Thursday, April 30, 2015

Portland Blows Out Kelowna Then Loses in a Strong Rocket Push Back Effort/ Games 3 and 4 Notes and Stats

The Portland Winterhawks jumped out to another lead in Game 3 then were witness to a huge Kelowna meltdown, en route to a 7-3 victory.

Here are my Stats from Tuesday's 7-3 Win:
Player TOI Shots Faceoff % Hits Blocked Shots
Iverson UNK 1 N/A 6 1
Petan UNK 1 13/23=56.5% 1 0
Bjorkstrand UNK 8 N/A 4 0
De LeoUNK415/27=55.6%10
-Dominic Turgeon opened the scoring with yet another slick play in a tough area. After Miles Koules had a great rush up the ice, Turgeon found a loose puck and made a slick backhand for the goal. Turgeon also hit the crossbar, moments later. Turgeon used his size to his advantage and was able to cause issues for Kelowna's smaller defensemen.

-One such D-man was the 2nd round NHL drafted Madison Bowey, who was caught swimming on Turgeon's and though he made several smart plays on the night, he made several other poor decisions  as well. With his team trailing 4-1 in the 2nd period, Bowey cross checked Keegan Iverson several times after the whistle and earned a trip to the box, leading to Portland's 5th goal of the night. Also as the Rocket's were pushing, Bowey was caught trying to pinch and was burned by a slick pass by Nic Petan, leading to Oliver bjorkstrand's 2nd goal of the night and Portland's 6th. Bowey's ability to activate is what makes Kelowna so dangerous in transition, but he has got to be better in his own end, especially reading the play as it develops and playing the body.
-Another Rocket D-man who needs to be better for them to succeed, is Josh Morrissey. He was -2 on the night and committed 2 minor penalties, His delay of game penalty led to Turgeon's goal and he also committed a holding penalty in the 3rd period. He's struggled to physically contain Portland's top line forwards, leading to putting his team a man down. Morrissey also had a clean look at an open net with Adin Hill down and out and missed.
-Adin Hill put together one of the best single periods of goaltending I've seen from a Winterhawk Goalie in recent memory in the 2nd period. He robbed Tyrell Goulbourne while he was down on the ice and also made a stellar right pad save later in the period. He also robbed Leon Draisaitl with his glove in impressive fashion, before the referees overturned the original call despite a lack of evidence and awarded Draisaitl the goal (it's unclear what the original call was on the ice).At one point, Portland had been out shot in the 2nd period 10-2, but had out scored Kelowna 2-0.
-Anton Cederholm has been stellar against Draisaitl/Baillie and whomever they are lined with, by just being in solid position and using his size to his advanatage. He's also slowly increased how much he's jumping up into the play and this has helped the Hawk's transition offense.
-Kelowna rotated many forwards onto the line with Draisaitl and Baillie, some with success (Riley Stadel had a late goal) and some without (Kole Lind was undressed by Keoni Texeira on Portland's 2nd goal).
-Bjorkstrand had 2 goals on the night  but has still not had a hat trick in the playoffs.
-Nic Petan extended his playoff point streak to 14 games with a goal.
-Rourke Chartier was banged up and spent some time in the Rocket's locker room. Kelowna was already without forwards: Gage Quinney and Justin Kirkland.

Kelowna rebounded with a 3-2 Game Four win on Wednesday night:
Player TOI Shots Faceoff % Hits Blocked Shots
Iverson UNK 0 N/A 3 1
Petan UNK 6 8/16=50% 3 1
Bjorkstrand UNK 7 N/A 4 2
De LeoUNK513/29=44.8%41
-Portland scored first yet again as a great entry from Alex Schoenborn, led to a Paul Bittner feed to Chase De Leo back door for a goal. De Leo was not that great at the faceoff dot particularly against Leon Draisaitl, but his line continues to be the most consistent defensively for Portland.
-Schoenborn played his best all around game in the playoffs. He played great with a combination of size, speed and skill. He has gotten under the skin of the Rocket's stars as well, which helped contribute to Game 3's win.
-Kelowna was able to score 3 straight goals in the game, finally finding a way past a, yet again, spectacular Adin Hill. Draisaitl scored their first goal in the first, when Nick Merkley found him in space and he slipped  a backhand past Hill. Merkley was AWOL on Tuesday night but was Kelowna's best passer Wednesday.
-Without Rourke Chartier, Kelowna needed a lot from Merkley and Draisaitl and they got it with the first goal. This seemed to give the Rockets the confidence they needed after Tuesday's disaster.
-Tomas Soustal has been slotted in 3rd and 4th line positions in this series, but has been one of their best, play driving forwards. In the 2nd period, he made a slick play, taking advantage of Blake Heinrich colliding with his Goalie, by finding Chance Braid for an open net goal. Both Braid and Soustal give the Rockets depth of playmakers. Braid especially, I believe should be used more frequently, as Kelowna has struggled with getting much traffic in front of Hill to find the many loose pucks that have been there.
-Tyrell Goulbourne, who was robbed by Hill in Game 3, was able to find his way to one of those loose pucks and he made a nice box out move on Cederholm to get a clean swipe at it. It would hold up as the eventual game winner.
-Nic Petan scored yet again and now has a 15 game point streak in the playoffs. He definitely looked to shoot more in the game, but his goal actually came off of his skate.
-Paul Bittner who had been great in Game 3, was not so in Game 4. He had some good looks at the net, but missed them. He also, was not as adept a passer as he usually is.
-Jackson Whistle, who could not make the big save on Tuesday leading to him getting pulled, did so on Wednesday with 40 big ones on 42 shots.
-Hill responded really well after giving up the 3 goals with several more great saves to add to his highlight reel. He needed a little more help from his D-men in front of him. They've been great at clearing out the garbage, but Goulbourne found his way to a big one.

