Saturday, December 31, 2016

McKenzie and Kehler lead Winterhawks over Thunderbirds 2-1

There is something to be said for competition driving a goalie to another level. With Michael Bullion putting together a solid performance in a 4-3 Portland win Wednesday after Cole Kehler lost four games in a row, Kehler had to be feeling that Bullion was pressing him more for playing time. Kehler stood on his head Friday night in Kent, leading Portland to a pivotal 2-1 road win over Seattle. Kehler had not allowed one goal or less in a game since November 30th, which he did again Friday. With Portland clinging to a one point advantage for third in the U.S. Division coming in, Kehler picked a good moment to turn things around. Skyler McKenzie provided the game-winning-goal with 4:18 left and now has 25 goals in 39 games this year.

Portland started the scoring on a turnover 8:29 into the game. Seattle's Ethan Bear could not get the puck past the Portland blue line and Keoni Texeira quickly got the play going back the other way. Keegan Iverson walked in on a two-on-one and sniped a shot short side on Seattle goalie Rylan Toth. After Portland carried play for the first nine minutes, the Thunderbirds got things going and tested Kehler consistently. Most impressively for the Hawks' goalie was a glove save he made at the first period buzzer.

Seattle tied the game in the second period and it was a newcomer that provided the big goal. Keegan Kolesar's cross-ice pass on the rush deflected off a Portland stick right to onrushing Seattle d-man Aaron Hyman. The blue liner gathered the puck and beat Kehler to knot the score up at one. Seattle threw 15 more shots on net but Kehler responded well and kept them at bay.

With Portland recovering as the third period grew, the Hawks finally added another goal to their repertoire on the night. Scott Eansort started a rush through the neutral zone but had the puck poked off his stick by Portland defenseman Conor MacEachern right to Skyler McKenzie. Portland's leading scorer put on the after burners and quickly had a three-on-two rush going into the Seattle zone. McKenzie went short side just as Iverson did and provided the Hawks with a very pivotal goal. After McKenzie's big goal, the Hawks held on and headed back to Portland with two big points. The two squads face each other again the Rose City Saturday night.

Portland's Cole Kehler stopped 40 of 41 shots to get the win. This was his third game with 40 or more saves in the month of December. Seattle's Rylan Toth  stopped 34 of 36 in the loss.

Portland tightened things up as far as taking penalties. After going short handed nine times Wednesday, they only took two penalties all night Friday. Seattle was 1-2 on the man advantage. Portland did not convert on either of their two chances.

Game Notes:
-No Matt Barzal or Alexander True for Seattle and no Caleb Jones or Joachim Blichfeld for Portland. All four are participating in the U20 World Junior Championships.
-Donovan Neuls was snakebitten for Seattle. He had three different prime chances but was either stopped by Kehler or missed the net altogether.
-The Alex Overhardt, Colton Veloso and Brad Ginnell line had another great night. Ginnell showcased his growing talent on one play by faking going one way behind the Seattle net and going on his backhand up the other. He created a great look with the play. The trio turned momentum multiple times by possessing the puck and earning a lot of zone time.
-Ethan Bear had two big turnovers in the game. His first turned into a Portland goal and his second gave Ilijah Colina a chance right in front. Bear was forced to take a penalty to keep Colina from getting in even closer.
-Jake Gricius is becoming  shutdown center for Portland. He broke his stick blocking a shot with under a minute to play and still made a play without it. Gricius is earning a lot of big minutes with his smart play in his own zone.
-The annual New Year's Eve game between Portland and Seattle goes Saturday night at the Moda Center. Portland sits in third in the U.S. with 43 points, while Tri-City is second with 45 and Seattle is fourth with 40.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Jokiharju leads Winterhawks over Americans 4-3

It’s almost like Portland and Tri-City have faced each other eight times over the past 38 games. The two squads got mixed up early and at one point Portland’s entire top line was in the penalty box. The Winterhawks needed offense from other sources with their top three leading scorers in the sin bin and they found that source on the blue line of all places. Keoni Texeira, Brendan De Jong and Henri Jokiharju all found the net for the Hawks as they rebounded from a rough night in Kennewick with a gritty 3-2 in. Jokiharju had a goal and two assists, two of which were on the power play to lead the way. The win ends a mini three-game skid for Portland and gets them two points behind the Americans for second in the U.S. Division yet again.

In one of the wilder first periods in recent memory, the Americans and Winterhawks looked like old rivals. Portland opened the scoring on the power play as Henri Jokiharju danced around an Americans’ defenseman and got a shot on Tri-City goalie Evan Sarthou. The juicy rebound came out to the slot and was buried by Keoni Texeira for a 1-0 Portland lead. The Americans got that one right back 43 seconds later. Jordan Topping got a shot on Portland goalie Michael Bullion and after Brett Leason couldn’t beat him on the rebound Morgan Geekie poked the puck home to tie the game. Tri-City took their first lead later in the period, right after a power play ended. Parker AuCoin went down to one knee in the slot to beat Bullion through the five-hole. AuCoin was set up on the play by a nice feed from behind the net by Riley Sawchuk.

The rest of the first period was essentially one big melee. After a hit in the Tri-City corner by Dalton Yorke on Evan wEnger went unpenalized, Portland retaliated. After getting out of the box for his own minor penalty and failing to connect on a two-on-one, Keegan Iverson pursued Yorke and initiated a scrum. Iverson was given a 10-minute misconduct for his actions, as was Skyler McKenzie for a later mix up.

Things got into more of a flow during the second period. Despite Tri-City owning a majority of possession early in the second, Portland was able to tie the game up. After Conor MacEachern passed up a clogged lane to the net, he moved the puck across the blue line to Brendan De Jong. The latter d-man had more of an opening and he used it, wiring a shot past a screened Sarthou. Portland took the lead back with 2:43 left in the second. While on the man advantage, Jokuiharju fired another screened shot past an unaware Sarthou.

Jokiharju would help the Hawks put some icing on the cake in the third as well. He got another shot through from the point and the puck slid out to Sarthou’s right. Colton Veloso, who was in a net-front battle found the puck and slid a backhand shot past the Tri-City goalie. Things got a little interesting late as Ryan Hughes missed the empty net and ended up taking a hooking penalty in front for the Tri-City ney with 1:39 left. The Americans thus had a two-man advantage as they tried to make the game closer. Michael Rasmussen would do just that with 30 seconds left as he netted his 26th of the year.

Michael Bullion got the win, after stopping 33 of 36 shots. Sarthou turned away 38 of 42.

Game Notes:

-Iverson flattened an Ameircans’ forward coming out of the zone and created a prime scoring chance. The effect of Iverson’s physical play on the forecheck is often overlooked. Even the threat of a big hit can play havoc on a defense trying to break out.
-Portland’s first goal was helped by the fact that Tri-City’s top-three d-men were not on the ice for the PK. Juuso Valimaki was away at World Juniors, while both Parker Wotherspoon and Dalton Yorke were in the box.
-The Portland backcheck was a big reason Portland pulled out the big win. Alex Overhardt and Cody Glass both had big stick tie-ups that saved sure goals. The commitment that Portland’s centers have shown this year with getting back and playing defense has been a vast improvement upon last year.
-Brad Ginnell, Alex Overhardt and Colton Veloso had another great game. Ginnell’s excellent vision is  big reason that line has started creating more scoring chances. He showed off his incredible vision on one play by backhanding a pass right to a teammate at the back door.
-Portland has a home-and-home with Seattle on Friday and Saturday. Those have become some very critical games as the two teams are in a tight race for home-ice advantage within the U.S. Division.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Americans frustrate Winterhawks in 6-2 win

The youngest team in the WHL showed their age Tuesday night in Kennewick. Portland piled up 46 penalty minutes including two game misconducts and Tri-City took full advantage. The Americans converted on three of the nine power plays they were handed en route to a big 6-2 win over their division rivals. With a regulation win, Portland could have tied up Tri-City for second in the U.S. Division standings. Instead they fall four points back. Michael Rasmussen scored his 24th and 25th goals of the year all on the power play and Dylan Coghlan added three assists in the Americans' victory. Tri-City ran their record in the season series to 5-2 with the win. The two teams play each other again Wednesday night in Portland. Skyler McKenzie had two more goals to run his season total to 24.

Portland started the scoring just 2:57 into the game on a goal off the stick of Skyler McKenzie. The Hawks' sniper was set up by Cody Glass on the goal. Portland goalie Cole Kehler made several big saves in the first and 11 total as the Hawks were out shot 11-9 overall.

One of the few WHL players with more goals than McKenzie was the Americans' forward who tied the game 3:32 into the second period on the power play. Kehler made a glove save on the initial shot from Vladislav Lukin but it popped right back out at the feet of Rasmussen. The high prospect for the 2017 NHL draft did what he does best and buried the rebound to tie the game. Tri-City amped up the pressure in the period but Kehler was able to keep them at bay until an excellent play by Dylan Coghlan helped the Americans take a late second period lead. Coghlan kept the puck in the Portland zone on the right boards and in the same motion fired a pass right onto the stick of Parker AuCoin in tight on Kehler. AuCoin moved the puck to his backhand and lifted it over the down Kehler. This goal with just 53 seconds left in the middle frame had to have the Americans feeling extremely confident. This is because Portland has struggled with coming back when trailing after two periods. Their record overall is 0-12 when faced with a second period deficit and would be 0-13 by the end of the night. They just have a really hard time coming back on teams and taking penalties in the third period is not the best route to changing this trend.

