Portland Winterhawks Leave The Nest

With the season now officially over, the new season begins. Players who were with the 2012-13 team have had exit interviews; many have returned home to begin offseason conditioning and other activities and a few are staying in Portland to finish off school semesters and participate in the Rose Festival Starlight Parade.

While some are disappointed that the Portland Winterhawks didn't capture the Memorial Cup trophy, the fact that they made it to the championship game is a huge accomplishment. Take a stroll back to 2006-09 where the Hawks would win a combined 47 games over three seasons to where they are today, averaging 52 wins per season.

Unlike previous seasons where losing players due to graduation, moving up to pro ranks or just not fitting into the long term plans of the team meant dips in the records, the Winterhawks have found a way to ensure competitive teams year in and year out.

Many felt a couple of seasons back with the loss of players like Nino Niederreiter (NY Islanders/ Bridgeport Sound Tigers) and Ryan Johansen (Columbus Blue Jackets) that the Hawks would drop back in a rebuild, but that's when players like Sven Baertschi and Ty Rattie started to break through. With Baertschi's move to the Calgary Flames, Rattie needed a partner and in came Nic Petan and additional power from Brendan Leipsic. In fact Leipsic and Petan, who combined for 93 points last year, blew up the record books by compiling 120 points each. Rattie’s 110 point season made the Hawks 1-2-3 in the WHL scoring race. Forwards Taylor Peters, who graduates from the WHL to a contract with the Dallas Stars which he signed just this season, and Ty Rattie, who is expected to go to at least the St Louis Blues’ AHL affiliate, are the only "holes" to fill for the upcoming season. Rattie broke the WHL playoff record of goals in a career with 50, which surpassed Mark Pedersen of the 1983-88 Medicine Hat Tigers by 3 goals.

The defensive core was one that many teams feared. Led by 20-year-old captain Troy Rutkowski with Tyler Wotherspoon (19) signed by Calgary Flames, Derrick Pouliot (18) signed by Pittsburgh Penguins and Seth Jones who is expected to be the top pick in the 2013 NHL draft, they helped drop the Hawks goals against by 60. Young guns Kirill Vorobev and Layne Viveiros will join experienced vets Shaun MacPherson and Josh Hanson to help shore up the defense next season, as Wotherspoon and Rutkowski head off to pursue their NHL dreams with the question whether Jones will stick with an NHL club or be sent back to junior. 

Goaltending seemed to take a breather this year as Mac Carruth, who played all the playoff games except for part of one WHL playoff game, did share the duties during the regular season with Brendan Burke, who is expected to handle the netminding duties next season. Carruth leaves the team with a wealth of records under his belt and a contract with the Chicago Blackhawks. Coming in to compete for goaltending spots will be 17-year-old Jarrod Schamerhorm and 16-year-old Aiden Hill, both of whom impressed at last year's training camp.

The only other uncertainty with the team is behind the bench. As of now, Mike Johnston returns as bench boss and general manager of the team he was suspended from by the WHL for several months. His assistant, Travis Green, has been heavily praised by the hockey world for taking the reins of the team and bringing them to not only the WHL Championship but also the finals of the Memorial Cup. It is Green who could make a move to a head coaching position. He has been coy with the media regarding his future, but one WHL team has already pushed put themselves as a front runner to grab him should he choose the WHL as a stop for a head coach position. The Everett Silvertips, headed by former Winterhawks Director of Player Personnel Gary Davidson, expressed interest early on into Green's run with the team this season. Green may also look to higher ground in the pros and while young in the system at 42, he has shown his incredible work behind the bench and will be an asset wherever he may end up. 

If Green doesn't go this season, he will return behind the Winterhawks bench beside Mike Johnston to form a tandem that is expected to continue a repeat at the top of the WHL again. The biggest issue is the offseason and coming into training camp. With the Winterhawks losing the first 5 picks in the 2013 Bantam draft, they should be fine for at least the next two seasons; they may have to trade at some point to balance out this team. One thing that has been their savior is the list of players that have been added to the team and expect that to continue to be the way for some time.

So now Hawks fans wait. The NHL Draft is coming up and a few Hawks could hear their name called and within a few weeks of that, the opening of the WHL training camp will begin. It's a short offseason for the Winterhawks who look to keep providing fans solid entertainment and a home for players to develop into stars on the national stage.

Stuart Kemp is the President of the Portland Winterhawks Booster Club, a 501(c)(3) registered charity.

About Arran Gimba