After the bumpy start to the New Year with limited players, the Portland Winterhawks set out for a three-game in three-night BC run. The road got even bumpier. As they pulled into Kamloops with a showdown against the Blazers, the WHL postponed the game due to multiple positive tests on the Kamloops side. Instead of a morning skate, the Hawks ended with a full-blown practice. With that postponement, they headed east and south to a date with Kelowna.
With a morning skate out of the way, it seemed the Hawks players would get an additional workout as the team bus got stuck in a snowbank outside Prospera Place in Kelowna.
The Hawks added three players to the roster, having left four at home to deal with COVID protocols. Foward Josh Zareski, who had played a few games at the start of the season, was joined by defenseman Rhett Ravndahl and forward Nick Johnson. They were brought in as affiliate players, which allows them to play up to six games with the Hawks. All three were scheduled to be part of Mac’s Tournament in Calgary which was canceled due to COVID outbreaks.
The stars of the game in Kelowna were forward James Stefan and newly acquired goaltender Taylor Gauthier. Kelowna, though, struck first, welcoming Gauthier with a goal just thirty seconds in. From there, Gauthier shut the door on the Rockets with 38 saves on 39 shots. Kelowna goalkeeper Tayrn Boyko stopped 21 of 24 coming his way.
After Jake Poole nabbed his 7th of the year just thirty seconds in to put Kelowna in the lead, James Stefan assisted on a Cross Hanas goal just before the nine-minute mark to tie the game at one. Into the second period, Stefan recorded his 14th of the year with a second assist by Hanas as the game approached the fifteen-minute mark of the second. Stefan tacked on his 15th just past the seven-minute mark on another assist by Hanas while on the powerplay, and Gauthier stonewalled the Rockets leading to a 3-1 win and a sweep of both away and home game against the Rockets.
Earlier in the evening, the Hawks would learn that the Sunday game against Vancouver Giants was also postponed, so the Hawks played one game with a great deal of travel to boot.
The WHL was dealing with a great deal of rescheduling as 15 teams entered the COVID protocol, and many of these games are being rescheduled this week.
With limited games and shines by both Taylor Gauthier and James Stefan, the league announced both players as winners of the weekly award, Gauthier as goaltender of the week with 1.00 Goals Against Average and James Stefan as Player of The Week with his two goals and one assist in the game against Kelowna.
There was thought that the Kamloops game in Portland might be adjusted, and it is. The league just announced a move in schedules with the Wednesday, January 12 game to Sunday, January 16. The Hawks will now play games Saturday versus Tri-City and Sunday versus Kamloops. The Hawks will be in Seattle on Friday, January 14, to play the Thunderbirds, so it will be yet another three games in three nights but will be a shorter drive.
The weather had affected both Tri-City and Spokane, who had to reschedule games when the mountain passes were shut down due to blowing snow and other dangerous driving conditions.
Other rescheduled games include ones that were to take place in Manitoba. There, the Province would only allow 250 people at a time, which for the squads was an impossible feat. Brandon and Winnipeg have to be pushed off to February to relax the current rule, hopefully.
There has been talk that the current surge in cases involving Omicron will peak by late January, which would be welcome news for what has to be an exasperated scheduling staff in the WHL.
Trade Deadline lurks with a week to go and teams jockeying for a run to the playoffs. Some minor deals have been this past week, leading some to think there will be a flurry close to Trade Deadline.