The Portland Winterhawks hit a bit of a downward spiral leading into the holiday break. After grabbing three solid wins at home, the team dropped three of four games on the road. The team then went on the short holiday break with two players, Joachim Blichfeld for Denmark and Caleb Jones for USA heading to Toronto and Montreal for the World Junior Championships. Several WHL teams would be without players for the tournament that would extend into the new year.
Portland’s return post-Christmas saw them split pairs of games with Tri-City and Seattle which would leave Portland one point ahead of Seattle and seven ahead of Spokane in the US Division. Portland currently sits seven points back of Tri-City and thirteen behind Everett with just over half the regular season completed. With the teams still relatively close together, the Winterhawks are fighting for every point they can get and still have the bulk of their games against division opponents for the remainder of the season. Of their next four home games, three are against US Division opponents and one versus a BC Division opponent which is in a dogfight with its next lowest point total team.
The Winterhawks made a trade ahead of the January 10th trade deadline by dealing 19 year old goaltender Michael Bullion to the Medicine Hat Tigers for a seventh round draft choice in the 2017 draft. Bullion had a few starts and some great games for Portland, but it became apparent in the past month that Cole Kehler had won the starting job and Bullion was going to have to fill in as a backup. Bullion’s move to Medicine Hat gives him competition with Nick Schneider and rookie Duncan McGovern for better playing time and with Medicine Hat, puts Bullion with the top team in the Central Division. Ethan Middendorf, who was listed on the Winterhawks roster early this season has played consistently for the Vancouver Rangers of the United States Hockey League and attended a most recent game of the Portland Winterhawks. It has been reported that Middendorf is not on the Winterhawks protected list, but their prospect list and this has allowed the Hawks to sign two additional players, one which will appear on their roster immediately.
Immediately following the Christmas break, Portland signed forward Reece Newkirk who, at 15 years old, will remain with his midget hockey club in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. The Hawks also signed goaltender Shane Farkas (17) who was drafted by the Lethbridge Hurricanes, buts whose rights were traded to Portland earlier this season. With the move of Bullion, Farkas will serve as a backup to Cole Kehler. Farkas was just recently announced as player of the week in the BCHL stopping 76 of 78 shots in two games and compiling a 12-7-0 record with one shutout this season with the West Side Warriors in Kelowna, BC.
Portland has a relatively light schedule in January owing to their having played more games overall than their US Division counterparts, but will play 10 games during the month, the majority against higher tiered teams in the US and BC Divisions, six of those games on the road and only four at home. One of those games, January 7th versus Everett at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, has had a time switch. Originally listed as a 2pm start, that game plus the one on Saturday, March 4th versus Vancouver Giants at the Coliseum, have been moved to a 6pm start time. Tickets originally sold for those games will be honored.
Ice Chips: The Portland Winterhawks Booster Club will hold their annual Keeping Portland Warm Night on Saturday, January 7th to benefit the Portland Police Bureau Sunshine Division. Fans attending this game are asked to bring new or gently used blankets, coats, sweaters, sweatshirts, gloves and new socks to be given to those in need. In previous years, the event has filled at least ten 55 gallon drums with much needed items to benefit the Sunshine Division’s outreach programs. With the expected record cold temperatures over the next weeks, the need is greater than ever.