Portland took a total of seven penalties in the third and this paved the way for an easier Americans' victory. AuCoin scored his second goal of the game early in the third period. The goal was set up by a Ryan Hughes turnover at the Hawks' blue line. and a slick play from Kyle Oslon right to AuCoin in the slot. AuCoin buried a shot right between Kehler's pads for a 3-1 Tri-City lead. Skyler McKenzie made the game interesting as he scored on the rebound after an impressive Henri Jokiharju rush created traffic in front for Tri-City goalie Evan Sarthou. Portland had their chances to tie the game midway through the period, chiefly a rush to the net by Ilijah Colina, but they could not convert on their looks. The Americans got some insurance from Tyler Sandhu and then the parade to the penalty box helped the Ameircans add two more PP goals from Rasmussen and Lukin to win by a 6-2 final score.

Kehler stopped 26 of 32 shots in the loss while Sarthou  turned away 23 of 25.

Tri-City went three-for-nine on the power play, while Portland went one-for-three.

Game Notes:
-The nine power plays is not that out of the ordinary for Portland's opponents this year. Portland has had Victoria have two different games with eight power plays in recent games as well.
-Portland was missing Joachim Blichfeld and Caleb Jones and Tri-City was without Juuso Valimaki. All three were in Canada playing at the U20 World Junior Championships.
-Rasmussen's two goals take him to 25 and a tie for third in the WHL. McKenzie's duo took him to 24 and fifth in the Dub.
-Brendan De Jong has been solid in the absence of Portland top d-man. His confidence while playing in Mike Johnston's system has grown exponentially this season. De Jong was all over the ice, jumping up in the play, creating offense and darting back to make the defensive play.
-Matthew Quigley has also done well in his increased playing time. Quigley made one play in particular that stood out. Quigley appeared to get caught deep in the Portland zone, but used his speed to get back and keep the puck in the zone. He did not appear to have an angle at all but somehow got his stick between the T.C. forward and the puck.
-The two teams take each other on for the eighth time this year Wednesday night at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Skoleski deflection leads Everett to 4-2 win over Portland

After losing nine straight to Everett over the past couple of seasons and the playoffs, the Portland Winterhawks finally got one last week. Any hope of a streak going the other way was shut down at Xfinity arena on saturday night. After responding in the third period and tying the game, Everett's Devon Skoleski deflected in a shot from Jake Christiansen with his body as his stick was tied up. It appeared that he wasn't even aware the shot was coming at him. Those kinds of bounces have been going Everett's way through the first half of the season. To be fair though, Everett puts themselves into a spot to make plays like this, by driving the net and looking for deflections or rebounds. The 'Tips were led by two points apiece by Kevin Davis and Eetu Tuulola in the win. Cody Glass netted both Winterhawks goals in the loss.

Neither side found a way past goalies Mario Petit and Cole Kehler in the first period, but they had their chances. They combined for 25 shots and had many more scoring chances go just wide.

Portland opened the scoring against the flow of play in the second period. Davis fired a shot high and wide on one end and the puck ricocheted all the way out to the Portland blue line. Keegan Iverson went up the right wing and found Cody Glass in the slot. The Hawks' center fired a shot in tight over Petit's blocker for the 1-0 lead. Everett would not get their Teddy Bear Toss game goal until just 31 seconds remained in the second period. Kevin Davis led a rush up the ice and after a quick give-and-go at the Portland blue line with Graham Millar gave him some room, fired a shot in on Kehler. The Portland goalie made the save but Finnish forward Eetu Tuulola put the puck bar down without much room to operate. Because of the time it would take to clean all of the bears off the ice, the officials decided to just tack on the extra 31 seconds onto the start of the third period.

Everett's top line had been held in check through the first two periods, but broke through when their team needed them the most in the third period. Patrick Bajkov got the puck on the rush and smartly withdrew to the blue line, bringing the defense towards him and giving Dominic Zwerger room to drive the net. Everyone in attendance was expecting Zwerger to shoot, but instead he made a deft backhand pass right to Matt Fonteyne alone at the left side of the net. Everett's center netted his eight goal of the year and gave his squad their first lead. Portland tied the game with just 3:21 left off some great work in both ends by Portland's leading scorer. After Skyler McKenzie lifted Patrick Bajkov's stick while on the back check, Cody Glass poked it out of the zone right to McKenzie. This gave the winger room to drive the Everett zone with numbers. McKenzie fed a pinching Conor MacEachern and the d-man one-touched a pass to Glass. The Winnipeg native quickly fired a shot past Pettit with Everett's defense all around him. Then Everett was able to answer right back with Skoleski's marker and went up 3-2 with only 2:50 left. Portland pulled Kehler for an extra attacker and had it backfire as Connor Dewar notched an empty-net-goal to ice the game for Everett.

Cole Kehler responded well from a poor outing in Vancouver and stopped 41 of the 44 shots he faced. Meanwhile Mario Petit was good on 25 of the 27 shots he saw.

Portland's power play could not convert on the one chance they got, while Everett failed on the five opportunities they received.

Game Notes:
-Portland heads into the holiday break with a 19-15-1-0 record for 39 points. This is just two back of Tri-City for second in the U.S. Division.
-However, Portland has dropped two in a row now and is definitely missing Caleb Jones and Joachim Blichfeld from the lineup.
-Seattle beat Tri-City 3-0 Saturday and closes to within two points of Portland for third in the U.S. with three games in hand.
-Mario Petit had a much better outing vs. Portland this time around. One thing he struggled with last time was controlling rebounds. Saturday, he had great control over each shot coming at him and redirected them out of danger.
-Brad Ginnell showed a little spunk by getting into Dominic Zwerger's face after the Austrian threw a high hit on Lane Gilliss. It's always good to see young WHLers already sticking up for teammates.
-Ginnell also earned a power play after driving right at Everett d-man Montana Onyebuchi. There are signs all over the place pointing to Ginnell becoming an elite player in the WHL soon. He reads the play well and gets under the skin of opponents by being all over them on the fore check.
-Solid play by the bottom-three blue liners for Portland Matthew Quigley, Conor MacEachern and Jake Hobson were all solid in increased playing time. All three had moments where they broke up quality rushes by Everett to scoring chances.
-Season series is now 4-1 Everett with five more games to go. They next play January seventh in Portland.
-Portland's next game is on December 27th in Kennewick vs. Tri-City. A regulation win would be enough to take over second place in the U.S. for Portland.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Vancouver shuts down Portland 6-3

The Vancouver Giants had dropped three in a row and were third worst in the league in goals against entering Friday night's Teddy Bear Toss game at Langley Events Centre. They jumped on the visiting Portland Winterhawks early and held on though for a 6-3 win. After jumping out to a two-goal lead after the first period, the Giants were content to sit back and not over-extend themselves, forcing Portland to dump the puck in instead of entering with speed. The Hawks were limited in their chances with this deployment. Portland also continued a distressing trend with another night filled with seven penalty kills. Friday night was the fifth straight game of five or more penalty kills for the Hawks. Included in those games were two straight eight PK games vs. Victoria.

The Giants were all over the Winterhawks early and ultimately got their Teddy Bear Toss goal off the stick of hometown hero James Malm. Taden Rattie and Malm put some pressure in on the Portland defense and Hunter Hortzsok put a slick backhand pass onto the tape of Malm's stick in the slot. Malm quickly released his shot and got it over Portland goalie Cole Kehler's shoulder. After the bears were cleared off the frozen surface, the Giants took advantage of a Portland miscue to go up 2-0. Cole Kehler went behind his net to retrieve the puck and turned it right over to Owen Hardy. The Giants' winger swiftly wrapped it around the net and into the vacant net for his first of the year. Evan Weinger used his speed to cut the lead in half. He burst out of the Hawks' zone and set up a two-on-one with Ryan Hughes. He passed over to Hughes who got a saucer pass right back to him, for the tap in. Hughes picked up an assist in his first game back from a two-game absence for an upper-body injury. After getting a five-on-three power play, the Giants got a little insurance from Thomas Foster. Tyler Benson walked the blue line and fired a slap shot right off of Foster's stick and in.

Things would calm down a bit in the second with the two teams only combining for 15 shots after totaling 26 in the first. Both goalies were asked to make quality saves on some of those 15 shots and did so. The Giants took their 3-1 lead into the third period.

Matt Barberis gave Vancouver a three-goal lead 2:07 into the third. After Henri Jokiharju lost the puck deep in his own zone, Ty Ronning got a pass to the charging Barberis and the defenseman got a shot through the body of Kehler and into the net. Thomas Foster later added his second as after his initial shot was blocked, his second got through d-man Conor MacEachern and Kehler. This ended Kehler's night and brought in Michael Bullion in relief. Bullion was greeted with a crazy bounce. A completely loose puck came right to d-man Jeff Rayman in the slot, who fired it over his Bullion's shoulder. Portland got some fortune of their own moments later cutting the Vancouver lead to 6-2. Alex Overhardt shot a shot on net and drive the net, while getting checked by a Giants' d-man. Overhardt was spun around knocked the puck in with his left skate and was ruled to not have intentionally kicked it in. Hughes got his second assist of the night as he found Skyler McKenzie for a one-timer on the power play with 5:15 left. Portland pulled Bullion with just over three minutes left but could not cut into the 6-3 lead any more.

