It probably shouldn't be a surprise that last year's battle in the WHL Finals is getting an encore. With the Edmonton winning game seven by a 2-0 score on Tuesday, it setup a return match with the Oil Kings vs. the Portland Winterhawks. This time, Portland has home ice advantage and a whole lot more to redeem for. The Hawks were able to shut down Kamloops 4-1 last Friday, turning back Chase Souto's rather tactless rant, but it's not a fight they haven't faced before.
The Portland Winterhawks have a great deal to fight for. Since losing GM and Coach Mike Johnston for the balance of the 2012-13 season and playoffs, the situation has become a battle in adversity. Johnston won't be able to attend the WHL Finals when Portland hosts Edmonton and won't be behind the bench if the Hawks represent the WHL in the Memorial Cup. His teachings, though, have been well promoted by Assistant GM & Coach Travis Green, who finished leading the team to a 57-12-1-2 record and impressive series wins over Everett, Spokane and Kamloops. The Hawks players have had a few extra days for rest, video reviews and practices to prepare for this round.
For the Edmonton Oil Kings, the series features a 1983 Memorial Cup Champion and Portland Winterhawk in Derek Laxdal, who is now their coach. The Oil Kings earned their shot at the final with series wins over Kootenay, Medicine Hat and a 7-game battle with Calgary, which has given Edmonton just 2 days to prepare for the Portland Winterhawks.
It is the first time the same teams have battled in back to back WHL finals since New Westminster Bruins and Saskatoon Blades in 1975 & 1976.
Portland first won the Memorial Cup in 1983, 15 years later they won it again, and now 15 years later, they have the chance to appear again. Portland scored the most goals in the WHL, Edmonton allowed the fewest.
Portland hasn't been shutout in a game in almost 2 full seasons. Edmonton’s goaltender Laurent Brossoit has several shutouts this season, Mac Carruth and Brenden Burke combined for 12 in the regular season, with Carruth pulling in 4 more in the playoffs.
Four is also the number of defensemen highlighted by Kamloops Coach Guy Charron when asked about the Portland team. Troy Rutkowski, Tyler Wotherspoon, Derrick Pouliot and Seth Jones are all going to be big in the NHL. Three of them have already signed with an NHL team; Jones is expected to go first overall in the upcoming NHL Draft on June 30 and was awarded this week's WHL Player of the Week.
Since winning the Scotty Munro trophy this season, the Hawks have enjoyed home ice advantage during the playoffs and it continues in the series versus Edmonton. They didn't have that last season and it may help them with the very loud Portland crowds.
The Oil Kings hold the advantage in experience; their roster has 13 players who are 19 years or older compared to Portland’s 7. However, it is the youth of the Hawks that has been so impressive and will be the backbone of the success in this WHL Finals. Ty Rattie is aiming to pass Mark Peterson in goals scored in a playoff career and is leading the playoff scoring race for this season.
Similar to last year, the teams will fly to the games and it could once again be a very interesting flight as the teams share a plane. One team will go first to the back of the plane, followed by the other team to the front. Should there be games five, six, or seven, the teams will load the plane in reverse order. The schedule is as follows:
|Friday, May 3||Edmonton||@||Portland||7:00PM||Rose Garden||Comcast SportsNet|
|Saturday, May 4||Edmonton||@||Portland||7:00PM||Rose Garden|
|Tuesday, May 7||Portland||@||Edmonton||7:00PM||Rexall Place||Comcast SportsNet|
|Wednesday, May 8||Portland||@||Edmonton||7:00PM||Rexall Place||Comcast SportsNet|
|Friday, May 10||Edmonton||@||Portland||7:00PM||Rose Garden||Comcast SportsNet|
|Sunday, May 12||Portland||@||Edmonton||4:00PM||Rexall Place||Comcast SportsNet|
|Monday, May 13||Edmonton||@||Portland||7:00PM||Rose Garden|
Each game can also be seen at various viewing parties across Portland. The list is at www.winterhawks.com/viewingparties
Ice Chips: The WHL Awards are on May 1st and Mac Carruth is up for Goaltender of the Year, while Seth Jones is up for Rookie of the Year. The WHL Bantam Draft is May 2 and the Hawks aren't able to select until round 6 as part of the WHL sanctions for this year. The Portland Winterhawks Booster Club will offer a 2-night raffle for the first two home games of the WHL Finals. A 1997-98 Memorial Cup team signed trophy stick will be drawn for on Saturday. The Booster Club is also offering a team signed replica jersey for membership sign-ups done prior to the end of the WHL Finals home games.
Details at the Booster Club table in the Rose Garden.