Friday, August 30, 2013

Portland Gets Ready For First Preseason Action Today

Tayler Thompson

The Winterhawks have had an eventful week, after wrapping up the Neely Cup festivities, they cut two 1993 born players from their roster in Lukas Walter and Eric Walker. This means that the Hawks currently carry the full allotted amount of 20 year olds (3), though the combination of Defenseman Garrett Haar and Forwards Adam Rossignol and Tayler Thompson, will not likely be the 3 that they carry through the season. Thompson, for one, played last year in the SJHL, compiling only 12 goals and 18 assists as a 19 year old in 45 games. Rossignol was impressive in the Neely Cup, potting a couple goals and playing inspired hockey. He will have to continue playing well at both ends of the ice, to make it onto the team.

Speaking of the Neely Cup, it was won last Sunday by Team Morrow, who bested Team Vernon 7-2 in the championship game. Taylor Leier and Brendan Leipsic scored twice a piece for Team Morrow in the victory.
Ethan Price

Portland announced prior to the trip to Everett today, that they have signed ’97 born RW Ethan Price, from Lincoln, Nebraska. This means, the 6’4” 195 lb, 16 year old will be in the lineup for the tourney and more likely than not, be on the Hawks this season. Price, not surprisingly, is supposed to play a physical style of play, throwing around that large frame of his. I am very excited to see him perform in Everett this weekend.

Michael Bullion
Portland also released a statement to the effect that three ’98 born players: Center Skyler McKenzie, Defenseman Carter Czaikowski and Goaltender Michael Bullion have all been signed to WHL contracts. All of them, since they are 15, are not eligible to play more than a few games this season, but they should all be players we keep an eye out for. Czaikowski was a 6th round pick Bullion was a 9th round pick and McKenzie was an 8th round pick in the 2013 Bantam Draft. Bullion is from Alaska, meaning that with the addition of Price and him, 10 of the 32 Hawks on their current roster are American born. This is further proof the Coach Johnston and the rest of the organization will continue to find American players willing to forgo the college option and sign with a CHL team.

Portland is getting ready to take on the Spokane Chiefs in their first preseason action of the Everett tournament later today. All of these young players recently signed, as well as, new additions: Center Shane McColgan and Defensemen Garrett Haar and Anton Cederholm, will look to prove themselves in their first game action in Winterhawks sweaters.  Portland will likely keep many of the younger players in camp, since Leipsic, Leier, Derrick Pouliot and more, will likely head to NHL training camps in the coming weeks.

On a side note, it will definitely be odd to see Spokane without #8 on the blue line (Brenden Kichton). He had played for the Chiefs since 2008.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Team Finley Takes Lead in Neely Cup After First Day

It was another great start to the Neely Cup on Thursday, giving Hawks fans their first taste of Winterhawks hockey for the year.

Finley beat Team Morrow 3-2 in their first match-up and then tied Morrow 2-2 in the finale. Important to note that new addition on the Defensive unit: Garrett Haar scored a goal for Team Morrow, his first wearing the Hawk's sweater. Also, in his attempt to make the team; Adam Rossignol scored a goal for Team Morrow in the final game, making sure that Morrow got a point in the standing for tying Team Finley.

Rossignol, as outlined yesterday, has a very outside shot at making the team as one of the Hawk's three 20 year olds (Haar is another). Scoring a goal his first day with the Hawks, does nothing but help his cause, but still needs to prove himself in other ways.

In the other match-up Teams Vernon and Playfair each won a game, knotting them in a tie for second in the standings. Playfair got a 5-0 win in the first game behind goals from Nic Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand. Then, Paul Bittner got the eventual game winner in a 2-1 victory for Team Vernon in the final game.

Finley leads the standings with a 1-0-1 record, Playfair and Morrow are both 1-1 and Morrow is in last at 0-1-1. At 4pm today Morrow plays Vernon in 2 games and then at 6pm Finley plays Playfair. All of thesegames are at the Winterhawks skating center.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Hawks Camp Opened Yesterday; First Games of Neely Cup Today

The Portland Winterhawks opened camp yesterday with a bunch of new faces in the crowd. One of these faces is 20 year old, former Kelowna Rocket and Saskatoon Blade Shane McColgan.
Shane McColgan

McColgan, a key addition to the forward group had a little setback last week with an injury to his hand and wrist. It came out shortly thereafter that this injury may have been because of a weightlifting mishap and he will be out for an undisclosed mount of time. Hopefully this will not set him back in creating a little chemistry with his new teammates.