Cole Kehler had a rare off night as not only did he make the big mistake on Vancouver's second goal, he looked a little out of position on their fourth and fifth goals. He stopped a total of 24 of the 29 shots he faced. Michael Bullion came in and turned away of . Ryan Kubic has had some good nights vs. Portland in his relatively short career. He stopped of 31 of 34 shots.

Game Notes:
-No Caleb Jones or Joachim Blichfeld for the Winterhawks. Both are off to their respective countries World Junior selection camps. They could be out through January fourth.
-Points in two straight games for Ilijah Colina as he had the secondary assist on Weinger's goal.
-Overhardt's goal breaks a 21-game goalless streak. His last goal came on October 11th in Brandon.
-McKenzie is now tied for fifth in WHL goals with 22. He now has a four-game point streak going.
-It was the first career WHL point by Hortzsok and first goal of the year by Hardy. Vancouver got some needed secondary scoring early, paving the way for their primary guys to come through later.
-Two five-on-three penalty kills for Portland in the game. The one goal overshadowed some fantastic PK work by Keegan Iverson and Brett Clayton. Both did great jobs of breaking up passes and blocking shots.
-Vancouver did an excellent job of not letting Portland get speed through the neutral zone. They jumped up on the blue line and used their sticks to force Portland to just dump it in.
-Alec Baer had a great opportunity at an open net in the first period but forced it wide. Baer has seen injuries help derail his draft stock and has gone undrafted for two straight years. At one point he was playing in the All American Prospects Game but was not drafted and has struggled to get back to being a top prospect. He has 14 points through 30 games this season.
-Portland's last game before the Christmas break is Saturday night in Everett vs. the division-leading Silvertips.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Colina's first is the difference as Portland edges Victoria 4-3

Almost halfway through the season, the Portland Winterhawks have been strong believers in their youth movement. The belief is that if you give your 16 and 17-year-old players plenty of ice time now, by the time they are 18 or 19, they will have developed even more. If you are one of those believers, you had to be excited about what Ilijah Colina did Wednesday night in Victoria. The 16-year-old was vaulted into some major ice time this year, often centering the Hawks' second line with Evan Weinger and Ryan Hughes on his wings. While he's had his share of mistakes over the first half of the season, his heroics Wednesday helped give Portland's coaches some early justification for their decision. Colina scored his very first WHL goal, 8:33 into the third period and it ended up being the game winner in a 4-3 victory in Victoria.

Portland opened the scoring on Conor MacEachern's first goal of the year. Evan Weinger set up the play initially by coming off the bench and driving the play at the Royals' net. He then corralled a loose puck in the left corner and dripped a pass to the blue line for Conor MacEachern. The defenseman fired a shot past Royals' goalie Griffen Outhouse before the net minder could get set. Portland's lead would go to two on a four-on-three power play. Cody Glass got everyone thinking his pass from the left corner would go to the point, before firing one through to Skyler McKenzie at the back door. McKenzie hammered it home for his 21st of the year. Ryan Peckford cut into the Hawks' lead on a five-on-three power play. He was trying a cross-ice feed in front of Portland goalie Michael Bullion and the puck appeared to ricochet off of defenseman Brendan De Jong and in. Cody Glass would complete his three-point first period with a goal off the rush. Keegan Iverson drove the right wing and dumped off a pass in the slot to Glass. The 17-year-old wired one past Outhouse to help his Hawks take a 3-1 lead in the first intermission.

That two-goal lead would be gone before we would reach the third period. While on the power play, Jack Walker got a point shot through and Matthew Phillips lifted the rebound over Bullion's right pad. The Royals then tied it on their third power play goal on the night. Jack Walker got the puck towards the net and after Bullion turned away Phillips, Dante Hannoun backhanded the rebound home. This was the Royals fifth power play goal in two nights vs. Portland.

The game would be decided on one simple rush up the ice by Evan Weinger. Caleb Jones hit him in stride through the neutral zone with the puck. Weinger then drove wide on Ryan Gagnon, who knocked him to the ice. Weinger still managed to get the puck into the crease. Colina found it first and punched it in. Michael Bullion made several big stops late nailing down his fourth win of the year.

Bullion stopped 32 of 35 shots in the win. He has now been victorious in his last two starts, after losing in three straight. Griffen Outhouse turned away 23 of 27 in the loss.

Portland's power play was 1-6, while Victoria's was 3-8. The Winterhawks are fourth in the WHL in power play percentage with 25.5 percent.

Game Notes:
-Joachim Blichfeld was scratched as he left to join Team Denmark as they prepare for the World Junior Championships.
-Caleb Jones likely left the team after the game to join Team USA for their training camp, which begins Friday.
-With Ryan Hughes (injury) and Blichfeld out, more playing time was handed out to the likes of Ilijah Colina, Bronson Sharp and Brad Ginnell.
-Portland won the season series with Victoria 3-1. The two will not face each other for the rest of the year, after taking each other on three times over the last six days.
-Portland will be glad not to see Matthew Phillips, Dante Hannoun and Jack Walker anymore this year. Phillips had eight points in the four games, while Hannoun and Walker each had six.
-Portland's leading scorer in the season series were Caleb Jones and Cody Glass, who each had six points.
-Six different Royals scored in the season series while ten different Hawks lit the lamp.
-The Royals had an astounding 27 power plays in the four games, scoring on seven of them. Conversely, Portland had 17 and scored on four of them.
-Cody Glass's three point night vaults him into  three-way tie for third in WHL scoring with 48. He is just two points back of the current league leaders Chad Butcher and Jayden Halbgewachs, who have 50.
-Skyler McKenzie is tied for seventh in the league in goals with 21.
-Next up for Portland are games in Vancouver and Everett on Friday and Saturday before the Christmas break.

Royals too much for Winterhawks in 5-1 win

First periods have been good to the Portland Winterhawks this year. They are among he league leaders in goals in the opening session with 129. Tuesday night in Victoria, though the Hawks were outscored 3-0 and could not muster enough of a comeback to overcome this margin in a 5-1 loss to the Victoria Royals. The Royals were led by two goals and an assist by Ryan Peckford and three assists by Matthew Phillips.

Regan Nagy helped get things started by corralling a loose puck behind the Portland net and swiftly gettign the puck to Jack Walker in front. The overage forward banged away at it and got it under the pad of Portland goalie Cole Kehler. Just 1:16 later the speed of Matthew Phillips doubled Victoria's lead. He burst past Portland d-man Brendan De Jong and found linemate Ryan Peckford in the low slot. Peckford couldn't get a good shot on initially but found the puck in De Jong's skates before the blue liner could and beat Kehler. The Royals added another first period goal and it was scored the way Carter Folk usually scores his goals. The overage grinder wouldn't be tied up by Colton Veloso or found by De Jong and poked home a puck that Jared Dmytriw got on net. The goal was just Folk's second of the season.

Portland cut into the Victoria lead while on the power play 12:33 into the second period. Skyler McKenzie fired a cross-ice pass right onto the tape of Joachim Blichfeld and the Danish forward sniped a shot over Victoria goalie Griffen Outhouse's shoulder. The Royals got that one right back though as Matthew Phillips got the puck to Dane Hannoun in front just five seconds into the power play and the speedy Hannoun potted his 13th of the year.

Portland would push back in the third period, but another goal from Ryan Peckford would help put the game out of reach and stellar netminding from Griffen Outhouse would keep them from making it a closer game. A stand out glove save with just under five minutes left in the game on a one-timer from Skyler McKenzie was one such example.

Outhouse was solid in this game, stopping 32 of the 33 shots he faced. Kehler was handed his first loss in four outings. He turned away 29 of the 34 shots he faced.

Portland went 1-2 on the power play, while Victoria went 2-8.

Game Notes:
-When the Hawks lose it certainly seems like a large penalty differential is always a primary issue. Hats off to Matthew Phillips who drew two different power pays. He drew a third penalty, but was also whistled for embellishment.
-In the last two games with the Royals, Phillips has been the most outstanding skater out there. After a slow start to the season, he has 19 points in his last 10 games.
-Ryan Hughes was scratched with an upper-body injury. This is the first game he has missed this year.
-Blichfeld now has a six-game point streak, while Caleb Jones has a seven-game one.
-Keegan Iverson took a double-minor for spearing in the second period. Portland's captain just cannot lose his cool like that. His team is at it's best when he is on the ice, not in the box for a after-the-whistle penalty.
-Brendan De Jong has had an amazing season, but was not at his best in this game. He was on the ice for Victoria's first three goals and had chances to block or break up the plays that led to the markers.
-Portland and Victoria get back at it Wednesday night. Same place, same time.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Skyler McKenzie makes it rain bears and hats in 5-2 Portland win

Skyler McKenzie had so much fun with making over 11,000 teddy bars rain down on the ice, he decided to add some hats as well. The 18-year-old from Edmonton scored the official teddy bear toss goal just 2:31 into the game, but would add two more goals, to give him his first career hat trick. His three goals and one assist, along with Keegan Iverson's four points led the Hawks to a big 5-2 win over division rival Everett. The Winterhawks are now 10-1-1 over their past 12 games and have retaken third place in the U.S. Division from Seattle.

