Friday, December 12, 2014

Winterhawks History at the World Juniors

This year looks like another U-20 World Junior Championships in which the Portland Winterhawks will have representation. This got me thinking: lets take a look at the history of the Portland Winterhawks at the WJC U-20s.

-Wayne Babych (Canada):
Just their 2nd year as a franchise and the 2nd year of the tournament as an official IIHF tournament (1974-76 were not included), Portland had representation on Team Canada in the form of the elder Babych. While playing on a team with Wayne Gretzky, Babych, was 10th in the tournament in scoring with 5 goals and 5 assists for 10 points. Canada lost to Sweden in the Semi-Finals before finishing with a Bronze Medal.

-Keith Brown (Canada):
Canada dropped their first 2 games in the tourney and went on to a 5th place finish. Brown notched 2 assists over 5 games as the Soviet Union won their 3rd of 4 straight Gold Medals.

-Gary Nylund (Canada):

Nylund was a part of Canada's first Gold Medal winning squad, notching 1 goal and 3 assists for 4 points in the tourney. The WJC was held in various cities in Minnesota this year with some games played in Manitoba and Ontario.

-Randy Heath (Canada):
Heath tallied 3 goals and 6 assists for 9 points and Canada went on to a 4th place finish. The Soviet Union continued it's domination of the official tournament with their 6th Gold Medal in the 8 years.
-Alfie Turcotte (USA):
Turcotte was the Winterhawk's first representation on a team outside of Canada and he notched 2 goals and 9 assists for 11 points, leading the team in scoring. The USA finished 6th overall. One interesting note from this tournament is that the leading scorer was Finland's Raimo Helminen who had 24 points, which set the record. He would go on to set the record for games played internationally and for playing in the most Olympics.

-Jeff Rohlicek (USA):
Rohlicek had 2 assists, helping the USA to a 6th place finish, as Canada won it's 2nd Gold Medal. Another highlight of his career was scoring the OT winner for the Springfield Indians in the AHL Calder Cup deciding game in 1990.

-Glen Wesley (Canada):

Wesley was on the team during the infamous "Punch-up in Piustany." Canada was playing for the Gold Medal, needing to win by 5 or more goals, while the Soviet Union had already been eliminated (strange I know). The melee was started when Pavel Kostichkin 2 hand slashed Theoren Fleury off a face off with Canada leading 4-2 in the 2nd period, sparking a fight between the two. Then a Soviet player left the bench to help defend Valeri Zelepukin who was being pummeled by Canadian Mike Kean and was splaying the game with a separated shoulder. Both teams were disqualified for their actions. Wesley finished the tourney with 2 goals and 1 assist for 3 points.

-Steve Konowahlchuk (USA):
The Salt Lake City, Utah native helped the U.S. to it's 2nd medal (both Bronzes), by scoring 4 goals overall. This WJC was unique in that the Soviet Union had just been dissolved and they were represented by the CIS or Commonwealth of Independent States. They went on to win the Gold anyways.

-Adam Deadmarsh (USA):
Deadmarsh was born in B.C., but had dual citizenship and was able to represent the USA. He was held scoreless in the tourney, which is the first time a Winterhawk had been at this tourney. The USA received 4th after losing to both Sweden and Canada, who would go on to place in the top two behind storied names like Peter Forsberg, Markus Naslund and Paul Kariya. Forsberg set the new record for points in the WJC with 31 in only 7 games, though the Canadians would win their 6th Gold Medal. Another interesting note from this year is that it occurred right after Czechoslovakia split into 2 nations, though the two would still play together as the Czech and Slovak Republics.

-Adam Deadmarsh (USA):
The first Winterhawk to play in consecutive tournaments, though he would again go scoreless and the Americans would finish even lower; 6th overall, even struggling to a 1-1 tie with last place Switzerland. Canada won it's 2nd consecutive Gold Medal and 7th overall, scoring at least 5 goals, in all but one game.

-Adam Deadmarsh (USA):
After playing 48 games with the Quebec Nordiques, Deadmarsh was sent to the WJC, before returning to the Hawks. He is the only Hawks to play 3 times at the WJC. He played much better notching 6 goals and 4 assists, leading the U.S. to a 5th place finish. The neighbors to the North, won another Gold Medal, their 3rd straight and 8th overall.

-Richard Zednik (Slovakia):
The first internationally born Winterhawk to represent at the WJC, Zednik scored 5 goals and 2 assists for 7 points, as Slovakia stumbled to a 7th place finish, oddly tying the rival Czech Republic the one time they played them. Canada won 4-1 in the Gold Medal game over Sweden.


-Brad Isbister (Canada):
For the first time in 10 years, the Hawks had representation on the Canadian team in the form of the Edmonton born power forward. He scored 4 goals and 3 assists for 7 points, including a goal in their 2-0 win in the Gold Medal game against the U.S. It was a record setting 5th straight Gold Medal.

-Andrej Pokonicky (Slovakia):
Andrej tied for 4th in the tournament in scoring with 3 goals and 5 assists for 8 points as they had an up and down WJC; beating the U.S., but losing to teams like Switzerland and Kazakhstan. The Slovaks would end up barely escaping relegation with back to back wins over Germany.
-Marian Hossa (Slovakia):
He formed a formidable line with Ladislav Nagy and fellow Hawk: Podkonicky also tying for 4th in tourney scoring. Hossa also played in the 1997 WJC, but I do not include him because he did not play with the Hawks until the next season. He also played for Slovakia at the 1997 World Championships. Thanks to the over time winner from Niklas Hagman, Finland would win the Gold Medal over Russia.

-Brenden Morrow (Canada):
Morrow had 1 goal and 7 assists for 8 points as Canada lost in Over Time of the Gold Medal Game to Russia behind a game winning goal scored by Artem Chubarov.
-Andrew Ference (Canada):
The defending Memorial Cup champions had two representatives in the same year for CAN for the first time, as Ference notched 1 goal and 2 assists for 3 points.

-Marcel Hossa (Slovakia):
The younger Hossa did not have the same production as his brother in the WJC, notching a lone assist as Slovakia barely escaped relegation with a 1-0 10 minute tie-breaking game win over Ukraine. It was made worst by the fact that their rivals: the Czech Republic won the Gold Medal with a shootout victory over Russia.

-Jozef Balej (Slovakia):
The electric Slovak had 3 goals and 3 assists, but his team still stumbled to an 8th place finish overall and the Czech Republic won their 2nd consecutive Gold Medal behind the Calgary Hitmen's Pavel Brendl.
-Marcel Hossa (Slovakia):
Marcel had a better WJC, this time scoring 1 goal and adding an assist for 4 total points. His total of 5 pts in 2 WJCs is less then Marian's 8 in 1998.

-David Turon (Czech Republic):
After having representation on 10 straight WJCs, the Hawks had nobody play in 2002, but responded with Turon being named to the 2003 C.R. team. Turon would end up playing only 43 total games for the Hawks. His WJC team would fail to accomplish what the previous years team's had done, losing in the Quarter-Finals en route to a 6th place finish. Russia would win the Gold over Canada 3-2.
Turon had 1 goal in the tourney.

-Braydon Coburn (Canada):
2 goals and 1 assist for 3 points, as Canada lost to U.S. 4-3 in the Gold Medal game. This was the Americans first ever Gold. Zach Parise was voted Tournament MVP.

-Braydon Coburn (Canada):
Probably the most dominant a Canadian team has ever played at the WJC, as they only allowed more then 1 goal once and outscored opponents 41-7 in the 6 games behind talented future NHLers like Patrice Bergeron, Ryan Getzlaf, Jeff Carter and Sidney Crosby just to name a few. They blew out Russia in the GM game 6-1, beating future NHL greats Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin.

Stefan Langwieder (Germany):
The defensive D-man would play only one year in Portland, but represented Germany at the '07 WJCs. Stefan had no points in the tourney and Germany finished with a 1-4 record, getting relegated for the next year's tourney. Canada won it's 13th title behind Tri City American Carey Price, who was MVP.

