Portland Winter Hawks Update

By Michael Conkey

It’s always darkest before the dawn.

That’s a good thing, because for the Portland Winter Hawks, it doesn’t get much darker than consecutive losses to the Tri-City Americans. It signaled a very real threat to Portland’s playoff hopes, something that the organization simply can’t afford to lose. To make things worse, the Hawks had to say farewell for a while to top young blueliner Braydon Coburn, as he’s going to the camp for the Team Canada junior national team. However, David Turon has finally been cleared to play, and he made his debut Wednesday versus the Kootenay Ice. It was quite the debut, as well.

The weekend started out great as Portland played like world beaters in the first period on the road against the Ams. The Hawks struck quickly as Matt Girling scored on a nice move, with some solid passing from Cody McLeod and Coburn. Five minutes later, Aaron Roberge scored to give the Hawks a two goal lead, which they would take into the intermission. Things were going great…..and then it all collapsed. Former Seattle Thunderbird, Jake Riddle scored on a nice individual effort, splitting two defenders to get the goal, and start a torrent of teddy bears flying towards the ice. Portland got a two goal cushion again later in the period, when Craig Valette scored yet another goal on a rebound. Richie Regehr fired a slapper, stopped by Ams goalie Tyler Weiman, who then let out a rebound, making it an easy power play goal for Valette to put it away. It was all Ams after that. Riddle scored another goal to bring the score to 3-2. Steve Makway, a recent acquisition from Kootenay, scored to tie the game. Then, Andy McDonald capped the rally by putting the puck past Krister Toews for the final goal.

The Hawks thus had plenty of things that should have motivated them for the game the next evening at the Memorial Coliseum. Not only was this a crucial game for playoff positioning, but it was also the game where Lanny Ramage broke the Hawks record for most career appearances at goalie for Portland. It’s a pity that this had to be perhaps Ramage’s worst game ever. McDonald, the scorer of the game winner the night before, opened the scoring only 2:01 into the first period. Barely over a minute later, Brian Woolger found the back of the net on a rebound off a Regehr shot. The Portland power play struck again midway through the first period, as Matt Girling scored to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead. That would end the scoring for the period, but most certainly not for the game. Cody McLeod gave the Hawks a two goal lead on a goal mouth scramble, a typical hard working goal for McLeod. Things appeared to be going well when the Hawks earned a four minute power play, after Steve Makway went slightly berserk against McLeod. This did turn out to be the turning point of the game. Shawn Belle proceeded to score not one, but two shorthanded goals on the Hawks power play. One of them on a shot from the slot, the other on an odd-man rush. Dylan Stanley scored a power play goal to give the Ams the lead a few minutes later. Chad Wolkowski tied the score a few minutes later. Then, McLeod scored on yet another goal mouth scramble with five seconds left in the period, to give the Hawks a one goal lead going into the third. Richard Kelly opened the scoring in the third, on a deflection off of Danny Lapointe, past Ramage. Riddle struck again four minutes later to give Tri-City a one goal lead. The Hawks scored a power play goal with less than five minutes to go, to even the score. Brad Priestlay scored on an opportunistic rebound, to give the Hawks life again. Ben Kilgour scored five seconds later on a defensive collapse, and a poor save attempt by Ramage. It just let the air out of the entire building. The Hawks were forced to pull Ramage with just over a minute left after a time out. The Hawks’ leading goal scorer came through, as Craig Valette scored on a scramble with 29 seconds left. The overtime was utterly dominated by the Ams. Andy McDonald scored yet another game winner as he was left unmarked off a faceoff in the Hawks zone.

Coach Mike Williamson was very upset after this weekend’s games, and to show his displeasure, he had the players show up for a no-puck practice at 5 AM the following day. The Hawks seemed to get the message, because they played much better Wednesday night against the defending Memorial Cup Champions, the Kootenay Ice. The Hawks got a bit of good news and bad news before the game. The bad news was that team captain Richie Regehr suffered a skate cut on his right forearm before the game and would not play. The good news is that both David Turon and Jon Weigum were ready to play for the first time this season. Turon’s debut with the Hawks had been long awaited, and he did not disappoint in his first game for Portland. Things looked bad early on as the Hawks were hit with three straight penalties to start the game. However, the Portland penalty kill was solid all game long, and all three penalties were killed. On the third penalty kill, Danny Lapointe found McLeod breaking through the Ams defense, and McLeod didn’t miss with the open shot on Bryan Bridges. Portland goalie Krister Toews gave away the equalizer late in the period, when he tried to clear the puck off the boards, but instead ended up giving right to Dale Mahovsky. Mahovsky had no trouble firing the puck into the empty net to tie the game up. Portland caused endless trouble for the Ice defense in the second period. They were actually outshot by Kootenay, but had more quality chances. Still, neither team was able to score in the period. Roman Prazak scored after tipping in an Alex Aldred shot, just over two and a half minutes into the third. The big story, however, was the blistering shot of Turon. The crowd audibly gasped every time Turon unleashed his shot. Turon scored for the Hawks, not on a slapshot, but on a wrist shot over Bridges, to give the Hawks a 3-1 lead. Kootenay rallied late on a goal by Igor Agarunov. The last five minutes of the game consisted of Portland trying to hold off the Ice onslaught. Toews made a couple of good saves, and the Hawks played solid team defense. Agarunov put the puck in the net as the buzzer sounded, but a couple seconds too late, as Portland walked away with the hard fought victory.

