In just a couple of weeks, the Portland Winterhawks will start the regular season, but first there is a matter of training camp and preseason games in their quest to repeat in the Memorial Cup Tournament.
The Hawks started camp without the older players that came within a game of the Memorial Cup Championship. Graduating players Mac Carruth (Chicago), Troy Rutkowski (Ottawa) and Taylor Peters (Dallas) did not attend nor did the now 20-year-old players. Because Ty Rattie will join St. Louis camp and Tyler Wotherspoon will head to Calgary, the Hawks were without any overage players. That changed when a few were invited to try and crack the lineup.
Garrett Haar, a Washington Capital draft choice and former University of Michigan defenseman and Shane McColgan, who frustrated the Hawks defense when he was a member of the Kelowna Rockets and joined Saskatoon for their run at the Memorial Cup this past season, was one of the odd men out when Saskatoon had to pare down its roster. They joined Taylor Thompson who is trying once again to get on with the Winterhawks along with former Regina Pats center Adam Rosignol and former Tri City American Lukas Walter. Walter was dropped at the end of camp and is now on his way to St. John and the rough and tough QMJHL. Thompson may be the odd man out in the battle with Rosignol. McColgan was injured in pre-training camp workouts and is out until October. Haar, who along with McColgan came as a result of trades, will be locks for the team.
The Hawks camp was extremely well attended with 94 prospects, including thirty-eight 15-year-old players getting their first look in a Hawks uniform. From the get go, it was a battle with everyone showing what they could do alongside Beaverton native Paul Gaustad appearing at his 14th straight Winterhawks camp. Gaustad, who now plays with Nashville, stood alongside a couple players who could be on his team in a year or so.
After 4 days of intense physical work, it was onto the Holiday Classic in Everett and 3 games in 3 nights versus other US Division teams. Each night, the Hawks would dress a different lineup as draft players were gearing up to travel to their NHL clubs and by night 3, the Hawks fielded an almost all rookie lineup. The Hawks went 2-1 and showed some great speed, skill and toughness. From there, after another 3-game battle, they will have a week off to reassess and plan for the upcoming season which opens on September 20 at the Moda Center versus the Prince George Cougars.
The Hawks will look to 2 goaltenders for backstopping, although Coach Mike Johnston will have a tough time getting there with 3 standouts. Brendan Burke will get the majority of the starts after backing up Mac Carruth for the past 2 seasons. Jarrod Schamerhorn, who is the same age as Burke and 17-year-old Aiden Hill, will battle for the number 2 spot. Michael Bullion, who also attended camp as a 16-year-old, may get an additional look during the season as he just signed a WHL contract.
The defense will be quarterbacked by 19-year-old Derrick Pouliot, unless Pittsburgh feels he can make the team this year. Seth Jones, who didn't attend the Hawks camp electing to go to Nashville, could find his way back to the Hawks if he doesn't stick with the club. As he is not 20-years-old, he is ineligible to be assigned to the farm team in the AHL and would have to return to junior. Others on the backline include 19-year-old Josh Hanson, 18-year-old Layne Viveiros and a few newcomers including highly touted 16-year-old Keoni Texeira and Vancouver Canucks draft pick Anton Cedarholm, who the Hawks drafted in the Import Draft. He’s a big Swedish player who will bring some depth in the back.
Up front, McColgan will see whether Taylor Thompson or Adam Rosignol will come on board with now veterans Chase Deleo and scoring champions Nic Petan and Brendan Leipsic, who showed powerhouse skills on the first night of the Everett tournament (Petan with 3 goals, Leipsic with 3 assists). Paul Bittner is looking to be a breakout this season and recently signed Ethan Price has looked comfortable on the front line. Steven Alldridge, who almost made the final lineup last season, showed some real toughness and edge and could make it this season allowing the Hawks 3 tough guys with him, Mahon and McColgan.
The pundits are pegging the Hawks to be number one again this season and ventured so far as to suggest a repeat from this last season. In terms of the US Division, Everett, who suffered badly last season, could be the Hawks most pressing contender. The team many feel is in the rebuild cycle is Spokane and Tri City will also have a tough go reminding Hawks fans of years ago where the reliance went to the goaltender to bail them out of games.
Time will tell whether they are right, but from has been seen so far, the Hawks will be a tough, fast paced team that will prove to be more than a handful each night.
Stuart Kemp is the President of the Portland Winterhawks Booster Club, a 501(c)(3) registered charity.