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Portland Winterhawks In Playoff Fray…But How Far Will They Go?

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


The last night of regular season action at the Moda Center, a special guest was in attendance, but not announced in the building, nor promoted. Former Portland Winterhawks Coach and General Manager Mike Johnston visited the Moda Center and attended a road game that the Hawks were playing in. Immediate speculation was that Mike was being courted to once again rejoin the franchise he had been at the helm of for six seasons. Of course there has been the other rumor that with the most recent firing of Vancouver Giants coach and GM Lorne Molleken that Johnston was headed there. Johnston, who after leaving Portland signed on the the NHL Pittsburgh Penguins, a team that could never quite live up to the reputation of the players on the bench. He lasted just over a season in Pittsburgh and is under contract to the Penguins for the remainder of the season which precludes him from any business dealings prior to then. 

Similar to the rough days in Pittsburgh. Johnston viewed an equally rough outing for the Hawks who squandered a 3-0 lead and lost 4-3 in overtime to the Spokane Chiefs. The Chiefs would lose the following night in Kennewick to the Tri-City Americans, while the Winterhawks would drop a pair to the Seattle Thunderbirds to end the regular season. However, one of the losses by Portland was in overtime, which netted them an all important point, tying them with Spokane in the standings and eliminating the Tri-City Americans from postseason. Though Portland and Spokane were tied in points in the standings, Portland had more overall wins plus more victories in the season series with the Chiefs to give Portland third place in the US Division and a more favorable matchup in the first round of the playoffs.

The 2016 Playoffs started with a new hybrid divisional format as the division winners would face the two wildcard teams in round one. The Victoria Royals would face the Spokane Chiefs, the Seattle Thunderbirds would face the Prince George Cougars, the Kelowna Rockets would face long time nemesis Kamloops Blazers, and the Everett Silvertips would host the Portland Winterhawks. The best of seven format started this weekend with Victoria defeating Spokane twice in Victoria and leading their series 2-0. Seattle also leads their series 2-0 but had to get to overtime in game one to get their initial victory. Seattle would post a 4-1 win the following night. Kelowna and Kamloops knotted at one in their series after a stunning 2 quick goal performance by the Blazers in game 2 after Kelowna earned a solid game one victory. Portland started the series with Everett in the hole right away. Unable to score a goal in game one and then scoring the first goal in game two only to have Everett come back with three goals to steal the second game has left the Hawks with having to win at least one, if not both home games this week in order to stay alive.

Out in the East Division, the shock of the series thus far has been the Brandon Wheat Kings implosion against the Edmonton Oil Kings. Nearly 40 points separated the two teams when the final regular season game was played, but two impressive victories on Brandon's home ice have left fans wondering if they will see their team play again at home. Due to building issues, the format for this series had Brandon host the first two games followed by three in Edmonton before the last two if needed in Brandon. Edmonton could take 2 of 3 games at home and send Brandon out in the first round. The Lethbridge Hurricanes who held solid points in the Central Division are tied at 1 in their series with Regina Pats who have given the Canes a tough ride thus far. The Memorial Cup hosts Red Deer Rebels own a 2-1 series lead after splitting the first two games in Red Deer, but scored a goal in the last two minutes of game three to win by one as the series had shifted to Calgary. The Moose Jaw Warriors lead their series against Prince Albert Raiders 2-0 as the Raiders have been in the games, but haven't found a way to win at home. Now with the series shifting to Moose Jaw, Prince Albert is also in tough.  

Once this round is complete, the format will switch back to seeding based on overall points in the conference. In any case, Portland will not hold a home ice advantage in this year's playoff series, a first in six seasons. 

Ice Chips: Prior to the regular season finale, the annual team awards were handed out.  Dominic Turgeon and Adin Hill shared the team’s MVP Award as voted on by teammates, while Turgeon also took home the Winterhawks Award for character, leadership, heart & soul as voted on by the coaches, and the team’s leading scorer award. Hill was also named the Portland Winterhawks Booster Club Most Popular Player.

Defenseman Caleb Jones earned the Rookie of the Year Award, while fellow blueliner Blake Heinrich won Defensive Player of the Year. Michael Bullion and Alex Schoenborn shared the Sportsmanship & Ability Award, while Bullion was also the collegiate Scholastic Player of the Year. Forward Brett Clayton won the Scholastic Award among the high school players. 

The Portland Winterhawks alumni scored a milestone as well this year with 25 players who have played with the team over the seasons were suited up in the National Hockey League this season. This astounding number has age ranges from 21, like Oliver Bjorkstrand and Chase DeLeo, to 37, like Andrew Ference and Marian Hossa.


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