-Radim Valchar (Czech Republic):
After being left off of the 2008 team, Valchar made it in '09, notching 1 assist in 6 games, as the C.R. finished 6th overall. Canada continued it's domination with it's 15th title and 5th consecutive. John Tavares was named MVP.

-Luke Walker (USA):
The first Winterhawk to represent the U.S. since Deadmarsh, 15 years prior., the gritty two way player notched 1 assist in the tourney as the U.S., behind scoring leader Derek Stepan won it's 2nd title 6-5 in OT over Canada. John Carlson scored the winner.
-Nino Niederreiter (Switzerland):
-El Nino' scored 6 goals and 4 assists for 10 points, finishing tied for 7th in tourney scoring. The, mostly no-name Swiss advanced all the way to the Bronze Medal game before being dispatched by the Swedes 11-4. Future Hawk Luca Sbisa also played for the Swiss.

-Ryan Johansen (Canada):
The big centerman scored 3 goals and added 6 assists for 9 points as Canada collapsed in the Gold Medal game, letting Russia score 5 un-answered goals after taking a 3-0 lead and watch Gold slip right through their fingers. Johansen finished tied for 6th in tourney scoring. He was the first Hawk to be named to the All-Star team at the tourney.
-Nino Niederreiter (Switzerland):
Nino notched 5 goals and 2 assists for 7 points as the Swiss made it to the quarters before being ousted by Canada. They would finish 5th overall.
-Sven Baertschi (Switzerland):
Sven scored 1 goal and 1 assist for 2 points, making it the first time 3 different Hawks scored in the same WJC.

-Sven Baertschi (Switzerland):
The Swiss and Sven both had poor outings, as they barely avoided being relegated and he was held off the score sheet for the entire tourney. Sweden won gold for the 2nd time 1-0 in OT over Russia behind Mika Zibanejad's winner.

-Seth Jones (USA):
The big D-man from Texas had 1 goal and 6 assists in the tourney for 7 points, helping them to a 3-1 Gold Medal Game win over Sweden.  This was the U.S.' 3rd title and Goalie John Gibson was named MVP.
-Ty Rattie (Canada):
3 goals for the sniper, including the only one for Canada in their 5-1 Semi-final loss to the USA. The Canadians would finish in 4th place overall, losing the Bronze Medal game in OT.
-Tyler Wotherspoon (Canada):
1 goal and 1 assist for the D-man in his only appearance for the national team outside of the WHC-17s.

-Nic Petan (Canada):
4 goals and 1 assist for 5 points as Canada went home without any medals for the 2nd consecutive year. It was nearly the same storyline as the previous year as they went unbeaten in group play only to fall twice in a row when it really counted.
-Taylor Leier (Canada):
The fantastic 2-way player was added after his great play in the Subway Series, but could not find the score sheet in the tourney.
-Derrick Pouliot (Canada):
Paired with future #1 NHL pick Aaron Ekblad for most of the WJC, he had 1 goal and 4 assists for 5 points and finished +2 overall. Future Winterhawk Mat Dumba also played for Canada.

This year Chase De Leo (USA), Nic Petan (Canada) and Oliver Bjorkstrand (Denmark), look to make their teams out of training camps and add more names to this very long list that includes 5 gold medal winners, 4 silvers and 2 bronzes. The overall career scoring leaders among Winterhawks are as follows:
    1. Turcotte (USA)- 11
    2. Babych (Canada)- 10
    3. Deadmarsh (USA)- 10
    4. Heath (Canada)- 9
    5. Johansen (Canada)- 9
With 4 points or more in this tourney, Petan will crack the top 5 all time Hawks WJC performers. That is if he makes the squad of course.

If all three players at camps make their squads it will mean 3 years in a row that 3 Hawks have played at the tourney for the best players at this age level in the world and 4 of the last 5 years that this is the case.

The tournament gets underway on Boxing day (12/26) and continues through January 5th.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Hawks Down Tips 5-3 on Teddy Bear Toss Night

Everett 3 @Portland 5
In an important match up between the two top teams in the U.S. Division, Portland was able to ride two goals from Paul Bittner and 3 assists from Layne Viveiros en route to a 5-3 win at Veterans Memorial Coliseum Saturday night.

Portland rebounded from a poor start in Friday's game, with a quick start Saturday. Paul Bittner made the home faithful happy when he centered a pass towards the Everett net and a streaking Dominic Turgeon. the puck caromed off of Everett D-man Jordan Wharrie's skate as he was checking away a Winterhawk and past starting Goalie Carter Hart. The goal brought 10,578 teddy bears crashing to the ice and rewarded Bittner with a lucky goal a night after he hit 2 posts in Vancouver. The goal was scored at the 2:59 mark of the first and thus is the 3rd fastest Teddy Bear Toss goal in franchise history. The record, according to Hawks play by play broadcaster Todd Vrooman, is held by both Spencer Bennett and Ty Rattie at 2:52. When the bears were scooped up, Everett was able to respond quickly, scoring (playing time wise) 55 seconds later, when a faceoff win found Cole MacDonald at the left faceoff dot alone. He fired a shot short side on Adin Hill and tied the game. It was his 6th of the year, but first in over a month. Bittner wasn't happy with just one goal in the period though and re-instilled a Portland lead, when Oliver Bjorkstrand found him on the back door with a nifty pass. Bittner beat Hart glove side, scoring his 11th of the season and giving him his 3rd two goal game of the season (he has yet to score a hat trick this season, but had 2 last year). Austin Lotz was brought in off the bench in hopes that this would settle the Tips down but Portland was not done scoring as the blazing hot Miles Koules found a bouncing Chase De Leo pass and beat Hart to give the Hawks a 3-1 first period lead. The entire play was set up be a fantastic, spin move-outlet pass combination by Layne Viveiros, who exhibited a high amount of confidence in the game. It was Koules' 11th goal of the season, 10th with Portland and he now has 5 points in his last 4 games. The score was 3-1 Portland despite the shot totals only being 9 apiece.

Everett has made it a habit of being a difficult team to put away under Kvein Constantine and they did so gain Saturday night. Graham Millar tipped a point shot past hill, 15:50 into the 2nd,cutting the Portland lead down to 3-2. It was Millar's 9th of the season, yet his 4th vs. Portland (all off of tipped point shots). Shots in the 2nd period were 13-7 in favor of Portland, as Hart made several big saves during a delayed penalty and the ensuing penalty kill.

Portland would start another string of goals packed closely together, when the Hawks broke out after a fantastic hit by Keoni Texeira, freed up the puck. The goal was ultimately scored by Dominic Turgeon off a feed from Koules. Turgeon was extremely patient on the play, waiting out Hart and picking his spot. The goal was his 9th of the season and he is now 1 away from his career high of 10 last year. Remi Laurencelle scored just 14 seconds later after a centering feed from Nikita Scherbak handcuffed Hill and found Remi's stick. The goal was his 7th of the season, but his 3rd since returning from a month long injury absence, 4 games ago. The game looked to be another tight finish between the two teams, until Oliver Bjorkstrand provided some insurance, scoring his 20th of the season and 14th in his last 17 games (a nearly 1 goal a game average!). Everett would get some chances late on Hill, but nothing that was a grade A type chance and Portland notched their 7th win in their last 8 games.

The win also gets them 2 points closer to the U.S. Division lead, leaving them only 3 points back (38-35). Everett does have 4 games in hand on Portland though.

Carter Hart was chased for the 2nd time vs. Portland this year, but returned, played pretty well and stopped a total of 20/24 shots. Lotz's quick relief was good for 5/6. Adin Hill's win streak continued at 6 games. He has won every game he's played in since returning from injury (5 starts-1 in relief).

Portland failed to score a power play goal for the 2nd straight game, going 0/2, while Everett went 0/5. The Winterhawks power play fell from 2nd, recently to 6th now with a 21.6% success rate. Their PK is now 10th in the WHL at 80.8%.

