Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Games 1 and 2 Stats/Notes and Analysis

Portland and Seattle split the first 2 games of their first round series on Saturday and Sunday. Somewhat surprising is the fact that Seattle won the more open and back and forth game on Saturday and Portland won the tighter checking tilt on Sunday.

First here's the stats for Saturday's 4-3 loss In Game 1:

Player TOI Shots Faceoff % Hits Blocked Shots
Bittner UNK 5 1/3=33.3% 5 0
Petan UNK 6 11/16=68.8% 2 0
Bjorkstrand UNK 4 1/1=100% 6 0
De LeoUNK314/22=63.6%30
-Good to see 2 goals from Portland's D-men, especially considering they did not get a lot of shots on net. At one point Portland's blue-liners had scored on 2 of their first 3 shots on net. I'd like to see the Hawks get more shots through, especially when the Turgeon line is out there.
-The Scott Eansor-Nolan Volcan-Donovan Neuls line along with D-men Shea Theodore and Jerret Smith got a lot of ice time vs. the Petan line and did a fantastic job at limiting the amount of looks at the net that Bjorkstrand had. 4 shot son et is low for him.
-Henirch scored his goal with 6 seconds left in the first period and Seattle's Mathew Barzal was stopped with a couple seconds left in the 2nd, setting up what I thought would be last second heroics for Portland, but it was not to be.
-Barzal's eventual game winning goal was off an incredibly skilled/incredibly lucky play by Ryan Gropp. It took a high amount of skills to knock down the puck and get around Viveiros, but luck to have the puck not get away from him in that spot. Gropp then found Barzal, who scored his 2nd of the game.
-Alex Schoenborn returned from injury after missing 19 games and demonstrated both what he's good at and what his biggest knock is. He threw 8 checks in the game, but one of those was away from the paly and set up Seattle's second goal; a power play goal off a rebound by Cory Millette.
-Ryan Gropp was stopped by the blocker of Portland's Goalie: Adin Hill's blocker on a penalty shot after he was tripped on a breakaway by Blake Heinrich, who was at the end of his shift.
-Evan Weinger his talent on the Hawk's 3rd goal, when he chipped the puck around Seattle's Turner Ottenbreit and the beat Taran Kozun down low. When he gets in open ice, he is tough for a lot of D-men to handle. If he is able to string a few goals like this together, his NHL draft stock will skyrocket.
-Probably Taran Kozun's best save on the night was midway through the 3rd when he robbed Nic Petan, who was in the slot, with his glove.

Next up Sunday's 3-0 win in Game 2:

Player TOI Shots Faceoff % Hits Blocked Shots
Bittner UNK 4 N/A 6 0
Petan UNK 4 14/19=73.7% 3 1
Bjorkstrand UNK 6 N/A 9 0
De LeoUNK68/15=53.3%31
-Portland Coach Jamie Kompon seemed to make a concerted effort in Game 2 to make sure that the Petan line avoided the Eansor line and one of the biggest statistical impacts can be seen by the fact that Bjorkstrand got a couple more shots on goal, a goal and Petan was even better at the faceoff dot.
Through the first 2 games, Petan is 25/35 for 71.4%, but he seems to do his best vs. Barzal and Alexander True.
-Keoni Texeira's play was impressive as he led the way with 11 checks, including a couple plexi-glass rattlers.
-Overall Portland's Defensemen did a fantastic job at limiting scoring chances for Seattle, mostly by using great stick checks and getting into shooting lanes, causing Seattle's shooters to hold up form getting pucks towards the net.
-Adin Hill got his 3rd shut out of the year, but his first career post-season shut out in only his 2nd career WHL playoff game (a good ratio).
-Portland has a lot of very skilled 2-way forwards in their lineup and on Sunday, they made a commitment to the fore-check and back-check, which made a huge impact on the game. Hopefully, Portland can be more consistent with this play.
-Kompon also made sure to get the 4th line more ice time, while Seattle's Steve Konowalchuk did much of the same, except for Barzal double shifting with the 4th line.
-On the one goal that actually got past a goalie, 1998 born Skyler McKenzie put two big hits on Seattle D-men, freeing up Miles Koules to get the puck towards the net and leading to a fresh off the bench Nic Petan, who poked it home. McKenzie will have to see more ice time and in fat, got some shifts in place of Evan Weinger with Dominic Turgeon and Keegan Iverson.
-Speaking of Turgeon's line; they played a great game Sunday night. Iverson and Turgeon won a whole lot of board battles, setting up a great cycle and keeping the puck in the Thunderbird's zone.
-Konowalchuk pulled Kozun with 2:05 left, only down 1, which was a little early for my taste. My philosophy is if you are down 1; unless you are under a minute, you have to establish possession deep in the other team's zone before you take this risk. Portland is too good at quickly turning play the other way to take a risk too early.
-Oliver Bjorkstrand, who scored 63 goals in the regular season, only has 1 so far this series and that was on a vacant net. He is too good to be kept down for long and could break out in Seattle Tuesday night.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Seattle-Portland Playoff Preview Part 3: Keys to Victory for Both Teams

Seattle and Portland start their first round series and here at Hodge's Heroes I've spent this week looking at different aspects of the upcoming series. I've covered: The History of the Seattle Portland Playoff Rivalry; The Head to Head Stats and a Position by Position Breakdown.

In my last preview post before before the series starts Saturday night, I want to go over the keys to victory for both teams and then I will give my ultimate prediction.