The 2-2 series continues with Game 5 going Friday night at Prospera Place.

Editor's note:
I did record times for my Time on Ice stats but have not had the opportunity to tabulate them as of yet.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Hawks and Rockets Split First 2 Games by 3-2 Scores: Notes and Stats

The Portland Winterhawks and Kelowna Rockets split the first 2 games of their best of 7 series. The two games started out the same way with Portland marching out to a 2-0 lead before Kelowna came back and tied it up. The difference between the two games was that Kelowna scored the 3rd goal in the first game, while Portland scored the 3rd in Game 2.

Here Are My Stats For Kelowna's 3-2 Win On Friday Night
Player TOI Shots Faceoff % Hits Blocked Shots
Iverson UNK 0 1/1=100% 1 0
Petan UNK 0 11/17=64.7% 3 0
Bjorkstrand UNK 7 N/A 6 0
De LeoUNK38/14=57.1%10
-Kelowna did not seem ready for Portland's speed at the start, as Oliver Bjorkstrand blazed into the Rocket's zone and beat Kelowna's Jackson Whistle on the short side to open the scoring just 35 seconds in. Bjorkstrand got several other good looks and as a whole seemed to have more room against Kelowna than he did against Seattle or Everett (at least this early in the series).
-Adam Henry made his presence known in Game 1, while the Game was 4 on 4. He made a cut against the Rocket's Madison Bowey, leaving him in the dust before top-shelfing a backhand shot and giving the Hawks a 2-0 lead. Bowey is really gifted offensively and he showed this when he activated and scored the Rocket's 1st goal. However, on the occasion of Henry's goal, as well as, a few other Portland chances, he was not as impressive defensively.
-Justin Kirkland, who mostly played on the Rocket's top line with Leon Draisaitl and Tyson Baillie, displayed some gamesmanship, while laying on Adin Hill's Goalie stick, nearly leading to a goal. He then made a power move against Portland's Layne Viveiros and beat Hill.
-Viveiros had another very poor game as faster and stronger forwards up and down the Rockets lineup had their way with him. He made a poor play, shortly after Kelowna's 2nd goal, misreading the puck and getting beat by Rourke Chartier to the puck. He then put the puck off the crossbar and past Hill, for the game's winning goal. Viveiros has shown marked improvement this year, but has played rather poorly in now several games during this playoff run. He's bounced back before and looked ot do so again.
-Adin Hill was impressive, stopping 43 of 46 shots. Kelowna was able to, pretty easily get shots through from both distance and the slot.
-Kelowna mostly matched the Nick-Merkley-Rourke Chartier-Tyrell Goulbourne against Nic Petan's line, while matching Kirkland-Draisaitl-Baillier vs. Chase De Leo's unit.
-Gage Quinney appeared to be injured at some point in the game and was held out of Game 2.