Game Notes:
-Chase De Leo's point streak continued as he had 2 assists and now has points in 8 straight games. He has 12 total points over that span.
-Ben Betker took 3 different big hits on the night and seemed to be a target for the onrushing Winterhawks. Keegan Iverson provided 2 of these, while Evan Weinger provided one. Weinger's hit brought after the whistle ire form Betker. Iverson stepped in and received the extra 2 minutes before engaging in fisticuffs with Betker. In my opinion, Betker's mobility is lacking, leaving himself open to these types of checks and possibly keeping the big D-man from playing at the next level. We shall see if I'm right.
-Scherbak also has an 8 game point streak, as he notched two assists on the night. In his last 3 games vs. Portland he has 3 points, but has been mostly quiet. A couple different times, Portland D-men did a great job of separating him from the puck, leading to him exhibiting some pretty obvious frustration. If Portland can do this to him in their remaining 3 games 3 games against the Tips, they will continue to be successful as he is their  one game breaker.
-Portland and Everett have now played each other 7 times and Everett is 4-2-1-0, while Portland is 3-3-0-1. The Hawks have won the last 2 games by a combined 12-4 score. The two teams do not face each other again until January 31st.
Texeira after last year's Toss goal
-The Silvertips have only won 4 of their last 10 games, while Portland has won 8.
-Keoni Texeira had an excellent game, using his positioning multiple times to take the puck away from rushing Silvertip's player in his own zone. With his assist in the game, he now has a 3 game point streak going as well. His confidence has to be soaring out there with his recent play.
-With Oliver Bjorkstrand serving a penalty, Paul Bittner got to play a little PK time and was fantastic, using his hockey smarts and his long reach to break up several passes. To be honest, I have often wondered why he is not used more often.
-Sklyer McKenzie made two smart plays and one not so smart play. The two smart ones both involved creating turnovers and getting scoring chances in the slot. The not so smart one involved check from behind that drove Carter Cochrane into the boards and put the Hawks short handed.
-Ivan Nikolishin went down pretty hard in Portland and Everett was not granted a Power Play. Kevin Constantine, just like last time, was very upset. But unlike last time, he did not  do enough to get himself ejected. Nikolishin has done himself a dis-service it seems, as he has a reputation in the league for diving and the borderline calls will not be whistled if it's him that is on the receiving end (kind of like Brendan Leipsic last year).
-Jamie Kompon switched up the lines for the first time in many games, ; placing Miles Koules with Alex Schoenborn and Chase De Leo and putting Evan Weinger with Keegan Iverson and Dominic Turgeon. Ethan Price was moved down the 4th line in the shuffle.

3 Stars:
#3: Mile Koules: 1 goal and 1 assist for the Californian. I really like what this acquisition has brought to the team. He has shown a great chemistry with Chase, despite not playing together growing up at all and if De Leo and Schoenborn can keep their combined play going, look for more points form this unit.

#2: Layne Viveiros: His defensive play has improved immensely and his confidence with it, allowing him to make some pretty great plays on both sides of the puck. The outlet pass was a thing of beauty and his play in standing up Nikita Scherbak was nearly as good.

#1: Paul Bittner: Teddy Bear Toss goal and the first 2 of the game. Bittner is really coming into his own and learning how to use his size effectively on the top line. I can't wait to see how much his draft stock rises as the rest of the season unfolds.

Miles Koules and he Hawks take on his former team as Medicine Hat comes in for a 5:00 pm start. The Hat has won 5 straight, including the first 2 games of their U.S. Division swing.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Hawks 6 Game Win Streak Ends in Vancouver: 3-2

Portland 2 @Vancouver 3:
The Portland Winterhawks fell in Vancouver on Friday night, mostly due to a poor start and stellar goaltending from the Giant's Payton Lee. The game was  a scrappy affair, especially as the game went on, partially sent off due to several collisions with goaltenders Lee and Portland's Brendan Burke.
The game opened with Jackson Houck finding the net behind Burke, just 20 seconds into the game off a turnover that was forced by 16 year old, former #1 overall Bantam Draft Pick Tyler Benson. The shot from Houck appeared to have deflected off of Portland D-man Layne Viveiros' and past Burke. The crowd was already emotional due to a moving tribute for NHL legend Pat Quinn, who was a minority Giants owner and passed away last week. The Giants were also inspired due to the recent coaching change that brought Claude Noel in. Combine these two things and giving up an early goal is the last thing you wanted to do if you were Portland. The Giants placed 6 shots in the first 6:30 of the first period on Burke, before Portland could get one on Lee. The lopsided play continued when Miles Koules was whistled for interference and Carter Popoff found a loose puck in the slot, beating Burke for the 2-0 lead. Insult was added when Anton Cederholm checked Jackson Houck into Burke, causing him to take an elbow to the head. It also appeared that the puck was on it's way to Burke when Cederholm was checking Houck into him. It'll never be known whether Burke would have stopped the shot, were he not to be interfered with, but regardless the Hawks were in a 2-0 hole. Some of this was helped when Blake Heinrich found a shooting lane and Alex Schoenborn tipped the puck past Lee to cut into the lead with 5:37 left in the frame. The Giants out shot 18-7 in the period and out chanced them by a large margin as well.
The second period was a much better effort by the Hawks, but despite a 53 second 5 on 3 power play, they could not beat Lee on 11 shots.
In the third, the Hawks continued to control a lot of the play but were faced with another 2 goal lead after Houck found a bouncing puck in the slot and put it past Burke, despite having 2 Portland players right around him. The goal was the Giants 2nd power play goal of the day. Then after Nick Heid's delay of game penalty put the Hawks down a man again, Miles Koules created space for himself in the Giant's zone and beat Lee form just below the blue line. The short handed goal was his first of that type this season and the Hawks 8th of the season. Koules and Paul Bittner both had grad A chances late but their shots found posts instead. With under a minute left, the Hawks were pressing and Schoenborn was checked into Lee by Dmitry Osipov. Directly as this was happening a Portland shot found it's way past Lee. The goal was waved off and no more Portland shots could find their way past him, handing the Hawks a tough loss.
Lee stopped 32 of 34 shots for his 2nd straight win and 30+ save performance. It was also only his 2nd 30+ save performance of the season. Burke played well after the initial 2 goals he gave up and saved 34 of 37 in the loss.
Portland's power play, which had come in as the #1 road power play in the WHL, was 0/6 on the night. Vancouver had 2 power play goals for the 2nd straight game, as they were 2/3 against Calgary.
Game Notes:
-Schoenborn threw a late hit to the head of Mason Geertsen as the buzzer was sounding and was assessed a (post mortem) 2 minute "checking to the head" penalty. This created a melee after the game in which Geertsen threw several punches at Schoenborn, as the linesmen were trying to intervene. It is unknown whether any fines will be handed down, but I would not be surprised if there were some.
-Portland's top line was again their best tonight, despite not getting a goal behind Lee. Paul Bittner was especially good as he used his large frame consistently to shield Giants off the puck, leading to him drawing 2 different penalties.
-Oliver Bjorkstrand's 10 game point streak and his 5 game goal streak were both ended, despite great play.
-Chase De Leo's 6 game point streak was extended to 7 though as he had 2 assists on the night. He now has 8 points in his last 5 games.
-Miles Koules, who scored his 10th of the year, now has points in 3 straight.
-Schoenborn has goals in consecutive games and has 12 points in his last 12 games.
-Alex Overhardt had a couple solid plays, centering the 4th line for the Hawks. Chief among these was a great back-check on Alec Baer, who had a wide open net to shoot at.
-Dakota Odgers made his presence felt in one series of plays in which stirred things up after a whistle and then had a prime scoring chance, wrapping the puck around the net and nearly getting it past Burke. Odgers was playing in his 6th game with the Giants after being acquired from Swift Current. Oddly enough, his last goal was against the Hawks back on 10/22 when he was a Bronco.
-Dalton Sward had his captaincy removed before the game but his paly was solid, especially on the penalty kill and he should receive it back after the new coach gets to know the team better.
3 Stars:
#3: Payton Lee:
The Koules goal, he would probably want back, but he made several great saves that were highlighted by one he made on a Chase De Leo deflection. Lee was atrocious earlier this season, but now has performed well in back to back games.
#2: Tyler Benson:
This guy does not play like a 16 year old player. He was able to beat Winterhawks to pucks or out-muscle them on numerous occasions along the boards. He had 3 assists on the night. This was his first 3 point game of his WHL career.
#1: Jackson Houck:
He only notched 2 points in the Hawks 4 game sweep of Vancouver in last year's playoff series, as well as, no points in all 4 games last year, yet he had 2 goals and 1 assist tonight. Houck is a physical presence out there and has an NHL type shot.
Next Up:
The 3 games in 3 nights continues with Portland hosting Everett Saturday. With Everett losing to Medicine Hat at home Friday, Portland is still 5 points behind them for the U.S. Division lead.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Portland @ Vancouver 12/5/14 Preview

Portland (15-12-0-3, 33 pts, 2nd in U.S. Division @Vancouver (10-18-0-0. 20 pts, last in B.C.)

