The Portland Winterhawks have finished pre-season and are a week or so away from the start of the regular season. The regular home season will begin with a pair of games, including the home opener on September 21. Then they will head east to the Central Swing of Alberta with a new stop to take place in Swift Current, SK. The reason for this is the new alignment with the relocation of Winnipeg from Kootenay. The Imbalance teams needed one more team added to the Central and the closest was Swift Current. There will be a natural rivalry with Lethbridge as both held the Bronco name with flip flops between the towns. Swift Current’s closest team will be the Medicine Hat Tigers, who are the last major town in Alberta before heading into Saskatchewan, a distance of about 150 miles.
The Hawks won versus Spokane, 6-5, then lost a pair of games to Vancouver and Tri-City 4-3 in a shootout and 3-2, respectively. The Hawks then headed to Tri-City for their “tournament.” Then they again beat Spokane, this time 4-3, and lost games against Tri-City and Seattle, 3-2 and 8-3 respectively.
The name tournament really doesn’t describe the event at all. Most of the time, teams will use this to try lines, see how goaltenders fair and many other factors. Because they don’t play all the teams as well, sometimes the term “Classic” is used or “Holiday Tournament” in that it takes place around the Labor Day holiday.
There was a pretty good idea what the Hawks would look at as Joel Hofer played solid minutes in Everett before heading to a St. Louis Blues camp. Dante Giannuzzi played as well and Lochlan Gordon saw some time in Tri-City before being reassigned. The Hawks also had just 29 players heading to Tri-City, so they had a pretty good idea what they were looking toward.
The Hawks did some housekeeping with the trade of Evan Fradette to Medicine Hat for a conditional 2021 pick Fradette who didn’t even go to the Hawks camp and looked to be trade bait last year at the deadline when the Hawks acquired Joel Hofer. Fradette was on the bench for the Tigers against the Pats and he competes for a spot with two other goaltenders. The Hawks also reassigned Kyle Chyzowski and Ryder Thompson as they were just drafted this year and not able to play regular minutes until their bantam season is over. Following the Tri-City event, Dawson Pasternak and Jonah Bevington along with Lochlan Gordon were reassigned as well. Gordon played very well during his stint in Portland and will give the coaching staff a tough decision when it comes to next year and an overage Joel Hofer is in the mix. As all are 16 years old, they will have a better shot at making the team next season. Goaltender Dante Giannuzzi is proof of that.
Currently, the roster sits at 24 and only 20 can be dressed at any one time. Defenceman Kurtis Smythe is the only non-returning player on the back end while Jack O’Brien, James Stefan and Gabe Klassen make up the new group up front. This doesn’t include import newcomers Simon Knak and Jonas Brondenberg; but as they are over 17 and drafted as imports by the Hawks, they will be going nowhere unless they perform to standards, which of course won’t happen as they spent too much time trying to get here.
Within the week, there will be a few players filtering back to the Hawks as none were in the top rounds, so unless they make a huge impact at NHL camps, their appearance there is more of a formality, though as future years progress they will be evaluated harder. In the next week, teams will be ready to ice their WHL squads for the year and we will see what players are retained as the first regular-season games start in less than 10 days.