Following an exit into the Sugarplum game in mid-December, the Portland Winterhawks have been on a tear of late. With Joel Hofer winning gold for Canada at the IIHF Tournament vs Russia in a thrilling comeback this week, Dante Giannuzzi and Isaiah DiLaura have been keeping it buttoned down in P-Town with win after win as they keep their distance on the US Division opponents.
With a couple of road games to start, both goaltenders saw action. First Giannuzzi snagged the Hawks a 3-2 overtime win in Kennewick against the Tri-City Americans, and the next night in Kent, it was DiLaura with the 4-1 win over Seattle. Two nights later, in the Annual New Year’s Eve Battle With Seattle DiLaura again took the Thunderbirds, this time a much closer 3-2 win in regulation. The Winterhawks also welcomed back Jonas Brondnerg from his time away with Denmark in the Relegation round of the IIHF.
With the New Year now ringing in, Portland would face a test from Spokane on the road and then would get a home game the next night against Tri-City. Despite Spokane being at home, Portland picked up another win, this time 6-4, with DiLaura between the pipes. The following night, Dante Giannuzzi picked up his first home win and also his first ever WHL assist on a goal as Portland Winterhawks took down Tri-City Americans, 6-2.
With the holidays, the CHL rankings came out and vaulted Portland into the top three on the poll. This is the highest Portland has been all year and even without Simon Knak and Joel Hofer between the pipes for the team, Portland continues a massive winning streak. Portland took out Everett for sole possession of the US Division. They also have won 11 straight in the sequence, leading their charge. With the highest win percentage in the league, the Winterhawks fall only to Edmonton for top spot in the league in points, due to the Oil Kings having played a couple of additional games.
The Hawks will squeeze ten more games into this month as they look to extend the gap in the Division. Everett, which had been on a bit of a tear, stumbled winning just five of their last ten, giving Portland the open door to take over the top spot. With ten games left against non-US Division opponents and 22 against teams in their division, the Hawks look to be gearing up for many of the four-point nights. The Kelowna Rockets, who will host the Memorial Cup this year, are just five points from having to fall into the Wildcard status and worse yet, less than a dozen from failing to make the playoffs either. After starting the season fairly strong, they haven’t been able to balance wins and losses over the past ten games.
The big sellers in this year’s trade deadline appear to be Tri-City Americans. They have traded Import Jan Cikart, goalie Beck Warm, the rights to forwarding Riley Stuart, defenseman Samuel Stewart, and recently Kaden Kohle, to gain a player and draft picks for the following couple of years. One of the trades with Calgary has been a bit of a quandary. Calgary had traded two picks and James Malm to Tri-City for Kyle Olsen. Malm has refused to report and has subsequently been suspended by the WHL. There has been further compensation, but no announcements will be forthcoming. That would appear to be a financial transaction as opposed to further picks, which must be disclosed. With Tri-City barely hanging onto a wildcard spot, this year seems to have been a bust for a team expected to be in competition nightly. The team that seems to be shoring up in trades is Edmonton. Portland has been silent, though, with the exception of the trade of Nick Perna to Medicine Hat at the end of November to reduce the roster and give Perna more ice time. The Hawks over the past ten years have had the fewest trades of all WHL teams and with it have had several good runs in the playoffs.
With the wins this week over the US Division and one more at home this week against Spokane, which they will be competitive in for certain, the ranking for the Hawks will be even more solidified.
Trade deadline happens as the Hawks play in Victoria on Friday, and with little any inkling of a trade, anything that happens should be minor. What hasn’t happened is the blockbuster trade that causes all to begin the talking. As to who is really all in, so far it appears that team is Edmonton with their few tremor-type trades, which are causing a ripple. In the next few days, we shall see if this is the length to which the trades will go.