What Does Seattle Have to do to Beat Portland?:
1)Keep Portland's top line in check as much as possible.
-We've seen over the season that the best way to keep Nic Petan, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Paul Bittner in check is to keep them in their own zone as much as possible; making them burn as much of their shift, working defensively. Coach Jamie Kompon puts them out there for long shifts, so if you can get them to use all of their energy before they even gain the puck, they will not have as many scoring chances.
-Tasked with this is Scott Eansor and likely Calvin Spencer and Nolan Volcan. The best puck possession player of this group is Eansor, so he will have to take the lead.
-On the defensive side, I think Seattle will put both D-pairings of Shea Theodore-Jerret Smith and Jared Hauf-Evan Wardley against the Hawk's top line. Depending on how they do, will likely determine which one they trust more.

2)Get Shots Through from the Point.
-Seattle has several Defensemen with great slap shots: Shea Theodore, Ethan Bear, Evan Wardley and Jerret Smith. With the system Portland plays, they often leave room out on the point for D-men to get their shots off cleanly.
-Cory Millette is Seattle's best forward at getting a stick on these shots and tipping them on net. Portland has often left Forwards untouched in front, giving them room to get a tip  off.
-Missing Justin Hickman and Keegan Kolesar will be huge in this aspect of the game as they both have large frames that act as good screens in front of the Goalie. Calvin Spencer may have to try and fulfill this role.

3)Don't Take Penalties.
Portland's power play operated at 21.5% in the regular season against Seattle and a lot of those power plays were without Petan and Bjorkstrand. Time and space, which Seattle will try and limit, will be tougher when Portland has one more man. Also, if Seattle is taking a lot of penalties, it will mean that Portland's puck movers are being successful at controlling possession. So in a sense if Seattle can stay out of the box it will mean that they are doing a good job of staying in their lane defensively and will help them from giving Portland gift wrapped opportunities.

4)Ride the Big Guns.
-Barzal, Lipsbergs and Gropp are Seattle's best offensive creators and will need to be on the top of their game, especially if this becomes a back and forth affair. These three are good enough to create many scoring chances and how much they capitalize on these chances will be key in this series. If, in the first 2 games, the big three are in the plus column and each have more than 2 points apiece, Seattle will probably have won at least one more game.

5)Hope Kozun's a Wall.
-Taran Kozun was recently named Western Conference Goalie of the year and has been the most consistent backstop all season. We know he does not have many bad games, but does he have it in him to steal a series? Well, he did steal last year's first round vs. Everett, but that Tips team was not sporting 8 NHL draft picks throwing pucks his way. Seattle will only go as far Kozun can carry them.

What Does Portland Have to Do to Beat Seattle:
1)Limit Turnovers.
-This was a huge issue early in the season for the Hawks. Pizza after pizza was thrown right up the middle for team's to take advantage of. Assistant Coach Kyle Gustafson has made large improvements in this area and this has cut down on the turnovers. There is still a lot of pretty loose play near the Portland blue line  and neutral zone, leading to a lot of odd man rushes the other way. If Portland's players can keep from playing fast and loose by the blue line, expect them to creat more chances at Seattle's net.

2)Create a Consistent Fore-check.
-On the flip side, Seattle's D-men can be susceptible to some pretty poor turnovers themselves. A lot of them do not have a lot of playoff experience and if Keegan Iverson, Evan Weinger and Skyler McKenzie can throw the body around, turnovers will occur and Portland's skilled forwards will capitalize.

3)Get Offensive Production from the Blue Line.
-No Portland D-man had double digit goals, so point shots do not often find the back of the net. Activating properly has also been a little bit of a challenge. Adam Henry is by far the most skilled at jumping up into the play and if he can find the right time to do this, it makes Portland's offense a whole lot better. Henry will get a lot more playing time, if he is able to seamlessly work his way into Portland's zone control.

4)Make Clutch Plays at Clutch Time.
-Much has been made of Nic Petan's 70 playoff games played and how much more "experienced" Portland is at playing this time of year. While, I think this may be a bit overwhelmed, you can't help but notice that when Portland really needs to get a big win (save the last weekend of the season), they played with playoff intensity. However, if a game is tied late or is in OT, I would not bet against players who have been in that position many, many times.

5)Have Hill Make the Big Stops.
-The one guy with 0 playoff experience is one of the most important players for the Hawks to make a run. Even when Portland is at their best, they often give up a lot of scoring chances in the other directions. If Hill can stand tall when faced with these chances, Portland will be given the opportunity to turn momentum back the other direction.

What Will Happen?
-Portland gets the goals when  they need them and jump out to a 3-1 series lead, before finally closing it out in 6 games.

Portland in 6.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Winterhawks Prospects Weekly: 3/20-3/26

Friday, March 20th:
-Protected list Forward: Tanner Nagel (1997) notched an assist but his Tisdale Trojans squad lost in their game 5: 3-2 loss to the Battleford Stars in the SMHL Semi-Final. Nagel was his team's 3rd leading scorer with 10 points in 8 games.

