The moment we have all been waiting for will finally arrive tonight as the Seattle Thunderbirds come into the Moda Center to take on the Winterhawks at 7pm.
The 4th straight Western Conference Championship banner will be raised (getting a little crowded up there), as well as, the U.S. Division Banner.
-Portland was 9-2-1 last year vs. Seattle ouscoring them 63-31. To say they were dominant in some of those games is an understatement, as they blew them out twice: 10-2 and 10-4.
-Seattle would beat Everett in 5 games in the playoffs, before being swept by Kelowna in the 2nd round.
-Seattle lost 3 of their top 5 scorers in LW Alex Delnov (63 Pts), RW Branden Troock (58 Pts) and LW Roberts Lipsbargs (52 Pts). They also lost LW Mitch Elliot and are currently sitting at 5 over-age players (limit is 3 by 10/4). Center Jaimen Yakubowski was also traded in the offseason to Moose Jaw.
-They will have to choose between Defensemen Even Wardley and Adam Henry, forwards Sam Mckechnie and Justin Hickman and Goalie Tarzan Kozun. My guess is they will eventually go with Hickman, Henry and Kozun.
-As I covered in my previous post, Portland is currently missing 7 players at NHL camps and 2 (off the current roster) to injuries.
-Seattle is missing (Captain) Justin Hickman (shoulder), Evan Wardley (Montreal Canadians camp) and Shea Theodore (Anaheim Ducks camp) for tonight's game.
Players to Watch Tonight:
-RW Colton Veloso: The 17 year old got a few games last season and of the 1997 and 1998 born players on the roster, he appears the most WHL ready. He has agreat ice vision and had 2 assists in the preseason game vs. Spokane in Everett. With so many bodies missing to start the season, he may be relied upon to play second line minutes.
-D Joshua Smith: He played off and on with Prince George the last few seasons, but adds a significant presence to the back end despit only being 5'11". He has a devastating slap shot, skates well and fights with the best of them.
-G Adin Hill: Hill should get the start this season and the 18 year old needs a good start to prove that this season will be a breakout one for him. He should also face a ton of shots with most of Portland's top layers missing.
-C Alexander True: The Dane was Seattle's top CHL import draft pick and is their best hope to replace the scoring that Delnov and Lipsbergs accounted for last year. He is a lanky body that needs to add some size, but has shown flashes of offensive brilliance.
-D Ethan Bear: The 17 year old is in his draft year and will be counted on to take a lot of Theodore's responsibilities tonight. Bear is a smooth skating D-man, who, in the prseason games I saw him in was more than a competent power play QB.
-G Taran Kozun: The over-age Goalie had a fantastic year last season, after being acquired from Kamloops, but recently there have been questions arising about whether he should be one of the 20 year olds that is kept as 18 year old Danny Mumaugh looks ready to be the #1 netminder.
-With so many of Portland's top players missing tonight and Seattle's Matthew Barzal and Ryan Gropp looking to take advantage of their first chance this season to wow the scouts, Portland could be in for a rough night. The Hawks will need the mish-mash group on Defense (most notably Layne Viveiros, Smith and Keoni Texeira) to stand tall and get the puck quickly out of the zone and keep the pressure on a Theodore-less Defensive grouping.
-Another thing to look for is how new Coach/GM Jamie Kompon does in his WHL coaching debut. There will be a lot of comparisons made early on between him and Mike Johnston and an opening night win will go a long way to promoting his own legacy.
Elsewhere in the WHL Tonight:
Regina @ Brandon (First game between the 2 teams expected to battle for the East Division Crown)
Medicine Hat @ Lethbridge (Canes expected to start their 16 year old Goalie in his debut)
Saskatoon @ Prince Albert (P.A. is missing their top 2 scorers from last year)
Kootenay @ Red Deer (Rebels looking to prove they should host the 2016 Memorial Cup)
Moose Jaw @ Swift Current
Victoria @ Kamloops (First game of Brandon Magee's suspension served while he is away at Flames camp)