Portland Rebounded With a 3-2 Win On Saturday Night:
Player TOI Shots Faceoff % Hits Blocked Shots
Iverson UNK 2 N/A 4 0
Petan UNK 6 8/21=38.1% 3 0
Bjorkstrand UNK 3 N/A 7 0
De LeoUNK220/24=83.3%21
-Rourke Chartier mostly had his way in the faceoff circle against Petan as they were continually matched up with each other. Chartier, as a whole, was Kelowna's best player. He worked himself into his favorite shooting area off the right faceoff circle on Kelowna's first goal and set himself up several other times in prime areas. Adin Hill was able to stop him on all of the other chances.
-Kelowna was able to do a much better job in Game 2 of taking away Portland's time and space. Portland struggled with getting good shooting looks until they gained a power play and Adam Henry dished to Chase De Leo, who found an open Paul Bittner all alone in front for Portland's first goal.
De Leo
This was Bittner's first goal since Game 5 of the Seattle series and only the second game of the playoffs, in which he scored. Bittner has gotten a lot of shots off in the meantime, utilizing his long reach to get shots off over stick checks, but his accuracy has just not been what it should be.
-Kelowna was able to get another great short handed chance, after scoring short handed in Game 1. This time it was Cole Linaker who broke in alone on Hill. Hill, who has improved greatly on breakaways, stonewalled the big Center-man.
-An adjustment, Portland seemed to make for Game 2, was to make sure their fore-checker's hit Kelowna's D-men every chance they got. Oliver Bjorkstrand was on such fore-checker as he hit Cole Martin twice, once earning himself a penalty. If Portland can continue hitting Kelowna's blue liners, they will force turnovers and create more scoring chances.
-One thing that I've noticed that Kelowna does offensively, is to have some of their forwards set subtle picks on Portland's defenders earning some of their most skilled forwards time and space  in Portland's zone. While not necessarily 100% legal, it's subtle enough that they will not get called for it.
-Evan Weinger made his impact known when he blew past one of Kelowna's defenders and drove hard at the net. Mile Koules found the loose puck and fed Dominic Turgeon in front for Portland's 2nd goal. While Turgeon did not have a great game, he once again found himself on the score sheet.
-Nic Petan scored the game winner in this one in a highlight reel way by spinning around fellow Jet's prospect Josh Morrissey and beating Jackson Whistle. Petan could not find a lot of room in Game 1, but utilized his deceptive speed on several occasions including this one. Morrissey has not had a good series, as he has only 1 assist and is -1 with 6 penalty minutes in the two games. He showed his frustration after Petan's goal, by taking a shot at Petan.
-Another elite Rocket whose under performed in the series so far is Leon Draisaitl, who has only 1 assist in the 2 games. De Leo won 20 of 24 face offs, a majority of which were vs. Draisaitl. Paul Bittner has helped form Portland's best back-checking line with De Leo and Alex Schoenborn, one of the reasons Leon has struggled.
-Kelowna may have lost another depth forward, as Tomas Soustal lost an edge and went down awkwardly. He left the ice, favoring his right knee.

Portland and Kelowna get back at it for Game Three on Tuesday night in Portland.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Winterhawks Prospects Weekly: 4/17-4/23

Friday, April 17th:
-The Winterhawks signed 1998 born forward Brett Clayton out of the BCMML and the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds. Clayton is a 6'3" 197 lb forward who does not shy away from the rougher stuff. There seems to be a commitment by Portland Coach and GM Jamie Kompon to sign some bigger forwards.
-The Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL) and Center-man Kieffer Bellows (1998-Committed to Boston University) took game three in their best of 5 first round series vs the Sioux City Musketeers by a 4-1 score.
-In this preview piece about the USA's U-18 World Championship team: Caleb Jones is mentioned as part of an elite U.S. team that is one fo the favorites to take a run at Gold.

Saturday, April 18th:
-Signed Goalie Mike Bullion (1997), came on in relief for the Wenatchee Wild (NAHL), after his team fell behind 2-0 against the Lone Star Brahma in Game 3 of their first round series. Bullion stopped all of the shots he faced but the Brahma won the game, clinching it with a late empty netter and winning the series in a three game sweep.

Sunday, April 19th:
-Bellows scored the only goal for Sioux Falls in Game 4 of their first round series, but his team lost 4-1, forcing a series deciding Game 5 agaisnt Sioux City.
-After D-man Jack Dougherty (1996) and the University of Wisconsin had a record breaking 4-26-5 season, head coach Mike Eaves was forced to fire two of his assistants and later was advised this coming year could be his last. Dougherty, who was drafted 51st overall by Nasville last year, was given a lot of ice time last year as a Freshman and will be counted on to help turn the program around.

Tuesday, April 21st:
-Caleb Jones was one of 16 U.S. U18 players that made the score sheet in a 13-1 win in their final preliminary game at the World Championships. The U.S. finished 3-0-0-1 in their 4 prelimiary games. In the highlights linked, Jones activates nicely, setting up the team's first goal.

Wednesday, April 22nd:
-Bellows and Sioux Falls beat Sioux City 6-1 in the deciding Game 5 of their first round series vs, Sioux City and advanced to face the Tri City Storm in the Semi-Finals, startign Friday in Kearney, Nebraska.

Thursday, April 23rd:
-Brannon McManus (1998-committed to the U of Minnesota), who was drafted by the Winterhawks, signed a contract with the Omaha Lancers of the USHL. He will play the 2015-16 with Oamaha.
 -Special assist to Fake Mike Johnston for this article.
-Caleb Jones and Team USA blew out the Czech Republic 7-2 in the Quarter-Finals at the U-18 World Championships, setting up a Semi-Final showdown vs. Canada Saturday morning. Jake Oettinger (1998) has served as backup Goalie to the Tri City American's Evan Sarthou on two occasions, but has yet to see any action in Switzerland.

Winterhawks-Rockets Preview: Keys to Victory and Prediction

The Portland Winterhawks and the Kelowna Rockets start their Western Conference Final series tonight up in Kelowna, starting at 7:05 pm in Prospera Place. Much is being made of the fact that this is the first series in awahile that the Winterhawks are actually not favored. When looking at the two teams, the Rockets do look to be the better team on paper as they are probably the best team in the WHL from the top to the bottom of their roster.