The Winterhawks start their first of back to back 3 games in 3 nights weekends up in Vancouver, where they take on the Vancouver Giants and their new Coach: Claude Noel. Noel was brought in as a replacement for former Abbotsford Heat (AHL) Coach Troy Ward, who lasted only 25 games with the club. The season started pretty smoothly for the Giants, as they won their first 3 games, but in their next 24, they only won 6. Defensively, they were really playing poorly, as they have up 6 or more goals in 6 of the last 7 games, Ward was with the team. Reasons have been brought up for Ward's departure that include him trying to install a pro type system, that did not fit the personnel he had to work with. It was also clear that General Manager Scott Bonner, as well as, Owners Ron Toigo and even the late Pat Quinn were not fans of the way Ward was running the team.

Regardless of the reason why Ward was fired; they did find a replacement for him with a professional pedigree. He has been coachi8ng since 1984 in some fashion and was a Head Coach in Columbus and Winnipeg over 4 of the past 5 years' landing in the playoff only once. He does have a Calder Cup (AHL Championship) to his name with the Milwaukee Admirals in 2004. This, to me, is a solid hire, as long as he can connect with the younger players of today. He did not succeed in the NHL with 2 very young team in Columbus and Winnipeg and who's to say this won't change in Vancouver. Of course, these are very different games, but hiring a 59 year old coach, who has never coached in your league before, does not happen too often. On the other had, Vancouver's season was spiraling downwards and a lot of their elite talent is of the 16, 17 and 18 year old variety, there really isn't much to lose with this choice. We will see the start of the Noel era in Vancouver tonight.

Season Series:
-9/26/14: Portland 3 @Vancouver 5:
Portland was still without Nic Petan, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Josh Hanson, Brendan Burke and Blake Heinrich during the two team's only meeting prior to tonight. Portland was also without Paul Bittner, who was at the All American Prospects Game, as was Vancouver's Alec Baer. Miles Koules was also not a part of the team yet, so that's 4 forwards, 1 D-man and their starting Goalie. The Giants pumped 48 shots on Adin Hill and overcame a 3-2 deficit in the 2nd, to win behind 2 points from D-man Arvin Atwal and Over-Age Forward Joel Hamilton. Even if the outcome is the same these team will both look very different tonight.


Players To Watch:
-#14 (RW) Matt Bellerive:
The 20 year old Winger, is about the only Giant that is somewhat hot over the last 5 games. He was re-acquired from Kamloops in the off-season and was going to be relied upon for some significant offense this season. Instead, Bellerive started out cold, going 5 games into the season before notching his first point. Recently, though, he had 13 points in the month of November and 5 goals over the last 5 games. This is impressive when you factor in that the Giants were shut out twice in that span and scored only 1 goal in one of the others. The over-age player needs a great season to renew interest in him as a pro prospect and will look to keep this going tonight.

-#44 (D) Mason Geertsen:
A 19 year old, hard nosed D-man, who a lot was expected of this season. He is part of the Giant's top shut-down unit with Dmitry Osipov. The team really seems to go as Geertsen does. In their last game (a 6-3 win in Calgary) Mason was a +2 but in their 6 game losing streak, he was a combined -4.. He is a Colorado Avalanche pick and is currently unsigned, which is a concern for a D-man entering the midpoint of his 19 year old season. The Giants traded for him from Edmonton a couple seasons ago, foreseeing him as their stalwart along the blue line for the next 2 years. While, he hasn't exactly been porous, he still hasn't lived up to the potential he showed with the Oil Kings. If Vancouver continues to lose games, he will certainly be a piece that they will try to get some draft picks for.

--#1 (G) Payton Lee:
The now 18 year old Goalie was seen as the net minder of the future in Vancouver. So much so that they traded away Jackson Whistle to the Kelowna Rockets. Whistle is currently the #3 overall Goalie in the WHL, while Lee has lost his starting position at times this season to 17 year old Cody Porter. Lee, before winning his last game in Calgary, had gone a stretch of playing in 10 games, without recording a win. His GAA for the month of November is a terrible 5.30, while his save % is 0.832%. And if you want to say that this could be because of a high amount of shots allowed,; he has made more then 30 saves in only 1 game this season (his last one vs. Calgary). If the Giants are to make the playoffs, they really need Lee to rebound from this awful start to the season.

#27 (RW) Oliver Bjorkstrand:
The 19 year old Dane is just simply on fire as of late. He currently has the longest goal scoring streak (5) and second longest point scoring streak (10) in the WHL. Over the last 10 games, he has a total of 19 points. The chemistry that he could not find with Nic Petan early in the season? It can safely be said to be found. Besides the chemistry, there really isn't anything he is doing that is that different then before, I just think his accuracy has gotten a little better. We all know that he has an NHL wrist shot and lately he's been showing off a killer one timer as well. Portland has the #1 road power play in the WHL and the shocking thing to me is that Oliver only accounts for 2 of these 16 road power play goals.

#9 (C) Chase De Leo:
It seems like I find something new in his performance every game to be impressed with. He just does a lot of the little things on the ice, such as back-checking that do not show up on the score sheet. He was recently named to the preliminary roster for the USA World Juniors team and will look to continue his hot play for the December 16th start of camp. He has 9 points over his current 6 game point streak and has found great chemistry with Alex Schoenborn and Keegan Iverson. Bjokrstrand recently took over the team lead in points with 36, but Chase is right at his heels with 35.

Game Outlook:
-This is a tough game to predict, as not only are emotion going to be high with Claude Noel making his debut; you have to factor in a long ceremony before the start of the game to Minority-Owner Pat Quinn, who passed away last week. The Giants will be wearing a shamrock on their jerseys for him.
You never really know how a team will play in their first game for a new coach. Sometimes, that new voice in the locker room can inspire a team to play their best and sometimes, if a new system is being installed, like in this case, it may take awhile for them to learn.

The Hawks, meanwhile are on a 6 game win streak. During this win streak, they have found a way to win various ways. In at least a couple of them you could make the argument that they got outplayed and yet they still won. What has improved though is the rate at which Portland has been scoring. We knew that there are a large number of very skilled forwards on this team, but they were not lighting the lamp on a consistent basis. Once Coach Jamie Kompon switch the lines up 7 games ago, all 3 lines have found a way ton contribute. The defense has not been as consistent over this stretch, but that has been made up for by better performances out of Adin Hill and Brendan Burke.

Portland really needs to pounce and get a couple goals behind a struggling Goalie in Lee and this game will go their way.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Victoria @Portland 11/25/14 Preview

Victoria (14-11-2-0, 30 pts, 2nd in B.C. @Portland (11-12-0-3, 25 pts, 4th in U.S.)
The Victoria Royals make their first appearance in Portland since the Winterhawks ousted them in the 2nd round of the WHL playoffs last season, ending their season. Portland is coming into the game having won 2 games in a row over the team with the best record in all of the WHL, while Victoria shut down both the Everett Silvertips and Regina Pats over the weekend at home.

