Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Road trip starts with a thud for Portland: as they lose in Swift Current 7-3

All in all, it wasn't an awful effort for Portland, Tuesday night in Swift Current. They played back and forth hockey with the Broncos for most of the night and stayed with them, until one four and a half minute segment of hockey late in the second period. That small segment of hockey turned the game and doomed Portland. The Broncos were led by a career-high four point game by defenseman Artyom Minluin and three points apiece by Lane Pederson and Glenn Gawdin in the win. Both team's head coaches were absent as they attended the board of Governor's meetings.

The Broncos first goal of the night was the first of his WHL career, for 16-year-old Riley Stotts. Defenseman Kade Jensen got a quick shot towards the net and Stotts got a stick on the shot, deflecting it past Portland goalie Michael Bullion. Then in a goal eerily similar to one he scored on Saturday night in Seattle, Skyler McKenzie found the twine for the fifth time this year. Finnish d-man Henri Jokiharju fired a high wrist shot in on Swift Current goalie Travis Child. The net-minder made the save but the puck fell to the ice, to his right. Cody Glass was first to it and instead of shooting, he passed it across the crease, to a wide open McKenzie for the goal. The rest of the first was played with the up and down style Portland likes to play. Everything looked pretty rosy, considering they were out shooting the Broncos 16-11.

Instead, Swift Current seized the early second period momentum off a broken play. Glenn Gawdin entered the Portland zone and twice tried a pass into the middle for Arthur Miller. On the second try it bounced away from Miller and right onto Minulin's stick on the right wing. The d-man charged deep into the zone and beat Bullion on his blocker-side for his team's second lead of the game. The Broncos tacked on another goal off a pretty rush by former Seattle Thunderbirds forward Lane Pederson. The 19-year-old took the puck from his own blue line, through the neutral zone and into Portland's zone. 16-year-old rookie Ilijah Colina could not get the puck from him and Pederson found some room to fire a shot right past Bullion's glove. Swift Current found themselves another opportunity, when they were handed a power-play mid-way through the period. Portland instead notched their third short-handed goal this year off of the stick of Colton Veloso. He took advantage of some mis-communication between defenseman Colby Sissons and a Broncos' forward and burst in all alone on Child. He put on a nifty fake and beat him forehand, glove-side for his second goal of the year. Swift Current still had the man advantage though and answered Portland's short-handed marker, reinstating the two-goal lead at 4-2. They scored it on another deflection as Glenn Gawdin was left alone in front of Bullion and he tipped a shot from Max Lajoie past the Winterhawks' goalie. Gawdin's goal was with 3:35 left in the period and it was the start of a scoring barrage for the Broncos that swung the game.

Just 23 seconds later Conor MacEachern misplayed a bouncing puck and Tyler Steenbergen corralled it for the Broncos. He skated right past Colina, who couldn't slow him down and fired a quick shot form the slot, past the hapless Bullion. Minulin then set up another odd-man rush for Swift Current off a fantastic bank pass less than a minute later and Aleksi Heponiemi found himself with a great look from the slot. The Finnish import wired a beauty of a wrist shot top shelf, blocker-side on Bullion and it was 6-2. Unfortunately the scoring spree wasn't over as Minulin made a great back door pass on the power play to Gawdin and the St. Louis Blues' drafted player tapped home his second of the game. The score went from 3-2 to 7-2, so fast associate coach Kyle Gustafson's head was spinning on the Portland bench.

Bullion did not make it back out on the ice for Portland, as his night was over, after making 21 saves on 28 shots. He was badly out of position on three of Swift Current's goals, but also made one of the best WHL saves, I've seen in awhile. Stotts made a nice give-and-go play on the power-play with Heponiemi and received the pass back with a wide open net to look at. Bullion dove across his crease, getting airborne and making a dandy of a glove save on the rookie.

Portland notched another power-play goal in the third period as Keegan Iverson drove straight into the teeth of the opponent's defense and the puck ended up on Cody Glass's stick. Glass made yet another pretty pass, across the zone to Joachim Blichfeld. He was wide open and fired it into the vacant net for his first career WHL goal. That was all she wrote though as Child stood tall and helped seal the win with a few good saves late.

Child was solid for the Broncos, turning away 33 of the 36 shots he faced. Often, he took away Portland's shooting angles by using his size and perfect positioning to give them nothing to shoot at. Kehler was a solid wall in relief, stopping all 14 shots he faced and looking extremely comfortable doing it.  Kehler has stopped 39 of the last 40 shots he has seen. There is little doubt he will be in net Wednesday night in Prince Albert.

Portland's power-play went one-for-four and is now eight-of-eighteen on the season. Swift Current's power-play was one-for-five with one short-handed goal against.

Game Notes:
-The lack of physical play from Portland stood out to me on Tuesday night. While, Portland is not going to be known as a bruising team under Mike Johnston, they failed to throw the body around much at all this night.
-Portland's youth was a major weakness this night as well. Colina had his poorest showing with Portland, failing to stick-check or put his weight into a Broncos' players when given the chance. He was out there for two big goals against. This is going to happen at times though for Portland and as long as their young players learn from their mistakes, they will grow into great players.
-The Carter Czaikowski and Conor McEachern defensive pairing has struggled a lot so far this year. MacEachern looked great at the Neely Cup and during the preseason, but has yet to look comfortable jumping up into the play in the regular season. I feel like this will come with time. Defensively though, they need to work on their gap control, as onrushing forwards are allowed easy entry into their zone.
-Swift Current looks like a team that can make a lot of noise in the East Division this year. Lane Pederson and Aleksi Heponiemi were all over the ice and look extremely happy playing the fast system that new coach Emmanuel Viveiros has employed. Pederson was at his best attacking Portland's defense and taking quick advantage of any turnovers this caused. Heponiemi, meanwhile has the look of a player who will soon be a super star in this league. These two were the major reason Portland got beat at it's own game Tuesday night.
-Lane Gilliss showcased a lot of skill and looks to be growing out of the fourth-line grinder role he's been assigned. He hit the post on one great rush up the ice and also fed line mate Ty Kolle with an outstanding cross-ice saucer pass that the rookie couldn't get past Child.
-Glass now has nine points in five games for Portland. He sits one point behind WHL points-leader Jared Bethune of Prince George, while having played one less game. In four of the five games he's played, he has two points or  more.
-My notes end on a little bit of an odd occurrence late in the game. Right-handed Ilijah Colina chose to take a face off against a Broncos' center left-handed. This does not happen too often and it will be something I will look for in the future with Colina.

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