Let's take a look at what each team will have to do in order to be victorious in what I think is going to be a very tight series.

Kelowna's Keys to Victory:
1) Shoot Early and Shoot Often.
The Rockets have outshot their opponents 120-71 in the first periods of their 9 playoff games this year. Included in that was the first game of the Victoria series, where they held the Royals to only 1 shot. Key to the Rockets is using their speed and their forward's quick releases in order to pour a barrage of shots on the opponent's goalies and get ahead quickly. Portland has never been the most adept team at blocking shots, though they showed some improvements in the last two games of the Everett series. The Rockets will be looking to get as many shots on Adin Hill as possible early in the games and try to jump out to early leads. Falling behind early, especially on the road, has been a problem for Portland on the road, even to teams they were favored to beat.

2)Get Jackson Whistle to Play His Best.
I would argue that Whistle has played extremely well for the Rockets in the playoffs, after not having a very good finish to his regular season. The 19 year old, who was originally acquired from Vancouver, has won more times then he's lost when it's mattered though the Rocket's coaches do not appear to have a ton of faith in him. Best case scenario for Kelowna is that Whistle comes out and stonewalls Portland's snipers and puts to rest any concern that backup Michael Herringer will take over the starting goalie role.
Draisaitl and Baillie

3)Get Your Top Two Lines to Play Like They Are Both #1 Lines.
Both the Draisaitl-Baillie line and the Chartier-Merkley line have the talent to be the best combos on most any team in the WHL that are no longer playing. Draisaitl is the perfect centerman for a sniper like Baillie and he will look to garner as much attention as possible from Portland's D-men before finding the open Baillie in a shooting lane. The other constant for Kelowna offensively has been Merkley and Chartier, who seem to be on the same page at all times. Their scoring pace tailed off, oddly enough around the time when Draisaitl arrived from the Edmonton Oilers. There may have been a feeling that they no longer had to carry the load with the #4 pick in the 2014 NHL draft around. The Rockets need these two to play like they are the ones shouldering the load offensively, especially when given the opportunity to play against Adam Henry and Josh Hanson, whose lack of speed could be exploited.

4)A Healthy Morrissey is a Potent Morrisey.
Josh Morrissey was named the WHL player of the week last week despite only playing in 1 game. 5 points will do that for you. There is probably no better D-man at the Junior level at using goalie screens and at finding the wide open guy in the offensive zone. If Kelowna can keep in the lineup, he will be relied upon more for kickstarting the offense, then for shutting down Portland's top line. He has usually been paired with Cole Martin, who will shoulder most of the load in the Rocket's zone. If Morrissey does end up with the puck in his own zone and under pressure, he is one of the best D-men in the league at getting the puck out of danger, so he should be able to avoid hits that could test his lower body injury.

5)Get Goals From Depth Forwards.
The Rockets boast some players on their 3rd and 4th lines that have proven that they can play on other team's top lines. One of these guys is former Prince George Cougar Chance Braid, who was palying with Jansen Harkins on the Cougar's top line, while he was there. He is asked to play more of a checking role in Kelowna and does that superbly. If he can take advantage of a matchup against Portland's 4th line to add a couple goals in this series, Portland could be in trouble. Another "depth" forward is 16 year old Dillon Dube, who is the future of the Rockets offense, but already launched 17 goals in the regular season and has 3 points in 8 games this post season. With the two Centers playing in front of him, he will not be asked to shoulder too much responsibility, but he has the skill to make the score sheet.

Portland's Keys to Victory:
1) Stay Out of the Box.
Seattle absolutely destroyed Portland on the power play in the first round scoring on 35% of their chances. Mostly through that series and the first game of the Everett series, the Hawks took awful minor penalties. If they do this against Kelowna, there is little doubt that they will pay for it. If they can play a game like they did in the last 4 games of the Everett series and take the game out of the referess hands, there chances will improve dramatically.

2)Body Up on the Rockets.
This feels weird to say about the Winterhawks, but they play a physical game that is built for the post season. This is something they have been victimized by in the past, when they got out of their element, by throwing checks instead of keeping the game in a run and gun fashion. This is definitely no longer the case with large players like Dominic Turgeon, Alex Schoenborn, Keegan Iverson playing large roles on the team now and smaller players like Oliver Bjorkstrand and Skyler McKenzie also punishing opponents, while still setting up scoring chances. If Portland can win board battles the way they did in their first two series, they will control possession with their cycle and take the puck away from Kelowna's talented players.

3)Get Crunch Time Adin Hill to be Everytime Adin Hill.
Portland's Goalie appears to play his very best when his team needs a huge stop, while giving up relatively weak goals, late in games that are not that close. Hill is gradually moving up scout's draft sheets, despite playing a strange style in net. One thing he was victimized at earlier this year was breakaways. With several huge stops in the Everett series, this no longer appears to be the case. With Portland's defensemen not extremely gifted with speed from 1-6, it's likely he will need to make quite a few breakaway stops. If he can make these key stops, Portland will use this momentum to set up chances of their own.