The Neely Cup (basically a scrimmage between 4 different squads made of camp attendees) gets under way this afternoon at 4pm with a match up between Teams Playfair and Vernon. Playfair will be wearing red and includes, among the returning Hawks: Adam De Champlain, Nic Petan, Alex Schoenborn, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Shaun MacPherson and Goalie Brendan Burke. Also, camp invitee and former camp attendee and Tri City American  Lukas Walter will be on Team Playfair as well. I don't see him making the team, as the tough guy role was filled admirably by Joe Mahon last season, not to mention, Walter is a 20 year old and he has already shown he is not a top 6 forward and to make the team, he will need to be just that.
Lukas Walter

Team Vernon, wearing white, has returning Hawks: Paul Bittner, Chase De Leo and Derrick Pouliot. Zach Paterson, who got into several games last season for the Hawks, is also on this team and the 17 year old 2011 2nd round pick in the WHL Bantam pick. Paterson seems like he could be a wild card on the Hawk's defense unit and not only make the team but move up the defensive depth chart as the season progresses.

The later game (6pm) will be involving Teams Finley (wearing black) with returning Hawks: Presten Kopeck, Keegan Iverson, Dominic Turgeon, Joe Mahon and Layne Viveiros. Viveiros seems like he is in a position, as an 18 year old returning D-man, to take a large step forward and finally make himself an integral piece of the defense on this team. Viveiros, if he does not prove himself in camp, could find himself as a depth D-man, yet again and fighting for the 7th-8th spot on the defense. He will be helped, however, by the lack of experienced D-men.

Adam Rossignol
The other team, wearing blue, is Team Morrow. Morrow has returning Hawks: Taylor Leier, Brendan Leipsic and Josh Hanson. Also, a late camp invitee is 20 year old former Regina Pat: Adam Rossignol. Rossignol, was a victim of numbers over at Regina and is attempting to make the team. This will be challenging for Adam as he only put up 14 points last season with the Pats.

Friday and Saturday, all 4 teams will finish their round robin series and set up the championship and 3rd place game on Sunday.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Blazers Finally Change the Name of the Rose Garden

The Portland Trailblazers became one of  the last professional arenas to accept a deal re-naming their arena after a corporation. Moda Health, won the right to name the Rose Garden the Moda Center, however the Rose Quarter, which also the contains the Memorial Coliseum, will not change it's name.

As part of the deal, Mode Health will attempt to change the culture of the Rose Garden into a healthier one. They are looking into adding healthier eating options to the menus at the now Moda Center.

Paul Allen also has encouraged Moda Health to find a way to work a rose into the log of the new Center, and it appears they will do so.

Many fans have expressed outrage at the name change and maybe it comes from living in a city that contains Safeco Field and Century Link (formerly Qwest) Field, but I do not feel this same outrage. Also, to me it would be more of a big deal if they decided to name the Memorial Coliseum after a company(I know it changed it's name to Veterans Memorial Coliseum 2 years ago but that is a bit different), since it has been around since 1960, as opposed to the 18 years the Rose Garden appeared as such.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Johnston and Morrow Interviews

The Portland Winterhawks website just released a written account of an interview done with Coach Mike Johnston and it is a fantastic read. The link to part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.

This interview is a great insight into the different connections Mike still has from his days as an assistant for the Vancouver Canucks and L.A. Kings. One such connection allowed him to know the new Hawks Assistant Coach: Karl Taylor pretty well and figure out that he would fit in well with the Hawks players and other Assistants.

The most interesting part to me was to read about what type of players incoming Defensemen Garrett Haar and Anton Cederholm are. According to Johnston, he sees Haar as an offensive Defenseman who will jump up into the play and create scoring chances from the back end. If he does end up having this type of skill, he will obviously fit very well with the type of active system that the Hawks run. At no point in the interview, however, does Johnston address, his past issues at Western Michigan, that allowed for him to be available to the Hawks as a 20 year old.
Cederholm, as described by Johnston, is more of a sold 2-way Defenseman that won't contribute as much on the offensive side, but should use his size (6'1" 205 lbs) to help the Hawk's not get pushed around in their own end by bigger offensive teams. Obviously the Hawks either liked Cederholm enough to get rid of fellow import, Russian Kirill Vorobyev, or Vorobyev had gotten on the wrong side of the Hawk's coaching staff enough, that they were going to release him regardless. The latter can be argued, because of Shaun MacPherson slowly taking over his role as 7th D-man as the year progressed.

Johnston also did not shy away from the big question that is Portland's back end this coming season. He states that they are losing 3 or 4 of their top D-men from last year and is still working on addressing this issue. I would agree with him that it appears Seth Jones (the 3rd of the those 4) is most likely playing in Nashville next year ( just put him in the top 4 on the Predator's Defense in their depth chart), but I do not believe Derrick Pouliot will even come close to making the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins have 8 D-men under NHL contract ahead of him on the depth chart, so there is simply not room for Pouliot in those numbers. They even signed Rob Scuderi last month, meaning that they were not looking for Pouliot, or Olli Maata or Scott Harrington to make the jump to the NHL level.