When these two teams faced each other last this season, Portland was 1-5-0-1 and Victoria was 1-4-1-0. Both teams were not playing anywhere near expected to this season because of various reasons. Both teams have now finally gotten things going and are once again looking like top 4 teams in the Western Conference. 

The Royals and the Hawks both play 3 games in 5 nights starting tonight in important stretches as we approach the 30 game mark and inch closer to the trade deadline. All 3 of Victoria's games this week are on the road, while 2 of Portland's 3 are at home in Veteran's Memorial Coliseum. Both the Royals and the Hawks are itching to start rolling here at this point and tonight is big for both squads.

Season Series:
-Monday 10/6/14: Victoria 6 vs. Portland 2
Portland had just gotten most of their core pieces back in the lineup and was coming off of their first win of the season. Victoria, however, rode a passionate crowd inspired by what they view as a huge rivalry and jumped out to a 5-0 two period lead behind 1 goal and 2 assists from Austin Carroll (as well as an un-penalized head shot on Alex Schoenborn), before coasting to a 6-2 victory and in some way exercising some personal demons.

-Missing from the lineup are 16 year old forward Dante Hannoun (upper body; 1 week) and 17 year old Goalie Evan Smith, as well as, over-age RW Brandon Magee who is serving the 3rd game of a 5 game suspension for a spearing major against Kelowna last week. Magee was sure to receive his fair share of boos in Portland tonight, had he played, as he is is the player who cross checked Nic Petan in the throat near the end of the final game of the playoff series. Recently traded away from the Royals is big 19 year old D-man Keegan Kanzig and 17 year old depth forward Matthew Campese.

-Alas the nameless Portland injury list only lasted one week as Paul Bittner is listed out with a lower body injury. The time table is listed on the WHL website as "TBD," so my guess is they are waiting for some sort of doctor diagnosis.

Players to Watch:
-#17 Tyler Soy:
Soy was listed as a "C" skater by Central Scouting for the 2015 NHL draft and has shown potential this season, but sadly it has been up and down as far as factoring on the score sheet. Soy, recently has been centering the Royal's top line with over-age power forward Austin Carroll and 18 year old, former D-man Jack Walker to great success. In the last 4 games, the trio has combined for 12 points and has seemingly found some chemistry. The 3 are very different players form one another and compliment each other in a lot of ways. In my opinion, if Victoria is to go far this season, they need Soy and #2 Center (17 year old) Regan Nagy to take large strides forwards in their games.

-#15 Greg Chase:
Chase was coming off of a season, where he had 85 points in in 70 games, was signed by the team that drafted him (Edmonton Oilers) and seemed like a surefire pick for Team Canada for the World Juniors. Somewhere along the way, he became displeased with the Calgary Hitmen (or the Oilers didn't want him playing Calgary if you believe some conspiracy theorists) and he ended up demanding a trade. Royal's General Manager Cam Hope was obviously very interested in adding some more offense to his team in hopes to keep up with the explosive Kelowna Rockets and he pulled the trigger, bringing in the 19 year old, very talented Chase. So far, Chase has played with Nagy and, fellow NHL signed Axel Blomqvist and has 1 assist in 2 games this weekend. If he wants Team Canada to ignore the drama and add him to the team, he needs to get his season on track. With someone as talented as Chase, it's only a matter of time.

-#30 Jayden Sittler:
With 6'6" backup Goalie Evan Smith going out with an injury, the Royals made an under the radar move a few weeks ago and added an 18 year old Goalie that was toiling in the AJHL for the Ft. McMurray Oil Barons, buried on the Kootenay Ice's depth chart. Sittler served as a backup for Coleman Vollrath for the first couple weeks, before his 2nd start of the season last Friday vs. Everett, when he stopped 24 of 25 shots en route to his 2nd career WHL win. He followed that up with a 33 save shut out (his first in the WHL) in a 5-0 win over Regina the next night. Sittler, most likely will get the start tongith as the Royals hope to ride the hot goaltender.

-#12 Miles Koules:
The over-age winger had the timeliest of goals last Saturday when it seemed inevitable that Kelowna was going to come back from a 3-0 deficit and tie the game. Koules is fantastic at creating himself enough space and finding a shooting lane. He has seemingly found magic with Dominic Turgeon and Ethan Price after struggling with his "demotion" down the 3rd line in previous games. Though the Hawks have a lot of playoff experience, his play out there seems to calm them down when they most need it.

-#44 Keoni Texeira:
Texeira has not moved up in the CSS 2015 NHL draft rankings, like a lot of fans have expected him to yet, though he has found great chemistry with 19 year old Blake Heinrich and has even matched his goal output his 2013/14 goal output these past couple of weeks. The confidence is starting to shine through and has learns how to pick his spots to rush up the ice and when to pinch, he has the makings to fully realize the talent that he has shown flashes of. There are times this season, when  Texeira has been completely out of place or not played a 2 on 1 well and I think this has caused him to play more conservatively. Now that the defensive side seems to start getting into shape, I think the offense will start o come.

-#13 Keegan Iverson
Some consistency offensively is needed in Iverson's game as he only has 9 points on the season so far. He has played on countless different lines, but has yet to really get it going point-wise. If he is to play on the second line with Chase De Leo and the suddenly offensively explosive Alex Schoenborn, he needs to do more then throw his body around start to put the puck on net. Iverson has a great wrist shot and moves faster then he is given credit for on the ice, but the points need to start coming more often.

Game Outlook:
-The last game before the Thanksgiving break is usually a pretty good marker for whether or not to start becoming a buyer or a seller at the trade deadline. While, neither of theses team looks like they are going to be sellers, neither has consistently shown that they belong to be considered Western Conference Title contenders along with Kelowna. If you're the Hawks, you need to take advantage of the Royals being without their best scorer and play the type of game that you played last Friday in Kelowna. That is, winning the board battles and controlling the puck in the other team's zone long enough to create scoring chances and the other team to exhausted to get mcuh going the other way. Defensively, the Royals are missing a very big piece in Kanzig and the Hawks should heave more time and space in scoring areas. For Victoria, Ryan Gagnon, Joe Hicketts and Travis Brown will be relied upon heavily against the like sof Oliver Bjorkstrand, Nic Petan and Chae De Leo. Whether or not they are able to step up defensively against the Hawks players, willprobably spell who wins this game.

Adin Hill gets the start in net for Portland. He earned it after a great weekend in the Okanogan against a very offensively gifted team. This is only Hill's 3rd start of the season as he has battled injury problems. His hot play is probably just an excuse for the Hawks to get him some more games to make up for those he missed starting due to injuries.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Portland Comes Back from 3 Down; Wins in OT 4-3 Over Kelowna

Portland 4 @Kelowna 3(OT)

The Portland Winterhawks were trailing 3-0 after the first period and were written off by just about everybody, despite out shooting the Rockets 14-12. The game aired on Sportsnet in Canada and the NHL Network in the U.S. and seemed like a public embarrassment. Likely the national pundits forgot that this is the same franchise that was down 3 goals wit their season on the line in Edmonton during Game 6 last May. Again the Hawks just willed themselves to out shoot the Rockets 52-26 en route to a 4-3 OT win on Friday night.

The scoring was opened 5:12 into the game when Rourke Chartier and Tyrell Goubourne found some space in a 2 on 2 vs. Anton Cederholm and Layne Viveiros. Chartier put a great pass on Goubourne's stick and goalie Brendan Burke could not get over in time so it was 1-0 Kelowna. The goal was Goulbourne's 11th of the year and 7th in the month of November. Portland seemed to respond well after this but could not solve Whistle. On the other end Jesse Lees got the puck on net and Burke appeared to have it covered. No whistle was sounded though and neither Cederholm, nor Viveiros could tie up Jesse Lees' stick. After several whacks at it, Lees pushed both Burke's left pad and the puck over the goal line for the 2-0 Rockets lead. The goal was Lees' 3rd in 2 games and 6th on the season. Kelowna was not done yet, however and after a play along the boards left both Brendan De Jong and Alex Schoenborn napping; Kris Schmidli was found in the slot and wristed it past Burke. The goal was the Swiss imports 3rd goal in 5 games and 5th on the season.