Portland has many gifted scorers, who continually try to pick corners on opposing goalies. Chief among these are Bjorkstrand, Paul Bittner and Miles Koules. The three of them probably lead the team in shots that go high and wide of the net. If Portland can get these three to get more of these shots on frame, there is little doubt in my mind that the Hawks can keep up with the Rocket's scoring.

5)Get More Shots on Net From Your D-men.
Adam Henry and Blake Hinrich have done a great job of jumping into the play and scoring. The other 4 D-men have to do a better job of getting shots through from the point and utilizing the screens of large framed players like Bittner, Schoenborn and Iverson. Everett and Seattle seemed to be able to block over half of Portland's D-men's shots. Kelowna does not rely on shot blocking as much and if the Hawks are able to get more shots through, they can make life difficult for Whistle and Kelowna's defense and create garbage goal opportunities.

Final Prediction: Winterhawks in 7
There are many things the factored in me picking the Winterhawks over the Rockets and thus the upset. Leading this list is the fact that I think Portland is finally starting to get comfortable in their coaches playing system and has been tested by two teams that are both better, in my opinion, then either of the teams Kelowna faced. The Hawks look to have all of the things that I look for in a WHL team that will go far: a)experience, b)at least a few elite players, c)depth lines that can grind a team down and d)a goalie who is playing his best at the best possible time.

I picked the Hawks despite the fact that Kelowna looks like an all star team. I just do not think that they have played together long enough to outlast a team like Portland, when the going gets tough.

Winterhawks-Rockets Preview: Position by Position

The Portland Winterhawks and Kelowna Rockets start their best of 7 Western Conference Final series on Friday night in Kelowna. The two teams faced each other 4 times this season with Portland winning 4. However, all of these games took place before Kelowna acquired two NHL first round picks in Josh Morrissey (Winnipeg) and Leon Draisaitl (Edmonton).

Let's take a look at how these teams matchup by position:

The Rockets are led by their German Center: Draisaitl, who always seems to be able to make a play. Last round, Portland was able to handle another first round drafted NHL talent in Everett's Nikita Scherbak (Montreal), by bodying up on him and forcing him into bad spots on the ice. Draisaitl will not be so easily handled, as evidenced by his 15 points in his 9 playoff games. He not only has the power forward skills that Scherbak possesses, but also is an extremely gifted passer. If two Portland D-man commit to stopping Draisaitl, he will find an open man for a scoring opportunity. Playing with Leon have been Tyson Baillie and Gage Quinney or Justin Kirkland. Baillie is so good at the left faceoff dot that they might just rename that area: "Baillie's Corner" at Prospera Place. He scored the OT winner in Game 2 from the exact spot and eliminated Seattle, two years ago from there as well. Gage Quinney was essentially a throw in as part of the Morrissey trade back in December. He has been anything but since arriving. He scored 31 points in his 38 games as a Rocket and could return as an over-age next season as well. Kirkland was drafted in the 3rd round by Nashville last year and was expected to be one of the team's main point producers as an 18 year old. He notched over a point per game with 51 in 50 but was hampered by injury issues all the way into the playoffs. In fact he did not play in a playoff game until Game 5 of the Victoria series.

Carrying a lot of the offensive load this season for Kelowna, especially before Leon's arrival were Rourke Chartier and Nick Merkley. They were the WHL's top two scorers for the first part of the season and with good reason. They both ended well over a point a game with 82 and 90 respectively and have played together most of the year. The two of them would be a part of  most any team in the WHL's top line, but they are the Rockets 1A line. Playing with them most of the year, has been pesty winger: Tyrell Goulbourne. He is under-sized, but finds a way to contribute offensively, while getting under your skin. He's underperformed somewhat in the playoffs, with only 1 assist in 7 post-season games.

Import forward Tomas Soustal has formed a potent combination on a line with Rodney Southam and 16 year old, speedy Center Dillon Dube. Soustal and Southam have 5 points apiece in the playoffs, while Dube has three in supporting roles. The Rockets have not always needed offense from them, but it still gives them a scary amount of depth. Also providing them depth are over-age winger Chance Braid, 19 year old Cole Linaker and 16 year old Kole Lind. Braid and Linaker give the Rockets options to throw up on their top two lines, if their first options struggle to score.

Kelowna has 4 forwards with at least 10 points in the playoffs, but none of them have as much as Portland's Nic Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand. Petan has 19 points including at least one on all 11 playoff games, while Bjorkstrand, who has "struggled" at times has 18. The two elite forwards have been faced with the shutdown Scott Eansor line in the first round vs. Seattle and the defensive system of Kevin Constantine's Everett team. Now they will face a team that can score as much as them and a defense that has first round and 2nd round NHL talent. We will see of these two can continue working their magic, because one thing is for sure: Portland will need it. Playing with them most recently is New York Ranger's draft pick Keegan Iverson, whose role it seems is to try and create more room for them to operate and shoot when they give him the chance.

