Sunday, September 25, 2016

Hawks score second straight touchdown, beat Americans 7-3

The Portland Winterhawks proved that their seven-spot on Saturday night vs. division rival was no fluke Sunday. They did this be scoring seven more goals and taking down another division rival in Tri-City; 7-3. Along the way, Portland scored two goals thanks to new rules, that would not have been possible before this year. Yet another reason that this season is feeling much different for Portland and their fans.

Cody Glass and Ty Kolle each had three assists and four other Hawks had two points. A night after 13 Hawks factored into the scoring, 10 got at least one point.

Portland stormed out to a 3-0 lead after the first period, taking advantage of a slow-starting Americans squad. Henri Jokiharju started the scoring with his first career WHL goal, just over five minutes into the game. The Finnish defenseman fired a low shot that appeared to have deflected off of Tri-City center Tyler Sandhu and past goalie Beck Warm. Then after Portland's other rookie import Joachim Blichfeld drew a cross-checking penalty on Jeff Rayman, Portland doubled their lead. Keoni Texeira appeared to sense a lull in the defense, while on the power play and pounced on the opportunity. He went from behind his own net all the way up the left wing, dipping around a couple defenders, before beating Warm on the near post. The Americans did not appear to be set up for the rush after changing lines and Portland's 19-year-old d-man had the speed to make them pay. Skyler McKenzie made the lead 3-0, just 29 seconds later after Alex Overhardt made an extremely smart play. At the end of his shift, it would have been easy for Overhardt to dump the puck after gaining the red line in and reset, but he instead patiently waited and found a rushing McKenzie in the neutral zone. McKenzie eventually ended up receiving a cross-crease pass from 16-year-old rookie Ty Kolle and he then beat Warm in tight.

The Americans played a more inspired game in the second period and made Portland pay for a taking a penalty. Juuso Valimaki fired a soft shot from the point that Michael Rasmussen expertly topped over Portland goalie Cole Kehler's shoulder. The goal was Rasmussen's fifth in just over four periods of hockey. The Americans then cut the Portland lead to just one with a little unintentional help from Texeira. Sandhu had found Kyle Olson on the rush, setting up a mini two-on-one rush. Olson tried a back door pass to a waiting Morgan Geekie, but Texeira accidentally deflected the puck past Kehler and into his own net. Just like the previous night, Portland responded to adversity by scoring a big goal moments later. 19-year-old winger Colton Veloso made a breakout pass from along his own half-boards, springing Blichfeld and activated d-man Brendan De Jong. Blichfeld fired for Warm's far pad and the puck ended up going right to De Jong. The lanky d-man clearly kicked the puck in, but due to the new rule that allows a distinct kicking motion, as long as it occurs outside of the crease, the goal was allowed. The goal was De Jong's second in as many games.

Skyler McKenzie gave Portland another three goal lead early in the third; scoring from a difficult angle. McKenzie had rushed up the left wing with the puck, finding an activated Jokiharju on his inner lane. The Finn backhanded a quick shot off the pad of a down-on-the-ice Warm and the rebound was left laying there. McKenzie smartly got to the puck and flipped a shot off of the goalie's back and into the net. Early in the season, the small winger is tied for second in goals in the WHL with three. Tyler Sandhu helped Tri-City respond  just over two minutes later. While on the power play, he spun around a defender, while in the slot with the puck and found an open Valimaki. The d-man fired a low shot that Sandhu deflected home. The teams traded chances for the next 10-plus minutes of action, before the dynamic duo of Evan Weinger and Ryan Hughes helped give Portland much needed insurance. Weinger corralled the puck behind the net and used great skate-edge work to spin away from Nolan Yaremko and Dylan Coghlan. With all eyes on him, he found an onrushing Ryan Hughes all alone in the slot. Hughes put his shot over Warm's right shoulder for the 6-3 lead. Tri-City pulled Warm with over five minutes left and put a lot of pressure on Kehler, but the Hawk's goalie made several big saves under duress. The game was then further put on ice when Ryan Hughes outraced Coghlan to the puck thanks to the new hybrid-icing rule. He then found Evan Weinger all alone in front and the Californian scored the easy empty-netter to close out the scoring.

Americans' goalie Warm struggled in net, stopping only 28 of the 34 shots he faced (just like Rylan Toth did the night before). Cole Kehler turned away 26 of the 29 shots he faced for his first WHL win since October 22nd, 2014.

Portland was one-for-two on the power play and is now three-for-six on the season for 50 percent. Tri-City was one-for-three and is now three-for-eight for 37.5 percent.

Game Notes:
-Hughes-Colina-Weinger has been an electric line so for during the 2016-17 campaign. Each player has done a great job of accepting their role on the line. Hughes is the primary puck-carrier, while Weinger uses his speed to set up odd-man rushes and Colina is more responsible defensively. The three of them have combined for 11 points through two games.
-Another unit that I really like is Lane Gilliss-Jake Gricius-Bronson Sharp. They have only factored into one of Portland's 14 goals thus far, but it's only a matter of time before they have a bigger impact on the scoreboard. Gricius and Gilliss have been great together on the cycle as they seem to know where each other will be without needing to look. Sharp, meanwhile has created a lot of rushes for the line with his speed.
-Portland was still missing Keegan Iverson (Minnesota), Rodrigo Abols (Vancouver) and Caleb Jones (Edmonton) as they are all away at NHL camps.
-Tri-City got Dylan Coghlan back from Detroit Red Wings' camp, but are still without Maxwell James (N.Y. Islanders), Evan Sarthou (Arizona), Jordan Topping (Dallas) and Parker Wotherspoon (N.Y. Islanders).
-Coghlan had a terrible game and was not doubt feeling the effect of traveling back from Detroit. He did not seem to be skating as quickly as he usually does and was caught flat-footed on a couple of Portland's goals.
-Ty Kolle drew in for Brad Ginnell and made his case for more ice-time. He had three assists in his WHL debut, a night after Ginnell scored in his first WHL game. Between Ginnell, Kolle and Colina, the future is looking bright for Portland's 2000-born forwards.
-The biggest difference in how Portland is playing this season is how quickly they are getting the puck through the neutral zone. They are quickly moving the puck into their opponent's zone to someone with speed, creating odd-man rushes and great scoring looks.
-De Jong has been given the green light to activate whenever he sees the chance and it has paid off twice in two games now. It did backfire for a goal the other way Saturday, as well, but coach Mike Johnston and Portland will continue to trust the 18-year-old d-man.
-Portland hosts the 2-0 Everett Silvertips Friday night, before going on an eight-game road trip that will take them through the WHL's east division.

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