News, Notes and Rants

The Hawks made a roster move when they released Tyler Grover from the active roster, opening up a spot for another defenseman perhaps. The win over Kootenay signals an improvement, but the Hawks are not out of the woods. This was the Ice’s fifth game in six days. It was a physically drained bunch the Hawks beat. As impressive as the win over a team like Kootenay was, I don’t know if it makes as much impact as do the two losses to Tri-City. The Hawks knew how big these two games were. And this fact was not lost on coach Williamson. It was reported that after the loss on Sunday, Williamson alluded to the release of Grover by telling the team, “Maybe I cut the wrong guy.” The 5 AM practice next day wasn’t so much a punishment, as an attempt to get some emotion out of the players. The players seemed much more into the game on Wednesday. They played as though their spots on the team depended on it.

It’s also a good thing the U.S. division is so weak this season. The losses to the Ams didn’t end up completely hurting Portland, as Spokane has lost three games in a row. The Chiefs are now only two points ahead of Portland. There is still some time for the Hawks to work the kinks out, and get this team to play a more consistent game. Time is running short, however. There’s more veteran leadership on teams like Seattle and Spokane, so it’s likely they’ll get things together before long. There are financial implications that can really hurt the Hawks if they don’t make the playoffs. There’s quite a bit at stake, and I think the one thing Portland has in their favor is their coach. Mike Williamson has found ways to motivate his team, and he’s made solid game decisions. He’s the youngest coach in major-junior hockey, but he’s got the poise of a much older coach on the bench. He commands respect amongst his players, and he seems to get a lot out of role players. Williamson has the players to get into the playoffs, and if they’re willing to listen, he can lead them to where they want to be.

Three Stars of the Week

The Third Star – #31 Joey Hope and #15 Chad Wolkowski

They both get the third star because they’re both doing the same thing well. They played solid two-way hockey. Hope was effective at finding his teammates for open shots, and Wolkowski used solid defense to set up his scoring. The Wolkowski for Wellar trade looks better every game, doesn’t it?

The Second Star – #8 Cody McLeod

McLeod is finally starting to show some of the talent Hawks fans thought he had last season. Not only is he tenacious around the net, scoring many goals on goal mouth scrambles, but he’s effective in the open ice. He’s one of the better offensive players for the Hawks, and will only get better with more games under his belt.

The First Star – #5 Richie Regehr

He’s probably had the best offensive month of any defenseman in the WHL. The Hawks have scored numerous goals off his blistering slap shots, tapping in rebounds. He did the work defensively as well, except during Sunday’s game in which nobody played defense. If Valette isn’t the team’s MVP so far, then Regehr probably is.

A Look at the Week Ahead

Friday – @ Tri-City Americans (9-16-0-3, 3-3-0-0) Last Meeting: Americans 8-7

Does it seem like Portland’s already played the Ams a lot? It’s because they have. This will be the seventh game in the ten game season series. Ben Kilgour is the usual guy to look for, but former T-Bird Jake Riddle has been especially dangerous against Portland recently.

Saturday – vs. Seattle Thunderbirds (15-13-1-2, 3-0-0-0) Last Meeting: Thunderbirds 5-4

The division leaders come to town for the annual teddy bear toss game. The Hawks came close last time, but couldn’t get over the hump. Brooks Laich continues to be the top dog on this squad. But don’t forget about Tyler Metcalfe, who seems to thrive when playing against Portland.

Sunday – vs. Spokane Chiefs (11-15-4-1, 3-0-0-0) Last Meeting: Chiefs 4-1

The Chiefs have been on a big time slide. They’re 1-7-2 in their last ten games, and fans are starting to call for the coach’s head. If things go well for Portland, this game will be for second in the division. Tim Krymusa and Jeff Lucky are the top scorers for Spokane, but this team continues to live and die on the play of goaltender Barry Brust.

That’ll do it for this week, and I DO hope it will be weekly again starting next week. Thanks for reading.