For one star on the Portland Winterhawks, it was the time to make a large step into their career. For the team he left behind, it was a slide away from the top.
Without Sven Bartschi, who was called up March 11 by his parent Calgary Flames, the Winterhawks lost two of their last three games, falling into third place in the Western Conference behind the Tri-City Americans and the Kamloops Blazers. The top overall seed in the playoffs went to the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Despite finishing with more points than Kamloops (102 to 99), the Blazers have the second seed by virtue of winning their division. The seeding change, while small, is significant as the difference in record between the sixth seeded Kelowna Rockets and the seventh seeded Victoria Royals is a full seven games. It would also mean that a second round meeting between the Blazers and the Hawks would have four games on the Kamloops ice.
Bartschi returned to the Winterhawks for their season finale, an 8-2 lobotomy of the Seattle Thunderbirds, securing the eighth seed for the Everett Silvertips, and eliminating the Thunderbirds from playoff contention. While the young winger was gone from Portland, he made quite an impression in Calgary, scoring goals in three of his first four games, the first Flames rookie since Hnat Domenichelli in the 1998-1999 season to perform that feat.
Here is a position-by-position breakdown of the upcoming playoff series between the Hawks and Kelowna Rockets.
Winterhawks: Chase De Leo, Brendan Leipsic, Cam Reid, Nicolas Petan, Jason Trott, Taylor Peters
Rockets: Colton Heffley, Cole Linaker, Tyrell Goulbourne, Cody Chikie, Tyson Baillie
Evaluation: Brendan Leipsic outscored all but two players on the entire Rocket roster, and between him and Taylor Peters, they have more points than every center on the Rockets put together. The centers on the Rockets are a combined minus 29 in plus/minus. It speaks volumes that every center on the Rockets has more penalty minutes per games than points per game.
Winterhawks: Ty Rattie, Brad Ross, Sven Bartschi, Marcel Noebels, Oliver Gabriel, Taylor Leier, Joey Baker
Rockets: Shane McColgan, Brett Bulmer, Colton Sissons, Zach Franko, Carter Rigby, Brett Lyon, Filip Vasko
Evaluation: This category is not even close. Rattie, Ross, and Bartschi outscored the top nine scorers on the Rockets, and the leading scorer for the Rockets, Shane McColgan, would only have enough points for fifth on the Winterhawks. The skill gap here is immense.
Winterhawks: Derrick Pouliot, Joe Morrow, Troy Rutkowski, Tyler Wotherspoon, William Wrenn, Josh Hanson
Rockets: Myles Bell, Damon Severson, Madison Bowey, Jesse Lees, Colten Martin, Kevin Smith, Mitchell Chapman
Evaluation: The group of Rutkowski, Pouliot, Morrow, and Wotherspoon are a combined +57. The group of Bell, Severson, Bowey, and Lees are a combined -7. Morrow and Pouliot outscore all four of them by themselves. The Rocket defense, while aggressive, still gave up more goals than the Winterhawks this year, 242 to 229.
Winterhawks: Mac Carruth
Rockets: Adam Brown
Evaluation: Mac Carruth has been up and down for the Hawks this season, finishing 14th in the league in goals against average (2.96), recorded a 90.4 save percentage, and finished with 2 shutouts. Brown has just been down this year, finishing 20th with a 3.33 goals against average, an 89.5 save percentage and did not record a shutout.
Season Series: Winterhawks swept series 4-0.
Overall Prediction: Winterhawks in 5 games.