Portland Winterhawks Crack Century Mark, Move Into The Postseason

To be Scotty Munro Champions, they needed a lot of help. They didn’t get it. To be Western Conference champions, they needed a lot of help. They didn’t get it. The Portland Winterhawks will now settle as US Division champions, a feat they have accomplished several times. Ultimately, any championship from this point is moot unless you become the WHL champions and represent the WHL at the Memorial Cup. 

The final three games of the regular season saw Portland travel to Kennewick to face the Tri-City Americans. That game was essential for the Hawks to challenge for the Western Conference title. 

It almost seemed they were already looking to the postseason as they handed Tri-City the first goal. The Hawks did score twice on Kyle Kelsey in the final five minutes of the first. Diego Buttazoni finished a flurry in the Tri-City zone, while Marcus Nguyen finished a scramble in front of the net. Tri-City nabbed the next two less than a minute apart in the second period; Josh Zakreski replied in the third while cleaning up what had been left behind by goaltender Kyle Kelsey. Tri-City scored in overtime after being left virtually alone on the one-on-one with Jan Spunar, and he slid it past Spunar for the 4-3 overtime win. Portland squeezed out 52 shots versus 14 for Tri-City; Portland was 0-3 on the powerplay, with Tri-City 1-3 

Prince George had defeated Kamloops handily and captured the Western Conference title. 

Portland then faced a home-and-home series with Seattle, which won’t make the playoffs. Portland scored five goals on their first five shots of the game. In all, they had 16 shots in the period. Diego Buttazoni, Tyson Yaremko, Luca Cagnoni, Marek Alscher, and Jack O’Brien were the scorers for Portland on this awards night. Seattle changed goaltenders, with Scott Ratzlaff taking over for Spencer Michnik. The second frame was a tale of two halves. Seattle scored twice in the first half. one on the powerplay, and Portland twice in the second half, with Luca Cagnoni’s second of the night and James Stefan’s.  

The third period saw Seattle score twice, with one on the powerplay again to make the score a more respectable 7-4. Portland outshot Seattle 39-24 but were blanked on their four tries, with Seattle 2-4 on the night. A crowd of nearly 8500 took in this final home game of the regular season. 

Portland then headed to Kent, Washington, to face Seattle in both teams’ final game of the regular season. While there wasn’t anything on the line regarding standings, pride was and the Hawks needed a win to finish over 100 points and had a couple of players looking to set their own records. 

With Gabe Klassen, Luca Cagnoni, and Jan Spunar sitting out, the idea of the other unsung players succeeding was upon them.  

Portland outshot Seattle 44-32, going 2 for 7 on the powerplay versus 2 of 4 for Seattle. A number of calls not made in the game may not have changed the outcome, but they could have injured some players had they not been so resilient. 

Diego Buttazoni was credited with the first goal as it appeared to hit off a Seattle player past Scott Ratzlaff in the net for Seattle. With Spunar not playing, the task went to Justen Maric, who made several key stops before surrendering a goal just past the 17-minute mark. Early in the second period, while on the powerplay, Jeremy Hanzel scored for Seattle in his last game as a Thunderbird. James Stefan scored under three minutes later with his 50th goal and 101st point of the year. The tie held until the third period, when Seattle again scored an early powerplay goal to take the lead. Several times, Portland came close to tying the game and finally did so with a powerplay goal by Carter Southern to bring the game to a tie. Both Portland and Seattle had several opportunities to score in overtime but were unsuccessful in the shootout where the teams went. Justen Maric could stop the first three shooters, and Ratzlaff on the first two. A sneaky play by Kyle Chyzowski, who could open Ratzlaff enough to shoot through the five-hole, put the Hawks up 4-3 on the winning side. Five thousand six hundred took in this contest. 

Portland ends the season with a record 48-15-4-1, 101 points, and 332 goals, 16 more than the Prince George Cougars, who were the only team in the WHL to surpass 300 goals. 

One thing seen in recent games is the lay of Jan Spunar. Several people have commented that he isn’t playing the angles, and the past two games would indicate that. Could he be played too much? To move up the standings, Jan has played virtually every game since returning from his injury. Justen Maric has only played a period, with Jan being rested in the 11-1 win over Tri-Citiy last week. On the TV broadcast, angle issues were brought up. Granted, Seattle announcers said this, but it has been noticed. 

James Stefan is the latest to sign an ELC, this one with the Edmonton Oilers. Stefan, who is 20 years old, played strongly during this past year’s campaign, both as a scorer and a playmaker. 

Now, onto the playoffs and the matches that will happen in round one starting on March 29. 

Portland will start that trek as the number two seed in the Western Conference and take on the Victoria Royals. The team has announced the games’ schedule starting in Portland on Friday, April 29, and Saturday, March 30. Because of travel costs, Portland is playing a 2-3-2 series. Following the two in Portland, they are scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday in Victoria, with Sunday and Tuesday as the final two games. Portland has been brutal on Victoria, so one would expect the series to be completed while on the road. 

Prince George Cougars will start against Spokane, which is a travel series. They, too, are going to a 2-3-2 format, with Prince George hosting the first two on March 29 and 30 before three games in Spokane with the same schedule as Portland. 

Everett Silvertips will battle the Vancouver Giants in a 2-2-1-1-1 series starting in Everett. 

Kelowna Rockets will face Wenatchee Wild in a 2-2-1-1-1 series starting in Kelowna. 

All series should be short except for the Rockets’ series with Wenatchee, where both teams are about equal in points. Kelowna has a shot at taking the series, as they have been playoff-bound before. Wenatchee was relocated there from Winnipeg and sold off its heavy goal scorers before the trade deadline. Although it was in the WHL final last year, the team doesn’t resemble the powerhouse it once was. 

To the East, where Saskatoon faces Prince Albert. The final two games of the regular season may show exactly how this series will go, as Saskatoon obliterated the Raiders in the final two games. 

Swift Current Broncos will face Lethbridge Hurricanes. This series may be interesting as the Central Division was by far the weakest this season, with just 15 points separating the teams in the playoffs. The Broncos did not do well against Calgary in the final two games, having already captured the Central Division title, but that may be tough on them competing in the playoffs. An interesting note is that Lethbridge used to be the Broncos before moving to Swift Current decades ago, and it is a rivalry that has stood the test of time. 

Moose Jaw Warriors will travel to Brandon to face the Wheat Kings, and Moose Jaw has one of the prolific scorers at the trade deadline in Matthew Savoie. Though unable to catch Saskatoon for the overall title, the Warriors felt their presence against Regina in the final pair of games, hammering the hapless Pats. 

Red Deer Rebels will face Medicine Hat Tigers in the first round. Both teams have been solid come playoff time, and it should be an entertaining series.

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About Stuart Kemp 353 Articles
Stuart Kemp is the Immediate Past President of 15 years of the Booster Club. and has been following hockey from his native Canada since he can remember, though he can't skate, but played road hockey for several years. Loving hockey and professional wrestling, he has traveled to most of the WHL cities and with wrestling, has seen four provinces and five states. It is true that every Canadian city with more than 500 residents has a hockey rink, well at least it looks that way. Stuart has had his hand in every facet of independent Professional wrestling as he debuted as an announcer in 1986 which started his career.

1 Comment

  1. I have three phone numbers for the Portland Buckaroo’s Mike Donaldson. No response!! I loved this man who many in hockey circles remember as a tough competitor. I remember him as that , but also a classic gentleman!
    Does anyone know what has happened to him? He was living in the Phoenix Arizona area.

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