when they face the Saskatoon Blades. Portland then travels to Vancouver and Everett before the weekend games December 8 and 9 culminate with the Teddy Bear Toss to celebrate Portland’s first goal of the night on Saturday, December 9.
Ice Chips: During the swing, viewing parties all over the Portland metro area and Southwest Washington will take place with ten locations showing games. Dean Scooter Vrooman, who was the voice of the Winterhawks for over twenty years, will visit viewing parties at Icehouse in Oregon City this coming Friday and Sports Look in Hillsboro on Saturday to talk Hawks, hockey in general and take in the game. Plus, there may be prizes as well. Start times will be 6pm on both nights. The Portland Winterhawks Booster Club started their annual Christmas Ornament Auction which runs through December 16 after players and coaching staff created and autographed one of a kind ornaments to help fill the coffers for the annual Shop With A Hawk program which the Booster Club founded five years ago and has assisted over 125 children with over $15,000 donated to the cause.