Just after the Christmas break, the Portland Winterhawks announced a trade that would see import overage defenseman Jonas Brondberg, a draft choice in 2023, and two conditional picks in 2025 for Taylor Gauthier, an overage goaltender from Prince George. The trade will be interesting in the coming days as the Hawks now have three goaltenders on their roster and have drafted a couple as well recently.
It has been the policy of Vice President, General Manager, and Coach Mike Johnston to have just two handling the pipes on the roster, and so having three with a few days left until the trade deadline is highly unusual. Expect something to happen in the next few days in this situation.
The other issue is COVID 19, a virus that has affected pro teams and is now starting to hammer the WHL. The Quebec Major Junior League paused activities until January 7, and the OHL postponed a game due to this. The WHL has carried on with unusual results.
The Hawks registered three on the COVID 19 protocols without identifying players or staff and had a few players dealing with injuries. The result was a very short-benched Winterhawks team when they returned from the holiday break on December 27. They would play Tri-City Americans at home with just Dante Giannuzzi suiting us as the goaltender of record for the Hawks against rookie goaltender Nick Avakyan. Both teams only had one goaltender, so an emergency backup was brought in. The person was never identified but is believed to play with the Junior Winterhawks. As the player is still looking at options from NCAA to pro, revealing the name could jeopardize his NCAA eligibility. He sat at the glass on a chair, wearing a white jersey for some of the game and a blue one for some of the game.
The Hawks would make it as best they could with a reduced roster.
Midway through the first period Jack O’Brien scored on the powerplay, which would be countered two minutes later by Connor Bouchard, also on the powerplay. Tyson Kozak would restore the lead two minutes later with the Hawks’ second powerplay goal of the game, with the Hawks leading 2-1 after one period.
Just seconds into the second period, Jack O’Brien scored his second of the game and saw Jonah Bevington score just 12 seconds later. In less than a minute into the second period, the Hawks were up 4-1. Ryan McCleary would add another six minutes later, and the Hawks led 5-1 at the end of two.
In the third period, it was much of the same as Gabe Klassen scored just over ninety seconds into the period. Adam Litke and Marek Alscher would score two minutes apart to extend the Hawks’ lead further. Tri-City’s Petr Moravec would add one to make it 8-2, but Portland’s Marcus Nguyen added one four minutes later to close out the scoring at 9-2. Portland outshot Tri-City 40-27 and went 2-4 on the powerplay with Tri-City at 1-3.
The depleted Hawks and Tri-City were scheduled to play the following night, but the game was postponed and will be made up later.
The Hawks would look to the New Year’s Eve game as the Battle with Seattle, a televised game. The Hawks would have only 18 players on the roster, including one goaltender, as Seattle played a full roster. Portland found a way to outshoot Seattle 38-19, including a 16-2 second period, but neither team scored despite some great shots taken.
It was midway through the third period when the Hawks finally broke the ice. Marcus Nguyen was aiming at the net when he was hauled down by Seattle’s Chase Lacombe, which resulted in a penalty shot. Nguyen started at center ice and moved in on Thomas Milic. Faking a forward shot, he used the backhand to slide the puck past Milic’s outstretched right pad and into the net. Several more great saves by both goaltenders kept the game at 1-0. James Stefan was part of the powerplay and found his way in the Seattle zone with less than a minute left. After several whacks, Stefan was able to push it behind Milic for the 2-0 lead and the win.
Portland went 1-2 on the powerplay with one penalty shot goal. Seattle did not get a powerplay on the night.
The next day, Portland was further depleted with just 13 skaters and a goaltender. They would face a top-ranked Everett team with a full roster of 20 players, including two goaltenders. The shots saw Everett crank out 57- 38 against Portland, and Everett scored the one goal on the powerplay in ten tries for both teams.
In what could almost be thought of as David vs. Goliath, Portland headed to Everett as part of the five-game road trip and hoped things wouldn’t be too rough on them.
Under two minutes in, Gabe Klassen popped in his fourteen on the year and put the Hawks on the board. Everett’s Jacob Wright would tie things up five minutes later. Tyson Kozak would give the lead back to the Hawks at the end of the first period.
Goals by Niko Huutanen and Alex Swetlikoff gave Everett their first lead of the game, but goals by Luke Schelter and Dawson Pasternak put Portland back in the lead at the end of two.
Ryan Hofer for Everett would pull Everett even just under five minutes into the third period. Portland would battle back with a goal by Kyle Chyzowski a minute later and add another by Marek Alscher just over thirteen minutes into the period. Goals two minutes apart by Alex Swetlikoff and Michal Gut sent the game into overtime as the teams were tied at 6. Nothing was settled in overtime, so the game headed to a shootout. Everett sent out Swetlikoff, Gut, and Owen Zellweger, who could not get one past Giannuzzi. James Stefan couldn’t get one past Koen MacInnes, but Gabe Klassen was, and the Hawks surprised Everett with a 7-6 shootout win.
In the past ten games, Portland has an 8-1-1 record which leaves them in fourth overall and third in the US Division as they are seven points back of Seattle, fourteen behind Everett, with them being thirteen ahead of Spokane and fourteen ahead of Tri-City.
Portland will play in Kamloops, Kelowna, and Vancouver on their BC run next week and will hopefully have some players available. With two weeks to go until the trade deadline, it will be interesting to see if any hints come from the road games.
Canada has issues with COVID, and it has caused some provinces to restrict attendance. Manitoba has limited crowds to less than 250 people, affecting both the Winnipeg Ice and Brandon Wheat Kings. Current games outside Manitoba aren’t affected yet, but games scheduled in Manitoba are, and postponements have happened with a few games. The current allowance of 50% capacity has affected British Columbia, but most teams cannot draw up to that amount.
World Juniors which were to take place in Edmonton and Red Deer, were canceled with several teams having positive COVID tests. They had played games before this as warmups, but there were several forfeitures as they got ready for regular play. The players who were able to be a part of the WJC as WHL players have returned to their respective teams, as was noticed in the Everett versus Portland game.