Another week goes by, and the Hawks have still not shown who they really are. For every moment of brilliance this team shows us, they display a moment of inexperience. If one had to choose a word to describe the play of the Winterhawks through the first four games, it would be inconsistent.
Take, for example, the game on Friday night against the Kelowna Rockets. The Hawks defense was solid for the most part, allowing only a few lapses to get them off their game. But the offense was inept. There were almost no times where the Hawks really threatened Rockets goalie Kelly Guard. The only goal scored, came off of a gift from a defensive turnover by Kelowna, where Cody McLeod only had to stuff it into the wide open net. The passing was not crisp, and it seemed as though they couldn’t find a way to keep possession in the defensive end for more than a pass or two before either turning it over, or having it stolen. Kelowna’s defense is fairly efficient, certainly. But the Hawks ineptness in the offensive end was as much to blame for their lack of scoring. Combine that with Kelowna putting the clamp down in the third period, just as Portland did to them in the season opener, and you have a 2-1 game that the Hawks certainly aren’t proud of playing. The Rockets only managed three shots on goal in the third period, but they didn’t need to score.
Compare that game with the game on Saturday night. There are big differences. Portland cycled well, showed nice puck control, and lit the lamp 4 times for an easy victory over the Vancouver Giants. This was the all around effort they had been looking for all season. The defense was sharp all night, allowing only one goal. That goal came from a strong individual play by Giants forward Adam Courchaine. He had two Portland defenders all over him, but still had the strength to fire a laser right past Lanny Ramage. Craig Valette shined in this game, showing that the Hawks made a good decision in keeping him around. He scored the first goal of the game on a nice play in tandem with linemate Brad Priestlay. He made a nifty move to get around Giants defender Mark Ardelan, and was able to put the point blank shot past Joel Martin to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead. About a minute and a half later, Valette’s tenacious play got him another goal. After taking a faceoff at center ice, he fought through one defender to poke the puck into the Giants zone. He then split two more Giants to get an open shot from the slot, which he whizzed past Martin. After that, Courchaine scored his hard-fought goal, and there was a period where the Hawks looked vulnerable again. Fortunately, in the third period, the Hawks got another one of those “dirty goals” that they will covet so much this year. Tyler Grover and Daniel Da Silva started pressuring the Vancouver goal early in the 3rd period. Grover got two point blank chances before Da Silva picked up the leftovers and scored his first goal for the Winterhawks. Cody McLeod capped the scoring on an odd-man rush not to long after, and the Hawks had their first decisive victory of the season.
Weekly News, Notes and Rants
Right now, the power play is not good.
It would be one thing if the Hawks were getting quality chances and were just getting stoned by the opposing goaltender, or if there was a consistency to the Hawks attack with the extra man. But there’s nothing to focus on that makes the Hawks power play right now look anything but extremely poor. They’re currently 0 for 27 on the power play over the first four games this season. Needless to say, that’s last in the league. Just about every other team has gotten one by accident already. This is a young team, and they aren’t going to be flawless yet. But there’s no excuse for their current showing. At least the penalty kill looks to be improved. It will be a strength for Portland this season, and will have to be for the Hawks to contend.
Lanny Ramage has had to take a lot of heat from fans over the last year. There were rumors about him being traded, and continual pleas from fans that he be sent elsewhere for another netminder. It appears that he’s taken the criticism and done something about it over the offseason. Over the last weekend, he looked very sharp, stopping a couple of quality chances by the Giants, who got some sustained pressure in the second period. He’s given the Hawks quite a bit of reason to keep him around as an overager. If he can keep up his consistency, and remind Hawks fans of how well he played two seasons ago, the Hawks could be very tough to score against. Does this mean that Krister Toews would be traded for sure? Not necessarily. It seems that the Winterhawks coach Mike Williamson likes the competition between the keepers. He thinks it keeps them both sharp. That doesn’t mean a trade is out of the question, however.
C.J. Jackson vs. Stephen Sunderman
Jackson may be only 16 years old, but at 6’3″, 243 lbs., he’s no lightweight rookie. Unfortunately, he’s got a thing or two to learn about fighting, as this one would indicate. As the fight started, C.J. got a couple of quick rights in. But then Sunderman took over, controlling the match by keeping Jackson at arms length, then feeding him a couple of flush rights before falling on top of him. Decision: Sunderman.
Matt Fetzner vs. Stephen Sunderman
These guys started going at it in mid-ice during play. They flailed around a bit at first, while Sunderman tried to get his balance, and Fetzner tried to get Sunderman’s helmet off. Fetzner got the helmet off and started going to town on the Kelowna Rocket. He hit several uppercuts, even getting a smack on one of the linesmen as they tried to break it up when Sunderman went down. There was plenty of discussion between the two when they got back to the penalty box. Decision: Fetzner.
Dustin Bauer vs. Robin Big Snake
This one started in the corner along the boards after quite a bit of bumping between the two, they started throwing some wild punches. Seeing that it was going nowhere, they finally decided to break apart and go to a more open space, shed the gear, and get serious about it. There was a lot of circling at first, both in their own fighting stance. Finally, they came together. Big Snake got the first shot in, but that was it. After that it was all Bauer. He landed a series of straight rights, and Big Snake had no answer. This was pretty surprising since Bauer has had trouble fighting in the past, despite his above average size. Decision: Bauer.
Three Stars of the Week
The Third Star – #8 Cody McLeod
Cody scored in both games over the weekend, though the goal in the Kelowna game may as well have had a bow on it. Still, he was one of the few forwards to actually apply some pressure in the Kelowna game, and he showed some tenacity in both games over the weekend. He looks to be improving with the extra playing time he’s been getting.
The Second Star – #5 Richie Regehr
While he didn’t record any points in the weekend, he did play some exceptional defense. He was not scored on once when he was on the ice, and he has done a good job of stuffing the opposing power play. It’s only a matter of time before we see him start to unleash that strong slap shot he has.
The First Star – #12 Craig Valette
Who else could it be? His play is not just limited to the two goals he scored in the Vancouver game. He’s also been a stabilizing force in the neutral zone, doing a good job of getting after the puck and keeping shots against down. Craig is another reason for Hawks’ fans to have hope that those who didn’t put up big numbers last year will benefit from increased playing time. He’s easily been the best player for Portland early in the season.
A Look at the Week Ahead
Friday – vs. Kootenay Ice (Overall Record: 3-0-1-1, Record vs. Hawks: First Meeting)
The reigning Memorial Cup champions come to town off a 5-3 win over the Giants. They aren’t exactly the same team as they were last season, but there’s still plenty of firepower left to test the Hawks. Nigel Dawes leads the team in scoring currently, and he was one of the top players for Team Canada in the Six Nations tournament. Tomas Plihal was the top rookie scorer last season, and should be a factor as well. Duncan Milroy is back after a stint at Montreal’s training camp.
Saturday – @ Spokane Chiefs (1-3-0-0, First Meeting)
The Chiefs, like Portland, has had trouble scoring early on this season. Jeff Lucky could be the man for them this season. He had some major injury trouble last year, but looks to be back and completely healthy. However, this team will only go as far as Barry Brust takes them. He came from out of nowhere last year and became one of the best goalies in the league. The more the Chiefs offense struggles, the harder Brust is going to have to work to keep this team in games.