Moving down to the 2nd line is big, 6'4" left wing Paul Bittner, who has 7 points in the playoffs, but still seems like he's left a little on the table. We will see if him and 2nd line Center: Chase De Leo can find a way onto the scoring sheet more consistently. De Leo always seems to find a way to create scoring chances, even when the rest of the team is struggling, so I would not be surprised if they did score more often. Playing with them has been San Jose Sharks prospect Alex Schoenborn. He basically plays the Iverson role on this line as he throws his weight around and gets under the skin of the other team. There is more offensive skill there then has been shown as he has only 3 points in the post-season.

While Schoenborn has somewhat underperformed, 3rd line Center: Dominic Turgeon has played much better then even his fondest fans expected. He does seem to be built for playoff hockey with a large frame and a 200 foot game, but he's shown more touch in tight places, as well as, a basketball style post move with his back to the net. Playing with Turgeon has been 16 year old feisty winger Skyler McKenzie and over-age sniper Miles Koules. McKenzie takes every opportunity to throw a hit, while he's on the ice and never backs down, even when the opponent is much larger than him. Koules has rounded into form as the post-season has gone on and is always dangerous, especially when taking the puck from the corner in the offensive zone into the slot.

Rounding out Portland's forward group is Center Alex Overhardt and wingers: Evan Weinger and Mitchell Walter. Portland will probably continue to put Weinger and Overhardt out more with one of their top three centers, rather than all three of them out there together. Weinger has the offensive ability to play in the top nine, if injuries or poor play force Portland to out him there.

Edge: Kelowna
-Tough to go against Portland, but the sheer amount of depth the Rockets can throw out there, beats Portland's elite top two in my book.

Josh Morrissey is one of the best skaters from the blue line in all of Junior hockey. He also has great playmaking ability and vision. He is a major source of concern for the Hawks, as the other elite D-man they've faced  in the playoffs: Shea Theodore had 9 points in the 6 game series. Morrissey has the talent to do this to the Hawks as well. Playing with Morrissey has been over-age shutdown D-man: Cole Martin. Martin will likely play the stay at home role, while Morrissey activates, but he's shown offensive ability when jumping into the play as well with 5 points this post-season.

Madison Bowey has a cannon of a point shot and notched 60 points in the regular season this year. He combines that shot with great speed and offensive awareness, which he's always on the lookout to employ. Playing with Bowey has been former Winterhawk Ryan Johansen's younger brother: Lucas. Johansen has 5 points and is +7 in the playoffs, but more importantly for the Rockets, has improved greatly in his own end, while gradually starting to look more comfortable offensively.

Rounding up the Rockets blue line are Riley Stadel, Joe Gatenby, Mitch Wheaton and Devante Stephens. Wheaton is working his way back from an injury, while Stadel has found a role as a forward if needed. Gatenby recently was awarded the Ryobi Hardest Worker in the WHL award and for good reason, as he does whatever it takes for his team to win.

Anton Cederholm has been the workhorse for Portland this post-season, skating the most minutes, while throwing a lot of checks and making moving the puck in his own zone extremely difficult. Layne Viveiros has been inconsistent this post-season and has yet to score a goal for the Hawks, something they could definitely use more of. He is one of the Hawk's most skilled D-man at taking away passing and shooting lanes, something that will be extremely paramount for the Hawks to keep the Rocket's potent scorers from lighting the lamp.

The pairing of Keoni Texira and Blake Heinrich has played the physical role for Portland, while being the team's best at getting the puck cleanly out of their zone. Both of these skills be leaned on heavily in this series.

Adam Henry is Portland's best D-man at activating into the play and creating odd man situations, while using his unique skills at finding shooting lanes for himself. He has gradually taken over as the Hawks power play quarterback, something that we all knew would eventually happen. Josh Hanson has played relatively solid in a small role and will be counted on to be a leader in the locker room.

Edge: Kelowna
I'm not sure if I ever remember a better group top to bottom, outside of maybe the 2012/13 Portland grouping that has now seen three of it's members play NHL games. Portland's D-men have gone from a relative weakness to a strength by excelling within Coach Jamie Kompon's system. But if we look at this by talent alone, it's just not that close.


What more does Jackson Whistle have to do in order for the Rocket's coaching staff to trust him? He's posted a 2.35 GAA and a 0.914 Save % this post-season but still barely held onto his job over  18 year old Michael Herringer. The backup has gone 2-0 in relief of Whistle and has been at the helm when they've clinched both of their series victories.  Goaltending is such a mental game that if Kelowna continues to show lack of trust in Whistle, it could backfire on them.

Adin Hill is the one Goalie of the two who has the full confidence of his Coach. As the game's importance increases it seems that Hill's goaltending does as well. His best saves of the entire post-season have taken place in the clinching games of both series. He will need to be every bit as good s he was in those games, for Portland to get deeper this post-season. Fear of the unknown has been a concern for a lot of Portland fans with Hill, but he's starting to show us all that there was nothing to be afraid of.