Saturday, March 21st:
-Bantam Draft Pick: D-man Caleb Jones (1997) notched an assist in each of the USNTDP's back to back lopsided wins over Ethan Price (1997-Signed) and the Lincoln Stars in the USHL. He now has 19 points in 54 games on the season.
-After the Saturday loss, the Lincoln Stars auctioned off game worn Lincoln Stars jerseys and Ethan Price's landed the most money at $3,500. All money was raised for cancer awareness.
-Protected List Forward Mitchell Mattson (1998-Committed to UND) scored the eventual game winner in a 2-1 victory for the Bloomington Thunder. He now has 4 points in just 7 games since joining the team.
-Listed Forward: Luke Voltin (1995-Committed to UND) scored the Double-OT Game 5 winner for the Vernon Vipers over the Penticton Vees, putting them up  3 games to 2. Ultimately though, they lost Games 6 and 7 and lost the 2nd round series to Penticton.

Sunday, March 22nd:
-Interesting Q&A on Forward Hank Crone (1998-Committed to Boston University). Apparently, his Father is a scout for the Detroit Tigers. His Omaha Lancers (USHL) are 5th overall in the league at 30-15-8.
-Listed Forward: Fredrik Olofsson (1996-Committed to U of Nebraska-Omaha) scored a goal for the USHL's Chicago Steel  but they lost to the Youngstown Phantoms, who have now won 17 straight-a Tier 1 record. Olofsson has now scored 52 points in 50 games this year.

Monday, March 23rd:
-List Forward: Owen Sillinger (1997) scored a goal for the Regina Pat Canadians as they took Game 1 over the Battleford Stars: 5-2 in the SMHL Final. He is averaging nearly 2 points a game in the playoffs and had 64 points in 42 games in the regular season. Sillinger is the son of Mike Sillinger who holds the record for being traded to the most teams in the NHL. He was originally drafted by the Vancouver Giants in 2012 and also by the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL. 

Tuesday, March 24th:
-Listed Forwards Austin Gray (1997-Signed), Conor McEachern (1998-Unsigned) and the Cariboo Cougars fell in 2 straight games in the BCMML League Final, ending their season. Gray has not yet been added as a depth Forward to the Winterhawks roster, but still could at some point.
-2011 Bantam Draft Pick Forward Ryan Norman (1996-Committed to the University of Minnesota) and the Shattuck St. Mary's head into Nationals looking for the historic program's 4th National Title in 5 years.

Wednesday, March 25th:
-In game 1 of the 2nd round of the MJHL playoffs, signed Forward Colton Veloso (1997), notched an assist in his Steinbach Pistons' 3-2 loss to the Winnipeg Blues. Veloso has 4 pts in his 6 playoff games so far. Game 2 goes Friday the 27th.

Thursday, March 26th:
-2013 Bantam Draft pick: Kieffer Bellows (1998-Committed to Boston University) scored a goal in the Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL) 4-0 win over the Fargo Force. Kieffer and the Stampede are 6 points away from clinching a playoff spot.
-2014 Bantam Draft Picks: Scott Reedy (1999-Committed to Minnesota)and Brannon McManus (1999-Committed to Minnesota)and the Shattuck St-Mary's U-16 team rolled to a 13-0 win in their first game at Nationals over Amherst.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Seattle-Portland Playoff Preview Part 2: Position by Position

In my previous pieces this week, I've taken a look at the history of Portland and Seattle in the playoffs and I also took a look at the head to head stats. Now lets take a look at how the team's match up position by position.

Ryan Gropp (58 pts) and Mathew Barzal (57) led the way this year for the Thunderbirds and are the two that really create the most in the offensive zone. Gropp's 30 goals are 11 more than the next scorer, so they have relied upon him all year. Barzal has a ton of speed and during the regular season match up proved to be troublesome for Portland's D-men who are somewhat slow afoot (especially the 5-6 paring of Josh Hanson and Adam Henry). In his 16 year old season, Portland's D-men made it their mission to play him physically causing him to really struggle. This season, he's done a much better job of not getting himself into spots where Portland's defense can body up on him. Also, his hockey sense is insane and his ability to find Gropp or Roberts Lipsbergs in shooting areas. Lipsbergs and Barzal have played together on the same line frequently ever since Roberts was sent down by the Stockton Thunder, the ECHL affiliate of the N.Y. Islanders in January. Lipsbergs has played fantastic since being returned in his over-age season: scoring 36 points in 33 games. He is great at winning board battles and once he gets in a shooting lane, he has a very good wrist shot. Seattle really needed consistent scoring at the time he was sent down, as Barzal was out and Gropp wasn't getting a lot of help. It's fair to say Roberts has provided that.

Another great addition for Seattle; this one through a trade is 19 year old Winger Cory Millette. Since being traded over from Prince Albert he has 29 points in 32 games, despite being shuttled all around to different lines. One thing that Millette excels at that is worrisome for Portland is his ability to get into shooting lanes and tip shots past Goalies. The Hawks are not great at getting out on the point and preventing the shot and also are not known for their physicality in moving players like him out of these areas. In the playoffs, it's often like Millette who provide the pivotal goal in a series. It will be interesting to see if Millette plays with Barzal and Lipsbergs as he has often since being acquired, or if Seattle wants to load up that top line by putting Gropp in that spot.

The line that will likely be tasked with attempting to shut down Portland's top line is Center Scott Eansor and some combination of Wingers: Calvin Spencer, Donovan Neuls and Nolan Volcan. Eansor is a gritty player who sometimes contributes offensively but usually gets the assignment vs. the other team's top Center-man. Look for him to try just about anything to get Nic Petan off of his game. How well Eansor does against Petan will be a huge storyline in this series and if him and his line-mates are able to walk away from the series with a positive plus/minus that will likely mean a Seattle series win. Spencer is an 18 year old, Neuls is a 17 year old and Volcan is a 16. Spencer has a large frame so might be assigned on this shut down line, but both Neuls and Volcan have more quickness to keep up with Oliver Bjorkstrand and pester him None of these guys will be expected to provide consistent scoring, but if they are able to score the odd goal on top of their regular duties that will be huge for Seattle.