Portland's starting goalie Burke was yanked and replaced with Adin Hill prior to the start of the 2nd period. Burke left making 9 saves on 12 shots. Brendan was visibly upset with the call on the second Rocket's goal and upset with himself on their 3rd one. This would be Hill's 5th appearance on the season. The move was more in a response to the team's sloppy defensive play over the period then it was about Burke and the message was received. Portland received 3 straight power plays over the first 7+ minutes of the 2nd and made good on one of them when Alex Schoenborn got to a puck in behind the net and found Chase De Leo in the slot. Chase fired it home for his 3rd power play goal of the season. Then after Keegan Iverson made a solid play along the boards in his own zone, he was tripped and earned a power play with under 2 minutes to go in the period. Portland converted on the man advantage when an Oliver Bjorkstrand point shot was saved up into the air and was batted in by Schoenborn. It was Schoenborn's 1st power play goal of the year and his first since 10/12/13 vs. Kamloops. Portland out shot Kelowna 21-8 in the 2nd period.

Play continued to go Portland's way in the 3rd and it appeared that it was not if but when would Portland get their 3rd goal. Chase De Leo was the man who would knot it up as Whistle's pass to Madison Bowey behind the net ended up on Miles Koules' stick. He then found De Leo rushing into the zone and De Leo beat Whistle to tie the score. It was his 2nd of the game and his first multi-goal game since he had 2 in Brandon on 10/18. After Viveiros put the puck out of play and received a delay of game penalty, Kelowna put on some pressure on Adin Hill but could not solve him, forcing over time.

De Leo

In the over time session, Schoenborn and De Leo broke in on a 2 on 1 rush and Alex put in past Whsitle for his second over time winner of the year,

Whistle stopped 48 of 52 shots, while Hill got his first win of the year; stopping all 14 shots he faced.

Portland's power play went 2/6 on the night and Kelowna's top ranked PP went 0/5.

Game Notes:
-Heinrich was Portland's best D-man all night. He consistently took his man off the puck; even when it was Chartier or Nick Merkley. He also was leaned on heavily late for 2 important penalty kills. He even provided a couple blocked shots when they were needed most.
-Hill will most likely get the start tomorrow as Burke again struggled playing vs. Kelowna. It was his first game vs the Rockets since being pulled during their series with them last year.
-Ethan Price showed some incredible speed by beating Riley Stadel to a loose puck and getting a backhand shot on net.
-The Hawks did a great job of simplifying their game and not forcing the long home run passes, leading to controlled break outs and gradually wearing down the under-manned Rockets.
-Kelowna only played 10 forwards due to injury and a 1 game suspension for Rodney Southam. During the game, they were also afflicted by a 10 minute misconduct penalty to Colten Heffley and a short term injury to Tomas Soustal.
-Portland also suffered an injury on the night when Paul Bittner got his leg trapped underneath Cole Martin. He immediatelt could not put much pressure on it and slowly skated off the ice. He did not return and from seeing previous plays like this, my immediate assumption is a high ankle sprain and 6-8 weeks of recovery. Obviously this is without any inside knowledge of the state of his ankle/knee.
-Portland adjusted their lines prior to the game playing Miles Koules and Chase De Leo apart for the first time, since De Leo was moved off of the top line several weeks ago. There is obvious chemistry between De Leo and Schoenborn; as well as, Keegan Iverson. I would look for them to stay together for the time being.
-Portland's top line somehow did not find the net during 5 on 5 play, but had numerous chances that they somehow could not get past Whistle.
-This was the 2nd time Portland has beaten the Rockets on over-time this season with Bittner winning the 2nd game between the 2 back on November 1st.
-Portland is now 4-0 in OT and 0-3 in the shoot out on the season.
-The loss was Kelowna's first at home all year, snapping a 9 game home winning streak.
-The Rockets did keep their streak of getting at least a point going, for now 14 straight games.
-So far, their only home regulation loss is to Tri City 5-2 back on 10/18.
-Tyson Predinchuk joined the top line with Oliver Bjorkstrand and Petan to middling success. He had a great first 2 shifts, but seemed to struggle with the speed the two play at after that. I would assume he will be given another chance tomorrow night to play with the two.
-Nick Merkley again struggled (as much as he can) against the Hawks. He had 1 assist on the game, for 2 in 3 games against Portland. Considering he had 4pts in only 2 games last season vs. Portland in his 16 year old season; this is a drop off. Also, if you factor in that he is scoring at 1.86 points per game; he has not done nearly as well vs. Portland.


3 Stars:
#3 Jackson Whistle:
-A superb performance yet again by the Kelowna native. Coming into the game he was 2nd in GAA and 3rd in Save % and lived up to the billing. Two different times, he made highlight reel saves even without his stick. He is now 1-3 in OT. The most saves he had made in a game prior to this one was 12 less than his 48.

#2 Chase De Leo:
-De Leo has struggled recently and was looking to break out of this mini-slump right away. He had 3-4 shots in the first period alone and looked to get it on net any chance he got. He finished with 2 goals on the night.

#1 Alex Schoenborn:
-He doesn't always score goals, but when he does they are game winners. Schoenborn continued his impressive play after returning from his 4 game suspension. He now has 8 points in 6 games since coming back.

2 Teams Get Back At It:
-Tomorrow night with a 7pm face off ; the Hawks and Rockets play again. Portland is now 2-1 vs Kelowna. The win gets Portland back to within 2 games of .500 and with Seattle's loss, vaunts them into a tie with Spokane for 23 points and 3rd in the U.S. Division. If the playoffs started today the Hawks would play Kelowna in the 1st round.

Portland @ Kelowna 11/21/14 Preview

Portland (9-12-0-3, 21 pts, Tied for 3rd in U.S.) @Kelowna (21-1-2-0, 44 pts, 1st in B.C.)
In a game that will be aired on Sportsnet in Canada and NHL Network in the United States, two star laden tams face off in the first of back to back games in the Okanogan. Kelowna has managed to only lose 1 game in regulation, despite losing as many as 6 players at one time to injury. They are coming off getting 3 points out of a possible 4 in back to back games in Victoria on Tuesday and Wednesday. Kelowna has done this by scoring a WHL leading 118 goals, while giving up a 3rd in the WHL 56 goals. Portland hopes to steal a couple games this weekend from a team that is playing their 5th game in 8 days tonight and 6th in 9 tomorrow.

Season Series:
-10/30/14: Kelowna 5 @Portland 0:
Portland jumped on the Rockets for 15 shots in the first period, but were held goal-less by Kelowna goalie Jackson Whistle. They gradually took the game over and were led by 3 points apiece form Austin Glover and Justin Kirkland.
-11/2/14: Portland 3 @Kelowna 2(OT):
Paul Bittner put together one of his best shifts of the season, dominating possession in the Rockets zone in over-time and finding his own rebound to provide the heroics.

Series Point Leaders Through 2 Games:
1)Rourke Chartier 3 (1 Goal, 2 Assists)
1)Justin Kirkland 3 (1 Goal, 2 Assists)
1)Austin Glover 3 (3 Assists)
4)Madison Bowey 1 (2 Assists)

1)7 players all have just 1 point.

-16 year old forward Dillon Dube and 6th leading scorer Austin Glover are listed as out for 1-2 weeks. 5th leading scorer Justin Kirkland should be out 1-3 weeks. D-man Dalton Yorke is expected to be out 3-5 weeks and D-man Mitchell Wheaton and forward Tanner Wishnowski are out indefinitely. Rodney Southam, who was recently acquired form Tri City, due to injuries was suspended for 1 game due to earning his 3rd Game Misconduct of the season in Wednesday's game @Victoria.

-Should be 100% healthy. Dominic Turgeon took a puck off his jaw Wednesday  @ Kamloops, but continued to play in the game.

