The Portland Winterhawks played two home games in two nights in two different venues with two very different results. Here’s the skinny on the Good, the Bad and the Ugly from those games.
The Portland Winterhawks took their 1-game winning streak to the Moda Center on Saturday as they faced I-5 rivals Seattle Thunderbirds in a televised game. The Thunderbirds who were riding a two game string, came into Portland after trouncing the Prince George Cougars 5-1 the night before. Portland never trailed the game with leads of 2-0 and 3-2 before exploding with three goals in the third to waltz away with a 6-2 win before over 9,000 in attendance. The Hawks were led by a line of Cody Glass, Skyler McKenzie and Matthew Quigley who each scored a goal and an assist to lead the team. Alex Overhardt, Keoni Texeira and Brad Ginnell with a great rebound goal were the other marksmen for the Hawks. Austin Strand scored his first two goals of the season for the Thunderbirds. Portland outshot the Thunderbirds by a wide margin 51-16, but gave up two goals on five powerplays to the Birds while scoring just once on four tries.
A vicious check to the head by Seattle’s Tanner Ottenbreit midway through the third period to Joachim Blichfeld resulted in a major penalty and game misconduct which will trigger a review by the WHL early this week. Blichfeld did not return to the game. As Ottenbreit is a repeat offender and has been suspended before for this type of hit, he could get a lengthy time of riding the pine.
The game against Prince George the following day in the Veterans Memorial Coliseum saw the Winterhawks make a few tweaks in the lineup to allow Shane Farkas his first start in net and Evan Weinger his first game as an overage player this season. It wasn’t enough though as Portland was shutout by the Cougars 3-0 before nearly 2600 fans at the VMC. Portland was unable to cash in on any of the seven powerplays while being scored on in both Prince George opportunities. Once again, the Hawks heavily outshot their opponent, peppering 47 shots to 29 for the Cougars.
The shutout was the first to a Mike Johnston coached Portland Winterhawks regular season team since December 11, 2011 when they were shut out by the Tri-City Americans 3-0 in Tri-City and would be their first regular season shut out at home since October 9, 2011 when they lost 4-0 also to the Tri-City Americans. Joachim Blichfeld did not play in the game against Prince George with the possibility of concussion protocol and also to show the WHL discipline the extent of the injury. As Portland is off for the next week, it is more prudent to rest than to risk further injury and allow him to heal.
The Winterhawks take off the next few days before playing three games in as many nights, two of which will be on the road in Spokane and Seattle before a home date versus Spokane. In fact, the Hawks will play the Spokane Chiefs three times in just four days starting with the game Friday, October 6 in Spokane and ending Tuesday, October 10 in the Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
With the exception of next Sunday’s game versus Spokane at the Moda Center, the Hawks will play home games at the Coliseum until November 12. There is a small possibility that the game against the Prince George Cougars on Wednesday, November 1 could be played at the Moda Center, though currently the game is listed as venue to be determined.
Though the season is in its early days, some small surprises have started to emerge. In the US Division, the Tri-City Americans who were expected to challenge for the top of the division, are instead at the bottom. Seattle which started with big losses all over their squad and without their regular goaltender, are holding their own.
The BC Division Victoria Royals are proving to be a tough challenge with no losses in four games and holding their opponents to less than two goals per game while averaging almost six. The Kamloops Blazers are stuck without a win in five tries and have given up more goals than any other team in the league thus far.
In the Central Division, the race is tight with three teams within a point of each other, the surprising team being the Kootenay Ice. After a horrific past few seasons where they were barely able to get double digits for wins, a change of ownership, coaching staff and with it averaging nearly 2,800 fans in a 4,000 seat venue, the Ice sit second in the division.
The biggest surprise is out east where the Moose Jaw Warriors and Swift Current Broncos sit undefeated with a wide margin of goals for and against. The same cannot be said for the Regina Pats, who will host the Memorial Cup tournament in May. Having played more games than Moose Jaw and Swift Current, the Pats are barely at .500 hockey and are in a deficit in goal differential. Though plenty of hockey is remaining, the Pats, who were expected by many to be running away with the division, are instead trying to hold the fort.
This past week, the CHL top ten poll has listed the Regina Pats as number one with Portland Winterhawks moving up a spot from the previous week’s fifth to fourth. Things may shake up a bit with the latest poll due out mid-week. Unlike polls in college sports, these polls do not affect the overall regular season standings, as these tend to be more of listing where the strengths lie on each team. Victoria and Kelowna have also been seen lurking around in the poll and expect that to continue this week.
The Winterhawks announced their meet and greet schedule for the season with three events that will feature players at two separate Les Schwab locations in the Portland Metro area simultaneously starting November 7.