Some other forwards that will play a role are 1997 born and draft eligible: Center Alexander True, Center Lane Pederson and wingers Luke Osterman and Nick Holowko. The bigger role they play in this series and the deeper Seattle goes in the playoffs will mean more attention for them from NHL scouts and likely a late draft selection for some of them.

Oliver Bjorkstrand and his 13 goals against Seattle in 7 games, will likely lead the way in this series. While Eansor has done a remarkable job in slowing down Petan at times, Seattle has not found a way to slow down the Danish sniper. Even when they think they have him in a position where he cannot get a shot off, he finds a way and lights up the goal lamp. The specific goal that comes to mind for me is the one fairly early in the season where he walked right around Seattle's Jerret Smith and roofed a backhand shot past Goalie Taran Kozun. It does seem that the more familiar he is with how a Goalie positions himself, the more successful  he is and there is no Goalie he's faced more than Kozun.

Nic Petan was absent for large stretches of last year's playoff run, often changing his game into that of an agitator instead and spending time in the penalty box. For Portland to win this series, he needs to keep his frustration in check and just make plays. If Seattle finds that he susceptible to taking a bad penalty, they will keep at him. He is just too good of a set up man to have him away from the NHL caliber shot that Oliver has for too long. Rounding out the top line is Paul Bittner, who in his draft year has had ups and downs offensively, but has stayed consistent with playing a tough and rugged style of play in the corners; using his big frame to give him time and space. He then is able to uncork his very solid wrist shot, which has become more accurate as the season has gone on.

De Leo
Portland's next two lines could be jumbled up as LW Alex Schoenborn should return to the lineup soon. Schoenborn, at times this year was one of Portland's best players, but he also played large stretches where he took bad penalties and played awful. If he is healthy, I would expect him to be eased into a 4th line role depending on his health and how the top three lines are faring. Once he is healthy, he will probably play with Center Chase De Leo on Portland's 2nd line, along with either Keegan Iverson or Miles Koules. De Leo's role has really been pivotal for Portland this year. He's the best possession player outside of the top line and really drives the play into the other team's zone when he is on the ice. Portland really needs him to outwork Barzal or True (whomever he's on the ice against.) and set up one of the gifted scorers that will be playing with him. Iverson has been a wrecking ball since January, scoring 24 of his 39 points in those three months. I really like how he has developed and started to realize how to use his large frame in winning corner battles and screening the Goalie in front. Koules, meanwhile, is one of the best players I've seen at keeping a D-man on his hip, while he brings the puck out of the corner and into a shooting lane. I'd like to see him get more accurate with his many shots at the net, but you cannot discount how much depth scoring he brings to the Hawks.

When Portland does well, it's often due to 3rd line Center: Dominic Turgeon doing a solid job defensively vs. the other team's top Center. Turgeon has a big frame and though  he does not throw a lot of hits, his reach can make it hard on talented players in Portland's zone. At times he can add in goals as well, but in this playoff run, will be asked to play a more defensive role. Often playing with him is 16 year old Skyler McKenzie, who reminds a lot of Hawk's fans of a young Brendan Leipsic. While he is a small player, he does not back down and is one of the leaders on the team in hits.

Depending on where they slot in Schoenborn, Evan Weinger cold be moved down to play on the 4th line, but will likely start the series playing with De Leo. The growth that we've seen in Weinger's game this season is impressive. He has a lot of speed and has developed a couple different moves while streaking in on the wing; allowing him to slip past defenders and get in alone on Goalies. He is a player I will look for consistent scoring next year, but if he is able to go on a run like Edmonton's Brett Pollock, his draft stock will rocket.

Rounding out Portland's Forwards are Alex Overhardt, Mitchell Walter, Jack Flaman. It's the playoffs and Portland plays their top line a lot of minutes, so I really would not expect them to see a whole lot of ice, but when they do Overhardt's probably the guy that will have the most impact. Walter played on a Memorial Cup winning Edmonton Oil Kings team last year.

Advantage: Portland
-So who has the advantage between Portland and Seattle up front? You have to go with the team that sports the WHL's leading scorer and four players that averaged more than a point a game.

Discussion has to start with the Anaheim Duck's first round pick: Shea Theodore. Last year, Portland seemed to have their ay with Theodore, going in and around him in Seattle's zone. This year, however, he has improved a lot in his own zone this season. If you add that to his already elite level puck moving skills and shot, he is very dangerous at all times. He is the Seattle D-man most likely to try and go on an end to end rush. Often paired with him is 19 year old: Jerret Smith, who has also improved a lot this year. He actually doubled his point production from last year (from 19 to 38). Right handed shots can sometimes be hard to find in the WHL and Smith is a good one.

Evan Wardley and Jared Hauf are also paired together a lot and act as the team's shutdown D-pairing. As we all know, Wardley can often go too far and has been suspended many times (like in the video below for his hit on Petan) for his indiscretions. Hauf is 6'5" 223 lbs, so spending much time in front of the net, while he is on the ice can be painful.

