Portland Winterhawks Make Changes at The Top
Tuesday, April 05, 2016
“We’d like to thank Jamie for his hard work and dedication over the last two seasons,” said Portland Winterhawks President Doug Piper. “We felt the best course of action for our long-term future was to make a change, and we will begin the process of searching for his replacement immediately.”
Doug Piper acknowledged that the candidate will be one to take both responsibilities. Right away, speculation was heavy that Mike Johnston would be first in line for the job; however, Piper's comments to local media seemed to dim that quite a bit. Johnston's history in Portland is mired in some controversy, stemming from situations that resulted in sanctions against Johnston and the club by the Western Hockey League. Those sanctions, set to end after this year's bantam draft, have helped in many ways to cripple the development of players and the franchise. At its initial phase, the sanctions took first round picks from the club through 2017 (the WHL would reduce that by one year in an announcement during this past season), but also took most picks in the first penalty year and with it, the Hawks were forced to trade some to other teams to gain players to fill in immediate gaps as graduating players and successful runs during the postseason led to demand from NHL teams who took veteran players from the Hawks. This past season, the team had hoped for the return of one of their leading scorers, Chase DeLeo, who had been drafted by the Winnipeg Jets when it became obvious both Nic Petan, also a Jets draft pick, and Oliver Bjorkstrand, by the Columbus Blue Jackets, would not be heading back to Portland. When DeLeo was taken up by the Jets to their farm team, it took sixty percent of the previous year's scoring and an early season injury to Paul Bittner, who was also counted on the lead in scoring, left the Hawks in trouble.
To their credit, Dominic Turgeon, who was announced as captain for this season, became a solid leader and an unlikely, though appreciated, hero at the net in Alex Schoenborn added to the scoring strength. With the injury to Carl Ericson, a European import being a season ending injury, the Hawks were able to trade for a replacement European player and did so with the Brandon Wheat Kings to obtain Rihards Bukarts, a player who had magic touches around the net for the Wheat Kings. Ericson was dropped by the Hawks to make room for Bukarts and the Hawks looked to make a push towards a playoff spot.
Kompon was originally tapped by Mike Johnston for the coaching position when Johnston accepted the offer from Pittsburgh Penguins and immediately tagged Keith McKittrick as an assistant. There were rumors swirling that McKittrick's approach with players was not positive and the eventual downfall was a fourth degree assault charge that he would fight in court, only to have the Hawks accept his resignation in early November after he entered a diversion program.
Now with the search on for the next bench boss / general manager, the Hawks will also be gearing up for the bantam draft which is scheduled for early May and import draft in June. Kyle Gustafson, who was elevated to Assistant Coach this season along with Assistant General Manager and Director of Player Personnel Matt Bardsley, were retained by the team and will be using their skills to help shape the Hawks draft positions.
With the Hawks news relatively quiet now, the rest of the WHL playoff hunt continued. On the Eastern Division battles, the Red Deer Rebels, who will host this year's Memorial Cup, took care of the Calgary Hitmen in their sixth game of the series and will now face the Regina Pats who scored a huge upset over Lethbridge Hurricanes. The Canes had been the Central Division champions, but had been on a rocky road the past two months, leading to a compete meltdown to the Pats in just five games. The Moose Jaw Warriors, who took out Prince Albert Raiders in five games, are awaiting the finish of the Kings series between Edmonton Oil Kings and Brandon Wheat Kings, which Brandon leads 3-2 with the next two games to take place in Brandon on Tuesday and Wednesday. If the series hits the full seven games, the winner will have just a day's rest before facing Moose Jaw on Friday.
Out in the Western Conference, after sweeps by Seattle and Everett, those two teams will face each other. The Victoria Royals struggled early in their series, but took the series in six games with a 6-2 win in their last match in Spokane. The other surprising series has been with Kamloops and Kelowna. The Blazers have been extremely tough on the Rockets and have taken this series to a seventh and deciding game. Part of Kelowna's issue has been on the injury front. Without starting goaltender Jackson Whistle and having to utilize Michael Herringer, who has been stellar in his own right, and Brodan Salmond, who has seen very limited action, the Rockets have tried to stock up on the firepower, something that was completely absent in the last game, a 4-0 Blazers win.
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