The Portland Winterhawks made a couple of moves prior to leaving for Kent, WA and a Battle in Seattle against the Thunderbirds to open the regular season on Saturday, September 22. Connor Barley was an overage player who was traded for at the deadline and made an appearance at the WHL playoffs last year. In 2016, he played with the Kootenay Ice after spending time with the Sekirk Steelers since 2014. He laced up for the Ice for just three games in Kootenay in 2016 before being sent to Selkirk. He played eight games for the Hawks during the playoffs and ran into a pile of established overage players this year with the Winterhawks.
Barley was released this week ahead of another issue that the Hawks now have to deal with. Though uncertain, he most likely will finish off his junior career with Selkirk because he is from Manitoba.
Goaltending was settled with Evan Fradette heading to Alberta to join his AAA Midget team, giving the backup role to Dante Guinnuzzi. Fradette was closer to making the roster, but had a bad outing in Everett two weeks ago and Dante took the job. He’ll ride the pine most nights as did Farkas last year, but at sixteen, he has lots of room. Fradette will be eighteen next year and Farkas will be an overage, so Fradette may get his shot in then. If Lochlan Gordon plays like he did at fifteen during camp and scrimmage games, we may be in for another battle.
Jochim Blichfeld, who signed a deal with San Jose at the end of last season, was brought back to Portland this week as cuts happen in the NHL. Blichfeld adds to the woes of the Hawks with now four overage players to reduce to three in three weeks and possibly one additional in Skyler MacKenzie who is still on the bubble with Winnipeg, could go to the Moose of the AHL in Manitoba, or be sent back to Portland.
The Hawks have 28 players on the roster, about five more than they normally would carry. The games in Kent and Everett the next night will give a better picture of the direction the team has to go.
The Hawks were ranked in the CHL poll which gauges coaches thoughts on teams before they hit the ice. Last year, Portland placed tenth on the list. The Memorial Cup hosts will be Halifax of the QMJHL, followed by the London Knights Lethbridge at number three. Drummondville Voltiguers and London Knight take the next spots and are seen with the Spokane Chiefs and Portland Winterhawks. Saginaw Spirit, Rimouski Oceanic and Ottawa 67s round out the top ten. Honorable mention went to Vancouver Giants, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles and Oshawa Generals. Portland remained in the poll until late December last year when the fell out of the poll. Portland finished third in the US Division last year and lost in the second round of the playoffs to Everett in four straight. The winner of last year’s poll Arcadia-Bathurst Titan did not make the poll after winning the Memorial Cup last season.
The biggest issue on the Memorial Cup is the amount of overage players and nineteen year olds they have playing. Very seldom will there be a repeat winner because of how many players they have to remove each year. Most teams have three overage players and then as many as nine nineteen-year-old players, which they have to divest as many as six going into the following year. Many don’t like the three teams that fight for their stance atop their league and watch as the host team plays well in the tournament, but is swept early in the playoffs/ The cost is another factor. Last year $3.5 million dollars is what it cost to run the week-long event and small market teams are immediately shut out. If you are a middle market team, you still lose money. The Regina Pats, who hosted last year’s 100th anniversary of the Cup, lost upwards of half the money and knew this going in.
Small market teams like Lethbridge made a profit last year of $725,000, Swift Current made a little less. How can these teams host the Memorial Cup? The US Division teams are also shut out of the process because all three advertising and sponsorship deals are geared to Canadian advertisers. Last time in 2009 was a US Division winner, the Spokane Chiefs, prior to that was the Portland Winterhawks in 1998. The battles towards a league title are the real contests in any league. Get ready, it starts now!