Players to Watch:
-#10 C Nick Merkley:
Merkley somehow only has 1 point so far against the Hawks. This despite the fact that he leads the WHL with 42 points in just 24 games. He has found magic with line-mates Tyrell Goubourne and Rourke Chartier this season en route to tearing the league up offensively. These 3 seem to know where the others are on the ice and can make a defense get caught puck watching, while one of them gets to a prime shooting lane and capitalizes. Merkely will be highlighted most of the night as he and Paul Bittner are  both "A" rated 2015 NHL draft prospects and will get a chance to show their wares in front of Bi-National T.V. audiences.

-#2 D/LW Jesse Lees:
The latest in a recent line of successful transitions from Defense to Forward for the Rockets. Lees has a very quick release and finally looks comfortable enough to shoot at will. He has found recent success as he has 10 points in his last 5 games. He has played really well with Tyson Baillie and Tomas Soustal, giving the Rockets some scoring support, despite the injuries.

-#4 D Madison Bowey:
Has been forced into carrying a large amount of the load defensively recently with the injuries to Wheaton and Yorke, but has still found a way to contribute offensively with 28 points in 21 games so far this season. They have tried to manage his minutes but if either of these games continues to be close look for him to be forced into logging a lot of minutes.

-#27 RW Oliver Borkstrand:
8 points in his last 4 games but has left a lot more points on the ice. He missed a wide open net and struck a cross bar on two great chances in Kamloops. If Portland is to steal some important points this weekend, they will need some scoring from their Danish sniper. The chemistry finally seems to be there with linemates Paul Bittner and Nic Petan but they have not proven this enough on the scoresheet yet.

-#23 C Dominic Turgeon:
Only 2 assists over the last 4 games, he needs to be more consistent for the Hawks. Recently he has been lined up with Alex Schoenborn and Keegan Iverson and has gotten matched up with the other team's top line a lot. If this line can outplay the other team's top line or at least make it difficult to come out of their own zone, the Hawks will most likely win. The lack of consistent play among this group has been a big issue this season.

-#2 D Anton Cederholm:
Quietly does  a lot for the Winterhawks back-end and seemed to make a concerted effort early in the season to get pucks on net and/or carry the puck into the zone. Whether it has been the coaching staff's decision or his, he has not really stuck with that as the season has gone. He has been paired often with Layne Viveiros and seems to not want to jump up into the play. Whether this is because of a lack of confidence in Viveiros or not I don't know. As a leader on this defense, they really need him to start forcing the play more. Also, in his own zone, recently his positioning has not been the greatest. He seems like he relies upon his strength to reach out and separate the other tem's forwards from the puck, rather then concentrating on his skating and separating without having to do this.

Game Outlook:
-Portland can make a loud statement with a win on the road against the #1 team in the CHL. If there was ever a time to beat this team, it is now as they are depleted due to injuries and have played a lot of close hockey games recently, requiring their stars to play a ton. If Portland can play a solid team defensive effort tonight, they can wear down a Rockets team that is without some of their larger bodies. Portland's D-men need to do a much better job of covering Kelowna forwards in their own zone rather then just sit back and watch the play, thinking their positioning is perfect, when it really is not.

Something Portland did well in their blowout win over Everett last Sunday but did not do on Wednesday was puck support. Too many times a Blazers won 50:50 puck battles along the boards and created scoring chances. It should be easier for Portland to win these battles tonight playing a team that is only playing 10 forwards.

Winning the penalty battle (drawing more then you take) will also be key as Kelowna has the #1 Power Play in the WHL at 31.7%.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Blazers Take Down Hawks 4-1

Kamloops 4 vs. Portland 1
In a strange game on Wednesday night, the Kamloops Blazers snapped their 7 game losing streak, riding 41 saves by Connor Ingram to beat Portland 4-1.


In the first period, Portland really struggled in their own zone, both winning battles along the boards and turning the puck over at an atrocious rate. The Blazers opened the scoring when Keoni Texeira had the puck poked off his stick from behind by Matt Needham and right onto the stick of Cole Ully in the slot. Brendan Burke did not go out to challenge the shot and Ully picked his blocker side corner for his 10th goal of the season and his first since October 22nd. Then at the end of the period both Alex Schoenborn and Miles Koules took penalties leading to a 1:01 of 5 on 3 play for Kamloops to open the 2nd period.

Just 16 seconds into the period, D-man Michael Fora hit Mike Winther with a nice drop pass on the rush and Winther sniped it over Burke's shoulder. It was Winther's 2nd goal in as many games. The first pass out of the zone continued to be a problem for the Hawks and Brendan Burke was forced to come up big multiple times off of terrible turnovers in the zone. Kamloops jumped out to a 3-0 lead when they when they won another boards battle and Logan McVeigh found Luke Harrison in the slot for his 3rd goal of the year. Portland cut into the lead on a delayed penalty when Oliver Bjorkstrand found Keoni Texeira at the blue line. He wristed it past Ingram for his 2nd goal of the season and 2nd in 3 games.

Then in the 3rd period with Portland controlling almost all of the zone play, Collin Shirley's shot went well wide of the Portland net but bounced off the boards right onto 16 year Jake Kryski's stick. Kryski put it into the gaping net for his 7th of the year. Portland had 6 on 4 play for an extended period near the end of the game but could not beat the stalwart 17 year old Ingram, losing in regulation for the first time in 5 games.


Connor Ingram made 41 saves on 42 shots, including 15 of 16 in the 2nd and all 16 in the 3rd. Burke made 29 saves on 33 shots on the other end of the ice.

Portland's power play went 0/3 on the power play, though one of those was a very short one at the end of 4 on 4 play. Kamloops was 1/5 on their power plays.

 Game Notes:
-Portland's defensemen and forwards played one of their worst defensive games since much earlier in the season. There were just way too many passes out across the middle of their own zone, some of which were blind passes. I don't know whether it's laziness or something else, but at times Portland tries to make the long first pass to start an odd man rush, rather then make the safe play up the boards. Recently, a lot of their success has come directly from controlling play out of their zone instead of making the risky home run pass. Coach Jamie Kompon needs to nail this home or these costly turnovers will keep leading to prime scoring chances.
-On the Blazer's 3rd goal, Josh Hanson was caught in no man's land as Harrison was allowed a prime lane to shoot from. A 20 year old D-man needs to get out and challenge that shot. Also, Hanson's game seems to have gotten worse as the season has gone on, not better. He seems almost frightened when an opponent is about to hit him in his own zone and he forces a bad pass. This is one reason, probably that he has been healthy scratch from some games recently. I would not be surprised of Nick Heid sees the ice on Friday instead of Hanson.
-Talking about not challenging shots, Brendan Burke needs to be more aggressive when a player is shooting from the slot like Ully and Harrison were. He is 6'4" and could take away a lot more of the net if he went at the player more.
-How Portland's top line only came away with one goal in this game, I will never understand. They were clicking on all cylinders and controlled the zone play on nearly every shift. Bjorkstrand hit the cross bar on a 3 on 1 rush and then a wide open net as well. Nic Petan was consistently the most dangerous player on the ice and was creating at all times. He is finally starting to consistently show the talent that we all know he has.
-Schoenborn's penalty late in the first is exactly the kid of play that got him in the coach's dog house earlier in the season and again led to a goal for the other team.
-Portland's 4th line of Ethan Price, Alex Overhardt and Skyler McKenzie did not have the same jump that the same unit (except for Predinchuk in place of Overhardt) did on Sunday vs. Everett. On most shifts, they struggled just getting it out of their own zone.
-Matt Needham did exactly what I wanted Bjorkstrand, Petan and Chase De Leo to do and that's draw penalties. By my count he drew at least 2 of the 5 Portland penalties and was tough for the Portland defense to handle all night.
-De Leo had one of his worst games of the season, as he was not as explosive and creating as he has been all season. His line (with Koules and Evan Weinger) could not get the puck going towards the Blazer's net.
-I had a real issue with the charging call on Koules to end the 2nd period, not because it wasn't  a penalty, but because Mike Winther slashed him very hard directly afterwards. The correct call, in my opinion was to match the 2 up, instead of just calling one and giving Kamloops the 2 man advantage.