Rounding out Seattle's defense is usually Ethan Bear and Turner Ottenbreit. Bear is in his draft year and could go as high as the 2nd round. He is Theodore's heir apparent as far as scoring from the blue line. He probably has one of the harder shots from the blue line in the Western Conference, as his 13 goals would attest. Ottenbreit has been a great find for General Manager Russ Farwell. He was acquired from Saskatoon in September for Adam Henry, who Saskatoon then traded to Portland. Turner is only 17 and should grow into a larger role next season, but is still a pretty good depth D-man this year.

The Hawk's top D-pairing is Anton Cederholm and Layne Viveiros. Cederholm has been Portland's most consistent D-man; does not make a lot of mistakes and uses his large frame to make life difficult for forwards in the corners. Viveiros' improvement this season has been a godsend for Portland. While his positioning is not always the best, he makes up for it by being really good with his stick and sweeping the puck off of opponent's sticks as they are trying to take him one on one. He also is the Hawk's best point producer from the back end, though he only has 8 goals.

The next pairing is usually Keoni Texeira and Blake Heinrich. Since Heinrich was paired with Texeira during the East Division run, Texeira has looked a lot better at both ends. Both of them are pretty solid in their own zone and have good chemistry in regards to when each one of them will pinch and jump up into the play. Heinrich is easily Portland's second best defensive D-man and gets the  role of top Penalty Killer along with Cederholm.

Recently, Adam Henry and Josh Hanson have been paired together as the 5-6 D-men. Henry has recently shown the best offensive ability from the back end, which was sorely missing for most of the year. Hanson, had a terrible start to the season but has rounded into form as the season has gone on.  Early on, he seemed to try too hard and often turned over the puck while trying to throw a long outlet pass. Since about January, he has done much better at using the boards to get the puck out of the zone safely when warranted.

Advantage: Seattle
-Though this position is a whole lot closer than forwards, I have to give the edge to Seattle, who has done a great job at allowing the 2nd least amount of goals this season.

Taran Kozun notched a 2.41 GAA and 0.915 Save % this year and was recently named the Western Conference Goalie of the Year and the nomination for WHL Goalie of the Year. While his numbers have not been as good vs Portland this year, you could probably say that about a lot of U.S. Division goalies. If there is a Goalie in the West that could carry his team further than they probably should go, it's Kozun. He just does not have many bad games and can go on long runs of stopping just about everything thrown his way.

Adin Hill gradually took over the job as the season has gone on and force the Hawks to trade away 19 year old Brendan Burke at the trade deadline. While he has no playoff experience in the WHL, he is the type of Goalie who does not seem too affected by the last goal, even if it was a bad one. This is the type of guy you want to tend your net in the playoffs when it really matters. His style may not be textbook but he just uses his large frame to let the puck hit him and is at his best when he is aggressive at cutting down shooting lanes.

Advantage: Seattle
-While Hill has had the better numbers, despite facing way more shots in the regular season, Kozun has more experience and already knows what it takes to carry his team to a series victory as he did last year against Everett.

While Seattle has the advantage at two of the three positions, the difference between Portland's forwards and Seattle forwards is more than Seattle's advantage in the other categories.

My final prediction along with some keys to the series will follow tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Seattle Portland Playoff Preview Part 1: Head to Head Stats

Looking ahead to the Portland Seattle series that starts this Saturday, there are strangely a lot of unknowns for a match up that we have seen 12 times this season. This is due to the fact that Seattle and Portland's best players did not play in many of those games.

Seattle had Anaheim Duck's 1st round pick: Defenseman Shea Theodore miss the first 7 games of the 12 game set, while expected first round pick: Mathew Barzal missed 4 games and Danish Center Alexander True was absent for 7 games; some of which were because he played for Denmark in the World Juniors.

Portland's leading scorers Oliver Bjorkstrand, Nic Petan and Chase De Leo were also absent for many games in the series due to being at NHL camps and the World Junior Championships. De Leo was gone for 3 games, while Bjorkstrand missed 5 and Petan 7.  Blake Heinrich, a Washington Capitals draft selection also missed time at the start of the season due to a concussion he suffered in the preseason causing him to not be able to play in the first 3 games of the series. Other pivotal Portland players to miss time were Keegan Iverson, Alex Schoenborn, Dominic Turgeon and Anton Cederholm, among others.

Keeping this in mind, a 12 game sample size is still a pretty good look at how two teams match up with each other.
Let's take a look at some of the numbers from the 12 head to head match ups.

-Seattle 7-4-1 overall
4-2 on the road and 3-2-1 at home.
-Portland 5-5-0-2 overall
 3-3 on the road and 2-2-0-2 at home.
-It should be noted that Seattle won the first three games in Portland and Portland has won all three since.

-Portland actually outscored Seattle 35-34 overall in the 12 games, helped out by games in which they scored 5 and 7 times. This is far less goal scoring overall than I expected.
-If you look at by the period scoring both teams' were pretty even across the 3 periods. Seattle scored 11 in the first periods, 10 in the 2nd and 13 in the 3rd, while Portland countered with 10 in the first periods, 12 in the 2nd and 12 in the 3rd. The Hawks also have the series' sole Over Time goal, scored by Miles Koules.
-Seattle's 3rd period scoring was not surpsrisingly very important to them as they pulled out wins in the first two games of the series by outscoring the Hawks in the last period.
The first goal of the game was scored by a Winterhawk 9 out of the 12 times.

