The Portland Winterhawks ended the Christmas break and finished the year with three more wins.
Coming out of the break, they faced the Tri-City Americans, a team looking to sneak into the playoffs, and to do so, they would have to defeat the juggernaut that has been the Hawks.
As has been typical for the Hawks, the first goal went to the opposition just over two minutes into the game. Five minutes later, it was Marcus Nguyen with his tenth of the year to tie things up. The lead went back to Tri-City just past the fifteen-minute mark of the period.
Portland picked up a pair of goals in the second as Robbie Fromm-Delorme scored on the powerplay, and Diego Buttazzoni scored his first in the WHL to give the Hawks a 3-2 lead headed to the third. With Jared Picklyk out for an extra attacker, Tri-City scored with 44 seconds left to send the game to overtime.
During the overtime, Portland controlled most of the play with the cap of Dante Gianuzzi feeding the puck to Luca Cagnoni, who found Gabe Klassen. Klassen scored the overtime winner as the Hawks outshot Tri-City 47-35 and scored the only powerplay goal, with each team having four chances with the Man Advantage.
Portland headed north to face Everett, who had made a deal to swap goaltenders with Victoria. Brayden Holt headed to Victoria in favor of Tyler Palmer, who would face the Hawks twice over the weekend tilt.
Portland picked up the first three goals of the game with Nicholas Johnson in the first, and James Stefan and Kyle Chykowski shorthanded in the second helped to build a 3-0 lead.
Late in the second, Everett scored to come within two goals, but Portland’s Ryan McCleary with another shorthanded marker and Robbie Fromm-Delorme on the powerplay gave Portland a 5-1 win. Portland outshot Everett 38-32. Portland picked up two shorthanded tallies on the night.
New Year’s Eve welcomed both teams to the VMC, and the Hawks were on the hunt early. Just over five minutes in, the Hawks were on the board. Marcus Nguyen, Robbie Fromm-Delorme with a pair, and Aiden Litke with his first of the night, gave the Portland faithful Jumbo Jack coupons in the first period. Nicholas Johnson scored just seconds after Litke, and the Hawks were up 5-0 at the end of the first.
Just 38 seconds into the second, Gabe Klassen scored for the Hawks to put them up by six; just 24 seconds later, Everett scored their first of the night, with Niko Tsakumis scoring just three minutes later, which many thought would see the Hawks falter. To their credit, they weathered the storm and carried the strong lead through the rest of the second period. Aiden Litke bagged his 11th of the season early in the third period to end the scoring at 7-2 for the Hawks. Shots were close, with a 37-36 advantage for the Hawks. Each team had five-man advantage opportunities, with the Hawks scoring three times to Everett’s zero.
The Hawks are now tied with Winnipeg, one point back of Seattle for the overall WHL lead, as the Winterhawks now look to the Eastern Swing, where all but one team is over .500.
30 Booster Club members are traveling to the Eastern Swing to watch the games, see the sights and watch the players in six games over ten nights from January 6 to 14. This will be a test for the team, which hasn’t traveled to the East due to Covid in years.
The team will also be traveling during the trade deadline, and fans will watch closely as the Hawks only have two players in the 20-year-old category. However, with the Hawks doing so well, do they need additional help?
The biggest question will be whether Connor Bedard from the Regina Pats is moved. Currently, he is a part of Canada’s World Junior team, and many think he will be only suitable for a half season if he is drafted, many believe he will go pro. Therefore, he would be what is known in the league as a “rental player,” one who is here for maybe half a season. Bruce Paddock, the GM of Regina, says he isn’t moving Bedard. If a team is to make a play, they would have to break the bank to get him, and any draft picks would be low in number due to the high placement of a team interested.
Kamloops Blazers, who are hosting the Memorial Cup, are currently in first in the BC Division but may have to shore up if they are to advance fully in the tournament.
We’ll report from the road on the swing as the Hawks head East, and what should be some great games to watch and report on.