It should not surprise anyone who made a wager on the teddy bear toss scorer that McKenzie and his line were the ones that broke the seal holding back the mountain of fur. Keegan Iverson made a nice play behind the net, feeding Cody Glass in tight. Everett goalie Mario Petit made a nice save on Glass, but the rebound came out to a waiting McKenzie. He put it away giving another early lead. Just like the previous night, the Hawks could not keep it through the period. Parick Bajkov started the scoring for the 'Tips and was the engine that started the play as well. He surveyed the scene from the Portland blue line and fed linemate Dominic Zwerger down to Portland goalie Cole Kehler's right. The Austrian play maker drove the front of the net and tried to tuck a backhand shot past Kehler's left pad. Kehler made the save, but Bajkov pounced on the rebound tying the game at one.

The Hawks again fell behind in the second period. While on the power play, defenseman Kevin Davis's slap shot went wide and off the end-boards. The ricochet went right to Matt Fontyne's backhand and the center quickly lifted it past Kehler. It was an unfortunate bounce for Portland and it came just 30 seconds into the middle frame. Portland responded on a three-on-two rush up the ice. Caleb Jones drew the attention of the defense and found Keegan Iverson with a quick pass. Cody Glass drove the net and provided a screen just in time to keep Petit from seeing the Iverson shot. Under two minutes later, Portland got the eventual game-winning-goal from Danish center Joachim Blichfeld. The Dane was able to exit the zone and get the puck up to Colton Veloso. He then got a pass back in stride and cut to the right wing, looking for a shooting lane. He found one and picked a top corner on Petit for his 11th goal of the year. Later in the period, while Everett was putting pressure on the Hawks, while on the power play, McKenzie delivered a gut punch level short handed goal. Keegan Iverson gained possession and sprung Skyler McKenzie for a breakaway. McKenzie slipped a backhand past Petit for the two-goal Portland lead. The SH goal was just Portland's fourth of the year and two of those have been against Everett.

Portland got some more insurance on a power play goal just 50 seconds into the third period. Keegan Iverson's shot was turned away by Petit, but the rebound came right to Joachim Blichfeld in tight. Instead of just trying to jam the puck in under Petit, he brilliantly passed over to a wide open McKenzie. The winger buried it, giving him his first career hat trick. He had three career two-goal games, but had yet to breach the three-goal mark until this night.

Game Notes:
-McKenzie has 20 goals and 20 assists for 40 points. This puts his 11th overall in the WHL. He has 19 of those points over Portland's 10-1-1, 12-game stretch.
-Glass is out of the top-five in WHL scoring now with 45 points in 32 games. In that same 12-game stretch, he has 20 points.
-Leading the trio over the past dozen games though, is Keegan Iverson. He has 21 points in that span and now has 39 this year. He had his very second four-point night of the year in the win.
-Everett was missing both Noah Juulsen and Carter Hart, who were off at Hockey Canada's U20 World Junior camp.The 'Tips' power play looked a lot different with Kevin Davis running the point, as opposed to Montreal's signed first round pick.
-Hart's replacement: Mario Petit struggled with containing rebounds, something he has been incredibly stellar at against Portland in previous games.
-Portland got their first win over Everett this year and now trail in the season series 3-1. Going back to last season, the Hawks had dropped nine straight to the 'Tips.
-Joachim Blichfeld has a five-game point streak going. He has seven points over that span. He has climbed up to sixth overall in WHL rookie scoring with 27 points. The move to the middle seems to be agreeing with him. Head coach Mike Johnston must have notice his superb vision and put him in a spot to create. He has done just that.
-Caleb Jones has a six-game point streak going. Over that span he has nine points. He has slowly climbed the charts for d-men and now sits tied for seventh in the Dub with 29 points. If I were pressed as to how the Hawks have made this current run, I would start with the improvement Jones has shown. He has settled into his roll on the team and has gotten away from trying to hit a home run every time up the ice.
-Portland added 17-year-old d-man Darren Gisti to the roster. They expect to be without Jones, who heads off to the U.S.A.'s World Junior camp. The camp starts on Friday, December 16th. Gisti is a list player, who was signed after an impressive Neely Cup.
-The Hawks now head to Victoria for games on Tuesday and Wednesday, completing their four-game season series. The Hawks have four games away from home this coming week, before taking nine-days off for Christmas break.

Ryan Hughes plays overtime hero in 5-4 win over Victoria

The Portland Winterhawks appear to have found their next clutch goal-scorer in 17-year-old Edmonton native Ryan Hughes. On Friday night at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum he completed a comeback for the Hawks with the game-winning-goal at 4:05 mark of the five-minute OT. Giving them a 5-4 win over the visiting Victoria Royals. Over the last 10 games, Hughes has two OT winners and five game-winning-goals overall. Not bad considering Hughes had no game winners over his first 21 games this season. Offensively the Hawks were led by Caleb Jones and Cody Glass, who both had three points.

Portland opened the scoring on an incredibly smart play by Cody Glass. The Winterhawks were changing lines and Glass controlled the puck near Victoria blue line. He waited until Lane Gilliss and Brett Clayton were in front of the net, before firing a shot/pass towards the Royals' net. Clayton got a stick on the shot, tipping it past Victoria goalie Griffen Outhouse. The goal was Clayton's first this year and just his second career goal. L.A. Kings' prospect Chaz Reddekopp made an incredible dash up the ice to tie the game while on the power play. He dished a pass along the right wing, before driving the net, receiving a pass and roofing a shot in tight on Portland goalie Cole Kehler. The defenseman is known more for his size than his skill, but he showed that there is more to his game in that highlight-reel play. The Hawks regained the lead with another late-period goal. After a Portland one-timer missed the net, Keoni Texeira tracked down the ricochet and fired a brilliant pass down to the right face off circle, where Colton Veloso one-touched a shot past Outhouse. Texeira did a great job of getting Outhouse and the rest of the Royals thinking shot, before finding Veloso. The 19-year-old from Winnipeg also did a great job, by anticipating the pass and opening up his frame, so that he could get a good forehand shot towards the net.

Just 30 seconds into the second period, the Winterhawks made it 3-1. While on the power play, Joachim Blichfeld showcased his great vision by selling the fact he was going to shoot, before throwing a cross-ice pass onto Cody Glass's stick tape. Portland's leading scorer buried it for the two-goal lead. The Royals and Matthew Phillips specifically were not about to go away quietly into the night though. They scored three straight over the next 26 minutes of game action. Just 27 seconds after Glass's goal, Phillips flew up the ice, driving wide past Portland's defense and found linemate Dante Hannoun back door for the tip-in goal. Phillips is one of the speedier guys in the league, as was evident on this goal. Phillips set up the game-tying goal with another asset: creativity. He spun around in the Portland zone and fired off a slick backhand pass to Ryan Peckford. The 17-year-old fired it into the body of Cole Kehler, but got enough on the shot, that it squeezed through Kehler's body and over the line.

Victoria completed their comeback in the third period after taking advantage of a bad line change by Portland. The Royals attacked the reeling Winterhawks and Jack Walker found Reagan Nagy for a tip-in goal at the 5:52 mark of the period. Speed was again on display for the Royals and the Hawks were not ready for it. Kehler helped give his team a chance to tie it with two different big stops on Matthew Phillips on clear breakaways. His team wouldn't disappoint him as Henri Jokiharju knotted the score with just 54 seconds left. With Kehler pulled for an extra-attacker, Caleb Jones flipped a nifty pass over to Jokiharju at the other point and the Finnish blue liner blew a slap shot past Outhouse, sending the game to overtime.

Both teams had good looks to win the game in the extra session, but it would be Hughes that would give his squad the extra point. After corralling the puck along the right side-bards, Hughes used his body to keep Victoria d-man Ralph Jarratt off the puck, while driving towards the middle of the ice. He then fired a hard wrist shot over Outhouse's glove for the win.

Kehler turned away 33 of 37 shots in getting his 14th win. He had four total WHL wins coming into this year. Outhouse stopped 46 of 51 shots and has stopped 85 of 93 shots in his two games vs. Portland this year. That's a whole lot of rubber.

Portland's power play went 1-2, while Victoria's went 1-5.

Game Notes:
-Brett Clayton has been a different player since returning to the team in late November. He had zero points in three games before being reassigned to the Brooks Bandits of the AJHL. Since his return, he has three points in 10 games. Outside of the points though, he has been more physical and has been an integral part of what has been a very good fourth line for Portland (along with Jake Gricius and Lane Gilliss).
-Matthew Phillips had an incredible game for the Royals, but has to be thinking about the two breakaways he couldn't score on that gave Portland a chance to tie the game. He was all over the ice; flying around and making plays. His previous outing in the Rose City left a lot to be desired as he took two poor penalties on Cody Glass.
-Nic Petan's cousin: Dante Hannoun had a goal and two assists and now has 32 points in 32 games. The five-foot-six winger has fit in well with Peckford and Phillips. Their line is full on speed and creativity.
-Jokigharju showed how hard and accurate his shot can be. If there was one thing, we were hearing he needed to work on this year, it was his slap shot. He relied heavily on getting wrist shots on  net from the point. If he can consistently get his slap shot on net, it will give Portland another weapon.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Winterhawks bounce back with big 5-3 win over visiting Tigers

The Medicine Hat Tigers were a desperate team Sunday evening at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. After vaulting to the top-overall record in the WHL, the Tigers had stumbled to two straight losses to start their U.S. Division road trip. They play a system that relies upon speed, so the 3,112 fans at Veterans Memorial Coliseum were treated to a back-and-forth game. If Las Vegas set an over-under for the game, it probably would've been seven or higher.