Shots on Goal:
-This is where Seattle really had the edge as they out shot the Hawks in 10 of the 12 games and never allowed the Hawks to get more than 35 shots on goal in any game, while piling up three games in which they had 43 or more shots.
-The most lopsided games in turns of shots on net were always in Seattle's favor as in three straight games they out shot the Hawks by 15, 14 and 23 respectively.
-Seattle fired a total of 420 shots on goal over the 12 games for an average of 35 a game, while Portland fired a total of 338 or an average of 28.17 a game.

Special Teams:
-Seattle had a season power play average of 21.2%, which was 10th out of the 22 WHL teams. In the 12 games with Portland: Seattle was 7/46 or 15.2%, well under their season average.
-Portland was 22.5% PP on the season for 5th in the WHL. In the series vs. Seattle, the Hawks were 8/38 or 21.2%, just under their season average.
-What does this mean? Well considering 2 of the 7 T-birds PP goals over the 12 games were in the first game when Portland was missing 11 regulars, this could mean that a present and healthy Portland defense has the ability to stifle the T-birds PP. From the goals that I remember Seattle scoring this year, a lot were off open ice rushes or after sustaining 5 on 5 pressure, not while on the power play.
-This at the very least could mean that Seattle's Power Play will not find it easy vs the Hawk's PK unit, usually existing of Anton Cederholm and Blake Heinrich on the blue line and usually Nic Petan, Oliver Bjorktrand and Miles Koules and Chase De Leo (Dominic Turgeon and wither Paul Bittner or Keegan Iverson see time here too).

Season Series Stats:
*=No Longer on active roster.

Player Position GP Goals
Assists Points
Ryan Gropp LW 10 10 4 14
Mathew Barzal C 8 3 8 11
Roberts Lipsbergs LW 5 3 5 8
Jerret SmithD12246
Keegan KolesarRW10325
Evan WardleyD11325
Turner OttenbreitD11044
Shea TheodoreD5134
Cory MilletteLW5224
Donovan NeulsC11044
Nolan VolcanLW12044
Jared HaufD12224
Nick HolowkoLW12123
Justin HickmanRW4123
Calvin SpencerRW11033
Scott EansorC12112
Ethan BearD12022
4 tiedN/AN/AN/AN/A1

Taran Kozun: 11GP, 6-3 record, 0.854 Save % and a 3.43 GAA vs the Hawks.

Season Series Stats:
*=No Longer on active roster.

Player Position GP Goals
Assists Points
Oliver Bjorkstrand RW 7 13 2 15
Paul Bittner LW 12 4 6 10
Nic Petan C 6 1 9 10
Chase De LeoC9459
Layne ViveirosD12088
Keegan IversonRW11257
Miles KoulesRW11617
Keoni TexeiraD12055
Dominic TurgeonC11325
Alex SchoenbornRW8044
Evan WeingerRW11123
Anton CederholmD11112
Blake HeinrichD9022
Jack FlamanC9011
*Austin GrayRW1011
Adam HenryD5011
*Tyson PredinchukD5101
*Ethan PriceRW5101

Adin Hill: 9GP, 4-4 record, 0.925 Save % and a 2.71 GAA vs Seattle.

-Scott Eansor, the 7th leading scorer for Seattle this year, has only 2 points vs. Portland. Although this is probably due to him being assigned with the task of stopping the Hawk's top unit, usually the best way to beat them is to control play and get some scoring chances yourself. It will be interesting to see how Eansor matches up with Petan in the playoffs.
-Keegan Kolesar is a huge loss for Seattle in this series as he is the big physical winger, who gives Portland real problems in front of hteir own net.
-Adam Henry actually notched 1 assist for Seattle vs Portland 1 assist for Portland vs Seattle this year.
-Keegan Iverson plays this role for Portland had 7 of his 39 pts this season vs Seattle.
-Gropp led Seattle in scoring and had 14 of his 58 pts vs Portland.
-13 goals for Bjorkstrand in just 7 games is insane and speaks to how how impossible it will be for Seattle to stop him.
-Look for Shea Theodore's name to pop up in the scoring column more than it has vs Portland this year.
-I half expected Kozun's stats to be a lot better than they were, though Hill was always facing way more shots than he was, so I guess it should not have surprised me too much.
-Paul Bittner was able to contribute offensively, even without his two elite play making line mates and if he stays with Koules and De Leo, I think that his scoring won't be as affected as some may think.
-Nick Holowko had only 9 pts on the year but somehow had 3 vs Portland. It seems like there is a depth guy on each team in the U.S. Divison that always brings it a little more vs Portland Holowko appears to be that guy.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Seattle-Portland WHL Playoff History

In what is easily one of the biggest rivalries in the WHL, the Portland Winterhawks and Seattle Thunderbirds face off in the playoffs for the first time since 2005-06 when the series went to Over Time of Game 7. Since 1977, when the then Seattle Breakers joined the WHL, the teams have played a total of 8 times in the playoffs with Portland winning 6 out of the 8 so far.

Interesting to note that Portland and Seattle played each other in 4 straight years (80-83) but had only played each other 4 times in the next 31 years before getting together this year. Though in the early years there were only 6 teams in the Western Conference, so your odds were much higher of facing each other in the playoffs.

Let's look at how the previous series have gone along with how the winning team went on to fare and some notable names on the teams:

1980 Division Semi-Finals:
-Seattle (then named the Breakers) played in a three team Round Robin with Portland and the Victoria Cougars.
Both Victoria (5-3 record) and Seattle (4-4 record) advanced, eliminating Portland (3-5 record). Portland was the Scotty Munro winner that year with a 53-18-1 record, so this was a disppointing result for a team led by Tim Tookey, Dave Babych and Jim Dobson. Current Moose Jaw Head Coach Tim Hunter was one of the leading scorers on that Breaker team.
Seattle then was swept in 4 games in the Division Final by Victoria.