3 Stars:
#3: Nic Petan
-Held off the score sheet, even though he was the flashiest player all game. Kamloops could not get the puck off of his stick. If he does this again this weekend, there is no chance he does not get at least one point.

#2: Matt Needham
-1 assist on the night for Needham, but he was the player that kept this team ticking all night. His line was one of the only ones for Kamloops that consistently held the puck in the Portland zone. His play on the fore-check was also a difference maker.

#1: Connor Ingram
-First 40+ save game for Ingram this year and a few were very pretty ones. He earned his 3rd win of the season and his first since October 25th. During the 5 games in between that he played in, 2 of his losses were in the shoot out. Right now anyways, he has the #1 spot in Kamloops over fellow 17 year old Cole Kehler.

Elsewhere in the WHL:
-Swift Current 5 vs. Brandon 0
Landon Bow got his 5th shut out of the season, making 25 saves. It was the first time the high scoring Wheat Kings have been held goal-less all season.
-Edmonton 3 @ Moose Jaw 2 (OT)
One night after Connor Gay provided the heroics against the Oil Kings, Brett Pollock did so for the defending champs, with only 46 seconds left in OT.
-Prince George 6 vs. Vancouver 1
The night after they lost in a really tough way, the Cougars rode 2 goals apiece from Chase Witala and Cal Babych for the lop sided win.
-Kelowna 5 @ Victoria 3
In a game that got ugly near the end, the Rockets got back on the winning track, led by 2 goals and 1 assist from Jesse Lees.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Portland @ Kamloops Preview 11/19

Portland 9-11-0-3, 21 pts (Tied for 3rd in U.S.) @ Kamloops 9-10-2-2, 22 pts (Tied 3rd in B.C.) 
-Portland heads into a 3 game B.C. Division road trip; starting up in Kamloops who has lost 7 straight hockey games after a fast start to the season. Portland, on the other end has won 4 of their last 6 and is coming off of scoring 7 goals against Everett on Sunday.
-Injuries, illness and lack of power play scoring has plagued Kamloops during this 7 game losing streak and they are looking for something to turn around at home tonight.

Season Series:
-Saturday 11/8/14: Portland 4 vs. Kamloops 3(OT)


Portland's top power play unit made good on opportunities late in the 1st and 2nd periods to come back from two different 1 goal deficits. Then Nic Petan converted in OT off a feed from Oliver Bjorkstrand for the win.

-Brady Gaudet has been out since November 7th (missing 3 games) with an upper body injury. He is still listed as "day to day." Also Chase Souto is still listed on their roster but has not played yet this season and has been fighting post concussion syndrome down in his home in California. Portland is currently 100% healthy (knock on wood) and will be icing a complete lineup in Kamloops.

Players to Watch:
-#11 LW Matthew Campese
The 1997 born Campese was recently acquired from Victoria along with a 2016 5th round Bantam Pick for a 3rd round 2015 Bantam Pick. Scoring depth has been an issue all season long for Kamloops, even when their top line was firing on all cylinders, so they needed another, older forward. Campese has gotten into 14 games for Victoria, playing mostly in a 4th line role; scoring 2 goals and 0 assists in those games. The Blazers have 3 other 1997 born players on the roster, so this seems like a move to take a chance on a guy developing in your system, where he hasn't yet down elsewhere with limited playing time.


-#21 LW Cole Ully
On October 25th, Ully had 6 goals and 13 assists for 19 points and was among the WHL leaders. He then battled an illness and missed 3 games. Ully rode his hot start in getting named to Team WHL and played in the Subway Super Series vs. Team Russia as a late add. He scored 2 points in his 2 games (playing alongside Nic Petan) and firmly placed himself as a dark horse to make Team Canada at the World Junior Championships. Since returning to the lineup though, Ully only has 2 assists in 4 games and has been held off of the score sheet in the last 2 games. He is the power play quarterback and has to take a lot of the blame for their recent power play woes. Simply said to get back on the winning streak the Blazers need Ully to get going.

-##24 D Ryan Rehill
The 2014 5th round New Jersey Devils draft pick has been forced into a much larger role this season, especially since Gaudet went down. In their 7 game losing streak, he has 2 assists and is a minus 1. More importantly though, considering what has caused them to struggle, he has 19 penalty minutes and has placed them on the penalty kill way too much. When your top P.K. D-man is the one placing you on the kill it is going to affect your kill and it has. During their skid he has committed penalties (leading to power plays) that led to the other team scoring 3 different power play goals. He needs to stay out of the box of Kamloops hopes to right this ship.

-#3 RW Ethan Price
Price got into the top 9 forwards by improving many aspects of his play. He had 3 of his 4 points during the season during this recent stretch. Last Sunday though, he was moved off the line with Miles Koules and Chase De Leo and down to the 4th line with Skyler McKenzie and Tyson Predinchuk. Price did not seem to sulk after his demotion and was a part of a 4th line that played a great game and created many scoring chances in their limited (early in the game) time. If he keeps his solid play up, the Hawks will be forced to find more ice time for him.


-#13 C Keegan Iverson
Iverson only has 8 points on the season, but 3 in his last 4 games, including his first multi-point of the season vs. Everett on Sunday. During that game, he played on a line with Alex Schoenborn and Dominic Turgeon and they combined for 5 points. Portland has expected that this line would have built off the chemistry they built while playing together last season, but this really had not happened prior to the Everett game. These 3 are such a load to play against and they need to step up in order for Portland to have many more games like the one last Sunday.

-#21 D Brendan De Jong
I don't know, at this point of he gets into tonight's game but it does appear that he is the favorite among the coaching staff. He split time with Nick Heid, Josh Hanson and (before he was sent down) Carter Czaikowski in the early part of the season, but has gotten into 4 straight games now for the Hawks and has improved greatly. While I have said time and again that I think the 1 year older Heid should get more ice time, I cannot argue that De Jong's mistakes have decreased greatly and his shot from the point is getting more accurate. Watching this guy improve over the next couple of seasons will certainly be a joy and it speaks to how Assistant Coach Kyle Gustavson and Head Coach Jamie Kompon have developed him so far.

Outlook Tonight:
-Kamloops finally scored on a power play in their last game, last Saturday in Everett. They had gone goal less in 25 straight power plays prior to that goal. During their last7 games, they have given up multi-power play goal nights to opponents 3 different times. As I mentioned earlier, they are taking way too many penalties defensively and have been paying the price. This could be one reason, why they have lost all 7 games, despite out shooting opponents in all but one of these games.

The Blazers have also not gotten consistent goaltending from their 1997 born tandem of Cole Kehler and Connor Ingram. They seem to just be going with the hot hand so far and have not named one of them the #1 goalie yet.

Portland meanwhile need to take advantage of getting 2 points in game against a reeling team. Oliver Bjorkstrand, Nic Petan and Chase De Leo drew some penalties against Kamloops' defense by carrying the puck in the opponent's zone and along the boards. They need to continue to do this and convert the chances they are given.

Portland's draft eligible players will get a large stage tonight with the game being aired on Shaw TV in Canada. A great game by Bittner, Keoni Texeira or Evan Weinger will certainly go a long way into getting them some more attention from scouts.

Elsewhere in the WHL:
-Brandon @Swift Current
A large East Division match up against the top 2 teams in the division. The Broncos are currently 7 points back and need this win.
-Edmonton @Moose Jaw
Connor Gay scored a highlight reel for Regina last night; handing the Oil Kings a tough loss. Edmonton hopes to respond against a team that has only; won 3 of their last 10 games.
-Medicine Hat @Kootenay
Sam Reinhart has helped the Ice win 5 straight games and is making it tough for the Ice management to trade him during what was looking like a rebuilding year.
-Vancouver @Prince George
The Cougars were given a gut punch of a loss last night in the first of 2 at home vs. Vancouver. They tied the game late and immediately gave up the winner with under a minute to go; robbing them of at least 1 point.
-Kelowna @Victoria
The Rockets 7 game win streak was snapped last night, when Axel Blomqvist sniped one home in the over-time session. The Rockets are looking to get revenge tonight in the second in 2 nights in Victoria.