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.