1981 Division Semi-Finals:
-Portland got sweet revenge the following season on the Breakers, sweeping them in 4 games. They, were then beaten by the Victoria Cougars in the Division Final in 7 games.
Now Vancouver Canucks G.M., Jim Benning and former Toronto Maple Leafs Center: Gary Yaremchuk were the reular season leading scorers on that Hawk's team.
Seattle Forward Wayne Van Dorp had 52 regular season points and 1 goal in that series. He would go on to play 125 games in the NHL for the Edmonton Oilers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks and Quebec Nordiques.

1982 Division Final
-The Hawks ended the Breaker's season for the 2nd time in a row with a 4 games to 2 victory in the Division Final. Both teams had advanced to the Final after sweeping their first round series' vs. Victoria and Kamloops.
Portland went on to win their first WHL title, advancing to the Memorial Cup, where they finished last.
That Hawks team was led by another future Toronto Maple Leaf named Yaremchuk: Ken's 31 playoff points and future New York Ranger: Randy Heath's 32.
Long time New Jersey Devil Ken Daneyko had 10 playoff points in 10 games from the blue line for Seattle.

1983 Division Semi-Final
-In what had become an annual tradition, further cementing what was becoming a bitter rivalry, Portland swept Seattle in 4 games.
The Hawks went on to lose in the WHL Final but in the first year of a 4 team Memorial Cup that included a host, the host Winter Hawks won the Cup in Portland.
American born Center-man Alfie Turcotte, who had been acquired from the Nanaimo Islanders earlier in the year, led the Hawks in playoff scoring with 32 pts. He went on to play 112 NHL games for Montreal, Winnipeg and Washington.
Joining Daneyko as a key contributor to this Breaker team, was future N.Y. Islander: Forward Alan Kerr.

1995 First Round
-After a 12 year absence from playing each other, the Hawks and now Thunderbirds (name changed in 1985) played in another 3 team round robin series.
This time Kamloops (3-1 record) and Portland (3-1 record) advanced, while Seattle (0-4) was sent packing.
The Blazers then beat Portland in 5 games in the 2nd round.
Portland fans will remember the 94-95 team as one that possibly could have gone further, had Adam Deadmarsh not missed the playoffs after being called up by the Quebec Nordiques 29 games into the Hawk's season. 16 year old Center and future Winterhawks record holder for points: Todd Robinson was 2nd in team scoring that year.
This Thunderbird team had a new first year Coach: Don Nachbaur, who now has over 600 WHL wins.

1998 Conference Quarter-Finals
-The #1 seed Winter Hawks beat the #8 seed Thunderbirds 4 games to 1 in the first round.
Seattle's top line of Mark Parrish, Stanislav Gron and Matt Demarski, all had 5 or more pts in the series. No other T-bird contributed much offensively and they had trouble shutting down Portland's top line of Robinson, Brenden Morrow and Bobby Russell.
Portland went on to win their 2nd Memorial Cup, proving that every time they win the cup they have to go through Seattle (2 out of 2 times).

Johnson and Portland's Josh Togai
2002 First Round
-In the first series between the two teams to actually go the distance, Seattle beat Portland 4 games to 3, upsetting the team that finished 30 points ahead of them in the standings.
Seattle won game 7: 3-2 behind a power play goal by D-man Trevor Johnson with 4:32 left in the game.
Leading regular season scorer for Portland Jozef Balej was held to 2 assists in the 7 games behind stellar defense and Goalie Nick Pannoni who had a shut out and three 40 plus save performances.
Seattle was swept by the Kootenay Ice in the next round.

2006 Conference Quarter Finals
-Portland returned the favor again to Seattle, this time 4 years later, when the Hawks beat the T-birds in 7 games, behind an OT winner from Jonny Bubnick.
The Hawks then lost in 5 games to the Vancouver Giants in the Conference Semi-finals.
While they did not score the series' deciding goal, current NHLers: Brandon Dubinsky and Jannik Hansen were Portland's powerful 1-2 punch in the series, both assisting on the winner and scoring 13 and 10 points in the 7 game series respectively.
Seattle was led by Chris Durand who had 8 points, including a hat trick in an 8-5 game one win.

2015 Conference Quarter-Finals
In the 9th match up of the 38 year I-5 rivalry, we are sure to be treated to yet another entertaining series.

My Season Awards for 2014/15

Prior to the game last night, the Winterhawks handed out their team awards.

Here are my awards:

-Oliver Bjorkstrand
While Nic Petan should get some notice here, Bjorkstrand's 63 goals and 118 total points led the WHL and were the most goals by a Winterhawk since Dennis Holland had 82 in 1988-89. It also put him in a 3 way tie for 7th in Winterhawks history with Try Mick and Ray Podloski.

The fact that Bjorkstrand got this done in just 59 games in a league that does not have the goal scoring output that it used to is even more impressive. He had 78 points after the World Juniors and only 40 before that, so suffice to say he found his way after the tournament. Oliver should probably win the WHL MVP as well.

-Honorable Mentions:
Petan, Chase De Leo.

Rookie of the Year:
-Adin Hill
Though he may not have played so great at the end of the season, Hill's spectacular run from November 21st onward gets him this honor in my book. He had two shut outs and went 31-9-1 over that span and had ten 40+ save performances..