Speaking of Penguins Defensive prospects; Joe Morrow gave an interview to the "Pipeline Show," where he went into detail over what it was like to be traded twice in your first professional season. The interview is in 3 parts and also has Calgary Hitmen D-man Jayden Rissling. Morrow seems to be quite jaded after his experience with first Pittsburgh trading him to Dallas at the deadline for former Hawks Brenden Morrow and then Dallas dealing him to Boston at the draft as part of a deal that sent Tyler Seguin to the lone star state. One has to really empathize with Morrow, who, it seems was not given a fair chance in Pittsburgh or Dallas. His style of Defense, has in the past taken longer to develop at the professional level and it seems like he is hunting for an organization that will have a little patience and wait for him to develop into a viable NHL player. Unfortuately for Morrow, he is far dwon on the depth chart for the Bruins. His contract does not expire until 2016, however, so it seems that he will be given a few years to develop into a consistent performer.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Winterhawks Camp Opens August 21st

Portland opens it's defense of the WHL crown when their training opens on August 21st. They will host another Neely Cup, which is a intrasquad tournament,; August 22nd-25th.

The team names are derived from Portland's first 4 Memorial Cup teams: Team Morrow(Brenden Morrow 1998 team), Team Playfair(Jim Playfair 1982 and 83), Team Vernon(Mike Vernon 1983) and Team Benning(Jim Benning 1986).

The Hawks are expecting over 90 players to report for training camp the 21st.

3 Hawks Land Silver at the U-18 Ivan Hlinka Tournament

The juggernaut that is Canada's U-18 team won it's 6th straight gold medal in the annual tournament downing the U.S. squad 4-0.

This means that instead of taking home gold, Winterhawks Paul Bittner, Keegan Iverson and Dominic Turgeon will bring home the U.S.'s first silver medal since 2010, when the national squad also lost to Canada.

This was Canada's 18th gold medal in the tournament, that has only existed since 1991, They have only not placed in the medal categories twice (2003 and 2007). This was the U.S.'s 8th silver medal, to go along with 1 gold and 2 bronze's.

Brandon Wheat Kng Jayce Hawryluk was the only WHLer to score in the contest, which seemed to be closer then 4-0 would indicate.

Bittner finished the tournament with 3 points, while Iverson and Turgeon had a point apiece.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Bittner Iverson and Turgeon Advance to Ivan Hlinka Final vs. Canada After 5-3 Win

Paul Bittner
Team USA's Under 18 Team defeated the Czech Republic 5-3 earlier today, meaning that the 3 Winterhawk's players on the roster will get to play in the final tomorrow at 11 am against Team Canada, who beat Russia 3-1.

Canada has won 6 straight golad medals while Team USA has not been in a Final since 2010 and has not won gold since 2003.

Paul Bittner leads the way for Winterhawks in the tournament with 2 goals and 1 assists over the 4 games, while Dominic Turgeon and Keegan Iverson both have a goal apiece.

The 3 Hawks are the only WHL players on team USA's roster, while Team Canada is loaded with a total of 7. They are: Rourke Chartier of Kelowna, Jake Virtanen of Calgary, Brayden Point of Moose Jaw, Jayce Hawryluk of Brandon, Ryan Pilon of Lethbridge, Joe Hicketts of Victoria and Haydn Fleury of Red Deer. Point has been the most impressive of the bunch, notching a game winner in a shootout win over Switzerland earlier in the tournament.

Troy Rutkowski's Winterhawk Career

This will be a re-occurring segment, where we will look back at Winterhawks who have played out their junior eligibility. First we will look at the career of the now former Winterhawk Captain: Troy Rutkowski.

Troy was picked up by the Hawks in 2007 un-drafted out of Edmonton, Alberta. This Bantam draft helped restart the franchise for the Hawks giving the players such as Brad Ross, Joe Morrow, Taylor Peters and Ryan Johansen. They also were able to pick up Rutkowski outside of the draft, furthering the restarting of a now dominant franchise.

-Rutkowski impressed at camp, making the squad and playing in 64 games. He scored 6 goals and added 9 assists, with a -22 plus/minus rating.Troy was a depth Defenseman in his first year with the Hawks, playing behind Travis Ehrhardt, Travis Bobbee, Brett Ponich and Stefan Schneider. Rutkowski also won a silver medal with the Canadian U-17 team. He would make a name for himself the next year.

-Troy became a household name among Winterhawk fans in his 17 year old season; scoring 12 goals and 31 assists for 43 points and a +13 rating. Troy went from being 5th among D-men on the team in scoring, to 1st in just one season. He really started to thrive in Coach Mike Johnston's system which is perfect for active D-men with scoring ability. Troy added 4 goals and 3 assists in 13 playoff games for Portland. Rutkowski rode his outbreak of a season and a good showing at the top prospect game to being drafted in the 5th round, 137th overall in the 2010 NHL draft by the Colorado Avalanche. Unfortunately, the one game he missed for the top prospect game kept him from accomplishing the WHL record for most consecutive games played.

