Portland (3-9-0-2, 8 pts) @ Prince Albert (5-6-0-0, 10 pts)The Portland Winterhawks travel to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan to play the Raiders tonight. Both teams have not gotten off to strong starts and need to get things going as we approach the end of March. They both also have received some bad news recently. Portland lost both their starting Goalie and backup to injuries, prompting them to acquire over-age Goalie Bolton Pouliot and recall Mike Bullion from the NAHL's Wenatchee Wild. Prince Albert recently had to suspend over-age forward and returning leading scoring forward Daktota Conroy after he left the team and went home to Edmonton. In a strange turn of events, two weeks ago the Raiders made Conroy one of the 3 over-age players they were keeping, when they dealt Calder Brooks to the Spokane Chiefs. Yesterday they picked up free agent Marcus Messier, who was the odd man out in Spokane earlier in the year. Strange indeed.
-They are without Conroy and forward Colton McCarthy, who has also left the team for personal reasons. Center Tim Vanstone recently returned from an injury.
-Goalies Brendan Burke (lower body) and Adin Hill (upper body) are out. Blake Heinrich and Nic Petan recently returned from injuries.
-Portland out shot the Raiders 48-26 en route to a 6-3 win at home. Portland has won 4 straight over P.A, last losing 7-0 back in the 2008/09 season.
Players to Watch:
(10)D Josh Morrissey: He has been on the top of all Winterhawk's fans Christmas list all season and for good reason. He was the 13th overall pick in the 2013 NHL draft by the Winnipeg Jets and now familiarity playing with Nic Petan and Chase De Leo. He also is probably the top puck moving D-man in the WHL this year and this is by the far the biggest area of need for the Hawks. He has 5 points in 6 games with the Raiders this season and is always dangerous activating into the play.
(19)C Reid Gardiner: He is tied for the team lead in points with 10 and was listed as a "B" level prospect in the CSS' preliminary rankings for the 2015 NHL draft. He centers the line between Craig Leverton and former P.G. Cougar Jordan Tkatch. With the loss of Conroy and their lack of proven offensive talent up front, the Raiders will really need this line to take the brunt of the scoring responsibility.
(3)D/LW Mackenzie Stewart: He is the 7th round pick of the Vancover Canucks and was the sometimes defensive partner for Portland's Anton Cederholm. He was recently used as a forward on the Raider's 3rd line, in the absence of Conroy. With Morrissey and Sawyer Langer providing the scoring punch from the back end, Stewart is their shut down D-man. It is unknown whether Messier will arrive in time for the game tonight and if he is, Stewart may play an important role in playing multiple positions. Stewart also overcame being deaf as a child.
(30)G Bolton Pouliot: If he had even an above average outing on Wednesday, the Hawks walk away victorious. Sadly he did not and he was hung with the "L." With Bullion prbably not ready, he will most likely get the start tonight and needs to play much better for the Hawks to win. Goaltending is a very mental game and if he continues to play poorly, it could be due to the fact that he does not have much incentive to play well for the Hawks. Brendan Burke and Adin Hill are the Hawk's 1 and 2 this season and Pouliot does not have a spot there when they come back. I do not know what promises were made to him when he was acquired by Portland, but hopefully he realizes that if he plays great, he is more apt to get a spot somewhere in the league when Hill and Burke come back.
(44)D Keoni Texeira: He had his best and worst moments of the season on Wednesday. On one hand, he seemed to finally be comfortable enough with his D-partner (Black Heinrich) to activate and cause issues for the other team. One time it even led to a goal for the Hawks. However, on the other hand, he took the hooking penalty after a poor play at his own blue line, that led to the game winning goal. Keoni has a ton of talent and his development should be amazing to watch as he gets more comfortable. Hopefully he can leave his huge error behind him and come back and play as aggressive tonight.
(19)C Nic Petan: While he has 10 points in his 7 games back, he has struggled to find the time and space to work his magic. Often times Oliver Bjorkstrand, Chase De Leo and him do not seem on the same page. My biggest issue with him so far is that for a guy who was given the captaincy, he has appeared almost lazy at times. He often just coasts towards the bench at the end of the shift and sometimes does a "fly by" defesnively. I'd like to see him put this team more on his shoulders and play with more excitement then I've seen so far.
-After dropping 5 straight, the Raiders have won consecutive games over Red Deer and Kootenay. With two older players leaving the team, this locker room could be a mess right now and a win over a perennial winner like Portland would go a long way to bond this team. Portland is really looking for themselves and their identity this season and it looked like they had found it in the game on Wednesday. They were finally dominating the possesion for more than just a period at a time.
Hopefully, losing that game does not set them back and instead gets them to come together. If they win tonight, they solidify at least a .500 record on the road trip, which would be great for a team that lost both Goalies on the trip. I'm of the opinion that a test of this type is a good thing for a team that has had it almost too easy at times the last couple of years and they will be the team we were expecting by the time their Goalies come back. We will see starting tonight, if I am right.