The Portland Winterhawks faced Red Deer as the Rebels played their third in three nights owing to an ice storm that shut down I-84 for which the WHL moved the game a day ahead to Thursday against Everett and then Friday against Seattle. The match was almost playoff-like as two teams battled the first two periods to a scoreless draw. Just 41 seconds into the third, Jared Freadrich bolted into the Red Deer zone and got one past Ethan Anders to give the Hawks the first lead of the game. That score held until a timeout by Red Deer late in the period and the Rebels pulling their goaltender. Cody Glass, returning from a leg injury got an empty-net goal to give Joel Hofer a 25 save shutout. The Hawks got 29 on the Red Deer side and were stopped on the one power play they had, but the Hawks were also able to silence the Red Deer powerplay on their three chances. Both goaltenders were listed as stars of the game as was Freadrich, which now gives the Hawks a seven-point deficit on Everett and a lead of eight on Spokane as the last dozen games remain.
That would drop to just 11 as a short turnaround would take place as they faced the Seattle Thunderbirds at home after Seattle was able to get a huge win over Everett in the only Sunday matchup. The Hawks’ powerplay, which had been anemic in recent games, roared to life with a pair of powerplay goals and a hat trick ny Joachim Blichfeld propelled the Hawks to a 5-2 win and life after the regular season.
With them being just the fourth team to grab a playoff spot, they did so over their hated rivals, on home ice and on TV. Blichfeld opened the scoring midway through the first with Seattle tying the game three minutes later. Josh Paterson put the Hawks in the lead again just a couple minutes prior to the first period buzzer while on the powerplay.
The Hawks thought they had put themselves up by a pair, but the goal was disallowed, which brought out the boo birds in unison.
Portland did go up by two when Blichfeld scored his second of the game while the Hawks were short handed; three minutes later, Blichfeld got his second of the night while on the powerplay. The Thunderbirds got their second of the night on the powerplay as the second period closed. Joachim notched his third of the night and with it a hat trick, midway through the third and handed the Thunderbirds a 5-2 loss. Blichfeld scored three goals, Cody Glass notched three assists and Joel Paterson had a goal and an assist in the win. Portland was two of three with the man advantage while Seattle was one of two. Hawks outshot Seattle 52-36 and have a commanding 7-2-0-0 record against Seattle in head-to-head competition.
That win gave them enough points to ensure they will play in the postseason as Seattle had only 11 games left and was now 24 points behind Portland. Seattle is currently last in the US Division but has a five-point lead over Kamloops for the final wildcard spot. Prince George has just 30 points and is close to being eliminated from postseason contention.
With the British Columbia side celebrating Family Day, the Hawks left right after the early Sunday start to play an even earlier start in Langley, BC against the much-improved Vancouver Giants. Portland saw Blichfeld steal the show with a natural hat trick as he scored twice out of the media timeout in the first, once on the powerplay and again at regular strength. Blichfeld would cap the hat trick just a minute into the second frame.
Vancouver scored near the midway mark of the second with Shane Farkas making two highlight-reel saves right afterward. Seth Jarvis added another, which was countered by Vancouver and then Reece Newkirk landed another for which he received a 10-minute misconduct for taunting during the celebration of the goal. Portland took more penalties in the third with Vancouver capitalizing on one of them late in the game, but couldn’t get any closer. In the end, Portland wins 5-3 and sits three points back of Everett, but gives a game in hand to the Tips, but more importantly, gives more room as they solidify second place in the US Division ahead of both Spokane and Tri City. Vancouver edges Portland 29-26 and is just one of four on the powerplay while the Hawks got two powerplay goals on five tries.
With now just 10 games left to play, the Hawks will play twice more in February, both on the road and then four road games will be used as they play Kelowna and then travel to play Prince George in early March with just three to play at home over three weeks with a game a week March 1, March 12 and March 17.