All of the eyes, that follow junior hockey, were on Portland last night, as the two teams that battled in last years WHL finals faced off for the only time this year.
Edmonton was in the 4th of their 5 game U.S. Division swing (going 1-2 coming in) and Portland was coming off losing the previous night in Tri City.
Neither team looked tired, however, as the game quickly developed a playoff type atmosphere.
Just 7 minutes in, on the Penalty Kill, the Edmonton Defense turned the puck over, while attempting to change lines and the Hawks jumped on a 3 on 1 break. Ty Rattie found Nic Petan, on the rush, to open the scoring.
Then things started to get heated as Henrik Samuellson, a Phoenix Coyotes first round pick, speared Rattie in the back of the legs, driving him face first into the boards. Samuellson was called for a 5 minute major and a game misconduct and will most likely be facing yet another suspension. Samuellson was suspended for 2 games in last years final when he took a head shot at Portland's Joey Baker.
The Hawks, however, failed to capitalize on the power play and Edmonton responded with a slap shot from Oilers draft pick Mitch Moroz that fellow Oilers pick Travis Ewanyk had 2 chances at before he put it past Goalie Mac Carruth.
Then 3:32 later, Oil Kings Defensman Keegan Lowe put a check in on Preston Kopeck, who awkwardly went into the boards and appeared to have his face cut open. Kopeck's linemate Adam DeChamplain jumped Lowe and instigated a fight. He was penalized with the fight-the 2 minute instigator and a 10 minute game misconduct, putting the Hawks without 2 of their 3rd line players for most of the rest of the game.
The Hawks however, were the ones to wrest away the momentum, when Rattie, on the powerplay, dropped a pass to Troy Rutkowski at the blue line, who one-timed it past Goalie Lauent Brossoit for his 20th of the year.
Then, less then 3 minutes later, Hawks D-man Kirill Vorobev cycled the puck in deep behind the Kings net for Taylor Leier. Leier then backhanded a pass looking for Oliver Bjorkstrand, but instead the pass went off Brossoit and into the net for a 3-1 lead.
The momentum shifted again with 3 seconds left in the second period when Edmonton Forward Dylan Wruck simply outworked the Hawks Defense and worked his way into the slot, beating Carruth and cutting the lead to 3-2.
This seemed to inspire the Oil Kings, who carried play for most of the 3rd period, outshooting the Hawks 17-6. Carruth made several key saves, until Portland's Shaun MacPherson turned the puck over right by his own net, New York Rangers draft pick Michael St. Croix found Vancouver, Washington native Trevor Cheek, to tie the game.
Then 20 year old Wruck disappointed 6700 plus with a slap shot that was deflected by St. Croix and beat Carruth, on the powerplay with 1:03 left in the game.
Carruth made 38 saves on 42 shots and Brossoit got the win, making 26 saves on 29 shots.
3 Stars of the Game:
#3- Ty Rattie- He played one of his most inspired games of the season and with 2 assists, now has 97 points on the season and is sitting 3rd overall, behind his linemates for the league lead.
#2- Michael St. Croix- Game winning goal and an assist. He also had several drives at the net and displayed great straight putting 2 different one handed shots that Carruth had to stop.
#1- Dylan Wruck- Has to be one of the most under-rated players in the league. He was easily the best Oil King, creating chance after chance and finishing with a goal and an assist.
-The Hawks were 42-1-0-1 coming into the Tri City game, when leading after 2 periods.They have blown leads in the last 2 games.
-Rattie has 335 career points with the Hawks now, ranking him only 5 points behind Randy Heath for 6th all time.
-Rutkowski is the first Hawks Defenseman to reach 20 goals, since another #2, Brandon Smith, did it in 1992-93 (20 years ago). He also did it as a 20 year old.
-Rutkowksi is now 8 behind the Hawk's record for goals by a Defenseman in a season by Jim Benning, who had 28 in 1980-81.
-Elsewhere, Saskatoon won their 17th in a row with a shootout win in Calgary.
-Kamloops lost to Vancouver 5-3 at home.
-Portland's lead in the WHL standings on Edmonton was trimmed to 10 points, with 7 games left.