Edge: Portland
The talent is there for Kelowna, but if the Rocket's coaches do not have faith in Whistle, why should we pick him over Hill?

I will have more later in regards to keys to victory and my final prediction.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Kelowna/Tacoma-Portland Playoff History

The Tacoma/Kelowna Rockets and the Portland Winterhawks will meet in the playoffs for the 5th time in their franchises histories starting Friday, but 4 of the 5 match ups have occurred within the last 5 seasons.

Portland has yet to lose a playoff series to the Rockets and are currently 4-0 overall, winning a total of 16/19 games.

This is an oddity, considering both franchises have had a lot of success, since the Rockets joined the WHL in 1991-92 as the Tacoma Rockets. The two teams had an I-5 rivalry going before the Rockets moved out of the Tacoma Dome, north to the Okanogan.

Let's take a look at the team's playoff match up history:
1994 Division Semi-Finals:
-One year earlier, Portland and the then Tacoma Rockets had an epic finish to the season with Portland's two wins in a home and home to finish the season, clinching them the Western Conference, regular season title. I was actually lucky enough to go to both games and that home and home series is one of my favorite regular season Winterhawks memories. An upset by Spokane over Tacoma in the first round, kept the squads from facing each other in the playoffs. How Spokane won the series in 7 despite over-age Rockets forward Jamie Black notching 22 points, I'll never know.
-Portland was able to sweep a weaker Rockets team the following year in the first round, in 4 straight games.
-Future long time NHLers Kyle McLaren and Michal Grosek were leaders on that Rockets team.
-Portland was led by the Bob Clarke trophy winner Lonny Bohonos and the one and only Adam Deadmarsh.
-Portland went on to lose in 6 games to Kamloops in the West Division Finals.

2011 Conference Semi-Finals:
-17 years later, the two franchises finally met each other again.
-Portland again was able to beat the Rockets, this time 4 games to 2.
-After the now Kelowna Rockets won the first game by a score of 5-1. the Hawks reeled off 3 straight wins and went on to close out the series in 6 games.
-Ryan Johansen, Sven Baertschi and Nino Neiderreiter were Portland's playoff scoring leaders, while Kelowna was led by future (cup of coffee) Winterhawk Shane McColgan and Colorado Avalanche D-man Tyson Barrie.
-Portland went on to lose the Kootenay Ice in 5 games in the WHL Final.

2012 Conference Quarter-Finals:
-Exactly one year later the Rockets and Winterhawks were back at it again, this time in the first round.
-Portland overwhelmed the Rockets, outscoring them 21-9 overall and sweeping them in 4 straight games.
-The Hawks were again led by Sven Baertschi in playoff scoring, but he was joined this year by Ty Rattie as the team's leaders.
-Future Minnesota Wild forward Brett Bulmer had 5 points in the series for the Rockets, while Zach Franko had 4.
-The Hawks went on to lose in the WHL Finals again, this time to the Edmonton Oil Kings.


2014 Conference Finals:
-2 years later, the top two teams in the Conference all regular season, were fated to meet each other in the Western Conference Finals.
-Western Conference Goalie of the year Jordon Cooke was thought to give the Rockets the advantage by a lot of pundits and fans.
-Portland dropped the first game 5-4 in comeback fashion and were down 3-0 in Game two, before then Portland Coach Mike Johnston pulled Goalie Brendan Burke for backup Corbin Boes. Boes went on to lead the Hawks to four straight wins and a 4-1 series victory. Portland won the last two games by a combined 12-4 score.
-The Rockets were led by now New Jersey Devil Damon Severson, while Pittsburgh Penguins D-man Derrick Pouliot was probably Portland's best all around player in the series.
-The Hawks went on to lose to Edmonton again in the WHL Final, this time in 7 games.

2015 Conference Finals:
For the 2nd straight year the Western Conference representative will come out of Kelowna and Portland. This should not be too surprising considering the two proud franchises have had 188 players drafted to the NHL between them.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Hawks Take Games 4 and 5 and the Series From Everett. Stats and Notes

I'm finally catching up on the Portland Winterhawks Everett Silvertips series, which closed out on Sunday night with Portland advancing to their fifth straight Western Conference Final. It's been so long since the Winterhawks have not advanced to the Western Final, that the last team to not make it there had Ryan Johnsen, who has now played 277 games of NHL hockey.