The two teams combined for 33 first period shots and found the back of the net five times. Skyler McKenzie opened the scoring off a great feed from Cody Glass. McKenzie smartly parked himself to the right of the net and waited for Glass to dig the puck out of the left, side boards. Glass threw a backhand pass that found it's way through two Tigers' defenders and onto McKenzie's stick. After Kehler made two big saves on Steven Owre breakaways, the Hawks extended their lead to two. Caleb Jones got around the defense and fed Keegan Iverson cutting to the front of the net. The overage forward roofed a shot in tight for his 12th goal of the year. Portland extended their lead off another great set up by Henri Jokiharju on the power play. The Finnish d-man fired a shot wide and used the end-board bounce to get the puck to Evan Weinger on a tight angle. Weinger banked his shot off of Medicine Hat goalie Nick Schneider's back and in. The Tigers finally scored a goal just eight seconds later. A shot from Mason Shaw caromed off of goalie Cole Kehler's pad and right to defenseman David Quenneville in front of the Portland net. The WHL's leading scorer among d-men put home the rebound to cut Portland's lead to two. Before the period was over, that lead would be down to one. Swedish forward John Dahlstrom protected the puck in tight on Kehler, getting him to stretch out on the ice and make a save. He then corralled the rebound and fed Mason Shaw, who shot the puck over the down and out Kehler.

The back-and-forth play continued in the second period with Schneider and Kehler doing their best to keep the goal scoring limited. Portland would strike first in the period on a goal from Ryan Hughes. Joachim Blichfeld, back at center on the Hughes and Weinger line, used a nice cut to get around the Tigers defense in the corner of their zone and found Hughes in the high slot. Hughes waited out Schneider, while protecting the puck and put his shot over the goalie. The Tigers would not go away though and cashed in on a power play with 1:28 left in the frame. Chad Butcher helped create the goal by driving hard into the Portland zone and getting the defense to close on him. He then got the puck to Max Gerlach, who fired a shot on Kehler. The 19-year-old goalie made the save, but John Dahlstrom poked home the third rebound to cut Portland's lead back to one. The two teams exchanged 32 shots in the crazy period.

The Winterhawks tightened up in the third period and only allowed six shots to get in on Kehler. They, themselves threw 16 on Schneider in pursuit of an insurance goal. They appeared to have one when Keegan Iverson lit the goal lamp with a shot from a tight angle. The goal was reviewed and was disallowed after the replay showed that his shot had gone off of the cross bar. Cody Glass then nearly scored, but his shot went through Schneider's legs and sat on the goal line, before being covered. He finally got the insurance marker after a fantastic outlet pass from rookie d-man Matt Quigley. He set up Cody Glass with a two-on-one and Schneider and d-man Clayton Kirichenko expected him to pass. Instead he sniped a shot glove side to give Portland a 5-3 lead. The Tigers went with four forwards with just over three minutes left and also pulled their goalie relatively early. Portland's defense did not allow much towards the net though and the Hawks pulled out a big win.

Kehler responded well after his first loss in awhile, turning away 43 of 46 shots. Schneider, who is signed by the Calgary Flames turned away 36 of 41 shots.

Portland and Medicine Hat each potted one power play goal on three chances. The Tigers are atop th league in this category with a 30.2 percentage, while Portland is fifth with 25.0.

Game Notes:
-This match up featured eight of the top-20 scorers in the WHL. By the end of the night, Shaw had two points and now has 42; Glass had three points and now has 41 and Butcher had two and now has 42. Shaw and Butcher are tied for third in league scoring, while Glass is fifth. Regina teammates Adam Brooks and Sam Steel are numbers one and two overall.
-Shaw, Glass and Butcher are all pass-first guys. What is interesting is that Glass and Shaw had two-on-one looks. Shaw passed, despite Kehler selling out to stop his teammate and Glass took advantage of a similar situation and scored.
-Butcher really stood out to me. He has a ton of speed and can create from anywhere in the opponent's zone. If I were to bet on a Tigers' player to win the scoring title, it would be him.
-Mike Johnston went with a forward unit of Alex Overhardt, Jake Gricius and Colton Veloso, holding onto a lead late in the game. Overhardt and Veloso started out this year as two of Portland's, relied upon defensive forwards, but Gricius has grown into that role. It's been interesting to watch Portland's coaches start to trust him more and more. He even took a face off, despite Overhardt also being on the ice.
-One thing the Hawks have not quite figured out, is who will center the Hughes and Weinger line. They have tried Blichfeld there, despite him not really being a natural centers and have moved Hughes to center at times. Neither seems to be a great fit. With the Hawks having 33 points in 30 games, Johnston is put in a tough spot. Does he stay with the youth and try to sneak in as a wild card, or does he make a deal for an overage center to play with Hughes and Weinger and try to get into the U.S. Division bracket as a two or three seed?
-I get the impression that Johnston will make a move for a center. An overage would make a lot of sense, but I wouldn't be shocked if he finds a younger option (18 or 19). This team looks to only lose Iverson up front and the more continuity that they can keep among this group, the more they will be a real contender next season. I don't think he'd have to move their 2017 first rounder in such a deal.
-Of course Blichfeld has produced as a center as well. He had an assist in this game and has four points in his last three games.
-Sklyer McKenzie had three points and has 14 points in his last 10 games.
-Portland is now 8-1-1 in their last ten games.
-They next take on Victoria at home on Friday. They won the first game of the four-game season series.

Lee leads Ice past Winterhawks 3-2

In order to keep the Portland Winterhawks and Trail Blazers' games apart from one another this year, some Hawks games were moved to 2pm starts. This was the case Saturday afternoon at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Despite Kootenay playing an overtime game in Kent and Portland playing in Kennewick the night before, they were scheduled to play an early afternoon game. Overage goalie Payton Lee was the freshest Ice player and he looked it, turning away 55 of 57 shots helping the Ice steal a game from Portland. After two periods, Portland had fired 42 shots on Lee and had only beaten him once. Lee is one of the goalies in the WHL that Portland has sen a whole lot of. His career record vs. Portland is 3-9-0-1 now, but he has not faced them since he played for Vancouver two years ago.

Th first period was a horror show for the Hawks as they peppered Lee with 2 shots, but somehow came out of the period down 2-0. The Ice started the scoring by taking advantage of a Portland turnover. Conor MacEachern, under pressure by Matt Alfaro, tried a pass across the front of his own net that kicked off Alfaro's skate. The overage Ice center jumped on the loose puck and fed Vince Loschiavo in front. The 18-year-old forward potted the goal for his second in two games. Then, later in the first after Alex Overhardt collided with Lee in the crease, the Ice were awarded a power play. Kootenay took advantage as Alfaro did a good job of getting a shot on net through traffic and defenseman Dallas Hines poked home the rebound. To recap, the Ice were out shot 20-11, but came away with a two-goal lead.

Things would get worse before they would get better for the Winterhawks in the second period. A loose puck came along the side boards in the neutral zone and Skyler McKenzie, who is normally quite adept in this area on the ice, could not corral the puck. Sergey Zbrosoky peeled the puck off the boards and skated in a two-on-one. He picked a spot right above Portland goalie Cole Kehler's blocker and put in his 21st goal on the season. Portland would finally get a shot past Lee with just 3:51 left in the second. After Caleb Jones drew a penalty, the Portland power play cashed in. After Cody Glass won a draw in the Ice zone, Joachim Blichfeld got the puck back to Jones for a point shot. Lee made the right pad save, but Keegan Iverson made a slick move, kicking the puck to his stick in order to backhand his shot past the goalie. The Ice entered the game's final frame up by two goals.

Portland continued the pressure in the third period, getting a lot of good looks. However, they would only get one more shot past Lee, which was not quite enough. With Kehler pulled for an extra attacker and the Hawks on the power play, Henri Jokiharju skated one-on-four into the Ice zone and sniped a shot past Lee from just inside the blue line. More chances would follow, but this afternoon was all about the 20-year-old, Cranbrook, B.C. native in net for the Ice.

Kehler was handed his first loss in seven starts as he stopped only 21 of 24 shots. The Hawks' power play was 2/8, while the Ice PP went 1/3.

Game Notes:
-Cody Glass came oh so close to extending his point streak to eight games on the Iverson goal. Unfortunately, Blichfeld played the puck back to Jones, giving him the secondary assist.
-After Iverson's seven game point streak was snapped last week, he has another streak going. A goal gives him points in three straight.
-Another goal for Jokiahrju. Over his first 25 WHL game,s he had just one goal. In his next four games, he has three.
-The penalty that was called on Overhardt and led to the Ice's game-winning-goal, was a controversial one. Overhardt appeared to be checked into the Ice goalie after the whistle was blown. However, Overhardt was the second man to skate right up in Lee's face and it was well after the play was dead. Despite these factors though, this call does not get made very often.
-After centering Ryan Hughes and Evan Weinger for the last couple of games Joachim Blichfeld over to the wing with Overhardt and Colton Veloso.
-Brad Ginnell was scratched and his absence was somewhat noticeable. Despite only having three points this year, Ginnell seems to be growing in confidence offensively. He has several quality scoring chances each game and is becoming a better puck-possession player in the opponent's zone. I think Portland's best lineup has him in the top-nine, which is high praise for a 16-year-old.
-Next up for Portland is Sunday evening, at home vs. Medicine Hat.

