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.

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