First though, the stats for the 2-1 OT win over Everett on Friday night at the VMC:
Player TOI Shots Faceoff % Hits Blocked Shots
Iverson UNK 4 N/A 11 0
Petan UNK 0 12/22=54.5% 3 1
Bjorkstrand UNK 7 N/A 14 6
De LeoUNK315/22=68.2%41
-Oliver Bjorkstrand played like a man possessed. He led the team in hits and blocked shots, which is definitely not something you expect a player who leads your team in scoring to do for you. On one blocked shot, he laid all out and sacrificed his entire body. On one hand, you do not really want a guy whose scoring you count on to risk injury, but on the other it says something to the 3rd and 4th liners to see him do that. If one of our best players does that, then I should be as well.
-I cannot say enough about Nic Petan. Not only does he extend his playoff point streak to all 10 games, but with his assist on Blake Heinrich's OT winner, he's been involved in all 3 OT winners for Portland this playoff year. He scored the series clincher in Game 6 of the Seattle series and also won the faceoff that led to Bjorkstrand's double OT game winner in Game 2.
-Portland's winning goal was scored on an old school give and go play with an improvised finish. Blake Heinrich passed the puck laterally to Nic Petan at the point and then drove the net. Heinrich even waved his stick in the air, asking for the pass. Petan tried to feed him but had his pass partially deflected. Heinrich reached out and batted it with his backhand past Everett's Goalie: Carter Hart to put Portland up 3 games to 1. This is something you will see at pick up hockey all over the world. It's not a drawn up play, like Bjorkstrand's winner was, but instead just a skilled player, seeing an opening and getting his guy the puck in a good spot.
-Layne Viveiros had one of his worst games of the playoffs, turning the puck over in bad spots often in the first. He (and the entire defense) were saved countless times by the commitment to backchecking and taking away Everett's shooting lanes.
-Jake Mykitiuk, was yet another Everett player that went down to injury. Lack of depth really was starting to rare it's head for the Tips, as even a depth guy like Mykitiuk had been counted on to provide some scoring.
-Adin Hill just continues to get better, seemingly with every game. He made several saves during a penalty kill, wihtout his stick, keeping the game tied at 1.

Two days later, the Hawks closed out Everett with a 3-2 win Sunday night:

Player TOI Shots Faceoff % Hits Blocked Shots
Iverson UNK 6 N/A 4 1
Petan UNK 6 13/22=59.1% 1 1
Bjorkstrand UNK 7 N/A 3 1
De LeoUNK36/15=40%43
-Probably the best all around defensive effort I've seen from Portland all year. 22 total blocked shots form the team including what looked like 5 in the last couple of minutes. Everett just did not get many good looks at Portland's net and when they did, Adin Hill closed the door with one of his best performances of the playoffs. He made one right padded stop on the Tip's Ivan Nikolishin that saved the Hawks from going to another over-time in this series.
-Everett's defense was starting to wear down with the top four of Ben Betker-Kevin Davis-Cole MacDonald and Lukas Skrumeda, playing a ton of minutes in this series and the last one. Bjorkstrand found more room then he's had in any game previous in this series. On one of his two goals, he found an easy rebound on a Nic Petan point shot and on the other he found a seam on the rush and picked the corner on Cart Hart. Bjorkstrand finsihed the series with 5 goals in the 5 games and now has 10 in the Hawk's 11 playoff games.
-Nic Petan meanwhile had 3 points and now has points in all 11 of Portland's playoff games and 19 overall. This is good enough for 2nd in WHL playoff scoring, behind Calgary's Adam Tambellini who has 21.
-Portland is now 3-1 overall against Everett in playoff series, winning the last 3.
-Hats go off to over-age Tip's players Ben Betker, Kohl Bauml and Brayden Low. You could tell that they were completely exhausted by the end of the game, but were throwing absolutely everything they had on the ice.
-A guy for Everett, that just had to be better than he was is Nikita Scherbak. For a first round pick (Montreal), he did not have a very big impact on the series. There were gilmpses here and there of the talent within but lack of effort for large stretches and the ability of Portland's D-men to just take the puck away form him at will, is something that should just not happen to him.
-Carter Hart, not only played great in 4 of his team's games in this series, he seems to be one of the classiest guys in the WHL. I watched him in the handshake line after the game and he seemed to have a positive word or two for each Portland player as they came by. Seeing that type of sportsmanship from a 16 year old has me wanting to cheer for him to succeed and reach the next level.
-Everett's coaching staff, meanwhile, was absent from another handshake line. They also did not make the effort after winning the series over Spokane. It's kind of odd that you would have your players go through the line, after giving it their all, but you wouldn't do so yourselves.
-Keegan Iverson is going to put a goal in soon, if he stays on Portland's top line. He went from getting 1-3 shots a game to getting 4 and 6 in his last two games.
-Chase De Leo-Nic Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand were the Hawk's three forwards on the ice at the end of the game. It goes to show that Portland's best play-making forwards, when it really matters, are it's best all around forwards period.
-Everett's Noah Juulsen skated before the game but was unavailable to go. It's something Everett fans will always wonder about as he would've had a large impact on the series, had he been healthy.
-Layne Viveiros went from one of his worst games of the playoffs, to probably his best as he took the puck away a bunch of times, from onrushing Everett forwards.
-I'll try to have up a series overall stats post soon and some previews for the Western Conference Final vs. Kelowna this week.