Winterhawks take latest in season series over Americans 5-2

In the first of three-game-in-three nights, the Portland Winterhawks rebounded from an early deficit and took down the Tri-City Americans 5-2. Despite Rylan Parenteau winning the last four Tri-City-Portland match ups, Evan Sarthou got the start and the streak was ended. Sarthou was not the only rare starter in net as Portland's Michael Bullion got the nod in net and was a key reason for three of Portland''s goals. The WHL schedule can be odd at times and Portland has taken on Tri-City seven out of their first 28 games, or 1/4 of their total games. The Americans lead the season series 4-3 now.

The Ams scored just 11 seconds into the game on a goal from Vladislav Lukin. Parker Wotherspoon drove into the Portland zone right off the face off and dropped a pass to Lukin. The Russian forward drove a shot that Portland goalie Cole Kehler could not quite stop. Before the period was over, the Hawks would not only get that goal back, but take a lead. Michael Bullion, who was getting his first start in nearly two weeks, was the unlikely igniter of the Hawks' first goal. He made a big pad save on a chance from Tyler Sandhu, starting a Portland rush the other way. Ryan Hughes fired an outlet pass to Evan Weinger, who got in alone on a breakaway. Weinger buried the opportunity to tie the game. Just over a minute later the Hawks took a lead on a goal from Colton Veloso. Caleb Jones drew the attention of the Tri-City defense and backhanded a pass to the front of the net where Veloso buried the puck past Sarthou.

Portland extended their lead to two just over four minutes into the second period from a recent source for goals either scored or assisted: Henri Jokiharju. Ryan Hughes and Joachim Blichfeld set up Jokiharju with a shot form the point that appeared to deflect off an American defender and in. Then, just over a minute later another Bullion save sparked an odd-man Portland rush the other way. Cody Glass found Keegan Iverson for a shot and Skyler McKenzie poked home the rebound to give Portland a 4-1 lead. 

Tri-City cut into the Portland lead 2:24 into the third period with a goal from top 2017 NHL draft prospect Michael Rasmussen. Parker Wotherspoon got his second assist of the game by firing a shot towards the net, that was deflected on net by Morgan Geekie. Bullion, stopped the Geekie chance but Rasmussen was there for the rebound. The Americans almost got within one but a shot that squeaked through Bullion but was pulled off the goal line by defenseman Caleb Jones. Joachim Blichfeld put the game away after Bullion kicked out another save that freed up Colton Veloso to get Blichfeld into space with a smart board pass. 

Michael Bullion earned his first win in nearly two months by making 26 saves on 28 shots. Sarthou has struggled in his three most recent outings including this one. He let in four goals on 25 shots.

Portland only earned one power play and was not able to convert on it. Tri-City meanwhile went 1/4. 

Game Notes:
-Alex Overhardt and Parker Wotherspoon had a couple tense exchanges, but the first one was a rather odd one. Wotherspoon dropped his glove,s but Overhardt did not on their initial dust up. As soon as they were out of their penalty boxes, the two, both dropped gloves and exchanged blows.
-Keoni Texeira quietly has blossomed into a shot down defenseman. He made an excellent play in breaking up a one-on-two sequence. Not only did he take away the pass, he kept the shot from the puck-carrier to one side of the net.
-Brett Clayton kept up his strong play since coming back to the Hawks. His defensive play has been superb and it was on display Friday night in Kennewick. He came back for the back-check and lifted the stick in a net fornt battle. This took away a prime scoring chance.
-Blichfeld could break 30 goals this year. While he is at 10, through 28 games, his quick release and growing comfort in Portland's system should increase his scoring opportunities.
-Next up for Portland is an early game Saturday vs. Kootenay. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Portland holds off Spokane 2-1

It's been a season of streaks for the Portland Winterhawks so far in 2016. After dropping nine straight close games, they won their fourth straight and six of their last seven, Wednesday night in Spokane. Portland jumped on the Chiefs early, scoring twice on the power play before the game was seven minutes old. They then exchanged chances and shots off posts the rest of the way, before holding on for yet another tight contest with Spokane.

Portland got the first goal of the game off some great PP puck movement. Cody Glass got to a rebound to the right of Spokane goalie Jayden Sittler's net. He cycled it around the net to the other side to Skyler McKenzie. Portland's left wing then moved it back to Caleb Jones who fired a quick shot towards the net. Glass, who had moved to the high slot, got a stick on the shot, deflecting the puck past Sittler for his 14th goal of the year. Then after Brett Clayton drew a penalty by driving the net, Portland found twine on the man advantage again. Alex Overhardt, in his first game back from injury, after receiving the puck along the right boards at the blue line, used his body to shield the puck away. This allowed him to send Evan Weinger in with speed. Weinger then fed Ryan Hughes in front of the net. Hughes had out-muscled Spokane defenseman Evan Fiala to get positioning in front of the net. Hughes roofed his shot, without much room to maneuver.

In the second period neither team could find the net, but both came very close. Both teams struck multiple posts in the period on some high quality chances.

In the third, Spokane began to put more pressure on the Hawks, but Cole Kehler was stalwart between the pipes, making many saves in tight on loose pucks right in front of him. Spokane could not beat Portland's 19-year-old goalie until they pulled Sittler for an extra attacker with just over two minutes left in the game. They scored after Kehler made several saves over to his right on one of those loose pucks. The puck was worked around to Keanu Yamamoto in the high slot over to Kehler's left. Yamamoto's slap shot got through a heavily screened Kehler. Spokane was unable to get anymore quality chances in their quest to tie the game, as Portland clamped down defensively.

Cole Kehler turned away 36 34 of 35 shots in getting the win. Spokane's overage goalie Jayden Sittler stopped 38 of the 40 Portland shots he saw.

Portland's power play was 2/3, while Spokane's was 0/2. After having a lot of games with 5-7 penalties, Portland cleaned things up and kept the game at five players aside for a majority of the game.

Game Notes:
-Keegan Iverson had his career-high six-game point streak snapped.
-Cody Glass extended his point streak to seven games with his goal. During that span he has 13 points. He is now fourth in WHL scoring with 38 points.
-Skyler McKenzie, with an assist in the game, is just outside the top-10 scorers in the league. He is tied for 11th with 32 points.
-Alex Overhardt had an assist in his return to the lineup from injury. He hadn't seen any game action for 11 days.
-There aren't many goalies in the WHL playing better than Cole Kehler right now. Over his last six games, he has a save percentage of 0.913 or higher in each game. He likely will start two of the three games this weekend, with Michael Bullion getting the other. Kehler has crawled all the way up to sixth in the league in save percentage (among goalies who've played seven games or more).
-Joachim Blichfeld played his first game at center in the WHL and did a solid job, while learning the role on the fly. He centered a line with Ryan Hughes and Evan Weinger on his wings.
-Brett Clayton had one of his better games this year as showed good speed in bursting by a Spokane defender and drawing the penalty that set up the eventual game-winning-goal.
-Brad Ginnell put home his own rebound for what would've been his third WHL goal. However, Colton Veloso and a Chiefs' d-man collided into the post, knocking the net off before he scored.
-Portland's defensemen did a great job of driving into the Spokane zone and at least getting puck deep. They did not allow a lot of odd-man chances the other way by doing this.
-17-year-old d-man Matthew Quigley looked way more comfortable. Up until this game, he often exhibited signs of being nervous and always making the absolute safest play possible. He made several solid defensive plays in the game, by keeping Spokane forwards from getting good looks in prime scoring chances.
-Caleb Jones has definitely turned his season around and was Portland's best skater in this game. It seemed like every single time Spokane tried to get a pass to a player camped in front, he had their body or stick (or both) tied up.
-Next up for the Hawks is Friday night in Tri-City.
-Ty Kolle was reportedly reassigned, but there has yet to any announcement on where he was sent to.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Afternoon delight for the Winterhawks as they take down Prince George 6-3

A petition to move every Portland Winterhawks' home game to the afternoon might've gotten some signatures if it had been passed around the 3,164 fans at the Veteran Memorial Coliseum Sunday afternoon. Two days after they saw their Winterhawks take down the second place team in the B.C. Division 4-2, they watched them oust the first place Prince George Cougars 6-3. The win gives Portland their fifth in their last six games, with a record of 5-0-1 in those contests. These two recent wins make it hard for Mike Johnston and co. to decide what to do this year. After winning eight of their first 11, they dropped nine straight, before now getting points in six straight. Despite this being a match up of the oldest team (Prince George) and the youngest team in the WHL(Portland), the Hawks looked like the veteran team. They overcame a fluky goal in the third that tied the game; scoring twice in the span of 46 seconds to earn the big win. 10 Winterhawks found the score sheet in the win with Henri Jokiharju and Jake Gricus each earning two points.

