Portland Winterhawks Making Noise, Captured 3 of 4 Games Last Week
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
The season started rough for the team with so many players away at NHL camps and a new core on defense, but as development has come along, so too has the ferocity of the team. Once the full contingent got settled in, things would have a chance to get interesting. The past week showed the firepower of NHL drafted players like Nic Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand and what the future holds once these players move on to the pros. In the meantime, the Hawks would have them on their side to propel them to key victories this week.
The quirky schedule found the Hawks on Vancouver Island with a Tuesday game against the Royals. Within the first few minutes of the game, the score was 3-0 in favor of Portland and Victoria's starting netminder, Coleman Volrath, chased from the nets. Victoria did mount a comeback, getting as close as one goal, before Portland would skate away with a 6-4 win.
Three days later and staying in British Columbia, the Vancouver Giants would be the next foe. The Giants had similar woes as the Hawks with sitting in the basement and looking farther and farther away from a playoff spot. Unlike the Winterhawks, the Giants chose to part ways with head coach Troy Ward just 28 games into the season, replacing him with former Winnipeg Jets bench boss Claude Noel. With Noel's first opponent being Portland, the pressure was on Vancouver to show their coach what they were made of. Vancouver also honored the late Pat Quinn who had made an indelible mark on the Vancouver hockey scene and across Canada with national squads. Quinn's passing following a long illness on November 23 at the age of 71 left the hockey world both shocked and saddened.
Whether it was the coaching change or the honoring of Quinn, the Giants too it to Portland, scoring just 20 seconds into the game and adding a second goal midway through the first on the power play, the Giants were doing what Portland had done to break their losing cycle. Chase De Leo broke the donut with five minutes left in the first, but they couldn't put the puck past Payton Lee during the second. The Giants scored their second power play goal in five tries early in the third period to put the clutches on the Hawks. Mile Koules was able to score a shorthanded goal a minute later for Portland as they came on strong at the end of the game, but couldn't crack the wall of Lee and dropped a 3-2 decision.
No time to wallow may have been the best tonic for the Hawks as they brought the always popular teddy bear toss Saturday night against the division leading Everett Silvertips. When the Hawks scored their first goal, teddy bears and stuffed toys would rain from the stands onto the ice to be collected for charity and the fans would only wait three minutes for this to happen. Paul Bittner notched his tenth of the season and allowed a 15 minute delay to clean up the bears. Everett would answer at the four minute mark, but the Hawks would add another just thirty seconds later and take a two goal lead into the second period. Despite Everett getting the only goal in the second, three goals scored in the third, two of those by Portland, sealed a 5-3 victory. Both teams were fruitless on the power play and 10,578 bears landed on the ice with a sellout crowd of 10,095 taking in the game at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
The next night, it was the Central Division leading Medicine Hat Tigers bringing their unbeaten streak against US Division teams this season against fired up Portland. Miles Koules, a former player of the Tigers, showed his skills by opening the scoring five minutes into the game. Keegan Iverson would add another about three minutes later and Paul Bittner would notch one midway through the second to give Portland a 3-0 lead. The Tigers would score with just three seconds left in the second, but Oliver Bjorkstrand would cap the scoring on an empty net goal while shorthanded. The chippy affair drew 87 penalty minutes including Oliver Bjorkstrand getting the Gordie Howe hat-trick (a goal and assist and a fight) with neither team capitalizing on 12 opportunities combined. In the first two minutes of the game, Alex Schoenborn was assessed a five minute major and game misconduct for boarding and will hear from the WHL offices by Tuesday as to any further disciplinary action.
With the 6 of 8 points gained this week, the Winterhawks find themselves just a point behind US Division leading Everett Silvertips, though the Tips and other US teams hold 3-4 games in hand on Portland. The Hawks will get most of this week off and then play three games in three nights on the weekend, all against US Division teams. Spokane will drop into Portland on Friday, followed by games in Seattle and Tri City before the players go home for the Christmas break.
In a surprising move, according to Greg Drinnan, formerly of the Kamloops Daily News, Layne Viveiros has declined an invitation to the World Junior Championships to play for Team Austria. Drinnan reports that Viveiros is declining due to a larger role on the Winterhawks and a desire to get some rest at Christmas while visiting family. Nic Petan is expected to be a big part of the Canadian team and Chase De Leo hopes to crack a US squad that has no WHL players on it.
Portland will be back in action following the Christmas break with an away game in Seattle followed by a home game versus Spokane and the annual New Year's Eve bash with Seattle with a special 8PM start.
Ice Chips: After filling 5 barrels for the Sunshine Division Food Drive in November, the Booster Club filled 8 barrels with clothing during the Medicine Hat Tigers game in “Keeping Portland Warm.” The Booster Club also announced a sellout of its trip to Prince George which is taking place in the middle of January.
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