-Honorable Mentions:
Blake Heinrich, Skyler McKenzie, Evan Weinger.

Best Trade Acquistion:
-Miles Koules
Acquired on 9/29 in exchange for a 2017 4th round pick. Koules ended with 26 goals and 32 assists for 58 points in 67 games with the Hawks. This was a career high for the winger who is also hoping for a career high in playoff points (he had 10 last year in 18 games).

-Honorable Mention:
Adam Henry.

Most Improved Player:
-Layne Viveiros
A #6, 7 or 8 D-man on the Winterhawks most of his career in Portland, Viveiros was thrust into the role of top D-man at the beginning of the season, while Anton Cederholm and Blake Heinrich were out of the lineup. He led the Hawks in scoring for awhile and ended with 8 goals and 35 assists for 43 points, more than double his previous career high (20). He also gradually improved at his defensive positioning, decision making and physical play. If you had told me at the beginning of the year the Hawks would be entering the playoffs with Viveiros running the point on the power play, I would not have believed you, but he has really excelled in this role as well.

-Honorable Mentions:
Oliver Bjorktrand, Keoni Texeira, Dominic Turgeon.

Defenseman of the Year:
-Anton Cederholm
I really could have gone with Blake Heinrich as well, though he was not as consistent over the entirety of the season as Cederholm was. It's been really good to see that he has the ability to add some scoring to the mix, but won't get away from his game to do so.

-Honorable Mentions:
Blake Heinrich, Layne Viveiros.

Biggest Surprise:
-Evan Weinger
The speedy forward was somewhat of an unknown entering the season and showcased a lot of raw potential in the preseason and first month of the season, but was a little fast and loose defensively, leading to him moving down the roster. After Alex Schoenborn was injured, Weinger moved onto the line with Chase De Leo and Keegan Iverson and really blossomed. This season he notched 7 goals and 19 assists for 26 points in 61 games.

-Honorable Mentions:
Skyler McKenzie, Adin Hill, Brendan De Jong.

Strangest Story:
-Missing 11 Players at NHL Camps to Start Season.
Portland played their first game without most of their players, meaning they had to add players like Joshua Smith and Travis McEvoy, just to fill out a roster.

-Honorable Mention:
Adding Bolton Pouliot without actually trading anyone for him.

Stats for Saturdays Game @Seattle and Sunday's vs. Tri City

The Winterhawks entered the last weekend of the regular season with an outside shot at the U.S. Division title; needing some help from Everett's opponents. Winning yet another U.S. Title was not in the cards for Portland as they dropped a 6-3 decision to Seattle on Saturday, while Victoria beat Everett in the shoot out 4-3, meaning it was not mathematically possible for Portland.

Here are the stats for the 6-3 loss at Seattle on 3/21/15:

Player TOI Shots Faceoff % Hits Blocked Shots
Bittner UNK 4 N/A 9 0
Petan UNK 6 11/22=50% 5 0
Bjorkstrand UNK 8 0/1=0% 1 1
De LeoUNK39/19=47.4%50
-Towards the end of the 2nd period, Portland switched up the lines. They put Evan Weinger up with Nic Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand; Paul Bittner with Chase De Leo and Miles Koules and Keegan Iverson with Dominic Turgeon and Skyler McKenzie.
-This line switch up was most likely due to the fact that Bittner had struggled recently; not scoring a goal in 4 games and the Hawk's 2nd and 3rd lines were also struggling to find the net.
-I do not know if they will keep these lines this way, especially if Alex Schoenborn returns to the lineup, but it did seem to inspire Bittner's play a bit.
-You do have to keep in mind that Bittner-De Leo-Koules played together for the team's Eastern Division road trip earlier in the season and played great together.
-A hat trick for Bjorkstrand, as he keeps his hot streak going.

Here are the stats for the season concluding 5-3 win over Tri City:

Player TOI Shots Faceoff % Hits Blocked Shots
Bjorkstrand UNK 8 N/A 1 1
Petan UNK 4 9/11=81.8% 2 2
Weinger UNK 1 N/A 6 0
De LeoUNK716/22=72.7%20
De JongUNK3N/A11
-Portland kept with the line adjustments they made the previous game and it resulted in De Leo and Bittner notching goals from the 2nd line, though Bittner's was on the power play.
-Portland dominated the face off circle for the 2nd game in a row. This makes me curious as to whether the Americans have these struggles against most other teams, or if it's just Portland that seems to have their way at the draw.
-Probably one of the games that Brendan De Jong looked the most comfortable in this season. He out 3 shots on net and looked great at outlet passes all night.
-Miles Koules had been shooting a ton prior to the last few games and has seemed to struggle getting shots on net or really getting into the flow the way he had been.
-12 hits for Iverson over the past 2 games as he is really starting to play his game in a consistent manner. He seemed to be trying to do too much earlier in the season and now has found his way by winning battles on the boards and shooting when he has a good look.
-Adam Henry is starting to look comfortable as a Hawk and is easily the most aggressive D-man they have. He is taking to the Hawk's up tempo system very well and gets a lot of good looks fairly deep in the opponent's zone.
-Bjorkstrand had 2 more goals, finishing with 63 goals in only 59 games played.
-Portland concluded the season with a 9-1 record Vs. Tri City; losing only the one game in which Eric Comrie stopped 51 of 53 shots.
-Evan Johnson was able to win his first game as a Winterhawk and it's probably the last time he will see the net this season unless Adin Hill really struggles.