Jake Gricius helped the Winterhawks open the scoring off a great play on an odd-man break. He drove the right wing of the zone and smartly used his big frame to protect the puck before dropping a pass to Joachim Blichfeld. The Danish forward then fired a shot in the top corner for his ninth goal of the year. While on one of three-straight power plays, the Cougars tied the game on a goal from their newest player. Colton Veloso was able to get his stick in the shooting lane of P.G. defenseman Brendan Guhle, after he received a feed from Jansen Harkins. Instead of deflecting it wide though, the shot rode Veloso's stick, beating Portland goalie Cole Kehler. This was Guhle's second goal in just his third game with his new team, after being acquired from the Prince Albert Raiders.

Portland took their second lead of the game on  bad turnover by the Cougars. After a shot on the rush, by Evan Weinger was stopped by goalie Nick McBride, 17-year-old rookie d-man Ryan Schoettler threw a pass right to Henri Jokiharju at the point. Portland's Finnish defenseman drove a shot over McBride's shoulder for the 2-1 lead. The Hawks then added to their lead on a goal that probably should not have counted. Skyler McKenzie sent a long outlet pass to Keegan Iverson, while on the power play, but the Hawks' captain appeared to be well offsides when he tipped it into the corner. He even peeled off from fore-checking, believing that he needed to clear the zone. No whistle was blown though and Portland took advantage. Iverson gathered the puck at the top of the zone and with every player looking for him to shoot, he flipped a pass to Cody Glass at the left face off dot. Glass fired a one-timer past McBride for the 3-1 Portland lead. Before the second period was over though, the Cougars crawled back within one. After an Iverson shot was blocked, Aaron Boyd smartly threw a uick outlet pass to a streaking Colby McAuley, sending him in alone. McAuley deked out Kehler and tucked the puck in past his pad.

Portland and Prince George traded chances in the third period, before the Cougars scored on an incredibly strange goal. Colton Veloso had the puck poked off of his stick, while trying to exit the zone and Kody McDonald drove the net, trying to sneak the puck in past Kehler. The rebound came out to Conor MacEachern, who tried to backhand the puck out of the zone. Colby McAuley then had MacEachern's clearing attempt ricochet off of his body and into the net. Instead of getting down after the goal, Portland took control of the play. While trying to exit his zone, P.G. d-man Joel Lakusta had the puck roll away from him. Jake Gricius, who had been fore-checking on the play snagged the puck and took advantage of the mini to-on-one, feeding a pass to 16-year-old rookie Brad Ginnell. The rookie then beat McBride, before he could slide over in time. 46 seconds later, the Ryan Hughes, Evan Weinger and Bronson Sharp controlled possession deep in the P.G. zone. This led to Weinger finding Brendan De Jong at the point. The defenseman settled the puck and then blasted a slap shot past McBride for the 5-3 lead. Keoni Texeira then added an empty netter from deep in his own zone to ice the game for the home squad.

Kehler stopped 39 of 42 and was his most impressive in the first, stopping 17 of 18. Nick McBride turned away 27 of the 32 shots he saw.

Portland was 1/3 on the power play, while Prince George was 1/5. The Hawks PP is now seventh in the WHL at 23.9 percent.

-Portland takes advantage of another turnover s Joel Lacusta loses the puck to Jake Gricius, setting up a two-on-one. Gricius slid the puck over to Brad Ginnell, who buried it (4-3)
-Evan Weinger great pass right onto the stick of Brendan De Jong. The big d-man settled it down and then powered a shot past McBride's blocker. (5-3)
-Keoni Texeira corralled a bouncing puck in his own zone, airmailing a shot all the way down into the empty net (6-3)EN

Game Notes:
-This was Jake Gricius' first WHL game with an assist and he ended up with two. He saw a whole lot of ice time as Lane Gilliss appeared to be absent for most of the third period. He was tasked with centering both his line and Gilliss'. I did not see how or even if Gilliss got injured.
-Gricius had his best game of his WHL career so far, showing great vision on both of his assists.
-Prince George had a whole lot of power play time in the mid-part of the first period as Keegan Iverson took a double-minor for high sticking 16 seconds after Lane Gilliss was whistled for tripping. They did end up scoring once, but nearly had another as a Jesse Gabrielle goal from the slot was disallowed after his linemate, Aaron Boyd made contact with Cole Kehler.
-Keegan Iverson also had a power play goal disallowed in the third period, after it was decided that he had directed the puck in with a high stick.
-Sam Ruopp was out of the lineup for Prince George, as he served the last game of his eight-game suspension for a "one-man fight," back on November second, vs. Medicine Hat.
-Keegan Iverson extended his point streak to six games, which is a new career high. He had a five-game streak back in the 2014-14 season.
-Brad Ginnell was in prime position to score countless times. He struck the post on one of these chances before eventually scoring the game-winner. His recent play should help him continue to see the ice ahead of Ty Kolle and (the injured?) Ilijah Colina.
-Portland has a busy week coming with a road trip for games in Spokane and Kennewick, followed by home games vs. Kootenay and Medicine Hat.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Winterhawks edge Royals 4-2 in Daylight Classic

The second period was again the strength for the Portland Winterhawks. Two nights after pumping 17 shots in the middle frame on Edmonton, they fired 19 on the the visiting Victoria Royals. Just like the game before, Portland scored the eventual game-winning-goal in the second. This gives Portland four wins in their last five games with points in each of them. Portland has been using the game's middle session to give themselves multi-goal leads and this is a major difference for them from their recent nine-game losing streak. During that streak, the Hawks could not seem to get more than a one-goal lead, which allowed their opponents the opportunity to come back and win. The Hawks were led by two goals from Skyler McKenzie and two assists from Keegan Iverson in the win.

Portland opened the scoring just 2:18 in the game with a goal from a depth forward. After defenseman Jake Hobson's shot was turned away by Victoria goalie Griffen Oouthouse, Lane Gilliss got two cracks at the rebound on Outhouse's left post, finally poking it through. The goal was his first since October 12th. Victoria got that goal back on a slick passing play. Spencer Gerth corralled the puck in the corner, quickly passing the puck near goalie Cole Kehler's right post, where Dante Hannoun one-touched a pass to Matthew Phillips in front. Phillips quickly put it away before Kehler could set himself. With just over a minute left in the period, the Hawks retook their one-goal lead after Cody Glass flipped a backhand pass from right at the side of the net to Skyler McKenzie. The winger slammed his shot past Outhouse to give Portland a 2-1 lead after one.

Portland again took the play to their opponent in the second, earning two power plays and using one to give themselves an insurance goal they would need. Just under a minute into the period, Colton Veloso tipped a point shot from Henri Jokiharju past Outhouse. This was the second straight game that Portland scored on a tipped shot from Jokiharju.

With Portland having the better of play, Victoria was given new life after Keoni Texeira delivered a high hit. Texeira was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct. On the ensuing, long man-advantage, the Royals had several quality chances, but Kehler was in position to turn away all of them. The Royals finally cut the Portland lead to one on a later power play. Reagan Nagy cut to the middle, losing the puck and regaining it, before firing a shot over Kehler's blocker. Quality shot blocks kept the Royals from getting anymore great chances the rest of the way. The Hawks got a very late empty-net-goal on some extra effort from Skyler McKenzie. Keegan Iverson's shot went just wide of the net form his own zone, but McKenzie raced down to beat out the hybrid icing call and potted the empty-netter.

Kehler put together his second straight quality start, stopping 33 of the 35 shots he faced. The best of these was on a breakaway for Royals' sniper Jack Walker, that he flashed his glove on. Victoria's Griffen Outhouse stopped 39 of 42 shots at the other end.

The Wnterhawks had one goal on seven power play chances, while the Royals had one on six chances.

Game Notes:
-McKenzie has 10 points in his last five games and five in his last three. This recent run has launched him all the way up to ninth in the WHL scoring race with 31 points.
-Keegan Iverson has found his home as a set up guy on the top line. He has a recent run of three games with at least two assists. He also has a six-game point streak, during which he has 13 points.
-Brett Clayton got his first point of the season, in his second game back with the team. He assisted on Gilliss' first period goal.
-With Ilijah Colina and Alex Overhardt out, the Hawks have called up 15-year-old rookie Connor Bowie. He did not dress in the game, but is sure to use some of the five-games he can play in this year, during this call up.
-Cody Glass had one assist in the game but perhaps his biggest impact for me was with how much he frustrated Matthew Phillips. The Calgary Flames' prospect took two penalties in the neutral zone on Glass, trying to slow down the Hawks' center. Not only does this speak to how well Glass' line did at controlling play in the neutral zone, it kept the Royals' most dangerous player off of the ice four four minutes.
-Evan Weinger has become a great 200-foot player. When he first came to Portland, he was more of one-dimensional player. This has definitely changed as Weinger flies back on defense, using his speed to take away scoring looks at his own net. This was the case when he tied up the stick of Dante Hannoun, taking away a sure goal. His two-way play has earned him more time on the penalty kill.
-Victoria was missing their top center as Tyler Soy was out with a shoulder injury he suffered last weekend.
-Portland plays another day game on Sunday at Veterans Memorial Coliseum vs. the Prince George Cougars. Not only do they face the tough task of taking on the top team in the B.C. Division, they face the very real threat of being without one of their top d-men  due to suspension.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Winterhawks double up Oil Kings 4-2

The Edmonton Oil Kings came into Portland for their third game in five nights, while on their U.S. Division road trip. They were done in by Portland's potent combo of 17-year-old centers. Cody Glass scored twice and Ryan Hughes added another as Portland took down the visiting Oil Kings. Keegan Iverson added three assists in the win.

