WHL – Portland Winter Hawks – OR, U.S.
For the first look
into the upcoming 2002-03 Portland Winter Hawks season, here’s a look at summer
Head Coach Mike
Williamson deservedly received a contract extension through the 2003-04
season. Subsequently, in late July, Coach Williamson was also informed
his immigration status to coach in the United States was approved.
Regardless of how the Hawks start the season, it looks like Williamson will be
in place for the next two years. This displays General Manager Ken
Hodge‘s patience and willingness to allow his offence-lacking,
defensively-skilled roster to mature under “Willie’s” watchful eye.
Blake Wesley was named the Winter Hawks’ Assistant Coach in late June.
Having played three seasons for Portland in the late 1970s, Wesley will be a
familiar face to some long-time Hawks fans. The hiring follows a trend
coming from G.M. Hodge’s office: hire ex-Hawks and watch them blossom into hot
coaching prospects. Hodge is all too familiar with this scenario, losing
two assistant coaches in the last two seasons. Former Assistant Coach
Troy Mick left to coach the Tri-City Americans following the 2000-01
season and earlier this summer was named Head Coach of the Kamloops Blazers.
This summer also saw former Assistant Coach Shaun Clouston leaving
Portland to take on the Tri-City bench job. While Hodge is sincerely
happy to see his recruits get a shot at head coaching, it would be beneficial
for the organization to have a sense of consistency in the assistant coaching
Braydon Coburn was named to the Team Canada Under-18 tournament team which
will travel to Piestany, Slovakia to compete in the Eight Nations Tournament.
Former Hawks to participate in this program include Andrew Ference and
Luc Theoret. This outstanding opportunity for Braydon to further
his international experience will not go unnoticed by potential draftees.
Each National Hockey League team has scouting staff represented at the annual
tournament, and many will be focused on the solidly-build rearguard.
Both Central Scouting and Red Line have Coburn pegged as a 1st rounder in the
June ’03 entry draft. Coburn joins nine other WHLers representing Canada
at the tournament. Lethbridge defenseman Brent Seabrook will wear
the captain’s “C” for Team Canada.
Winter Hawks have lost the services of last season’s standout rookie Jakub
Klepis. Following a 1st Round selection by the Ottawa Senators,
Klepis stated his intentions of returning to the Czech Republic to complete
his professional development. Quite a surprising move considering the
success Portland has had in developing fine young European talent like
Marian & Marcel Hossa, Josef Balej, and to a lesser extent,
Andej Podkonicky. All have seen NHL duties and definitely
benefited from the WHL’s lengthy 72-game schedule and physical style of play.
As a result, the Hawk fans will see two new Euros dressed in white and red
this season. With the 39th overall pick in the annual Import Draft,
Hodge selected defenseman David Turon of the Czech Republic.
Turon, a Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick, averaged nearly 2 PIM a game last
season on two Czech league teams. The defensive-minded defenseman will
be expected to use his 19-year old maturity to contribute to an already solid
defensive core. With the 94th overall pick, Portland selected fellow
Czech product, Roman Prazak. Prazak brings an interesting package
to the table with his 26 points and 59 PIM in 43 junior league games.
With the last name of Prazak, opposition fans are going to have a quick
nickname for the raw forward.
With that overview
provided, let me editorialize on the upcoming 2002-03 season . . .
The Winter Hawks are
going to be the deepest team in the Western Conference on defense. Barring
an out-of-camp miracle, scoring is going to be the Hawk’s toughest challenge.
In fact, it is not absurd to think that a defenseman may lead this team in
points. With only a sniff of the columns to follow (look for my Winter
Hawks Season Preview Editorial), let me suggest that puck-moving defenseman
Joey Hope will return to the Hawks as an overager and dominate at this level
of junior hockey. Consequently, Hope will be moved at the trade deadline
for a scoring ace, pegged for maturity during the 2003-04 season. G.M. Ken
Hodge is legendarily known for ending up on the plus side of all trades, so
expect Portland to entertain potential deals for either experienced overage
goaltender Lanny Ramage (a local favorite) or 19-year old Krister
Toews. Given the opportunity, I would send Ramage to a top playoff
contender and allow Krister to see the bulk of ice time this season in hopes of
a breakout year. At the very least, a Lanny trade would command a premier
scoring prospect in return and give Krister the chance to prove he has the skill
to be a number one WHL goaltender. Reality, however, is that Portland fans
have quite an affection for the personable Ramage and would not look fondly on
such a trade. Toews may in fact be given the chance to succeed in another
city, while Lanny posts career numbers in both save percentage and goals-against
average. Regardless, the Portland Winter Hawks will have an interesting
year as they rebuild for the future.
Open Ice Hit:
The Hawks open their
pre-season in Vancouver, WA at Mountain View Ice Arena on Friday, September 6th
at 7:00pm versus Troy Mick’s Kamloops Blazers. Having played many games
there, I assure you that seating will be EXTREMELY limited and please plan on
standing room only. Barring long NHL camp stays, fight fans (like me) should expect two heavyweight
bouts: 1. Blazer monster Colton Orr vs/ Hawks physical enforcer
Patrick Wellar and 2. Kamloops roughneck Paul Brown vs/ Portland
newcomer C.J. Jackson. Fans of the rough stuff should be in for a
treat this season (remember the Popp/Tetarenko days?) as the Hawks could
regain their title as the Kings of Swing.
Until next time,
“Drop the Gloves!”