The good news: The Portland Winter Hawks are a team that simply doesn’t quit. They never stop working to get back into the game when they fall behind.
The bad news: They fall behind too far and too often.
The first example from the last week came in Portland’s 3-2 loss to the Kootenay Ice. Portland controlled play for most of the first period, putting good pressure on the Ice defense and goaltender Jeff Glass. However, they never were able to find a way to get a scoring play set up. The power play woes continued as they once again failed to score a goal with the man advantage, going 0 for 9 in the game. In the middle of the second period, Adam Taylor was able to fire one past Krister Toews, to give the Ice the first lead of the game. Duncan Milroy only added to the Hawks power play misery by scoring an early 3rd period goal shorthanded. However, Portland did not give up. Craig Valette returned the favor a couple minutes after Milroy scored by adding a shorthanded tally of his own. It was yet another hustle play by the most consistent player for Portland this season. The Hawks had a chance to tie the game up a few minutes later, when they were awarded a penalty shot due to an Ice defenseman covering the puck in the crease. They selected rookie Brandon Dubinsky to take the shot, but the 16 year old was unable to fool Glass. Steve Makway put the Ice up 3-1 on a power play goal with only 5 and a half minutes to play. The Hawks caught a break 45 seconds later, when Joey Hope fired a slapshot past Glass directly from a faceoff won by Dubinsky. The Hawks tried to get the equalizer in the last 5 minutes, but time expired and the Hawks found themselves on the losing end.
The Hawks hit the road for the next game, playing at Spokane Arena to face the Chiefs. Once again, the first period saw no scoring, but the Hawks were not in control this time around as Spokane played them pretty evenly. Near the game’s midway point, the Chiefs finally grabbed the lead on a power play goal from Chris Heid. Jeff Lucky, who assisted on the Heid goal, scored a power play marker of his own on the Chiefs next power play about seven minutes later. Joff Kehler assisted on both goals. The Chiefs were dominant in the second period, out shooting the Hawks 18 to 3. Chris Barr gave Spokane a 3-0 lead early in the third period, and it looked like the rout was on. But then something extremely improbable happened. The Hawks scored a power play goal. Brad Priestlay took an outlet from Lanny Ramage all by himself and broke an 0 for 39 power play drought to get the Hawks on the scoreboard. Mason Wallin’s goal with seven and a half minutes to go in the game, gave the Chiefs a three goal lead again, and the Hawks looked finished yet again. But a minute and a half later, Craig Valette scored the Hawks’ second power play goal unassisted. A minute and a half later, Priestlay scored his second goal of the game from a deflection off a Chief defender, and all of the sudden, the Hawks were once again down only a goal with 4:27 to play. However, like the game the night before, Portland couldn’t find a way to tie the score, and Tim Krymusa put in an empty-netter with practically no time left on the clock to give the Chiefs a winning margin of 5-3.
Weekly News, Notes, and Rants
Not much to discuss this week. Its basically been more of the same. The Hawks are a scrappy team that just doesn’t give in. The fans should be proud to have a team that fights so hard. Their play late in the third period recently has been very encouraging. The main question is when are they going to put a full game together? There were a few lapses even in the 4-1 victory over Vancouver. The second period was disastrous for the Hawks in the last two contests. Inconsistency still plagues this team, an obvious by-product of all the youth on this team. The best play early in this season has come from veterans (Valette, Priestlay, Richie Regehr).
The Hawks clearly need one of the younger guns to come up with some better performances, as the older players can’t do it all by themselves. Matt Girling has been unable to get shots on net this season, and he was expected by some to be one of the better snipers on this team. Daniel Da Silva looked good in the preseason, but hasn’t been able to translate that level of play to the regular season. Dubinsky and Alex Aldred have each gotten their first WHL point, but neither has had more than a flash or two of strong play. It’s probably unfair to pick on the younger players as they’ll certainly get better with experience. But sooner or later, one of them will have to produce if the Hawks want to make the playoffs, let alone win a round or two.
Three Stars of the Week
The Third Star – #35 Krister Toews
Despite losing the game against the Ice, Toews made some solid plays in net. He was rarely out of position and showed great poise in net. It’s nice to have such a capable goalie as a backup. The question remains, is he too capable to be a backup?
The Second Star – #11 Brad Priestlay
He was practically a one man rally machine against the Chiefs, trying to keep the Hawks in a game that looked lost originally. His play in tandem with linemate Valette has been a key to the Hawks’ ability to stay in games.
The First Star – #12 Craig Valette
Four goals in his last three games. Leading scorer for the team through six games. Best defensive forward on the team. Best two-way player on the team. Has simply been as good a player as one could expect. Hopefully he’ll get some more help in the upcoming weeks.
A Look at the Week Ahead
Friday – @ Vancouver Giants (Overall: 3-5-0-0, Vs. Hawks: 0-1-0-0) Last Meeting: Hawks 4-1
Adam Courchaine is the team’s leading scorer with nine points, but rookie Mitch Bartley has been surprising for the Giants, leading the team with five goals. The Hawks were clearly in control of the first matchup with Vancouver, and will hope to do the same at Pacific Coliseum. Rumors abound around the league about Marian Havel and where he might be traded to.
Saturday – vs. Seattle Thunderbirds (1-5-1-1, First Meeting)
The only word that can truly describe Seattle so far is disappointing. It was thought that Seattle would be the front runner for the US Division title, which they very well could still be. But their eastern swing they recently completed is not encouraging around. The T-Birds went 0-5 against the East Division, often getting beaten badly. Brooks Laich is the top scorer for the team, and is still a very talented forward. Tyler Metcalfe is second on the list, and is the only Thunderbird to play in the majority of their games that has a plus rating. This is the first meeting between Portland and Seattle since Seattle’s improbable seven game series victory in last year’s playoffs.
Wednesday – @ Kelowna Rockets (4-3-1-1, 1-1-0-0) Last Meeting: Rockets 2-1
The Rockets have been getting some good numbers from Jesse Schultz who has nine goals in nine games. The Hawks did not see Kiel McLeod in the first two meetings with the Rockets, as he was still in Columbus’ camp. He will be back in the lineup for the game on Wednesday night. Josh Gorges scored the game winning goal against the Hawks, but he’s made his mark for Kelowna more as a setup man. He currently leads the Rockets with ten assists.
That’s it for this column. I’ll try to make sure that I don’t fall asleep……er……..the computer doesn’t break down next time so it will be on time. And I will be getting the team page arranged soon, providing ratings and rankings for the players.
Thanks for reading.