The Winterhawks opened the scoring in the first period on a lucky bounce. Skyler McKenzie made a nice drop pass in traffic, to free up Cody Glass on the left wing. The Winnipeg native swung a backhand shot that deflected off of the skate of Oil Kings' d-man Wyat McLeod and past goalie Patrick Dea. The Oil Kings showed a lot of jump in response to the goal, taking the play right at Portland and drawing five power plays in the first period. They converted on one of those when Lane Bauer pounced on the rebound of a Tyler Robertson shot, putting the puck past Portland goalie Cole Kehler. Despite being short handed so much, the Hawks got there chances in the opening session. The best one was converted as Glass put an impressive deflection on the point shot from Henri Jokiharju, beating Dea. Glass smartly used his body to shield Dea from the puck, before getting a backhand deflection on the shot and moving out of the way, all in one motion. This is probably one of the nice deflection goals you'll see in the WHL this year.

The second period was mostly owned by Portland as they were given three power plays of their own, including a five-on-three advantage. Although they didn't convert on those opportunities, they controlled play for much of the period, out shooting Edmonton 17-3. They finally were able to beat Dea and give themselves a two-goal lead late in the second. The goal was a little non-traditional as Ryan Hughes guided the rebound of a Bronson Sharp shot with his skate, past Dea and in. This play is legal this year, as long as it does not take place in the crease. 

Portland looked to put the game away early in the third period, as Keegan Iverson fired a perfect cross-ice pass to Keoni Texeira and the 19-year-old d-man punched it home. Instead of folding up and giving up, down 4-1, the Oil Kings played their best hockey of the night through the rest of the third period challenging Kehler often. They finally broke through when rookie Trey Fix-Wolansky sniped a shot upstairs with Portland's defense scrambling to cover. Kehler stood tall the rest of the way, giving the Hawks points in four straight games, with three of those games being wins.

Kehler turned aside 22 of 24 shots, earning his ninth win of the year. Patrick Dea was a lot busier, stopping 36 of 40 Portland shots. 

Portland went 0/5 on the power play, while Edmonton was 1/6. Portland's power play drops to sixth in the WHL at 24.3 percent.

Game Notes:
-Cody Glass nearly had the hat trick as he struck iron on a full-ice shot with Dea pulled and the net vacant.  With his two goals though he now has 35 points on the year. This is still good enough for third in the WHL and six points behind Regina's Sam Steel.
-Keegan Iverson quietly has 28 points this year. This has him tied for 16th in league scoring and just one behind Skyler McKenzie for second on the team.
-Caleb Jones had an assist and now has eight points in his last four games. This has him finally up in the top-ten in scoring among d-men.
-The lone remaining members of the teams that played in the 2014 WHL final are Portland's Keegan Iverson and Keoni Texeira and Edmonton's Tyler Robertson, Aaron Irving and Lane Bauer. 
-With Colton Veloso and Alex Overhardt and Colina all out (likely to injury), the Hawks brought Brett Clayton back up. He skated a regular shift and played pretty well.
-The player with the most notable increase in playing time was Bronson Sharp. He netted his first career WHL point on the Hughes goal and got to see some time on the penalty kill.
-Jake Gricius was in the lineup and so only ended up missing most of one game, due to the hit he received from Lethbridge's Tyler Wong. 
-The next game for Portland is the Daylight Classic, Friday vs. Victoria. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Visiting 'Canes storm through Portland for a 6-5 overtime win

One night after getting treated to a back-and-forth U.S. Division overtime game, the Portland faithful got one involving teams that only see each other once a year. Lethbridge has struggled in the early going this year, leading to the trading of their top scorer. They were badly in need of an emotional win and their captain, Tyler Wong delivered just that Sunday night. He buried a shot just 18 seconds into overtime, sending the Hawks to their first extra-time loss this year. Wong was a catalyst all night for the Canes, scoring twice, drawing a power play and throwing a high, first period hit on Portland forward Jake Gricius that knocked him out of the game. Despite the hit, seemingly making contact with Gricius' head, Wong was given just a two-minute penalty for charging, instead of a five-minute major that would've seen him exit the game.

Portland and Lethbridge traded a total of five goals in the first period, with both teams capitalizing on their chances. The Hurricanes drew first blood when import forward Egor Babenko got right around Keoni Texeira on some slick stick handling and he got a shot on Portland goalie Michael Bullion. Ryley Lindgren was first to the rebound and he poked it home. Portland responded just 50 seconds later as defenseman Caleb Jones drove the right wing and dropped a pass to Ryan Hughes at the blue line. Hughes then fired a shot on Lethbridge goalie Stuart Skinner and Evan Weinger buried the rebound. The Hawks then grabbed their first lead of the night when Skyler McKenzie in a one-on-one, drove straight at Brenndan Menell, using him as a screen as he fired a deceptive shot through Skinner's five-hole. The goal was McKenzie's 13 of the year. The Hurricanes tied the game at two when Lindgren drove around the Portland net and snuck a pass by Conor MacEachern and right to Zane Franklin. The 17-year-old forward buried the chance for his second goal of the year.

After receiving a late power play, the Hawks took a 3-2 lead on some amazing puck movement. Joachim Blichfeld received a cross-ice pass from Keegan Iverson, sniping a shot past Skinner, ending the goalie's night. Skinner stopped four of seven shots in only 14:34 of game action. Former Seattle Thunderbird Ryan Gilchrist came on in relief.

Portland took a two-goal lead in the second period, while the teams were skating four aside. After Keegan Iverson failed to convert on both a breakaway and a back door play, he found an onrushing Caleb Jones with a deft backhand pass. The blue liner buried his shot past Gilchrist. The goal was Jones' second in three games, after going 10 games without one. The Hurricanes would not go away as Colton Kroeker drove the left wing and centered a pass in front of the net. Tyler Wong out-muscled Ty Kolle for the puck, deflecting it up high over Bullion's left pad. Then Portland got what appeared to be an insurance goal as Ryan Hughes cut to the middle, drove to the net and flipped a backhand pass to Evan Weinger at the right post. Weinger finished off what appeared to be a designed play for his second goal of the game. This was Weinger's first multi-goal game of the year.

The Hurricanes were expected to be the more tired team, as this was their third game in as many nights. However, they looked to be the team with more energy. Colton Kroeker helped cut the lead to one, as he slipped past Henri Jokiharju and drove the net. He was not able to score, but Ryley Lindgren got to the rebound, sliding it through Bullion's right pad. This only inspired the 'Canes more and the ice was heavily tilted in their favor the rest of the period. After Bronson Sharp took a penalty after the whistle, Lethbridge pulled Gilchrist for a six-on-four advantage. Bullion made several big saves, but could not get over in time for a Giorgio Estephan one-timer from the left face off dot with 2:15 left in the game.

Lethbridge then finished off the comeback as Jordy Bellerive drove past Skyler McKenzie along the right wing and slid a perfect pass to Wong. The overage forward sniped it past Bullion, giving the 'Canes the extra point.

Bullion struggled in covering rebounds, but did well in battling through adversity after taking an inadvertent stick to the neck from Bellerive in the third period. He saved a total of 25 of the 31 shots he faced. Gilchrist was impressive in relief, turning away 28 of 30 shots.

Portland had seven power plays for the second night in a row, converting on just one of them. Lethbridge went 2/5 on their man-advantage opportunities.

Game Notes:
-With an assist in the game, Glass has 33 points, good for third overall in the WHL.
-Iverson had three assists and has eight points in his last four games. He could be in the running for WHL player of the week.
-As hot as Iverson is, Hughes is right behind him with six points in his last three games.
-McKenzie had a goal and an assist and is now tied for ninth overall in WHL-scoring with 28 points.
-Jones had three points and has seven points in his last three games. He is now up to 10th in WHL scoring with 18 points.
-Portland seemed to over think their two different, lengthy five-on-three power plays in the game. Instead of having Joachim Blichfeld run one of the point positions, like normal, they used defenseman Henri Jokiharju. The puck movement was not as smooth without Blichfeld and both d-men seemed too content to just set each other up for one-timers, rather than drive at the defense and make them over-commit. I'm never a fan of a team using a different two-man advantage unit and Portland's inability to convert on these two chances, seems to back up my belief.
-Bronson Sharp got more penalty killing time with Alex Overhardt scratched and did well with this opportunity. The late penalty, will not do him any favors with the coaching staff.
-Hughes was moved to center for the first time this year to start the game. This was a decision, likely made after his great puck-possession play the previous night out.
-While it remains to be seen if Wong will get a suspension for his hit on Gricius, the hit is something the league has been cracking down on. Gricius not returning to the game will likely have an impact on the league's decision, as will Wong's history. He has been suspended five games over three incidents in his career.  The injury is really unfortunate for Gricius, as he was playing his best hockey and had gained some time on the penalty kill with improved play in his own zone.
-Next game for the Hawks is Wednesday night vs. the Edmonton Oil Kings.