-Riding high after being drafted, Troy added 10 more goals and 37 assists for 47 points and a +24 rating in his 18 year old season. Unfortunately Rutkowski was not able to make the Canadian Junior team and would never again play for his country at the Junior level. Troy added 4 goals and 9 assists in 21 playoff games, on the squad that lost to Kootenay in the WHL final. He was just one of 4 Portland D-men who scored at least 30 points on the 2011 team.

-Adding the Assistant Captain title to his accomplishments, Troy had a fantastic 19 year old season; playing all 72 regular season games for the 2nd straight season, this time adding 13 goals and 32 assists for 45 points and a +18 rating. Troy also added 1 goal and 9 assists for 10 points in 22 playoff games. Unfortunately, by this time in their career, a drafted WHL player with a future in the NHL usually has a signed NHL contract and Troy did not. This was most likely as the knock from most scouts on Rutkowski was that he was exceptional offensively, but not up to par on the defensive side, especially when it came to playing physical, shut down defense. This despite having, an NHL ready 6'2" 192 lb physique.

-Coming back to the Hawks for his 20 year old season was definitely not what Troy wanted for himself, but he took the challenge head on and shored up the perceived detriments in his game. He scored 20 goals and 46 assists for 66 points (his most since his 17 year old season) and added a +32 rating.He also added 4 goals and 10 assists for 14 points for the WHL Champion Hawks. Playing another 72 games for the Hawks meant that Rutkowski now has the career record for most games played at 351, surpassing Kevin Haupt's previous record of 328. Adding to his awards was the nominations to the all WHL Western Conference 2nd team at defense. Most impressing was Troy's leadership during the tumultuous time after Coach Johnston's suspension. When a lot of teams would have gone under, Troy's leadership as team Captain helped the Hawks overcome this and get within one win of the Memorial Cup title. This break out season awarded him an NHL contract from the Ottawa Senators, meaning that his NHL opportunities are there for the taking and Troy has shown that he is more then capable of working hard and accomplishing this goal for himself.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Bittner, Turgeon and Iverson Succeeding at the Ivan Hlinka Tounrament/ Hawks Change Coaching Structure

Paul Bittner, Dominic Turgeon and Keegan Iverson are all playing at the Ivan Hlinka Under 18 Tournament for Team USA in Breclav, Czech Republic and Piestany, Slovakia from August 5th-10th.

Team USA lost in their first game: 3-2 in OT to Finland, before beating Russia 4-2 and Slovakia 5-2, making it to the medal round semifinal August 9th vs the Czech Republic.

Iverson had a goal in the win over Slovakia and Bittner had a goal and an assist in the same game. The 3, the only WHL players on Team USA's roster are doing a great job of using the tournament to get their names out there for the 2014 NHL draft. They will all play much larger roles for the Hawks this year, especially Bittner, who could make a jump to the top line, replacing the departing Ty Rattie.

In other news: the Winterhawks made the expected move of changing around their coaching structure. They basically put Kyle Gustafson into Travis Greens old role of Assistant Coach. He will spend every game behind the bench, rather then in spots, like he had. Also, Matt Bardsley takes over Green's old role of Assistant GM.

Hawk's 20 Year Old Situation Adds 2 More Options

So recently the Portland Winterhawks added upcoming overage Defenseman Cody Thiel off of waivers from the Red Deer Rebels, giving them two 20 year olds after the addition of Shane McColgan earlier.

Thiel played 2 seasons for Red Deer; 53 games in 2011-12, scoring 2 goals and adding 6 assists. In 2012-13, he played 52 games and scored 4 times with one helper. In the playoffs, over 8 games in 2013, he scored twice. Thiel was a top 4 D-man for the Rebels last year and used his 6'2" 172 lb frame to provide a bit of a shutdown role for the Rebels. He also was a bit of an enforcer for the Rebels, getting in his fair share of fights.

I see the addition of Thiel as more of an opportunity to add an overage in a role where they need some bodies. Especially after the later news came down that Portland had traded a conditional selection in the 2014 Bantam Draft for 20 year old 6'1" 198 lb D-man Garrett Haar. Haar played the last 2 years in college for Western Michigan got in trouble with the Coach and was dropped from the program. Haar, from Huntington Beach, California was drafted in the 7th round of the 2011 NHL draft by the Washington Capitals and will need a very strong season in the WHL for the Hawks to get signed by the Caps.

The interesting part about this addition is that the pick remains conditional, but the conditions have not been announced. It seems highly likely that Haar will come play for Portland, so it is a mystery why the pick remains conditional.

It would not be surprising if Portland added another 20 year old player at some point before Hawk's camp opens in 2 weeks.