After dropping two tough battles to Vancouver and Everett earlier in the week, it seemed only fitting for the Portland Winterhawks to attempt revenge in return matches this weekend. The games at Veterans Memorial Coliseum were played almost playoff style: tough defense, stellar goaltending and physical play. The score would reflect that style of game.
Just prior to the game against the Vancouver Giants, there came word that goaltender Cole Kehler had just signed a three-year entry level deal with the Los Angeles Kings. Kehler, who was the backstop on the Central Swing winning run, has played 24 of the team’s 30 games thus far, winning 17 of them with a goals-against-average of just over 2 per game.
The Hawks also dropped two spots in the CHL poll, which now has them slotted fourth overall, but remain one of three teams in all weeks of this year’s poll and the only WHL team to do so.
Against Vancouver, the Hawks dominated the game in all ways except the most important location, the scoreboard. Portland tallied 37 shots to Vancouver’s 18 and neither team scored on the powerplay, despite eight chances split between them. It was a goaltenders’ duel that gave both Cole Kehler and Giants’ netminder David Tendeck stars of the game with heroic saves, but it would be the Giants with the only goal of the game by Brendan Semchuk midway through the third period that held up as the winner. It was the Hawks’ third shutout loss and second in a week as it seemed at times the sticks were clenched too tightly in.
Portland would have little time to worry about that game as the following night, it was a matchup with the Everett Silvertips. It was also Teddy Bear Toss night, a function at the game to collect bears and other stuffed plush for a slew of charities throughout the Portland Metro area. This was a game Portland came of the chute flying. They got initial rushes and shot attempts, but got stymied by a tough defense and goaltending of Carter Hart. In the second half of the period, the Hawks get a bit too aggressive and found themselves shorthanded for six minutes and allowed Everett shots on net, but Cole Kehler was there to answer them all.
To the second period, where the Hawks started strong, but gave way to a penalty to Alex Overhardt for kneeing that allowed Everett to finally cash in. Connor Dewar finished off a play in the Hawks zone to give Everett the lead just six minutes into the period. The ink was barely dry on the scoresheet when Bryce Kindopp scored just 22 seconds later, causing many Hawks fans concern that they’d look to another shutout and no place for the fur to fly.
Just past the seven-minute mark, a highly spirited battle between Portland’s John Ludvig and Everett’s Montana Onyebuchi gave the fans something to cheer for as Ludvig tagged Onyebuchi with several shots before the linesmen broke them up and Onyebuchi was banished from the game.
The Hawks pressed harder than ever in the third, owning the shot clock 20-4 and on one continued pressure, Mason Mannek found the puck free at the side of the net. He passed up to Alex Overhardt who looked and saw John Ludvig open at the other side of the net which gave Ludvig the Hawks Teddy Bear goal. The fur went flying as nearly 11,000 critters found their way to the ice. For that goal, Ludvig was named first star of the game. Alex Overhardt was named third star, in part for his unselfish act to get Ludvig the goal, but also his presence during the entire game. Carter Hart was named second star of the game, though, that snuffed out any further goals from the Hawks as he stopped 42 of 43 shots to win 2-1. Kehler stopped 23 of 25 in the loss, the Hawks’ fifth straight with three games remaining before the Christmas break. Portland and Everett combined for eight powerplays, with Everett netting one goal and Portland being blanked.
The Hawks will look to bounce back on Tuesday in Spokane as they face the Chiefs, who they will face again in Portland on Saturday. A quick road trip to Everett on Sunday will complete the three-game set and will then give Portland eight days off for the players to head home to visit family.
Following Christmas, the Hawks play four games in five nights with a home and home series with Tri-City Americans and a home and home set with the Seattle Thunderbirds including the New Year’s Eve Battle with Seattle at the Moda Center.